Capitalism and Modernity: An Excursus on Marx and Weber

Capitalism and Modernity: An Excursus on Marx and Weber

Capitalism and Modernity: An Excursus on Marx and Weber

Capitalism and Modernity: An Excursus on Marx and Weber

Synopsis

In this provocative reassessment, Derek Sayer shows that both Marx and Weber produced a challenging critique of the nature of power and subjectivity in modern society, a critique which retains all its intellectual force and moral relevance today. Clearly and accessibly written, Capitalism and Modernity is a major work of original scholarship which will be a key text in social theory.

Excerpt

To begin with what might appear to be a digression in a work of social theory, in a way which may or may not be apparent, events of 1989 in two central squares of capital cities frame what I try to say here. As I was close to finishing this book there came the ‘tender revolution’ (as the Czechs call it) whose most visible manifestation was the people congregating nightly in their hundreds of thousands in Wenceslas Square in Prague, to reclaim those who had long been officially erased from the national life and memory—the playwright Václav Havel, the gymnast Věra Čáslavská, the popsinger Marta Kubišová, and perhaps most poignantly of all, the minor forestry official Alexander Dubček. This was not the sort of revolution to which the modern world is used. It was, for once, a revolution against those ersatz gods of modernity who have stolen, by divine right of ideology, decades of people’s lives, hopes and dreams; a refusal of the reduction of the personal to the political.

Informing this unusual revolution was (in Václav Havel’s own words) ‘a profound distrust of all generalizations, ideological platitudes, clichés, slogans [and] intellectual stereotypes’, a distrust bred by forty years of experience. Havel (1989) drew a simple conclusion:

The stifling pall of hollow words that has smothered us for so long has cultivated in us such a deep mistrust of the world of deceptive words that we are now better equipped than ever before to see the human world as it really is: a complex com-

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