iology is “the study of human social behavior.” In other words, to understand the world around us, we must understand the different aspects of sociology and different sociological viewpoints. As is to be expected, there are many different viewpoints on why people or why society acts the way is does. But there are very few who views and ideas are as prominent as such theorists as Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. Although there viewpoints are supported by many “case studies”, they do differ on some very key issues. So it would be doing oneself a grave injustice to understand and hold as true one of these viewpoints while completely ignoring the others. Understanding as many different ideals as possible will help in making the best interpretation when trying to understand any complex society. One of the things that makes these three theorists work so unbelievable is the fact that they produced their works many decades ago, but much of what they believed still holds true in the modern world. If they could publish so long ago and their theories still hold true today, there must be a good deal of validity to these ideas. But besides that fact, and maybe even more important, these ideas and theories can help to formulate unique ideas and interpretations of the world. We see the world through our own eyes, we all have unique experiences which develop unique ideas. Through understanding some important ideas of the past, it will help in not only understanding the world around us, but also in developing new theories for future generations.
The article I have chosen to unpack using Weberian, Durkheimian, and Marxian views is from the November 21st issue of “The Economist” and it is entitled “When Lawsuits Make Policy.” According to this article, the new trend in getting things done in the U.S. is through exploiting the legal system. Things that people could not achieve previously in a democratic fashion are now being taken to the courts. But this creates a major paradox for our strongly “democratic” society. This takes the power out of voting and puts the power into the courtrooms and this is clearly not what the American society supports. It has always been through democracy that things get done in this country and now that right has been undeservingly given to the courts. The fundamental question this article answers is: Do the courts have rights to make policy?The two industries that are taking the biggest blows from this new trend are the tobacco industry and the weapons (particularly gun industry) industry. Attorneys-general are using lawsuits now in their fight against these industries, addressing the same issues that have in the past been unsuccessful in Congress and the state legislatures. What the article asks is whether it is worth sacrificing the entire democracy of the U.S. as we know it to shut down or limit the existence of such unwanted industries.
What better way to understand the logic behind this situation than through the eyes of the a fore mentioned theorists. There are four basic ideas which, if focused on, will reveal how the article can be understood by these theorists and in turn possibly help to form a new unique interpretation of the situation. The first is the section explaining the tactics some Attorneys-general used in suing these corporations (see highlight labeled 1). It basically shows the amount being sued for and plainly reveals the fact that no congressional approval is needed to file these suits. The second part I feel is of some concern is the part about how now other mayors and states are taking similar actions to these Attorneys-general and how this new wave solution is creating somewhat of a trend (see highlight labeled 2). This illustrates how the system of democracy is being placed on the outside. Thirdly (highlight labeled 3), it is now creating a new way for public officials to make large profits. Public officials will now be able to exploit a this new situation in our already exploitative society. And lastly, is a section that explains the fact that if America continues in this fashion it will take the power out of democracy and put it in the “…threats of mass litigation” ( The Economist, p.18). In understanding these four key ideas through the minds of Marx, Durkheim, and Weber, one can develop their own understanding of the situations this article tries to address.
Let’s first put on our Weberian goggles. Weber believes strongly in the individual of society and the individuality he/she creates. The best way to understand Weberian ideals is through understanding the individual. We have to understand this article as individuals acting rationally and those actions leading to conflict and change. Through what Weber would term value rational action, the people in both the gun and tobacco industries act towards maintaining their stronghold on the American marketplace, whereas their opposition wants them to be removed or at the very least changed dramatically. Weber would break down the first key part of the article through his ideas of ideal types and value rational action. According to Weber, the only way to understand a persons actions is through first understanding that person and where they’ve come from. “Man can ‘understand’ or attempt to ‘understand’ his own intentions through introspection, and he may interpret the motives of other men’s conduct in terms of their professed of ascribed intentions” (Gerth & Mills, p. 56). In order to understand why the Attorneys-general filed lawsuits against the tobacco industry, it is necessary to understand how they view the world: what they think is right and wrong, what they think is the proper way America should be run, etc. Using verstehen, we must put ourselves in these Attorneys-general shoes to understand the reasoning behind the lawsuits. While understanding this situation through their eyes, we must also understand their “ideal types.” Ideal types are used as “measuring sticks” to compare the world around them to. “As general concepts, ideal types are tools with which Weber prepares the descriptive materials of world history for comparative analysis” (Gerth & Mills, p. 60). So basically Weber would argue that these Attorneys-general are filing lawsuits against the tobacco and gun industries because they do not fit into not only their ideal type, but also into what they think America’s ideal type company should be; therefore, they need to be dealt with accordingly. On the other side of things, the companies still want to produce guns and cigarettes when they know that all they do is kill. Weber would argue that these companies are taking much more traditional actions. The individuals want to keep their jobs therefore they are all but forced to both keep producing these products and also fight on there behalf. This is a much more conventional or traditional approach. They want and need to keep their jobs therefore they act in the best interest of themselves which is, in turn, the best interest of the company.
