Capitalism and Modernity: An Excursus on Marx and Weber by Derek Sayer

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By Derek Sayer

The character of modernity, and its reference to capitalism, are questions on the vanguard of latest sociological debate. Derek Sayer re-examines the solutions given by means of Karl Marx and Max Weber, authors of 2 of the main profound sociological opinions of modernity. His reassessment of Marx and Weber on capitalism and modernity offers a brand new studying which finds the notable consonances among their sociologies of the trendy . Going past the well known stereotypes of the Marx-Weber debate', Professor Sayer indicates that either Marx and Weber produced a tough critique of the character of energy and subjectivity in sleek society, a critique which keeps all its highbrow strength and ethical relevance at the present time.

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Example text

There are many more affinities here than many commentators on both sides have been willing to acknowledge; not least, I suspect, because in the United States fin de siècle sociology has been co-opted for the war against communism, doing enormous violence to its trenchant critique of capitalism in the process. These affinities may prove to be among the more enduring elements in Marx’s legacy; in some respects, indeed, he anticipated what are nowadays heralded as distinctly ‘post-modern’ preoccupations.

Freedom, for Marx, means ‘power…domination over the circumstances and conditions in which an individual lives’ (1846a: 301n), and capitalism, from this point of view, represents the apotheosis of unfreedom. ‘Far from abolishing the “relationships of dependence’”, capitalism ‘dissolve[s] them into a general form’ (1858:101). Personal dependency is replaced by universal dependency. This is the phenomenon Marx analysed in his early writings as alienation, and in Capital as fetishism: the estrangement of human products—both material and otherwise—from human beings’ control and even recognition.

Such a state of affairs is ridden with contradiction. In one sense the modern joint-stock company represents a further socialization of the production process. It is in this sense, Marx writes, ‘the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself (1865a:436). But at the same time the flotation of share rights has the perverse effect of once more freeing capital from so direct an involvement in production as was found in earlier phases of capitalist development.

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