Compare and Contrast Marx, Durkheim and Weber
1. Compare and contrast Marx, Durkheim and Weber’s analysis of law.
The analysis of law provided in the works of Marx, Durkheim and Weber is greatly influenced by the theories of the scientists. According to Marx, laws have been designed to serve the interests of capitalism and the ruling class of capitalists. They are able to oppress the working class with the help of the laws which exist in the society. Every single law which regulates the relations in the society is created in order to further increase the gap between the ruling class and the working class.
Working people get poorer and poorer the more they produce because capitalists take the surplus value which they create. Laws let capitalists obtain the profits which are originated by companies. Even though working people would probably like to change the law and be capable to benefit from the results of their own work, they are not able to do that because they do not have enough power.
It is possible to regard Marx’s views on law in 2 ways: from the positivist perspective, according to which law is created in order to reflect subjective interests of the capitalist class, and from the objective perspective. As the positivist approach argues, capitalists have their own subjective perceptions of the society and thus the laws are being used in order to put their subjective views on the paper. Capitalists have their views on the ways in which they would like to see the world they live in. They do their best to ensure that the laws are adopted to regulate the society according to the most favorable pattern for them. It is also possible to interpret Marx’s views on law from the objective perspective. According to it, law also serves the interests of capitalists but it appears as the result of the objective process. Capitalists dominate in the society and therefore the trends in legislation which serve their interests are fully objective. It is understandable that legislation needs to reflect the interests of the ruling class, and therefore this process is fully objective.
Max Weber has very different views on law, in comparison with Marx. According to Weber, law does not reflect subjective interests of the capitalist class or objective characteristics of capitalist society. There is no class which determines the features of the legislation. All of the people in the society are parts of the same machine which functions only when all of the parts are in order. As Weber states, modern society is what actually determines the law ruling in the society. In the modern society, bureaucracy determines all of the elements of regulation. Modern organizations are all characterized by bureaucracy. It is present on all levels of the organizations.
In bureaucratic organizations decisions are made by the management and forwarded to the employees on lower level. All of the people working for such organizations are similar to parts of a peculiar machine. They need to fulfill certain functions and certain responsibilities, without which the whole machine will fall apart. Employees are generally unable to make decisions on their own because they mostly have to follow the instructions of management. Creativity is not encouraged and empowerment of employees is prohibited.
All of the bureaucratic organizations function according to a peculiar system of law which is common for all of the organizations of a kind. All of the decisions made in companies are fully rational. There is no place for subjective opinions in them because rationality rules the society. There is also no place for personalization in such a society. Every person is just a part of the machine. He is not an individual; he is only a part of the large society. All of the people are thus considered to be similar to one another and thus capable to function according to the same rules.
Max Weber argues that in the society in which bureaucracy rules there is no place for emotions in legislation. In the feudal society, the ruler did not have to use only rationality in his decisions. When he had to make a decision of executing a particular person, he was able to listen to his emotions and rely on them to carry out the decision. The ruler was able to change his standards depending on the kind of person he had to make a decision about and rely on his instincts. In the modern society, emotions completely disappeared from legislative process. People working in court, in social institutions or any other organizations are not able to make decisions based on their personal perceptions. They have to follow the rules and the guidelines which exist in the society.
For example, if some person applies for a loan at the bank, the loan officer is no longer able to give a loan based on his impression of a person. He has rules which determine whether he will agree to grant a loan to a person or not. He is not allowed to grant a loan to some person because he likes him and not grant a loan to another person whom he does not like. Instead, the loan officer needs to analyze the financial situation of both borrowers and make a decision based on financial information. The loan officer cannot make a positive decision due to the tears of a person or his sad story about his parents’ death. He needs to follow the instructions. The loan officer also cannot treat one person in one way and another person in another way. He has to be completely impartial and never forget his instructions. He is not the one who makes the instructions, but he is the one who is required to put them into practice. Managers of the organizations are the ones who constantly introduce new guidelines according to the general principles which exist in the society.
Bureaucratic organizations do not really care about the quality of services which they provide to the people in the society. Employees of such organizations care much more about the guidelines which they have to follow than the services which they can provide to customers. Such organizations also have constant competition with one another for domination in the society. For example, FBI competes with police and other organizations functioning in the same sphere, and when it comes to fulfilling their responsibilities, their employees will only try to make their own organization succeed. There are many cases when the interests of such organizations intersect, and instead of cooperating and carrying out mutually accepted decisions, they try to act in the interest of their organization only.
