Although the term capitalism was not widely used until the latter part of the nineteenth century (Bottomore, 1988) to date it may be considered as one of the most influential factors in the development of society. Infact, no single phenomenon is as significant to the classical sociological theory as capitalism. Capitalism is the end product of the industrial revolution; it created both new ideas and a new social order, in other words it enquired into the nature of society, the existence of our social world. In this new social order individuals are free to own means of production and maximize profits that is determined by a price system.
It is unequivocally clear that capitalism is significant to the classical theorists, as it forms a central concept within their sociological paradigm. According to Randall Collins, capitalism is present wherever the industrial provision for the needs of humans is carried out by enterprise, irrespective of what that need involves. That is, a rational capitalistic establishment, which determines its income yielding power by calculation according to the methods of modern book keeping and the striking of balance.
Such accounting involves again, the first appropriation of all physical means of production; land, machinery, tools, and so on, as disposable property of autonomous private industrial enterprises. Bottomore and Giddens among others saw capitalism as comprising a set characteristic. Simply stated they include: private ownership of the means of production, free market, profit, self-interest, economic growth and self-organization. One unifying characteristic of capitalism as regards by the founding fathers such as Marx, Durkheim, Weber and Spence, is the extent to which capitalism is seen as a superior form of society to pre-existing ones.
All classical theorists agree that capitalism presents an improvement over the entire set of relations that existed in Western Europe. It is true that these Theorists assumed progress in societies to be teleological, which means that, they are moving in a particular direction, (unidirectional or unilinear) and in other words they have purposes or goals. In order to achieve these goals, society causes or creates specific social structures and institutions. One of the widely debated and held views of society comes from sociologist Karl Marx.
Throughout his life, Marx wrestled with the question, in a society so rich, how could so many be poor? Needless to say he also asked, how can the situation be changed? He was motivated by compassion for humanity, and sought to help so that a new and just social order could exist. (Macionis, 1998). Marx’s concepts involved the idea of social conflict and struggle between segments of society over valued resources. For Marx however, the most significant form of social conflict involved clashes between social classes that arose from the way a society produces material goods.
Marx’s theory of capitalism clearly went beyond an economic based analysis and beyond that of a ‘political economy’ (Bottomore, 1988). It was, in fact it was more of a broad socio-historical theory, which treated capitalism as a total society; involved in a distinctive process of development. Similarly the major alternative theories have dealt with capitalism as a distinct form of society in which there are interrelations and interactions between the economy, political and other social institutions, and the culture sphere, (Bottomore, 1988).
Marx fused the works of Hegel’s dialectic and Feuerbach’s materialism, into his own distinct orientation and dialectical relation within the material world. Marx’s materialism and his consequent focus on the economic sector led him to the work of political economists such as Adam Smith. He lauded Smith’s basic premise that labour was the source of all wealth. This ultimately led Marx to his labour theory of value, in which he argued; the profit of the of the capitalist was based on the exploitation of the labourer (Ritzer, 1992).
Marx’s drew on a number of major assumptions, concepts and theories to give an account of how he viewed and analyzed nineteenth century capitalist society. He made numerous deliberations about surplus value, which is essentially responsible for the exploitative nature of class-ridden societies (Ritzer, 1992). Marx’s dichotomous model supplies the necessary foundation of the theory of class society; ownership as opposed to non-ownership of the means of production is the fundamental axis along which ‘infrastructure’ is related to ‘superstructure’.
However this theory of class society is obviously dependent on the manner in which Marx’s associates his dichotomous model to the conception of ‘exploitation’ (Giddens, 1973). Exploitation of the labourer by the manufacturer is but one kind; other also exploits him (e. g. Landlords, Shopkeepers). His diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which modern industry is maintained. And his specialized skills are constantly rendered worthless by new methods of production. According to Marx’s ‘class’ ultimately results from inter-relationships among individual relationships to the factors of production; thus beyond economic wealth.
