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Maximilian Weber
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Born
April 21, 1864
Erfurt, Germany
Died}}
June 14, 1920
Munich, Germany

Maximilian Weber (IPA: [maks ˈvebeʁ]) (April 21, 1864June 14, 1920) was a German political economist and sociologist who is considered one of the founders of the modern study of sociology and public administration. His major works deal with rationalisation in sociology of religion and government, but he also wrote much in the field of economics. His most popular work is his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which began his work in the sociology of religion. Weber argued that religion was one of the non-exclusive reasons for the different ways the cultures of the Occident and the Orient have developed. In another famous work, Politics as a Vocation, Weber defined the state as an entity which possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, a definition that became pivotal to the study of modern Western political science.

Life and careerEdit

Weber was born in Erfurt in Thuringia, Germany, the eldest of seven children of Max Weber Sr., a prominent politician and civil servant, and his wife Helene Fallenstein. His younger brother Alfred Weber was also a sociologist and economist. Because of his father's engagement with public life, Weber grew up in a household immersed in politics, and his father received a long list of prominent scholars and public figures in his salon. At the same time, Weber proved to be intellectually precocious. His Christmas present to his parents in 1876, when he was thirteen years old, took the form of two historical essays entitled "About the course of German history, with special reference to the positions of the emperor and the pope" and "About the Roman Imperial period from Constantine to the migration of nations". It seemed clear, then, that Weber would apply himself to the social sciences. At the age of fourteen, he wrote letters studded with references to Homer, Virgil, Cicero, and Livy, and he had an extended knowledge of Goethe, Spinoza, Kant, and Schopenhauer before he entered university studies.

Max weber and brothers 1879

Max Weber and his brothers Alfred and Karl in 1879.

In 1882 Weber enrolled in the University of Heidelberg as a law student. Weber joined his father's duelling fraternity and chose as his major study his father's field of law. Apart from his work in law, he attended lectures in economics and studied medieval history. In addition, Weber read a great deal in theology. Intermittently he served with the German army in Strasbourg. In the fall of 1884 Weber returned to his parents' home to study at the University of Berlin. For the next eight years of his life, interrupted only by a term at the University of Goettingen and short periods of further military training, Weber stayed at his parents' house, first as a student, later as a junior barrister in Berlin courts, and finally as a Dozent at the University of Berlin. In 1886 Weber passed the examination for "Referendar", comparable to the bar examination in the American legal system. Throughout the late 1880s, Weber continued his study of history. He earned his doctorate in law in 1889 by writing a doctoral dissertation on legal history entitled The History of Medieval Business Organisations. Two years later, Weber completed his "Habilitationsschrift", The Roman Agrarian History and its Significance for Public and Private Law. Having thus become a "Privatdozent", Weber was now qualified to hold a German professorship.

In the years between the completion of his dissertation and habilitation, however, Weber also began pondering contemporary social policy. In 1888 he had joined the "Verein für Socialpolitik", the new professional association of German economists affiliated with the Historical school who saw the role of economics primarily in the solving of the wide-ranging social problems of the age, and who pioneered large-scale statistical studies of economic problems. In 1890 the "Verein" established a research program to examine "the Polish question" or Ostflucht, meaning the influx of foreign farm workers into eastern Germany as local labourers migrated to Germany's rapidly industrialising cities. Weber was put in charge of the study and wrote a large part of its results. The final report was widely acclaimed as an excellent piece of empirical research, and cemented Weber's reputation as an expert on agrarian economics.

Max and marienne weber 1894

Max Weber and his wife Marianne in 1894.

In 1893 he married his distant cousin Marianne Schnitger, later a feminist and author in her own right, who after his death in 1920 was decisive in collecting and publishing Weber's works as books which previously had only appeared as articles in journals. In 1894 the couple moved to Freiburg, where Weber was appointed professor of economics at Freiburg University, before accepting the same position at the University of Heidelberg in 1897. During the same year, Max Weber Sr., his father, died, two months after a severe quarrel with his son, leaving the quarrel unresolved. Following this incident Weber become increasingly prone to "nervousness" and insomnia making it more and more difficult for him to lecture and fulfill his duties as a professor. His condition forced him reduce his teaching and give his last course in the fall of 1899 unfinished. After months in a sanatorium in summer and fall of 1900, Max Weber and his wife Marianne travelled to Italy at the end of the year, not to return to Heidelberg until April 1902.

