The recent war with Iraq has been on the minds of people all across the world since well before it started. Many are worried that the United States will be seen as being too controlling, and that it should let the Iraqi people work out their own problems. Others, who are concerned about the threat of terrorist activity in this country and others, stick with the belief that the United States was right in their attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
Regardless of which opinion one holds, there are theorists, both classical and modern, who have strong views on war. This is largely due to conflict theory, which is that life is largely characterized more by conflict that it is by consensus. Those who uphold this theory have different ways of looking at it, and the purpose of this paper is to look at classical theorists such as Karl Marx and Max Weber, as well as modern theorists such as Ralph Dahrendorf, Lewis Coser, Randall Collins, and Immanuel Wallerstein. The different views they have of conflict theory will then be applied to the war in Iraq.
Once an understanding of conflict theory is established based on how these particular theorists choose to view it, a comparison and contrast of the beliefs that they hold will be discussed as well. This is important in understanding not only conflict theory, but how it applies to real-life situations such as war. Conflict theory can be used in other situations, but war is one of the most obvious and violent ways that countries deal with conflict, and is therefore a good way to discuss the different theories that are related to conflicts between individuals.
Just because an individual was a classical or a modern theorist, that does not mean that that person agreed with other theorist of the day. Sometimes, there were differences between classical theorists, or differences between modern theorists. When discussing conflict theory, there really is no right and wrong. There are only the opinions of those who believe that the theory applies to everyday life as well as to major and life-altering issues such as the war that is currently being undertaken in Iraq.
Classical theorists include Karl Marx and Max Weber. Karl Marx is basically the father of conflict theory, and many of the conflict and other social theories around today came from his beliefs and opinions. Marx believed in a materialist view of history, and saw the most important part of a social life as being the work that individuals were doing. This was especially true of work that resulted in the basic necessities such as shelter, clothing, and food. The value of society therefore resulted from human labor, and everything that men and women were doing to create society and shape it actually created the conditions for their very own existence (McClelland, 2000).
Marx concerned himself primarily with the capitalist viewpoint, where political individuals exercised power over the working classes. They exploited them, and this led to a great deal of conflict between the people and their government. According to Marx, individuals in this type of society were basically powerless because the ruling people did everything they could to make sure that the people were oppressed. They kept the masses under control and made sure that those same masses came to believe that they would be nothing without their government (McClelland, 2000).
Marx believed largely in the opinion that power and money was the desire of the lower class, but these things were only to be had by the upper or ruling class of people. Because of this, there was a conflict between the two classes that would eventually lead to a lower class revolt or revolution (Dugger & Sherman, 1997). In the case of the Iraqi people, it took the United States and other coalition forces coming in to help them before the revolt would take place. Even then, many Iraqis hid in their homes or fled the cities for fear of retribution by Hussein and his government. The Iraqi people are taught from a young age to be loyal to their government, and those who were not willing to fight for the regime could be shot as a penalty for their disloyalty. Many Iraqis do not agree with Saddam Hussein's policies, but they live in fear of the government and therefore they do not speak up.
It is easy to see how Saddam Hussein believed in the Marxist mentality when one looks at the war in Iraq. The Iraqi people have long been oppressed by their government. Saddam Hussein had been in power in that country since 1979, and he was active in politics and government before that. Just by watching war coverage for reading of the newspapers, it is easy to see how much power and hold Hussein had over the people in his country. They were just the working classes, and Hussein was determined that they would stay oppressed. They were there for his personal needs, and the needs of the nameless, faceless mass of people did not make a difference to him.
The United States went to work in Iraq to try to remove Hussein from power, but also to help the Iraqi people understand that this type of treatment is not necessary. There may be people in the United States that are treated this way, but in general the government does not treat the United States citizens in anything like the way Hussein treated his people. Most of the people in Iraq were too afraid to rise up against Hussein, for fear of terrible punishment. Because of this, the United States troops could not get a great deal of help at first, but as the war went on and it began to look as though the United States would win, the Iraqi citizens begin to offer a helping hand. They were beginning to realize that they were finally actually going to be free.
Another conflict interest, Max Weber, did not go along with the theories of Karl Marx. He believed that there was more than just a ruling class and a normal class of people. Instead of two classes, he believed that there were four, and that they were determined by power, social status, and class. He did not believe that money and power really had a great deal to do with social conflict, and he rejected the idea of a lower class revolution. Instead, he believed that social status and one's place in it had much more to do with conflict than anything else (Introduction, 2003).
Max Weber also makes a good argument for why the war in Iraq is going on right now. Instead of agreeing with Karl Marx that money and power are the main causes of conflict, Weber argues that the social status of the oppressed people is the chief cause of the conflict that has been building in Iraq for many years. Because of this, it is easy to see why the people of Iraq are largely celebrating the fact that Saddam Hussein's regime has been toppled. They are not, according to Weber, interested so much in the money and power that Saddam possessed and they did not. Rather, they are interested in a lessening of the gap of social status between themselves and their government.
The modern theorist Ralph Dahrendorf holds opinions very similar to Max Weber's. He believes that conflict originates with authority, and that every organization who has any kind of power over people abuses it and uses it to control others. The people in authority will use it to their greatest advantage, but Dahrendorf also believes that the people who are oppressed have power equal to the government, because they have the desire to change the way things are (Introduction, 2003).
This is also true of the war in Iraq. There is resistance to the United States from a few people, but that's just those whose resistance comes from still praising Saddam Hussein for the way that he runs the country. In general, the Iraqi people are happy with the United States help, and they are seeing that it revealed that striking back against Saddam Hussein can work and that they do have power over how they live their lives. Hussein can no longer lord over the masses. Instead, he has been stripped of his authority, and is therefore not able to use it to abuse the Iraqi people any longer. However, now that Hussein has been removed, it is possible that whoever ends up running Iraq could turn out just as bad when they realize how having power makes them feel.
Another modern-day theorist, Lewis Coser, seems to be a bit uncertain as to whether conflict is good or bad. He shares the same basic opinions as most conflict theorists, in that he believes that there are several issues such as power to class or money that make up…