He sees the existence of two distinct classes, the bourgeoisies and the proletariats. Marx’s elaboration on the concept of surplus value was associated with his prediction making, as he tried to relate it to his associated theory that there was a tendency for the general rate of wages to fall to subsistence level. Consequently antagonism and conflict would result, thus the Communist Manifesto was drawn up. This manifesto to a great extent reflects the history of the modern working class movement; presently it is undoubtedly the most widespread, most international production of all socialist literature. Giddens, 1973).
Feudalism, like capitalism, is built upon a dichotomous class relation, centering upon property ownership. According to both Marx and Giddens this class structure differs in basic aspects from that created by the advent of the capitalist market. He goes on to say that the spread of capitalism inevitably destroys both feudal bonds and fealty and the relatively ‘self contained’ character of the local community (Giddens, 1973). Despite all this, Marx’s preoccupation or rather one of the many, was to discover the principles of change for society.
He was not merely interested in describing the stratification system to show how many strata’s there were in society, who had high or low privilege or the kinds of privilege enjoyed. Thus, he never produced a theory of stratification. Instead, he examined society for key groups, which either appeared to have a strong interest in maintaining the existing social system or a strong interest in trying to change it (Giddens 1973). This leads to a separation of the ‘economic’ and the ‘political’ class relationships, governed by the contractual ties entered into by capital and wage-labour on the open market.
Thereby become purely ‘economic’ relationships in a specific sense. It is here is abstract model of capitalism begins from a difficult problem of economic theory one that, he taught as been concealed by the theory of orthodox political economy. This is the problem of the origin of surplus value. Given that the essences of capitalism is expressed in the class relation between capital and wage-labour, whereby the working class sells its labour in exchange for the means of their livelihood.
It follows from the assumptions of Marx’s abstract model of classes; that this relation must rest upon the appropriation of surplus value, by the capitalist class (Giddens, 1973). In the capitalist market, the derivation of surplus value is not to be traced to the direct extraction of produce as “labour is ‘bought and sold at its value’ on the market, like any other commodity. ” (Giddens, 1973). Marx’s view on society is based on the idea of dialectic. From this viewpoint, any process of change involves tension between incompatible forces; as this struggle between incompatible forces grows its intensity results in collision.
This conflict is primarily caused by economic infrastructure. According to Marx this creates problems of inequalities of wealth, he therefore surmised that individuals could only survive if there was a state of communism, thus the abolition of private property. This he described as a Utopian society where all would be equal. Dialectics according to (Ritzer, 1992) is both a way of thinking and an image of the world. Although dialectics is generally associated with Hegel, it certainly predates him in philosophy. Marx, trained in the Hegelian tradition, accepted the significance of the dialectic.
Although he was critical of some aspects of the way Hegel used it. For example, Hegel tends to apply the dialectic only to ideas, whereas Marx felt that it applied as well to material aspects of life, like the economy (Ritzer, 1992). According to Marx the society’s economic organization or its mode of production, consists of a distinctive pattern of forces and relations of production. This is the foundation on which complex political and ideological superstructures and definite forms of social consciousness arise.
Initially, for each mode of production, the relations of production facilitate the development of the productive forces; they later act as fetter on the development, this initiates an era of social revolution in which the dominant relations of production are challenged. And any resulting change in the economic basis, eventually leads to super structural changes. This pattern holds for all societies from primitive communism, through ancient times and feudalism to contemporary capitalism, which is described as the last antagonistic mode of production (Stones, 1998).
Marx being concerned with the genesis and dynamic of capitalism made fewer claims of its trans-historical nature. This refers to class struggle mainly between capitals and labour within capitalism rather than over its super session. Clearly this presents a critical political economy of the capitalist system and its antagonistic character rather than a popular political sociology of revolutionary class struggle. For me, this makes one asks the question; as to Marx’s understand of capitalism and better yet its significance to him.
