You are on page 1of 9

Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 1

Tsvetina Pavlova

Social Theory Paper 1

Dr. Huberman

March 6, 2017

Diagnosing Modernity

Intro

Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Karl Marx all agree on many of the fundamental

problems related to capitalism, but they disagree on the scope of these problems and the efficacy

of institutional resistance. Weber and Marx express skepticism of Durkheims reformist politics.

Durkheim discusses how modern society is held together by a division of labor that

makes individuals dependent upon one another because they specialize in different types of

work. Durkheim is particularly concerned about how the division of labor changes the way that

individuals feel they are part of society as a whole. Societies with little division of labor (i.e.,

where people are self-sufficient) are unified by mechanical solidarity; all people engage in

similar tasks and thus have similar responsibilities, which builds a strong collective conscience.

Modern society, however, is held together by organic solidarity (the differences between people),

which weakens collective conscience. Durkheim studied these different types of solidarity

through laws. A society with mechanical solidarity is characterized by repressive law, while a

society with organic solidarity is characterized by restitutive law. In a world where everyone was

exactly the same, there would be no need for government or regulation, because everyone would

have the same interests and ideas. However, since society is becoming increasingly

heterogeneous, Durkheim views law as the unifying glue between different strata of peoples. The
Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 2

worker and the owner class have distinct interests, but their interests will be mediated through

the state.

Durkheims advancement of dualisms is helpful in understanding his advocacy for the

rule of law. Durkheim sees the world as a series of zero-sum dualisms. Light and dark, day and

night, rich and poor, white and black, etc. The application of natural dualisms, like light and

dark, to social relations is problematic and underlies much of the criticism of Durkheims

philosophy. When we imagine light and dark, we imagine two solid states, white and black. But

the reality is these are only two colors on a vast and brilliant spectrum of light. The sun doesnt

come out and instantly illuminate the Earth, but gradually rises over the horizon. Just as night

and day gradually turn into one another, there are many gradients of social strata. If we view

government as balancing the interests between two equally powerful groups, then it makes sense

that outcomes will be roughly equitable to everyone. But if we acknowledge the sheer diversity

of factions and intense inequities in power between them, then it becomes more difficult to figure

out where the middle ground is, if there even is one.

Webers study of the protestant work ethic and how it feeds into capitalist ideology helps

illuminate this point. Weber examined a seeming paradox between religion and capitalism. Why

do Protestants, who would ostensibly reject material wealth, make such good capitalists and

workers? Before the Protestant Reformation, Christian authority was largely concentrated in

large institutions and churches. The Catholic Pope is the leader of Christianity and from him all

religiosity flows. Religious instruction was in the hands of designated bishops and individual

commonfolk were supposed to receive this instruction. With the Protestant Reformation,

individuals were suddenly empowered to make their own religious interpretation of biblical text.

Under Protestantism, destiny belongs to the individual, and their fate is dependent on their
Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 3

actions and beliefs in this life. This philosophy meshes extremely well with capitalisms

philosophy of labor. Under capitalism, a worker can succeed if only they reach out and take that

success for themselves. Under both capitalism and Protestantism, individuals are ultimately

responsible, instead of the institutions that serve them. In this sense, individuals just that,

individual. They solipsitically exist in the world on their own, responsible for their own creation

and responsible for their fate.

Webers analysis that religion, specifically Protestantism, promotes capitalist ideology is

incredibly helpful in criticizing Durkheims ideas. Durkheim believes that the working class will

organically form solidarity to resist the upper class. Essentially, he believes that workers will

recognize each others plight and begin to self-organize. However, Weber shows that this

analysis is dangerously one-dimensional. Society isnt structured as a bidirectional ladder,

advancing up or falling down. Ideology and motivation plays a role in peoples beliefs in

conjunction with their position on the ladder. People on lower rungs wont resent those at the top

if they believe that climbing harder will grant them membership on higher rungs. Religion adds

another dimension to Webers analysis. Being a member of the working class predisposes an

individual to solidarity, but Protestant ideology, and by extension other ideologies, predisposes

individuals against forming solidarity. People are complex characters and are motivated by an

endless number of ideologies and identities. Webers analysis also helps explain how religious

capitalists justify their oppression of workers. Protestant capitalists believe all labor is valuable

and contributes to someones religious or economic ascension. There is no such thing as

exploitative labor relations, because all labor is fundamentally good. Webers writings show how

ideology can serve to prop up capitalism and prevent the maturation of class consciousness.
Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 4

