Weber too has given his analysis of the connection between modernity, capitalism and urbanization, although his conclusions are quite different from that made by Marx. In his influential essays such as The City and Capitalism and Rural Society in Germany, Weber underscores the influence of local conditions and is the first of the classical sociologists to distinguish between rural societies of Europe and America and, in the process, the first to acknowledge the “disappearance of the sociological relevance of the urban-rural distinction. The growth of the nation-state, the development of capitalism as an international order, and the bureaucratic rationalization of more and more areas of social life all mean that the distinctiveness of “urban” and “rural,” as referencing different communities is gradually disappearing.” (Sayer, 1991) Such inferences come at the end of sustained, longitudinal study of history and illustrate the point that human societies, when studied in a systematic and scientific manner, can lead to a refined and broader understanding that is normally out of reach of ‘common sense’ analyses.
One of the famous quotations of Max Weber is his view that the state claims “a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence” (Sayer, 1991). This view was controversial at the time of its first publication, but is born of a careful study and synthesis of human social history and the power relations inherent in them. It has relevance in contemporary society too, as witnessed by the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, wherein the might of American military caused irreparable damage to a four thousand year old Arabian civilization. After the exposition of American government’s role in misinforming the public about Weapons of Mass Destruction hidden in Iraq, it is quite apt to term this episode in modern political history as one where a state had employed its monopoly power over legitimate use of violence. In the case of Iraq, apparently, such use had served vested interests such as military contractors, major oil corporations, etc. As Weber rightly noted in 1926, “In democracy the people elect a leader in whom they have confidence. Then the elected leader says: ‘Now shut up and obey me’. People and parties may no longer meddle in what he does’”. (Bonner, 1998)
Marx’s view of state power is quite similar to that of Weber’s. And in their sociological synthesis we see evident truths that are not ostensible to the common sense perspective. To emphasize this point let us consider the role of police in society. In the wake of the announcement of the Iraq war the general public gathered in huge numbers to demonstrate their displeasure over their government’s policy. And in what little video footage that slipped into mainstream media, one could see police forces gathered in impressive numbers to keep the public in check. The police, in contradiction to its role as the protector of people, was actually protecting people in power. In Weber’s 1918 speech titled Politics as Vocation, after noting that the state “successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”, he goes on to add that “the political leader in mass democracy was once more clearly located within the category of charismatic domination, but, in reality, obedience is determined by highly robust motives of fear and hope—fear of the vengeance of magical powers of the power-holder, hope for reward in this world or in the beyond—and besides this, by interests of the most varied sort”. (Bonner, 1998)
Most democracies in Western Europe today espouse the separation of church and state. Indeed, the growing atheist movement in this region has further reinforced the lack of relevance of religion in affairs of the state. The United States of America is an interesting case, which, despite being the originating place of this principle, shows strong interconnections between the domains of religion and state. For example, the phenomenon of television evangelicalism is uniquely American, having been pioneered by extremist members of the American Right. And in every election, religion thrusts itself as a matter of contention, despite the constitution making no such provisions. And with the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on America, a war on radical Islamic ideology has been declared by the American government. The ideas of Karl Marx and Max Weber provide an interesting context in which to analyse this state of affairs. Marx was an advocate of atheism and he firmly believed that religion plays a negative role and suppresses emancipation of people. While Weber was not as vehement in his condemnation of the role of religion, he nevertheless saw its influence on society as profound and far-reaching. Indeed, Weber believed that the political and economic institutions of a nation are shaped by its dominant religious ideology.