According to Marx capitalism is basically “a series of structure that erects barriers between an individual and the production process, products of the process and other people. Ultimately, it even divides the individual. ” This is the basic meaning of the concept of alienation; which is the breakdown of the natural interconnection between people and what they produce. According to Marx this occurs as capitalism has evolved into a two-class system, in which few capitalists own the production process, the products and labour time of those who work for them. Marx’s standing is best linked to his work on the political economy of capitalism.
His analysis of the commodity form particularly generalization of wage-labour, is still essential to understand the dynamics of capitalism. Problems arise when this critique is applied to the analysis of society as a whole. The central importance of capitalism is: even if its broadly defined, is not necessarily as central in turn for its explanation of the dynamics of an entire society (Stones, 1998). Nevertheless its importance to society is unequivocally inimitable, likewise, the dedication of Marx’s life to capitalist is clear and so to is its significance to him.
Not to say that he agreed with all its components, but even so, saw it as an important social component. Max Weber read Marx’s work on capitalism and his idea of economic determinism. As to the factors underpinning the development of capitalism, he accepts Marx’s insistence on examining the economic structures of society. He felt, however, that other societal factor’s had to be studied so that the cultural significance and motivational implications that were associated with capital development be understood. Additionally, he disagreed with Marx’s assessment of capitalism as irrational (Weber, 1930).
Weber therefore viewed Marx as an economic determinists who offered a ‘single-clause’ theories of social life: as Marx’s theory traced all historical developments to economic bases thus viewing all contemporary structure as created on such base. Marx’s economic determinism outlook, viewed ideas as simply the reflections of material or rather economical interests, which determine ideology, this belief seemed to bother Weber. Instead of focusing on economic factors and their effect on ideas or ideas as simple reflections of economic factors. Weber devoted much study to ideas and their effect on the economy.
Weber saw ideas as fairly autonomous forces, fully capable of profoundly affecting the economic world. Thus he explored systems of religious ideas and there impact on the economy. “In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, he was concerned with Protestantism, as a system of ideas and its impact on the capitalist economic system and of another spirit of capitalism” (Ritzer, 1992). In fact Weber’s study of Calvinism provides striking evidence of the power of ideas to shape society versus Marx’s contention that ideas merely reflect the process of economic production.
Weber knew that industrial capitalism had many roots; thus he counter Marx’s narrow explanation of modern society in strictly economic terms. Weber distinguishes between the different modes of capitalist orientation to profit making, in order to determine its specific characteristics. He concluded that it is only in the western world that rational capitalist enterprises with permanent capital, free labour, rational specialization combination of labour and market allocation of productive functions on profit, is to be found.
He asserted that progress was the movement away from traditional modern rational social system and that a dichotomy was established between the two. (Bottomore 1988). Giddens (1973) state that, “it is evident that for Weber, as for Marx, the advent of Capitalism dramatically changes the character of the general connections between classes and society. The emergence of the labour contract as the predominant type of class relationship is tied to the phenomenon of the expansion of economic life and the formation of a national economy, which is so characteristic of modern capitalism. This involves a formally voluntary organization of labour, expropriation of means of production from workers and the appropriation of enterprises by shareholders. Weber also examines the difference between a ‘market economy’ and a ‘planned economy’, in order to clarify the specific character of capitalist rationality, partly as an element in his critical view of the possibility of socialism. Weber saw the possibility of a bleak future for societies that did not temper capitalism with the development of the human spirit. Fuelled originally by religious asceticism and supported by rational, scientific thought.
Weber feared that “the spirit of religious asceticism” would eventually disappear from capitalist culture leaving capitalism resting purely on rational and scientific foundations. Of course, Weber understood the significance of capitalism. He realized that concealed beneath the banner of ‘capitalism’, the ‘most fateful force in our modern life as he called it, are a variety of fairly different characteristics. “Capitalism ( feudalism, mercantilism, socialism, and so on) can only be a pure or ‘ideal type, not a real entity, that are constructed from complex events for analytic purposes”.
