Max Weber and Karl Marx

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

Chapter 3

Marx’s interpretation of the bourgeois-capitalist world in terms of human ‘self-alienation’

THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE CONCEPT FROM HEGEL THROUGH FEUERBACH TO MARX

The specifically ‘Marxist’ theme in the analysis of the bourgeoiscapitalist world is not its self-alienation, but its ‘anatomy’, its skeletal structure—that is to say, its political economy—a term which grasps economic existence and consciousness in a dialectical unity. At first glance, the emphasis on the anatomy of bourgeois society signifies no more than a change of emphasis from ‘bourgeois society’ in Hegel’s sense to the ‘system of needs’ as such. It depicts the material relations of production as the skeletal structure of this society. At the same time, this approach also includes the much broader and more questionable thesis of the fundamental importance of the material conditions of life as the determinant of all other aspects, which eventually crystallises in the vulgar Marxist thesis of so-called ‘real base’ as the foundation on which there arises a superstructure that is to be interpreted as purely ideological. It is in this form, which is not merely vulgarised but disfigured, that Marxism has generally become the object of both criticism and defence. This is how Weber also regarded Marxism and combated it as a dogmatically economistic historical materialism.

Leaving aside the question of how far Marx himself, and even more Engels, gave support to this vulgar Marxist conception, the fact remains that after Marx had achieved self-clarification in philosophy the critique of political economy became his primary concern. ‘Marx’s development in this respect can be summarised in the brief formula: he undertook first a philosophical critique of religion, then a political critique

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