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Significant Influence of Karl Marx and Max Weber on Society

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Karl Marx and Max Weber are two men who spent their lives trying to make their dream society a reality. Both of these important sociological contributors were raised in bourgeoise households where they took every opportunity to expand their knowledge, but despite this similarity between them, they were still two very different people. Max Weber felt that society was built on understanding and he believed in the ‘ideal type’. On the other hand, Karl Marx believed society was dominated by man’s history of competition for resources and focused on alienation. Sociology is the study of the development, function, and structure of society and without the research and work conducted by these two important contributors and others before them, we would not have the depth of knowledge on the subject that we do today.

Karl Marx was raised in a financially successful family, in other words, Marx never really had to worry about money, and this allowed him to advance his education. Karl Marx was born May 5, 1818 in Trier, Germany, to his father who was a lawyer (Wolff, 2017). In later years, Marx followed in his father’s footsteps and studied law at the University of Bonn at age 17, but later transferred to the University of Berlin where he switched his focus from law to philosophy (OpenLearn, 2002). Karl Marx lived in Paris, France from 1843 to 1845 where many important life events took place that made him the philosopher, we know him as today. In his short time in Paris, Karl Marx met Friedrich Engels, got married, and became a socialist (Gundraker, n.d.).

Karl Marx’s encounter with Friedrich Engels resulted in a lifelong friendship and Marx also gained an intellectual colleague. Friedrich Engels was the son of a wealthy textile manufacturer who was a socialist. Marx was later kicked out of Paris by the government in 1845 where he then moved to Brussels (Gundraker, n.d.). While he was in Brussels, he was introduced to the socialist organization called the German Workers’ Educational Association. A few years later, the German Workers’ Educational Association asked Marx to create a document explaining what they believed in and what their organization was about. In order to achieve this, Marx revised a work completed by his friend and colleague Engels and called it ‘The Communist Manifesto’. In 1849, Karl Marx moved to London where he received an admission card to the reading room of the British Museum here, he spent most of his time studying capitalism, and because of this, his work ‘Das Kapital’ was created (OpenLearn, 2002). Despite this man’s great achievements in his work and theories, he was a poor provider for his family and three of his children died from malnutrition. His friend and colleague eventually left Marx an annuity to aid him in his work so that he could have a form of income to conduct his research with.

Another great sociologist that made a lasting impact on society was Max Weber. Max Weber was born on April 21, 1864 in Erfurt, Germany to a cultured, bourgeois household (Trubek, 1979). Max Weber’s family was a complicated one where his mother was very religious, and his father was hedonistic. As most boys do, he identified more with his father’s beliefs than his mother’s, but his parents would eventually get him committed to a psychiatric hospital later in his life. Weber was a precocious child although sickly and shy (Scaff, 2011).

Max Weber eventually attended college at the University of Heidelberg, but only for a few semesters because he had to fulfill his military duty. After his military duty was fulfilled, he returned home and continued his education at the University of Berlin (Sung Ho, 2019). He stayed at the University of Berlin for eight years continuing his education and gaining a deeper understanding of his parent’s relationship. After reviewing his mother and father’s relationship with one another, he grew to despise the way his father treated his mother. Once he moved to the University of Heidelberg where he served as a professor of economics, Weber’s parents came for a visit. During his parent’s visit, he confronted his father about his abusive behavior towards his mother and after some confrontation, he asked his father to leave his home. A month later, his father died unexpectedly and after discovering this news, Weber had a complete breakdown and did not recover until five years later (Sung Ho, 2019). After spending those years in a sanitorium recovering from his loss, he later returned to the University of Heidelberg where he picked up where he left off and became a successful scholar. Weber and Marx’s legacy has left a lasting impact on not just sociology, but society, including economics and philosophy.

Karl Marx’s work was closely related to the ideals of communism. One of Karl Marx’s theories regarding society was that the history of society was based on the driving force of how people relate to one another in their attempt to create a livelihood in nature. Throughout history, this is a prominent part of it because, according to Johnathon Wolff of Stanford University, “Class struggles were always present”.