The second focal point also needs to be seen through Weberian ideals. This point is a great example of how groups come to be formed. As mentioned before, people have different experiences which lead them to have beliefs. Even though people may have many different ideas, just one similar idea can bring them together. No matter if they are from different areas, their common belief will formulate similar ideas which will and does form them into groups, whether they know it or not. The article states that because of the likely success of the Attorneys-general, now “…big-city mayors are now planning to use lawsuits” also in reaching their goals (The Economist, p. 17). People from different areas with different backgrounds come to form groups through similar beliefs. This, according to Weber, all goes back to the individual. We must understand “…the individual as the ultimate unit of explanation” (Gerth & Mills, p. 58).
Weber would view the third key issue as a situation of irrational action. To understand actions, we must both understand an individuals rational actions as well as that individuals irrational actions. It seems very irrational that public officials would attempt to benefit off a loop hole in the American democratic system. Public officials are supposed to stand for the rights of people according to the rules of this democratic nation. But in this case they are acting in complete contradiction to this belief. But what is seen as irrational to us is very rational to them. If things play out the way they hope, they will substantially benefit economically. Although we are part of a democratic society, when it comes down to it, those with the money make the rules.
Finally is the fourth main point of this article. If this new trend does not change soon, we may see an entirely new side of this democracy known as America. This new trend of “taking it to the courts” could destroy the democracy we supposedly hold so sacred in this country. But some individuals are still in favor of it. This once again comes back to Weberian views of the individual. This idea exemplifies the basis for how change comes about. Individuals act rationally, and these rational actions lead to conflicts, which ultimately lead to changes in values, ideas, and frameworks.
In order to understand this article using a Weberian train of thought, you must understand the individual and his/her relationship to society. To break it down to basic terms, society is about individuals acting rationally. Since one individuals idea of acting rationally can sometimes different than another individual, conflicts sometimes arise. But it is through these conflicts that changes in values, ideas, and frameworks of society occur. If you know the basics of this reasoning, you know the basics of Weberian theory.
Using the opposite framework from Weber, Durkheim’s major focus is how groups shape the individual. The ideas of the group (conscience collective) shape the actions of the individual: they shape our individuality. To Durkheim, it is impossible for a society to be viewed as just a bunch of individuals who take a bunch of individual actions. A society is much more than just a bunch of individuals. “A society composed of egotistic, or self-seeking, individuals (or a utilitarian society), would be no society at all” (Giddens, p. 2). Much of what Durkheim has to argue is in opposition to Utilitarianism. Utilitarian thinking entertains the idea that human behavior is basically driven by self interest. “Utilitarian philosophy places man outside of history, seeking to interpret human social actions in terms of a-temporal concepts of utility and the pursuit of self-interest” (Giddens, p. 1-2). But, according to Durkheim, utilitarian viewpoints fail to realize the affect of the group (collective conscience) on the thoughts and actions of the individual. Understanding certain human actions (like suicide) would not be possible if the affect of the group on the individual is not understood. “Whenever any elements combine and, by the fact of their combination produce new phenomena, it is evident that these phenomena are not given in the elements, but in the totality formed by their union” (Giddens, p. 70). In this way Durkheim’s idea of collective conscience challenges and contradicts utilitarian ways of thinking. So in a nutshell, understanding collective conscience and the effect it has on the individual will help to understand Durkheim’s interpretation of society.