File:Max weber in 1917.JPG

After his immense productivity in the early 1890s he did not publish a single paper between early 1898 and the end of the year 1902 and finally resigned as a professor in the fall of 1903. However, being freed of this burden he accepted a position as associate editor of the Archives for Social Science and Social Welfare next to his colleagues Edgar Jaffé and Werner Sombart. In 1904 Max Weber began to publish some of his most seminal papers in this journal, notably his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It became his most famous work, and laid the foundations for his later research on the impact of cultures and religions on the development of economic systems. Incidentally this essay was the only one of his works that was published as a book during his lifetime.

In 1912, Weber tried to organise a left-wing political party to combine social-democrats and liberals. This attempt was unsuccessful because many liberals feared social-democratic revolutionary ideals.

During the First World War, Weber served for a time as director of the army hospitals in Heidelberg. In 1915 and 1916 he was a member of commissions that tried to retain German supremacy in Belgium and Poland after the war. Weber was a German imperialist and wanted to enlarge the German empire to the east and the west. He became a member of the worker and soldier council of Heidelberg in 1918.

In 1918 Weber became a consultant to the German Armistice Commission at the Treaty of Versailles and to the commission charged with drafting the Weimar Constitution. He argued in favour of inserting Article 48 into the Weimar Constitution. This article was later used by Adolf Hitler to institute rule by decree, thereby allowing his government to suppress opposition and obtain dictatorial powers.

From 1918, Weber resumed teaching, first at the University of Vienna, then in 1919 at the University of Munich. In Munich, he headed the first German University institute of sociology, but he never held a personal sociology appointment in his life. Weber left politics due to right wing agitation in 1919 and 1920. Many colleagues and students in Munich despised him for his speeches and left wing attitude during the German revolution of 1918 and 1919. Right-wing students protested at his home.

Max Weber died of pneumonia in Munich on June 14, 1920. It should be noted that many of his works famous today were collected, revised and published posthumously. Significant interpretations of Weber's writings were produced by such sociological luminaries as Talcott Parsons and C. Wright Mills.

Weber and German politicsEdit

For more details on this topic, see Interpretations of Weber's liberalism.

Max Weber described himself as a left-wing liberal. He can be regarded as a social liberal. One of his 19th century liberal views was his staunch nationalism based on classical republicanism, and that a nation with freedom for individuals is maintained by the virtues and character of its citizens. He also had a strong belief in the benefits of capitalism. The social element in his thinking is that he wanted to turn the members of the German working class into responsible citizens with virtue and character. This means that the workers must be educated by giving them political responsibility.

Weber started his career as a German celebrity in 1894. As a result of his authoritative study of the so-called Ostflucht, he had a major influence on German policy towards the germanisation of Eastern Germany. He proposed closing the border to Polish workers from Russia and Austria-Hungary in his speech at the V. Evangelical Social Congress in 1894. He feared that Germany would eventually lose these eastern territories. He advocated the recolonisation of empty lands on the large estates of the Prussian Junkers by German settlers from the west, who would start small farms. The congress was mainly against Weber's demands because it supported the Prussian Junkers, but Weber influenced his friends and allies, including the pastor Friedrich Naumann, who later became an influential politician and one of the founders of the liberal Deutsche Demokratische Partei after WW I.

In 1905, Weber changed his mind. He was impressed by the attitude of the Russian liberal party, which wanted to change Russian nationalism by accepting ethnic minorities as Russians. Weber wanted the Germans to absorb other ethnic groups, especially the Poles, who should have become a part of a huge German empire. Weber thought that the only way that German culture would survive was by creating an empire. Power politics was to be the basis for defending the German culture and economy and to prevent it from becoming a powerless country like Switzerland.

