Max Weber and Karl Marx

By Karl Löwith; Bryan S. Turner | Go to book overview

Introduction to the translation

Karl Löwith’s study of Weber and Marx, first published in 1932, 1 has remained the major attempt to compare, in a systematic and critical way, some of the basic elements of their social thought. The key to this comparison is to be found in Löwith’s claim that both thinkers were preoccupied above all with the question of the cultural significance and consequences of modern Western capitalism, and in his attribution of the differences between them to the influence of contrasting philosophical-anthropological conceptions, expressed by Weber in the idea of ‘rationalisation’ and by Marx in the idea of ‘alienation’.

As Löwith notes at the beginning of his essay, his comparison involves a three-way relation, with himself as the third term. His lifelong preoccupation with Heidegger’s existential ontology of human existence led him naturally to interpret Marx and Weber as being centrally concerned with the human condition; not in general, as with much existentialist writing, but under capitalism. In so doing, he provided an important corrective to those views which saw Marx as either a political polemicist or a purely ‘scientific’ analyst of the laws of motion of capitalism, and which took Weber at face value as an empirical scientist eschewing value judgements and speculative philosophy.

To say, as Löwith does elsewhere, that Weber’s sociology as a whole represents ‘the counterpoint to Marx’s Capital’2 is not to minimise the differences in their respective analyses, nor to deny their very different personal philosophies of life. Weber can be plausibly represented, as he was by Jaspers in a passage which Löwith cites, as an existential philosopher, whereas expressions of personal Angst do not appear in Marx’s more

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