As Weber argues, bureaucratic rules and guidelines cannot be considered efficient for the society. Depersonalization which is common for such a society can be very harmful. If Marx argues that law reflects the interests of the ruling class, Weber states that it reflects the interests of colorless members of the society who all have to behave according to the same pattern. Even though all of the people are different, they are forced to act according to the same pattern.
Durkheim offers an interpretation of law which is different from Marx and Weber. According to him, law is an expression of collective conscience and index of morality. Durkheim connects the concept of law with his concept of social solidarity. According to the author, the society can be characterized by solidarity only when it has law regulating all of the aspects of interactions between members in it. Law can thus be regarded as a peculiar symbol of social solidarity between people. To some extent, Durkheim agrees with Marx’s interpretation of law because he says that different societies are characterized by different law systems. Durkheim also argues that there are two types of law: “repressive” and “restutitive”. The first type imposes some kind of damage on people who do not obey the law, while the second type only regulates some spheres of life (for example, civil law).
2. Compare and contrast Marx’s notion of `alienation` and Durkheim’s concept of `anomie`. Illustrate with examples.
Marx’s concept of alienation and Durkheim’s concept of anomie are in many ways similar but they have many differences as well. According to Marx, in the capitalist society, people are estranged from the results of their work. They are forced to work but unfortunately they are not the ones to take advantage of the results of their work. The owners of the factories, in which employees work, are the ones benefiting from the products which are created by the workers. Marx mentioned many times that such a society is characterized by alienation because workers are unable to take advantage of the results of their own work. The society based on the concept of alienation is destined to fail because at some point the relations which have got established in it will stop working.
Emile Durkheim also did his best to discuss why societies are often destined to fail. Durkheim has come up with his own term in order to describe the phenomena taking place in the society. As Durkheim stated, societies can be characterized by both mechanic and organic solidarity. In societies characterized by mechanic solidarity, people perform simple functions and they do not need to have any sophisticated relationships between one another. The work which is being done by the members of the society is very similar and thus does not require sophisticated control systems. In more complex societies, in which the members have much complicated functions, the role of control is very large. Such societies have a very firm system of norms which regulate them. If the society for some reason gets deregulated, the state of anomie occurs. People are no longer regulated by the norms of the society and therefore they are capable to live according to their own norms. The phenomenon of anomie is very similar for societies which had to go through sudden changes and people did not have time to come up with new norms. The society cannot function normally when anomie occurs because people are no longer connected with the ties of solidarity.
The similarities of the two concepts of “alienation” and “anomie” can be grouped in the following way:
Durkheim and Marx both condemn economic individualism. Both Durkheim and Marx agreed in the fact that individuals do not determine any events taking place in the society. As Durkheim mentioned, people are greatly influenced by the society in all of their actions. If the society rejects them, they are capable of even committing suicide. Durkheim argued that all of the people in the society are tied to one another with very strong relationships based on the division of labor. If in primitive societies people did not have any complicated functions and it was possible for them to conduct their work on their own, the realities of the present society completely reject individualism. Marx also condemned economic individualism. According to him, all of the workers represented a working class which was destined to deliver surplus value to the society. Economic individualism could not exist in the society which Marx was discussing.
Both Durkheim and Marx offer a collectivist definition of man. Similar to the previous category, both authors agreed that there was no individualist definition of men. In the modern era, people are destined to live in the society. They are greatly influenced by various norms and laws of the society. As Durkheim marked, every individual is now unable to work by himself, without being a part of the society. He would simply be unable to achieve anything by working on his own without interacting with other society members. In the state of anomie, every person would be able to do whatever he liked to do, but this would cause chaos in the society. Marx also agrees with the fact that men need a collectivist definition. Alienation which occurs in the society is common for all of the members of the working class, not just every individual by himself.
Both Marx and Durkheim attack dominant institutions and values of modern society. As Durkheim states, current dominant institutions in the society do not lead people to right decisions. For example, they give messages which are either difficult to interpret or contradictory ones. People are unable to decide which values are actually important for the society. When the state of anomie in the society occurs, people are no longer capable to determine which norms they should be using from now on. They are completely lost/ Marx agrees with Durkheim in the fact that dominant institutions in the society are incapable to provide adequate support to the classes of the society. Even if some of the norms are generally considered very favorable, in reality they are favorable only for the dominant class. The working class does not receive the benefits which he deserves from the society due to alienation from the results of his work.