Webers analysis becomes truly harrowing when put in context of Marxs arguments on

class consciousness and ideology. Marx believes ideology is the reason why society progressed

the way it did. Marx believes that ideologies are tied to politics. Peoples beliefs are a reflection

of their economic class, which means ideologies reflect self-interest. Ideologies are a camera

obscura, meaning they are distorted truths, a masking of (capital) power. In this sense, the

reason Protestant Capitalists highly value labor and pulling themselves up by the boostraps, is

that those actions result in their socioeconomic advancement relative to workers who only work

for a wage. This is reflected in the sentiments bosses have towards labor. Supervisors love good

workers, and their definition of good work is work which enriches themselves, not the worker.

Marxs contributions mean that ideology didnt just sprout out of nowhere, but is a mechanism

by which the ruling class maintains power and suppresses the lower classes. Marx explains:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the

ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class

which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time

over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of

those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are

nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the

dominant material relationships grasped as ideas. ( marx, german ideology, pg

number???)

Those at the top of the social ladder dont just benefit from the view. But they actively contribute

to making it more difficult for others to climb or to be motivated enough. The wealthy class, the

elite class, the ruling class, and the intellectual class are all synonymous. For example, Weber

discusses the Protestant Reformation, but did each individual have equitable control over the
Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 5

intellectual future of the movement? Former Catholics were inspired by the proliferation of

Bibles and information made available by the development of the printing press. But under this

framework, those who owned the printing presses also controlled the proliferation of

information. Those who could buy Bibles in mass suddenly had influence, because they had a

large supply of potentially revolutionary information. The Protestant Reformation was greatly

accelerated by the tolerance of local German princes. But these princes werent swayed solely by

the persuasiveness of Martin Luther. By breaking away from the Catholic Church, German

princes were able to redirect taxes and tithes to themselves (Bainton, 1978). This analysis shows

how intellectual movements are propagated by profiteers. The Protestant work ethic didnt just

coincidentally happen to be good for capitalism, but the Protestant work ethic developed because

it was good for capitalism.

Marxs arguments on capitalist influence over ideological propaganda are directly

applicable to todays world. Television networks, movie studios, online news, social media

networks, newspapers, etc are all owned by the wealthy and powerful. While independent blogs,

sites, and newspapers exist, they dont have access to the massive intellectual infrastructure

assembled by capitalism. Speaking of communist revolution would get a news anchor fired. The

ideological architecture of capitalism is incompatible with truly revolutionary ideas. It is difficult

to build class consciousness, because its difficult to decipher the code over the deafening static

of capitalism. Workers must whisper to form unions and to organize, for fear of reprisal. This

makes it that much harder to hear them when the capitalists are screaming in our ears and are

blinding our vision with bright neon advertisements.

Marx showcases other flaws with Durkheims philosophy. Durkheim posits that the

proletariat and the bourgeois will check and balance themselves into equality. There are several
Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 6

problems with this. Aside from ideological pollution already addressed, the bourgeois have their

thumbs on the scale, weighting their ideas much more heavily vs the needs of the people.

Bourgeois control economic, religious, and political institutions. Rules and laws cannot be the

arbiter of disputes between the working and owning class, because the rulemaking process is

corrupted by capitalism. Politicians face intensely perverse incentives to preserve and enrich the

economic class, because they can receive massive amounts of political donations and patronage.

Corporations can afford expensive lobbyists to influence political debates. Corporations can fund

advertisement campaigns to apply constituent pressure on politicians. All of these avenues of

powerful political expression are less accessible to workers.

