Capitalism: it is what drives the world’s economies. But what drives capitalism, and why has it been the most common form of economic structure? Two sociologists, Karl Marx and Max Weber, have written very important books that reflect on the merits and problems with capitalism.
Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, written with Freidrich Engels, outlines their argument for a Communist revolution. They argue for an overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the oppressive and dominant class with ownership of the means of production, by the proletariat, the working class of the common man. The proletariat has been created by the rich, capitalist bourgeoisie, but because of their common status and sheer number, the proletariat has the potential to rise up and create a new communist society.
The Communists are made up of proletariats who want to abolish all private property, which is what is holding the proletariat in slavery. Because of the nature of free wage labor and the accumulation of capital by the bourgeoisie, they already hold most, if not all, of the private property of the society. By putting it into the hands of the state, it will be most productive and beneficial for all. A free society will be created without any of the class antagonisms that divide the people and oppress the working men.
This powerful piece arguing for Communism is actually best perceived as a commentary on the workings of and problems with capitalism. Although Communism may not be a practical option in the modern world, the work remains essential in any analysis of social class.
Another key sociological commentary on the economic system comes from Max Weber. He observes that in the spirit of capitalism, people see increasing their money as an end in itself, rather than as a means for purchasing more goods.
This idea can be traced back to the Reformation, seen in the idea of the calling, the idea that people can get religious significance out of doing worldly tasks. The concept of the calling is also present in the main sects of religious belief: most notably in Calvinism, where success in worldly activity was a way for individuals to confirm (for themselves, not gain) their salvation. The other sects, Methodists, Baptists, and Puritans, also hold a conception of the calling or the necessity of living life according to God’s will.
By this, the ascetic views of Protestantism can be seen as one of the causes of the increased desire to make money that is crucial to the development of capitalism. In Weber’s view, it is the fault of religion that society has capitalistic tendencies, especially seen in the fact that business leaders and owners are disproportionately Protestant.
Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels, Communist Manifesto.
Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.