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Marx and Weber - Theories of the state

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There have been a number of rival theories of the state offered throughout history, according to Marshall (1998) "The state is a distinct set of institutions that has the authority to make the rules which govern society" (p.635). However, Marx and Weber had their own theories and this essay aims to critically compare their theories on the role of the state in capitalist society. The state refers to all the institutions, agencies and agents that operate within a given territorial space, have legitimate power and authority over its citizens and can utilise force as the ultimate sanction if we fail to accept its laws and orders. This characteristic of the state as the sole legitimate user of force is a common theme among theorists and academics. In addition to the possession of the power and authority to employ violence legitimately, the state can be characterised as consisting of a number of agents and offices, for example; government ministers, police, army and local governments. However it is important to note the difference between the government and the state, the state fulfils its role over time and is more permanent than the government which is only an element within a much larger and more powerful entity (Heywood, 1999, p.74). Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were the founders of Marxism, it was they who formulated the ideas central to it. ...read more.


development was the mode of production, which consisted of two forces; the means of production and the relations of production (Heywood, 1997, p.51). The means of production being the raw materials and machinery used to produce goods and the relations of production being the social classes consisting of the owners of these materials and machinery and those who worked for the owners to produce the goods. Marx viewed the owners as the exploiters and the workers as the exploited. He identified history of consisting of a number of 'epochs' which were characterised by a particular mode of production. He believes that through revolution a capitalist society will lead to a communist society and when this communism is reached there will be no longer any social classes left and there will no need for a state. Thus the state will 'wither away'. As each stage of the mode of production arises an economic base and infrastructure is created which corresponds directly to that mode of production. For Marx, this break between base and superstructure marks a period of crisis and revolutionary change. From this perspective Marx identified the economic infrastructure as the source of power. Through historical materialism, Marx would have considered the state part of the 'superstructure' of society, and thus as a part of the relations of production. ...read more.


This identifies that the state consists of the government or legislature which passes laws, the bureaucracy or civil service which implements government decisions, the police who are responsible for law enforcement and the armed forces whose job it is to protect the state from external threats (REFERENCE). Weber, like Marx, identified society as being characterised by conflicts over power and resources. Yet where Marx saw polarised class relations and economic issues at the centre of all social conflict, Weber developed a more complex, multi-dimensional view of society. Weber identified two factors associated with social stratification that Marx failed to recognise. Marx identified class but Weber put emphasis on status and party. By overlapping these three components Weber showed that there is a greater number of positions within society rather than the rigid, bi-polar model that Marx proposed. Weber characterized the state as a structure based on the legitimized monopoly of physical coercion; a mixture of legal authority and bureaucracy. He argued that states are compulsory associations claiming control over territories and the people within them (Weber, 1972). Stepan (1978) offers this quick summation of Weber's view on the state: "The state must be considered as more than 'the government'. It is the continuous administrative, legal, bureaucratic and coercive systems that attempt not only to structure relationships between civil society and public authority in a polity but also to structure many crucial relationships within civil society as well." ...read more.

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