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Power and Class: Max Weber


Max Weber saw the social world in terms of groups and group interests. In the clash of competing groups, he draws attention to the importance of power in. determining which social groups would dominate over other groups. He did not agree that power solely derived from economic relations, the relationship to private property of the means of production. For him there were three dimensions to any analysis of power: class, status, and party. By class, Max Weber is referring to the economic order of society where for him, man’s marked relationships were of the utmost importance. By market relationships, he means no more than the relationship of individuals to property. Max Weber also distinguishes two other dimensions of power: status and party. By status he talks about the way the organization of society produces different amounts of prestige or social honor for different groups of individuals. Social honor is not achieved simply by the ownership of property or of a skill or attribute. It derives from a style of life practiced by a group in a society. Status groups can be distinguished by their attempt to develop exclusive practices, their own rituals, their attempt to control the marriages of their children to the right kind of people. For Weber, the caste system of India provides a good extreme example of status groups. Status groups endeavor to maintain and to extend the privileges which distinguish them from other groups. By party, Max Weber refers to the way groups may organize themselves to achieve a goal or an objective. Parties may be trying to achieve positions, honors, or outright control of social order. Parties may be formed based on classes or status groups or some sort of mixture of both. Parties are found only in societies which are complex enough to have a clearly discernible staff of powerholders who can be influenced or replaced. Max Weber argues that these distinctions allow us to analyze the acquisition and retention of power in society in a sensitive manner. For him the struggle for power and the retention of power in a society are not simply a reflection of the economic base. The class or material position of status groups greatly influences how they can operate in the world, perhaps as a party for the extension of their privileges, there is some independence of class, status, and party actions. Control of the society is likely to be wielded in the interests of class and status groups which are organized as a party for the purpose of influencing or running the machinery of the state. The aim of controlling groups is not merely is not merely the machinery of the state. The aim of controlling groups is not merely to secure power but also to establish their right to wield such power in the eyes of subordinate groups. For Weber there are three basic sources of legitimating power; securing authority to dominate or govern. Authority can come from tradition where ruling groups may rule because they have always done so from Charisma where leaders of ruling groups have the personal magnetism or charisma to induce people to follow them or from rational means where ruling groups secure power by using the legal and judicial machinery of the state. Once in power, ruling groups must ensure that their legitimacy is maintained in the eyes of subordinate groups. They can do so partly   through the control and dissemination of leading ideas, partly through the more   open use of power by way of state machinery of laws, courts, police and so on.     

Weber has developed and to refine Marx’s basic concepts of class and power and his conception of the relationship between base and super structure in the explanation of social change. The core ideas and concepts of Marx continue to frame these modifications by Max Weber.