Both Marx and Durkheim are critical of state/government. Marx argues that the government only serves the interests of the capitalists and does not offer anything to the working class. In order to be really efficient, the government would have to introduce new legislation which would enable the working class to participate in the profits which they create by their hard work. Durkheim criticizes government for another reason. According to him, government needs to introduce efficient norms which would help individuals to learn patterns of behavior in various situations. Durkheim mentions that currently the government employs the policy of “laissez-faire” in many issues, and members of the society thus do not get enough regulation in many aspects of their lives which needed to be regulated.
Even though the concepts which were offered by Marx and Durkheim are similar in some ways, they are certainly not identical. The differences of the two concepts of “alienation” and “anomie” can be grouped in the following way:
a. Questions of legitimacy of social control. According to Karl Marx, social control needs to be modified in accordance with the needs of the working class. People who are producing surplus value are the ones whose interests need to matter in the society.
b. Power domination due to capitalism and state’s role in regulating people’s lives. Karl Marx argued that the government needed to regulate people’s lives in all possible ways. Opposite to Durkheim, Marx stated that government was able to provide adequate regulation to members of the society, as long as the interests of the working class were taken into consideration.
a. “Anomie” is caused by the lack of intervention of the state. Durkheim argues that government does not regulate the society enough. In his opinion, lack of regulation has a very negative impact on the individuals because they always need some norms to regulate their lives. If regulation is not adequate, the state of “anomie” can easily occur.
b. Importance of moral constraints in the society for its stability. While Marx regarded his concept of “alienation” mostly in connection with the existence of classes in the society, Durkheim offered a completely different explanation for his concept. “Anomie” in the society was caused not because antagonist classes existed in it (as it was argued by Marx). Durkheim offered his own explanation of problems in the modern society through the prism of ethics and morality. He stated that people always need moral values adopted by the society in order to know how to behave. If different members of the society have different attitude towards moral issues, some members of the society can be alienated from others. Durkheim also stated that suicide is often caused by the lack of understanding of moral principles by different social groups.
3. Discuss how Durkheim and Weber would examine:
a. The development of the sex worker industry in Hong Kong.
While discussing the development of sex worker industry in Hong Kong, Durkheim would apply his concept of “anomie” in order to describe this phenomenon. In his opinion, the lack of norms in the society is the major reason of sex worker industry rapid growth. Moral values which existed many years ago are no longer accepted by some members of the society. Since the government does not do its best to regulate this sphere, there is no wonder that sex industry in Hong Kong has reached such rapid growth in the recent years. In order to bring end to it, the government would have to adopt different policies which would entirely prohibit this type of services in the country. However, since many members of the government are one of the users of the services of the sex industry, they are not going to adopt firm rules in this regard and the industry will keep blossoming.
Weber would connect the reasons of the mentioned phenomenon with bureaucracy in the government organizations which prevents them from functioning efficiently. In order to come up with regulations of the sex industry, the laws would need to pass many hands and be approved by many members of government and many policy-makers. In the bureaucratic world, it is impossible to reach any important decisions because the government bureaucratic organizations are too slow to respond to negative developments in the society. In order to bring end to sex worker industry in Hong Kong, Weber would suggest giving this task to some non-government organizations which are much more interested n achieving the goals which the society sets for them.
b. Gambling in Hong Kong
Durkheim would consider gambling in Hong Kong as a part of the nation’s culture which has been developed during many years. Gambling has not just appeared in Hong Kong recently. It is a part of the nation’s psychology and the nation could hard exist without it. Durkheim would have a controversial view of gambling. On one hand, since it is a part of the nation’s culture, it should not be avoided because many members of the society do not imagine their lives without it. On the other hand, gambling is considered immoral by many people from different cultures and religions. For example, Protestant and Catholic religions consider gambling immoral and do not encourage any true Christians to take part in games of chance. The universal rule of ethics cannot be efficiently applied here. Even if gambling is enjoyed by many members of the society in Hong Kong, many Christians would oppose to such games. Durkheim would mark that in such a case it is up to the government of the country to decide what the policy regarding gambling is going to be. It is common truth that gambling is like a drug for many people, and thus their interests need to be taken into consideration.