Faith in governance is also unfounded, because it allows injustice to occur. Even

assuming that the state is capable of redress, under Durkheim the state is a reactive force,

addressing injustices only after they exist. There is a need for a much more proactive politics

fostering an ethic of collective responsibility. Part of class consciousness is the belief that people

will realize what class they belong to and will do what is best for their particular class. Marx

believes that as part of class consciousness workers will somehow come to a realization and

work together to improve their conditions; the workers will maximize their utility collectively

and reverse some of the unintended consequences of the utilitarian approach. While its difficult

to see through capitalisms ideological obfuscation, it is the ultimate responsibility of the

organizer and the activist to generate effective anticapitalist consciousness.

Durkheims faith in the state means that solidarity can exist within capitalism. Marx says

this is a non sequitur. Marx demonstrates that class relations are inherently antagonistic. As long

as capitalism exists, working classes will be divided and ruling classes will continue to foster

competition. Marx shows that capitalism creates overwhelming incentives to compete. The labor
Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 7

market forces workers into gladiator-style combat with one another. Workers must compete with

each other for jobs, and when they get a job, they must compete with other employees for

promotions and other incentives. The splintering of anticapitalist movements by the creation of

discord within the masses is an active feature of capitalism. Workers often envy and resent others

who receive jobs and promotions, instead of criticizing the gatekeeper mentality that

concentrates all meritocratic power in the hands of a few bosses. Constant competition

completely neglects what happens to the losers. To people who fight from a disadvantaged

position or cant compete at all. The constant competition of capitalism exacerbates and

magnifies existing social inequalities. Racism, sexism, ableism, among other forms of oppression

all manifest themselves in capitalism. Whether it be workplace bans on dreadlocks, women

getting paid less, or difficulties even physically entering the workplace, capitalism denies and

undervalues social others.

Understanding that the ability to participate in capitalism is a live or death decision shines

a new light on economically motivated crime. Its easy to say we should live in a community of

laws, when doing so is easy. For many, simultaneously living in capitalism and obeying social

norms and rules is impossible. Furthermore, those who are able to participate in capitalism are

forced to. Under capitalism, unemployment makes life literally unlivable. Without work,

someone cant get paid, and without pay, no one can afford groceries, gas, rent, etc. This

understanding of wage dependence undermines Durkheims contract theory. Contracts only work

if both parties are autonomous. But labor contracts are always signed under duress. Workers

always have an invisible gun to the back of their head that encourages them to take jobs they

dont like to make products they will never use for pay that barely covers their needs. But bosses

dont operate under duress, if one individual refuses employment, they can almost always find
Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 8

another who will take the deal. Contractually exchange is supposed to benefit both parties.

Theoretically, both sides benefit from the deal the worker gets paid and the employer gets

labor. But the employer has every incentive to maximize the labor they get while minimizing the

pay they distribute while the worker has every incentive to take any deal they can. Capitalism

simplifies the art of the deal down to simply being on the advantageous side of the negotiating

table.

Durkheim, Weber, and Marx were all incredibly influential people whose works have had

an immeasurable impact on history. Durkheim believes that the different classes are oriented

against each other, but this conflict forms the basis of class solidarity and will eventually

dialectically result in synthesis. Durkheim posits that law and government can mediate between

the tug-of-war between the working and the owning class. Weber is much more skeptical,

arguing that ideology results in steering away individuals from their class interests and

encourages assimilation, rather than resistance to systems of oppression. Marx goes a step further

in arguing these ideologies are developed because they are amenable to capitalism. Marx

elaborates that class relations are fundamentally antagonistic and reformism under capitalism is

impossible, because capitalism results in the fragmentation of workers coalitions. International

workers revolution is difficult, but for Marx, this is the only viable solution to the problem of

capitalism. Tieback to introduction / end the paper (either with joke, call to action, pessimism, or

optimism)
Diagnosing Modernity Pavolva 9

Reference Page

Bainton, Roland H. (1978). Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville: Pierce & Smith

Company. pp. 76, 202, 214221.