The first important section of the article can be understood through collective conscience. Society has placed a negative stereotype against guns and tobacco (primary deviance). Therefore the Attorneys-general acted how they felt society wanted them to act resulting in lawsuits. The second follows along with this same principle. Important figures, such as attorneys-general, display the fact that they were against guns and tobacco. This sends a message that guns and tobacco are in opposition to the ideal collective conscience, hence other groups follow along and decide to take similar action. They are acting according to the collective conscience. The third focal point has a slightly different reasoning behind it. In this case, the public officials need to find the balance between the group and the individual. Society tells the American individual to believe in democracy and act according to it. But the individual also realizes that however much American society believes in democracy, those with money rule. So in the articles case, the public officials must balance the society and the individual. On one hand, the individual wants to take the democratic path, but, on the other hand, the individual also is persuaded by the money involved. Therefore some sort of balance between the two must be achieved. In this case, that balance comes through money. And finally, the fourth idea can be understood through ritual. It is ritual for disputes in American society to be handled in a democratic fashion. But this new trend (using lawsuits), goes against this ritual. This new trend is not consistent with the “norm” therefore it creates turmoil. Now that others are picking up on the trend, it may become a new ritual in our American society. A change in the ritual would undoubtedly create a change in conscience collective and ideal types, therefore a change in society. If these four ideas are understood than it should be simple to see the Durkheimian interpretation of this article.
Capitalism is the most important aspect of Marxian theory. Seeing the world as being fundamentally about capitalism and the spread of capitalism is seeing the world as Marx would. In understanding this concept, it is important to understand the Labor Theory of Value. Basically, money is the claim over the labor of others. “The value or worth of a man is, as in all other things, his price: that is, so much as would be given of the Use of his Power” (Kamenka, p. 405). Out of this idea comes some very fundamental aspects of capitalism, such as surplus value and exploitation. Not knowing about exploitation and surplus value is not knowing about capitalism. Surplus value is basically the amount of labor that can be received more than the amount paid. So for example, if I pay a worker 2 dollars and their work makes me 4 dollars, than they would have a 2 dollar surplus value. One great way of creating an enormous surplus value is through exploitation. Marx comments on surplus value, “The quantity of labour by which the value of the workman’s labouring power is limited forms by no means a limit to the quantity of labour which his labouring power is apt to perform” (Kamenka, p. 408). In understanding the relationship between surplus value and exploitation, it becomes evident that the world basically comes down to those with the means of production continually searching for this surplus value through exploitation.
These ideals help to form the framework in trying to unpack this article as Marx would. The Attorneys-general are trying to rid the tobacco and gun industries of their power. Therefore, according to Marx, they must rid them of their capital or their ability to control the means of production. What better way to do that than through stripping them of their money. Without money, they lose some of the tight grip they possess on the means of production. Secondly Marx would argue that the other opposition (states and mayors) to the tobacco and gun industries see that the threat of stripping these industries of their means of production may be the solution, so they take similar action. Seeing the power of money, they also file lawsuits. The third key idea is about taking control of the means of production. The public officials will cease the opportunity of taking advantage of all the money that would be available through all these new lawsuits. They could translate this money into taking control of the means of production. After gaining control of the means of production, they can exploit workers creating surplus value and therefore strengthening their grip on these newfound means of production giving them power. The final ideal can also be addressed through capitalist beliefs. The new trend of fighting the tobacco and gun industry is through stripping these industries of capital. Doing this is not good for the prospects of maintaining democracy, but it is a good way to capture a grip over the means of production. Therefore these actions taken against these companies can be seen as capitalist actions. The Marxian interpretation is based on capitalism. Understanding society as fundamentally being about capitalism and the spread of capitalism is understanding this article through Marxian eyes.
Having knowledge of Weber, Durkheim, and Marx undoubtedly increases the capacity of my intellectual tool-kit, and aids in interpreting the contemporary world. First off, they prepare me with a much more solid framework by which I can make more intelligent interpretations. It helps me to understand how the world actually works as opposed to how the world should work. There is a very distinct difference between these two statements and understanding that difference only becomes possible if a strong framework is possessed. A second subject these theorists allow me to understand is the idea of the individual and how the individual relates to society. They help you to understand the individual as a part of society, but also the society as a part of the individual. Their work also broadened my personal viewpoints of Sociology and Anthropology. I always knew that these two areas where key, but now I can understand them as a science. If I understand the science of sociology and anthropology, I will be better equipped when it comes to understanding the world around me. Through understanding these two sciences, I have come to understand that society has no clear path and that it is ever-changing. Those changes come from people. We make history but not as we choose. This makes for our uncontrollable and at times unpredictable future. And finally, I can now better understand history. If we study history we can avoid mistakes made in the past. But a big part of understanding history is understanding power: what power is and who has it. Power is different for all three, but understanding the different aspects of power helps in answering this age old question. I now understand their views and these views help me formulate my very own views. And it is through both the formulation of these unique views and putting these views into action that keeps this world ever changing and at the same time unpredictable.