Weber would regard the issue of gambling in relation to the culture and religion to which members of Hong Kong society belong. As Weber marked in his Protestant Ethics, religion determines people’s attitude to many issues in life. Gambling can certainly be regarded as one of such issues. Even though for many people it is not acceptable, others consider it very interesting and thus it is impossible to dictate to them what to do. Gambling is a part of Hong Kong culture, and it has all of the rights to remain the same for many years in the future because all of the people welcome it.
c. Murder-suicides in Hong Kong.
Suicide is one of Durkheim’s major fields of interests, and thus he would be the bets expert to examine the issue. He would start discussing murder-suicides in Hong Kong in relation to social problems which exist in the society. As Durkheim always mentioned, it is impossible to consider suicide the result of only psychological problems which are common for individuals. When some individual commits suicide, it is certainly possible to connect its causes with some psychological problems he had. However, most of the psychological problems have their roots in the general social problems. It is very possible that people committing murder-suicides in Hong Kong are forced to do that because they are not understood by the society or they do not think they can live in such a society any longer.
Weber would also regard murder-suicides as a phenomenon caused by the society. In his opinion, people committing murder-suicides in Hong Kong might have motivation for that due to their culture and their interactions with other members of the society.
d. The development and existence of the Independent commission against corruption (ICAC).
Emile Durkheim would regard the development and existence of the Independent commission against corruption (ICAC) as a very positive phenomenon in the society. Due to the fact that modern society is characterized by large amounts of corruption, it is very important to regulate them adequately. Organizations similar to ICAC are vital for modern society because they set principles and norms for members of the society. People are able to realize what is considered illegal and thus act in accordance to law in future. If ICAC did not exist, people could have an idea that corruption was not prohibited and thus they could act according to their own interests and needs.
Max Weber would consider ICAC just one more bureaucratic organization which is unable to bring any use to the society. Even though it has been formed in order to help prevent corruption in the modern society, there are no visible results of the work of this organization. Many governments are still very corrupt and there is hardly any hope for change in their activities. Bureaucratic organizations similar to ICAC hardly ever achieve their long-term goals because they do not function efficiently. Even though their staff would probably like to fight against corruption, the top management is always too slow with the decisions. Employees are not empowered and have to wait for instructions from above; therefore most of the actions are greatly delayed in such organizations.
e. Emergence and problem of illegal immigration into Hong Kong from China.
According to Durkheim, the problem of illegal immigration into Hong Kong from China is caused by government’s inability to regulate the process of migration between 2 countries. If the government decided to adopt firmer regulations concerning illegal immigrants, it would be very possible that the end to illegal immigration would be brought. However, the government decides to have minimal interference in this type of affairs, and therefore it is forced to deal with a large number of illegal immigrants. In order to fight with the negative tendency, Durkheim would suggest strengthening government control in all of the aspects of immigration and make illegal immigration very difficult to achieve.
Max Weber would connect the problem of illegal immigration into Hong Kong from China with inability of government organizations to achieve the goals which they set for themselves. Due to extreme bureaucracy, they are unable to react to the problem of illegal immigration and thus are forced to cope with its consequences. However, it appears very challenging for Hong Kong government to conduct adequate control of immigration.
4. Select a contemporary social issue and discuss how two of the following four theorists Marx, Durkheim, Weber or Mead would examine the issue. Which one offers a better understanding of the issue? Why?
The problem of teen pregnancies is very vital worldwide. Currently many people are concerned with the increase of number of premarital relationships which young girls have. If in the old days girls were supposed to wait until they got married to have sex, currently many girls are no longer interested in committing. They simply want to enjoy life and be able to do what makes them happy, without caring what impression they make on their parents or relatives.
Emile Durkheim offers a very brilliant description of this type of behavior. If he had to analyze this issue in his time, he would immediately relate this issue to the norms which exists in the society. In the past, girls were supposed to stay virgin until they got married. If some girl did not follow this rule and had a premarital relationship, she was thrown out of the society and even her family was not considered well-respected anymore. Her sisters could no longer expect to get well-married because the family was lost for the society. Of course, in such a situation every girl would have to weigh her decisions greatly before getting involved in any kind of relationship. She was forced to stay pure until marriage because of the pressure of the society. The society came up with norms which needed to be followed by everybody who wanted to remain in it. According to Durkheim, the regulation which society offered to its members at that time was very favorable. All of the people had to follow the same rules and thus they knew how to behave in different situations. There were no exclusions from the rule for anybody. There was no double standard. Everything was easy to understand and there were no loop-holes in the code which existed in the society. Durkheim would greatly approve of the system of norms which was present in the society in the old times.