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Karl Marx also focused heavily on the concept of ‘alienation’. Alienation is a condition in which society is dominated by forces that they themselves have created (Gundraker, n.d.). Marx suspected that alienation was demonstrated in our capitalistic society in four ways. One way is that man is alienated from the object he produces. Another way is that we are alienated from the process of production. Finally, the last two ways we are alienated in our capitalistic society is that we are alienated from ourselves and our fellow coworkers (OpenLearn, 2002). Marx believed that capitalism was very alienating and that it would be replaced by communism eventually. Marx described society as one full of competition and made clear the conflict between society’s interests and our interests. He also believed that in a capitalistic society trust would be hard to maintain, and in order to resolve this, private property should be abolished in order to create a true community and avoid this inevitable conflict (OpenLearn, 2002).

Max Weber believed that society was based on ‘verstehen’, otherwise known as the German word meaning ‘understanding’. Max Weber’s work focused mainly on the ‘ideal type’. This served as a measurement system for him to compare society’s current situation versus the ideal situation (Sung Ho, 2019). He used this method to compare the current bureaucracy we use today to the ideal one. After researching and comparing bureaucracies, he concluded that bureaucracies may be useful, but they were ultimately dysfunctional and depersonalized modern society (Kalberg, 2010). He also used the ‘ideal type’ to study how authority is gained and transferred.

After his thorough research, he concluded that there are three forms of authority in use in society. The first type is traditional authority which is found in older societies and is based on tradition. Basically, the leader of a traditional authority is someone that society follows because he or she continues to respect the ways of the past (Kolko, 1959). The second type is charismatic authority which is where society follows someone who they believe has extraordinary ability and tremendous appeal. A leader in this type of authority is most likely an extrovert with an approachable personality. The third type of authority discussed by Weber is rational-legal authority which is based on rules that have been legally enacted or entrusted by a contract. A great number of leaders that we have today are based on this type of authority (Kalberg, 2010).

Both Karl Marx and Max Weber are sociologists who have made a lasting impact on our lives, and without their research and hard work, we would not have to society that we live in today. Karl Marx and Max Weber are recognized as two of the most prominent theorists of the 19th century. Many might argue that there are many similarities between these sociologist’s theories, however although Marx and Weber both examined similar ideas, they came to two drastically different conclusions. Although these theorists have two different ways of approaching society, they still have some similarities in their works. For example, one similarity that could be drawn is that Marx and Weber both believed capitalism to be largely based on irrationality. Both try to understand this irrationality through the medium of religion, although it differs in significance. Max Weber argues that religion is the key to explaining the origins of capitalism (Trubek, 1979). In contrast, Marx believes that religion is nothing more than a method used to spread the ruling class ideology to the working class. It could be suggested that the arguments that Marx and Weber made, somewhat parallel each other; the main difference which sets them apart is that in Weber’s opinion God dominates the individual’s actions, whereas in Marx’s argument capital controls their actions. Although they shared similarities, their theories were still drastically different.

Karl Marx believed in a true community where there was no competition for resources, and everyone had equal access to everything. Karl Marx may be known for this communistic theory, but communism was not the end goal. He believed that, communism would be replaced with a classless society in which every person was in complete harmony with one another (Scaff, 2011). On the other hand, Max Weber believed that society just had not reached its ‘ideal type’. Weber’s work focused on the understanding of one another and society which led to the creation of the different types of authority present in our society today (Sung Ho, 2019). Another difference between the two sociologists is that Marx tends to focus on economic influences and Weber tends to focus on political. Marx argued that power is concentrated in the ruling class who use their power to exploit the public. Marxism admits the importance of the state but argues that the state promotes the interests of the ruling class in order to keep the wealthy happy (Scaff, 2011). In contrast, Weber focuses on the political and generalizes it to the economic. He emphasized that economics alone could not explain the class system.

There are many differences between Marx and Weber’s views on social class. Firstly, Marx puts a huge emphasis on structures that he believed to govern behavior including the ‘modes of production’ that he believed social classes were defined by. In comparison, Weber argued that such structures were unimportant in defining social classes and believed they were a result of individual’s behavior. Secondly, Marx argues that social groups are created around class alone. Weber criticizes this view due to Marx’s view being unable to define groups based around inequality. Weber argues that other factors are involved in the formation of social groups. Finally, Marx’s view is that class relations are based on economic exploitation, whereas Weber argues that class relations are more dominance based and economic conflicts are only a struggle between the dominant person and the inferior person (Sung Ho, 2019).

In conclusion, these two prominent, yet different sociologists made a mark on society that is still a part of our lives today.

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Significant Influence of Karl Marx and Max Weber on Society. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from
“Significant Influence of Karl Marx and Max Weber on Society.” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022,
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