As production for a market, capitalism had appeared elsewhere in history; more specifically in ancient Rome. As entrepreneurial activity aimed at amassing savings, it achieved prominence in the Italian city-states of the Renaissance (Stones, 1998). From Weber’s perspective his inquiry into the capitalist world order elaborated for the most part a historical thesis. Although aware of its implications for the present and future; what really does this thesis mean for us today, centuries after the reformation and the scientific revolution of the enlightenment? (Stones, 1998).
The main similarity between the spirit of capitalism and the ethic of Protestantism are that both require the application of systematic self-discipline in economic activities and both view the fulfillment of one’s occupational responsibilities as something that is morally worthy. Capitalism requires that workers proceed in a disciplined and systematic way about his task, whilst the Protestant ethic leads him to exercise similar self-control in order to sustain his somewhat fragile conviction of his own salvation. Capitalism regards work as something entirely ood, people ought to do it if they’re upright citizens. Calvinism’s outlook on work is similar; it’s morally worth to work is something God requires of man (Weber, 1930). According to Ian McIntosh (1997), Marx and Weber are on opposite sides on the issue of capitalism. Weber considers industrial capitalism, the essence of rationality since capitalists pursue profit in eminently rational ways thus rational behaviour supports the developments of capitalism. Whilst Marx claims that it failed to meet the basic need of most people; that is, utilizing goods/services to make a profit at the end of the business period.
For Weber, capitalism is identical to the pursuit of profit by means of “continuous rational capitalistic enterprises. ” Weber therefore sees modern capitalism as being characterized by the investment and re-investment of small capital back into the production process and not by unlimited greed. His description of the bureaucracy, closely parallels Marx’s notions of capitalist society in that, its structure was a hierarchical one much like the bourgeoisie at the top with the proletariats at the bottom. Macionis states that Industrial capitalism emerged as the legacy of Calvinism (Macionis, 1998).
Weber, believes that Calvinist view on a predestined eternity, prompted Calvinists to interpret worldly prosperity as a sign of God’s grace. Anxious to acquire this reassurance, Calvinists threw themselves into a quest of success, applying rationality, discipline and hard work to their tasks. As they reinvested their profits for greater success, Calvinists built the foundations of capitalism (Macionis, 1998). According to Macionis, Weber used these traits to distinguish Calvinism from other world religions.
Catholicism, the traditional religion in most European countries gave rise to other worldview of life, with hope of greater reward in the life to come. For Catholics, material wealth had none of the spiritual significance that motivated Calvinists, and so it was Weber who concluded that industrial capitalism became established primarily in areas of Europe where Calvinism had a strong hold. Whilst there was unending debate between these two classical theories, it is evident that both viewed capitalism as been significant, and better yet its existence form part of the key element on which their sociological paradigms are based.
Evidently, capitalism’s significance and likewise its effect on society is debatable, but its importance is unquestionably clear. Durkheim too, another of the classical theorist, had his view on the concept of capitalism. In fact he did not use the term capitalism, but rather, ‘organic solidarity’. Durkheim saw the relationship between the individual and society as a dynamic one. Society, he said, “has a social reality of its own it’s not simply the sum total of the individual and their actions. ” Beliefs, moral codes and ways of acting are passed from one generation to the next, and are learnt by new members of the society.
The individual’s action is constrained by these learned patterns, which Durkheim calls “social facts” (Durkheim, 1984) Durkheim (1984) differentiated between two types of social facts; material and non-material. Although he dealt with both, in the course of his work. His main focus was on non-material social facts, exemplified by culture and social institution rather than material social facts, which includes bureaucracy and laws. In his earliest major works he focused on a comparative analysis of what held society together, in primitive and modern cases (Durkheim, 1984).
He concluded that earlier societies were held together primarily by non-material social facts, specifically, a strongly held common morality, or what he called strong “collective conscience”. However, because of the complexities of modern society, there had been a decline in the strength of collective conscience (Ritzer, 1992). According to Durkheim, individuals internalized the “collective conscience”; to the extent it could be said, “society is present in the individuals who also came to realize their dependence on society and recognize that they have obligations to maintain the social order. ” (Durkheim1984).