Marx, Weber, and Syria

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Post by Emily Park

The current conflict in Syria presents a horrifying picture of the lengths to which a repressive regime will go in an effort to protect its power and authority, but at the same time it reflects the similarly powerful motives of those who have decided that they can no longer live under a system which denies them the most basic of human rights.  An entrenched ruling class is fighting tooth and nail to keep its people from realizing any of the basic elements of a democracy.  The news stories and YouTube and cell phone videos paint a terrifying picture of brutality and desperation.

At the same time, I see this conflict as presenting a forum in which the divergent social and economic views of Marx and Weber are playing out.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a news program or panel, on which both could appear and like today’s “talking heads” offer their views on the conflict, its origins and the likely result from the conflict.  I am sure it would be an interesting commentary and debate, and I believe it would be something like the following.

Marx’s view of the conflict would be informed by his very uncompromising opinion of the inevitability of class conflict.  Marx would see the grass roots opposition to Assad and his ruling class and the rich beneficiaries of this system as reflective of the working class rising up against the entrenched powers.  In Syria, one family has run the country for decades, and an entrenched economic aristocracy supports the family.  Power is held ruthlessly by the few, who control the political and economic realm.  All others are subordinate to this ruling class.  The so-called “Arab Spring” generally and the uprising in Syria specifically are the result of the proletariat rising up against their masters and seeking to take control of economic and political power.  The vicious repression would be what Marx would anticipate, but he would also believe that the sheer numbers of the oppressed would ultimately overcome and defeat Assad.

Weber would certainly have a more subtle view of the conflict.  He would find much to consider in the religious history in the Middle East, particularly as it reflects the centuries old divisions among Muslims and the Sunni, Shia and other sects.  I suspect that Weber would be very hesitant to consider the developments in Syria in isolation from the rebellions in Egypt, Yemen, and Tunisia.  He would also be conscious about how the division between the Sunni and Shia have been at the heart of much of the conflict among and within the Arab states in the Middle East for centuries now.  The complexities of politics in the Middle East, and the role of religious strife and divisions in Middle east politics, would persuade Weber that predicting the outcome of the strife is much more difficult than Marx would claim.

Again, I think that both would appreciate and identify the “darkness and pessimism” that pervade the Middle East, and which frustrate the hopes of many for peace, democracy and religious freedom.  However, I think Marx would see the rising tide of the inevitable revolution, while Weber would see the complicated playing out of difficult religious divisions on the existing social order.

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