Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber are known as the “founding fathers of sociology.” These three men developed their theories and ideals in the nineteenth century. Marx, and Weber were German natives and Durkheim was born in France. These men lived through the French and industrial revolutions. Throughout their lives, they began to see how society was changing from traditional to modern. Each of them were troubled with modernity. Modernity can be defined as a generational society going through significant changes like pulling away from religion, and morals.
It is also an advancement towards industrialization, more government, and capitalist society. Marx, Durkheim and Weber believed capitalism would lead to abuse of power and profit as well as revolution. Out of capitalism developed two groups of people in society, the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. The Bourgeoisie were the people who had all the power, money, ‘modes and means of production’. The Proletariat were the people who labored for their own survival and lost their objectivity.
Karl Marx wrote about one big societal inequality in ‘Estranged Labour’. This was the concept of alienation or estrangement, which develops through labor and profit, also known as capitalism. Marx referred to it as political economy. “In the conditions dealt with by political economy this realization of labour appears as loss of reality for the workers objectification as loss of the object and object-bondage appropriation as estrangement, as alienation (Marx, 1844:30).” What essentially makes us human is our ability to work. To be creative and build something. In contrast to this, we can consider an animal. The animal is not creative and cannot come up with a new idea or design. They can only build from their own instincts. The problem Marx saw was that the proletariat did not have any control of their own product. As soon as they built it or created it the bourgeoisie took control of it. The workers had no say over what happens to that product. “Therefore the greater this product, the less is he himself (Marx 1844:30).” He or she becomes a commodity less than the product itself. Remember, the product created has value because of capitalism through supply and demand. Marx said, “The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth he produces, the more his production increases in power and range. The worker becomes an ever-cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates (Marx, 1844:29).” Marx expresses his ideology of a conflict theorist through this concept of class conflict. In socialism, everyone would be equal. Meaning that, naturally people would work and provide for themselves, sharing it, and not just for the good of the capitalists or Bourgeoisie.
Durkheim expressed contentment with class division. This class division was between the capitalist class and the working class. Furthermore, he was concerned with a problem called “normlessness or anomie.” Durkheim sees this predicament as alienation, and is in comparison with Marx’s viewpoint of estrangement and alienation. He is concerned how modernity is changing the older traditional forms of how a society works together. He sees how lives become less meaningful for working class. “It is this anomic state that is the cause, as we shall show, of the incessantly recurrent conflicts, and the multifarious disorders of which the economic world exhibits so sad a spectacle (Durkheim, 1902:62).” Durkheim uses the term ‘anomie’ to describe a society that has too little social regulation. This means that sometimes a society’s morals or values are not defined clearly. People do not agree or are unsure about what is important or what is wrong in society.
Sometimes the working class are unsure about pay raises, promotions, or even better living circumstances. Their lives can become unpredictable which can lead to a feeling of normlessness and estrangement from society. Durkheim said, “the most blameworthy acts are so often absolved by success that the boundary between what is permitted and what is prohibited, what is just and what is unjust, has nothing fixed about it, but seems susceptible to almost arbitrary change by individuals (Durkheim, 1902:62).” If a society is disorganized or changing, like going through an industrial revolution or the French revolution, then anomie can happen. Traditionally, societies were regulated through family institutions and religious institutions. However, the more capitalists focused on profits, then the more economic, political, and cultural changes happened. All of these changes would make a person estranged or alienated. Unfortunately, there are consequences to anomie, like suicide, increased bad behavior, and higher crime.
Weber said, “Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life (Weber, 1905:84).” Weber used the metaphor, the ‘iron cage’, to explain how society was born into a world that changed from traditionalism into a modern capitalist society. People would go about their lives following laws and not focusing on morals, values, or any emotions. It would be like a hamster running on a wheel. He saw how society was shifting from non-rational to more rational, which starts in the industrial revolution, or industry and production. He saw this process of rationalization start in factories, which became more established in larger institutions. As workers produced more goods and products, more profits were made and eventually bureaucracies were formed. Bureaucracies can be defined as rationalized organizations. “Bureaucracy, thus understood, is fully developed in political and ecclesiastical communities only in the modern state, and, in the private economy, only in the most advanced institutions of capitalism (Weber, 1909-20:86).” The bureaucracies affected the government and even some religion in the way that they function. Weber sees the societal problems of his time as extreme reasonableness. The problem he saw was how the rationalization process was pouring over into other facets of society, like family and personal affects.
Marx, Durkheim and Weber all grew up during the industrial revolution in which they saw the culture of their families and many others in society change from the traditional feudalism generation of family and religious importance to a selfish capitalist generation of labor and profit. These changes became the basis for their many writings and teachings. There are many similarities or comparisons between the three sociologists. Because of these capitalist changes the worker does not see himself as free, to build or create as he desires. He becomes like an animal, being able to do those things only of an animal. “What is animal becomes human and what is human becomes animal (Marx, 1844:31).” Durkheim expressed this similarity as, “I can be free only to the extent that others are forbidden to profit from their physical, economic, or other superiority to the detriment of my liberty (Durkheim, 1902:63).” Another comparison with Marx, Durkheim, and Weber is that they are all in conflict with the way man is separated from society. Marx explains this separation as ‘alienation or estrangement’ Durkheim explains it as ‘anomie’ and Weber explains it as an ‘iron cage’. According to Weber, people who are born into the world of industrial and economic revolution, which has developed from capitalism, cannot help but live in it. This system is a division of labor and a hierarchical social structure. Living in an iron cage is the only world they knew.
In conclusion, the three founding fathers have taught us so much about capitalism and socialism. Marx, Durkheim and Weber agreed on many of the same aspects of modernity. They saw it as separation of the top percent who own and control everything and all the workers who provide all the labor and receive nothing except survival. Marx gave us estrangement and alienation, Durkheim gave us anomie, and Weber gave us rationalization. Even though they varied in some of the facets of the alienation theory, there is a lot that our society today can learn from them.
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