Currently, the society does not offer any firm norms for this type of issue. Some people say that girls have to stay virgin until marriage while others say the opposite. Durkheim would certainly point at the fact that people get confused when there are no firm norms. How can a young girl make a decision of her own when she hears different points of view from different people?
For example, the girl’s parents will tell her that she needs to be very careful with her relationship because they do not want her to bring shame to the family. They will be completely against any sex before marriage. At the same time, the girl goes to school and has friends and relatives. At school, the girl is going to listen to the teachers who teach her sexual education class. The teachers will certainly say that having sex before marriage is very bad and she should not do that. However, there is a loop-hole in this standard. The teachers will not only tell that having sex is bad but will also show a condom and say that it is important to put it on for guys in order not to make a girl pregnant and not to spread sexually transmitted diseases.
As Durkheim would say, here comes the most important problem of the modern society: it says that something is bad, but it also suggests what should be done for it not to be as bad. In this case, the girl starts thinking that probably having sex is really not bad unless the condom is used. Even though the teachers did their best to provide an adequate message to the students, they did not manage to do that. Instead of setting a firm standard for “no sex”, they came up with a mid-standard- “sex with a condom” which can work just as well as the first standard. For a young girl, both standards would be equal. She would consider “sex with a condom” a very suitable option for herself. The girl would probably never consider the option of sex, but after the teachers said it was not dangerous with a condom, she would certainly think it was worth trying some time.
Durkheim would see another negative message which the girl could possibly receive. She would have to experience pressure from her friends to have sex. Some of her girlfriends would say that she is old-fashioned; her boyfriend would tell her he would abandon her if they do not have sex. In such a situation, it is very difficult for a young girl to make a right decision. Durkheim would say that whenever norms are flexible in the society, it is impossible to expect that people will behave ethically. Ethic standards cannot exist if there are double standards. It is normal to have sex from some people’s point of view, but the same people might argue that the number of teen pregnancies has reached an alarming number. It is true that these same people argue for the usage of condoms. However, by letting young girls use condoms, they give them a message that it is actually fine to have sex before marriage. Those girls who would otherwise be scared to take such an important step, might find themselves willing to try. By suggesting flexible norms, the society at the same time lets the negative factor in the minds of people. Durkheim would argue that norms have to be firm in order to be perceived by people.
Max Weber would agree with Durkheim’s view on the problem but he would also suggest some of his own ideas on the question. First, Max Weber would argue that the values which exist in the modern society are in many ways determined by the culture of people. In Weber’s views, every society is greatly influenced by religion. Teen pregnancies are currently common for many countries, including United States, Canada, China, Russia and many other countries. However, people who are actually religious still have their firm values. Those girls, who truly believe in God and are Catholic, for example, will not get involved in any premarital relationships leading to pregnancies. They will remain virgin because religion requires that. Of course, those girls who do not truly believe in God, will act the way they choose for themselves. However, as Weber would argue, only religion would be able to determine the girl’s behavior in this or that situation. Weber would suggest remembering all of the principles suggested by him in Protestant Ethics and Spirit of Capitalism in order to better connect religion and moral norms which exist in the society. For Protestants, it was important to work hard and reach the heights of the society in order to be able to go to heaven. For Catholics, instead, there was no need for that and they were rather recommended to stay poor in order to go to heaven. In the same way, religion determines the way girls regard premarital sex. Those who religious believes argue for virginity until marriage will stay that way. Those who are not religious will most likely choose having sex before marriage because they have no limitations. They will consider it much better to enjoy life and do what makes them happy than follow and ethical norms.
Besides religion, Weber would also mark that government organizations need to get involved in order to bring end to the problem. He would say that inability of government to regulate social issues causes major problems in this regard. If many members of the society oppose to the increasing number of teen pregnancies, they need to provide adequate regulation of the issue. However, Weber would state that it would be very difficult for the society to offer adequate regulation due to the bureaucratization of its institutions. Instead of looking for solutions for the burning issue, many social institutions are involved in discussions of issues which do not matter much. Weber would point at the fact that bureaucracy is one of the major reasons of sociological problems which currently exist.
Out of the 2 authors, Durkheim offers a better analysis of the reasons of teen pregnancies than Weber. Emile Durkheim spent a much longer time analyzing the issues of norms and standards in the society and therefore he is able to suggest many universal principles which help us to interpret the most vital issues in sociology.
1. Ritzer, G. Classical Sociological theory. NY: McGraw Hill. 1992.
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