Max Weber and Karl Marx

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

Chapter 4

Weber’s critique of the materialist conception of history

The title under which Weber gave his lectures of 1918 on the sociology of religion was: ‘Positive critique of the materialist conception of history’. 1 Ten years earlier, in his criticism of Stammler’s ‘so-called’ surpassing of the materialist interpretation of history, 2 he had already outlined an indirect criticism of Marxism in respect of its basic methodology. The ‘materialist conception of history’ presupposed by Weber’s criticism is not to be found in Marx himself either in substance or under his name, and especially not in the young Marx, who had not yet settled accounts with his ‘philosophical conscience’. 3 It is a product of the vulgar economistic ‘Marxism’ derived from Engels and the later Marx. The original, full content of Marx’s critical analysis of man in bourgeois economic society was thereby more or less lost to sight. Weber’s misplaced criticism of Marx, which was conditioned by this fact, has affinities with the misunderstanding of the original and comprehensive object of Weber’s own sociology in later bourgeois sociology. Just as the latter, with its substantive additions and methodological discussions, obscured Weber’s pre-eminent concern with investigating the historical phenomenon of rationalism, so Weber himself—in accord here with the vulgar Marxists—obscured, in his arguments against Marxism, Marx’s original and overriding concern with the historical phenomenon of human self-alienation. Yet even in this erroneous form Weber’s critique makes evident the real nature of his difference from Marx, which has to be recovered from the mistaken form of his attack upon Marxism, in order to re-establish the difference between Weber and Marx on its original ground.

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