Weber, Class, and Economics
In Class, Status, Party, Weber discusses the various collectives that he sees as functioning in society. Significantly, such communities are the basis of a society's power and it's distribution among individuals; "we understand by 'power' the chance of a man or of a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others" (180). However, he contrasts his understanding of communities with those of his predecessors, most notably Marx. Weber does not see power relationships and social groups exclusively in economic terms, and notes that the means and motives for power may easily be non-economic in nature. In addition to economic power are social prestige and political power, which, though they act and are acted upon by the economic power structure, are not merely extensions of it.
In his discussion of economic class situation, Weber puts forth a concept
of class as determined by the possession of property and class members' varying
abilities to exercise control over the exchange of their property. Economic
distribution "excludes the noon-owners from competing for highly valued
goods; it favors the owners and, in fact, gives to them a monopoly to acquire
[it] monopolizes the opportunities for profitable deals for
all those who, provided with goods, do not necessarily have to exchange them"
(181). However, he contests the idea of a manifest class interest or struggle,
as a class is not automatically a community with its own set interests. A class'
understanding of itself as a unified group must be preceded by a situation in
which economic differences are understood as an important determinant of a group's
"The fact of being conditioned and the results of the class situation must be distinctly recognisable. For only then the contrast of life chances can be felt not as an absolutely given fact to be accepted, but as a resultant from either (1) the given distribution of property, or (2) the structure of the concrete order" (184).
Thus, class struggles cannot be understood except in cases where a class community has emerged.
Weber also posits the existence of a status order that is separate from and sometimes even hostile to economic situations. Significantly, the earning of wealth and prestige are separate endeavors. "Not all power, however, entails social honor: The typical American Boss, as well as the typical big speculator, deliberately relinquishes social honor. Quite generally, 'mere economic' power, and especially 'naked' money power, is by no means a recognized basis of social honor" (180). One central facet of social prestige lies in a group's 'style of life', which imposes limits on members' interaction as well as social fashions. For Weber, among the most important of these is the distaste for labor among the upper echelons of society. Significantly, this someone alienates the noveau riche capitalist from social circles. "The 'parvenu' is never accepted, personally and without reservation, by the privileged status groups, no matter how completely his style of life has been adjusted to theirs. They will only accept his descendants who have been educated in the conventions of their status group and who have never besmirched its honor by their own economic labor" (192). In this way, Weber sees the status order as a separate entity from economic class; the gaining of social prestige is divorced from the economic power of any given individual.
Wealth and status, rather than being synonymous as in a Marxist perspective, are seen as separate and competing entities by Weber. Thus, it is natural that these two systems of power are predominant at different times; when prestige is important, economic power recedes, and vice versa. "Every technological repercussion and economic transformation threatens stratification by status and pushes the class situation into the foreground and every slowing down of the shifting of economic stratifications leads, in due course, to the growth of status structures and makes for a resuscitation of the important role of social honor" (194). These opposing systems, based on different systems of power, thus remain in conflict with one another.