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“Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology”: Simon Clarke

Preface to the Second Edition

I originally wrote this book because I felt that it was important to take liberal social theory more seriously than did the ‘radical’ social thought of the 1970s. The main aim of the book was to develop a Marxist critique of liberal social theory, which could identify both the scientific strengths and the ideological limitations of such theories. The book was wellreceived, but critical responses made it apparent that the central argument had not been widely understood, particularly by those who could only read Marx through the eyes of his orthodox interpreters, and so missed the distinctiveness of the interpretation of Marx presented here. The book was also read as an historical study, because it did not include an explicit discussion of the liberal foundations of contemporary economic and social theory, ending with the marginalist revolution in economics and Weber’s sociology.

Since the book was originally published the intellectual landscape has changed dramatically. An uncritical return to liberal social theory has replaced its uncritical rejection, while the collapse of state socialism, in both East and West, has inspired the proclamation of the ‘death of Marxism’. I believe that these changes have made the argument developed in this book more, and not less, relevant than when it was first written. There is no better testimony to the inadequacy of the orthodox Marxist and radical critiques of liberal social theory than the recent resurgence of liberalism. The development of a theoretically sound critique is all the more urgent as liberalism once more comes up against its limits.

The recent strength of liberalism has owed much more to its critique of the theory and practice of Orthodox Marxism than it has to its own positive virtues. Despite the ‘death of Marxism’, the inhumanity of capitalism is as evident today as it was when Marx wrote. The central theme of this book is that nobody more clearly grasped the source of this inhumanity, and the possibility of its overcoming, than did Marx. But at the same time we have to recognise the limits of Marx’s achievement. Marx laid the foundations of a critical social theory but, contrary to Marxist orthodoxy, he did not provide an allencompassing
worldview.

Marx marked out a critical project, which was to understand and to transform society from the standpoint of the activity and aspirations of concrete human individuals. Marx’s critique of liberalism sought to recover, both in theory and in practice, the constitutive role of human subjectivity behind the immediacy of objective and constraining social relations within which our social identity confronts us in the form of an external thing. This insight is as much a critique of the metaphysics of orthodox Marxism as it is of liberalism, a critique which I have sought to bring out in this second edition of the book.

Although the central argument of the book is unchanged in this edition, the miracles of modern technology have made it it possible substantially to revise and expand the text. The main additions are in Chapter Three and at the beginning of Chapter Four, where I have related my interpretation of Marx to those which dominate the secondary literature, and the additional Chapters Seven and Nine, which sketch the implications of the critique of marginalism and of Weberian sociology for the critique of modern economics, orthodox Marxism and modern sociology. As with the original edition, I have tried to write the book in such a way that each chapter can be read independently of the whole. I am very grateful to Chris Arthur, Tom Bottomore, Gillian Rose, and particularly Bob Fine, for their comments on drafts of parts of this new edition, and to those many colleagues and students with whom I have had the pleasure of discussing the issues over the years

1 The Origins of Modern Sociology 1
Talcott Parsons and the voluntaristic theory of action . . . . . . . . . . . 1
The problem of order and the theory of action . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Marx’s critique of political economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
From social reform to modern sociology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6

2 Classical Political Economy 10
A theory of society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
The materialist conception of society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
The physiocratic theory of society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
The Wealth of Nations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
Smith’s contribution to social theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
The limits of Enlightenment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Ricardo’s completion of the system . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31
Conservatism, radicalism and socialism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

3 Alienated Labour and the Critique of Political Economy 38
The critique of Hegel’s theory of the state . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
From political philosophy to the critique of private property . . . . . . . 43
Proudhon, Engels and the critique of political economy . . . . . . . . . 46
Alienated labour and the critique of capitalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
Alienated labour and the critique of private property . . . . . . . . . . . 51
Alienated labour and the critique of money . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Hegel and the critique of political economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60
Marx’s early critique of political economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
The limits of the early critique . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

4 Value, Class and the Theory of Society 71
Marxism and the critique of political economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71
The critique of political economy and the labour theory of value . . . . 74
The magnitude of value and the form of value . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Money as a social relation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 80
The theory of value and the theory of society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84

Capital as a social relation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87
The capitalist labourprocess. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
The capitalist process of exchange . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
The ‘trinity formula’ and the theory of class . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 97
The capital relation and its forms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
The Ricardian contradiction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102
Formal and determinate abstraction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108

5 Political Economy and its Sociological Critics 111

Classical political economy and the labour theory of value . . . . . . . . 111
The classical economic laws . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114
Classical political economy and the birth of sociology . . . . . . . . . . 118
The Positivist critique of political economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120
Classical political economy and the German Historical School . . . . . 124
Herbert Spencer’s liberal Sociology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
The decline and fall of political economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Social reform and the limits of Sociology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134

6 The Marginalist Revolution in Economics 141
The marginalist revolution . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
The problem of prices and the problem of reform . . . . . . . . . . . . . 144
The marginalist theory of price . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
The marginalist theory of society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 150
Facts and values in economic science . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157

7 The Irrationality of Marginalist Economics 162
The irrationality of exchange and the problem of money . . . . . . . . . 165
The irrationality of exchange and the problem of competition . . . . . . 167
The irrationality of exchange and the division of labour . . . . . . . . . 171
The irrationality of capitalism: the marginalist theory of profit . . . . . 173
The contradictory social form of capitalist production . . . . . . . . . . 179

8 From Marginalism to Modern Sociology 184
Economic theory, social economics and the tasks of sociology . . . . . 184
The theory of the social economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187
Max Weber and the German Historical School . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 190
Problems of methodology: Menger and Weber . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 194
The problem of rationality . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200
The marginalist foundations of Weber’s sociology . . . . . . . . . . . . 204
Economy and society . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 207
The typology of action and the theory of society . . . . . . . . . . . . . 213
Capitalist rationality and the dilemmas of modernity . . . . . . . . . . . 223

9 Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology 226
The antinomies of sociology and the dilemma of liberalism . . . . . . . 226
The marginalist foundations of Parsonian functionalism . . . . . . . . . 232
Structure and action in ‘PostParsonian’
Sociology . . . . . . . . . . . . 235
The limits of Marxism and the legacy of Marx . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 238
Lukács and and the foundations of ‘Western Marxism’ . . . . . . . . . . 242
The Dialectic of the Enlightenment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 247
The irrationality of capitalism and the alienation of labour . . . . . . . . 251

Marx, Marginalism and Modern Sociology

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