Weber disliked the empty nationalist ideas of many German nationalists. He thought that power alone was not an acceptable goal, that politicians should stand for certain ideas but that they need a strong will to power to win. This idea of the will to power is originally from Nietzsche who was very popular in the Germany of the 1890s. But Nietzsche meant a strictly individual will to power and not a will to power to make a collective (like Germany) stronger as advocated by Weber. Weber wanted Germany to strengthen its economy by creating a huge empire. He was afraid of the huge world population that would lead to German unemployment in the long run and believed that the only way to support the German workers was to create an empire. He was afraid that an end would come to economic expansion and that countries would protect their own economy with tariff walls. He did not foresee the technological advances and the profits of international trade for the national economy in the twentieth century.

Weber wanted the end of the power of the nobility. He despised the red scare of the middle classes, because the middle classes let the nobility rule.

In his opinion, the socialist parties were harmless, because they would turn into middle classes in due time. The nobility was only holding Germany back from becoming a major power in the world. In his opinion, which he expressed in the media and his politics, the middle classes should have united against the aristocracy. This led to a lot of dismay in right wing Germany. Weber was against the student fraternities which idolised military ranks. He wanted to stop the agrarian lobby damaging the regulations in the stock exchange. He was especially against the buying of titles and noble land by the upper class of the bourgeoisie. Weber wanted unlimited economic growth. Not military ranks, but ability and talent should be important for one's prospects. Money should be put into a company and not wasted in a useless piece of land. Weber feared the inefficiency of the economy in Roman Catholic, non-puritanical countries and was afraid that Germany would become like Austria: 'Verösterreicherung Deutschlands'.

Weber was against the German annexation plans during the First World War, but he was also against a dishonourable peace. He didn't believe that Germany could dominate the ethnic minorities after the war was won but that Germany should work together with German-dominated nations and make them enthusiastic about German imperialism.

Weber wrote a series of newspaper articles in 1917, entitled "Parliament and Government in a Re-constructed Germany." These articles called for democratic reforms to the 1871 constitution of the German Empire.

Weber argued that Germany's political problems were essentially a problem of leadership. Otto von Bismarck had created a constitution that preserved his own power, but limited the ability of another powerful leader to succeed him, because of the limited experience of the political establishment with decision-making. In January, 1919, Weber's brother was a founding member of the German Democratic Party.

Weber advocated democracy as a means for selecting strong leaders. Weber viewed democracy as a form of charismatic leadership where the "demagogue imposes his will on the masses." For this reason, the European left is highly critical of Weber for, albeit unwittingly, "preparing the intellectual groundwork for the leadership position of Adolf Hitler."

Like Nietzsche, Weber was strongly anti-socialist. He despised the anti-nationalist stance of the Marxist parties. Weber thought that the socialist society was impossible. He was surprised that the communists in Russia (who dissolved the old elite and bureaucracy) could survive for more than half a year. Weber died in 1920, so it is unknown what his opinion about communism would have been after its survival.

His view on the Social Democratic Party was different. He thought that the Social Democrats would become liberals after a while and get rid of their revolutionary ideals. Weber wanted to make the working classes enthusiastic about Germany and German imperialism, but later on he realized that this was impossible. Later on he changed his mind and realized that the imperial expansion of Germany was not in the interest of the working classes and only strengthened the power of the German establishment. Only the middle classes could make Germany into a huge empire. Weber wanted to unify Germany and to give the German working classes co-responsibility in the German government, but not out of an ideal of equality. He was against compassion. He wanted to create responsibility. Hard work and efficiency should bring wealth for successful members of the working classes. The socialist society was impossible according to him. Making an end to capitalism and enlarging of the bureaucracy would only lead to more enslavement of the workers. The only possible way for salvation would be the capitalist system and the application of new techniques. Weber openly supported strikes and labour unions, while right-wing Germans were very opposed to this.

Weber was very opposed to the conservatives that tried to hold back the democratic liberation of the working classes. Weber further dismayed the left when one of his students, Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), incorporated Weber's theories into a corpus of Nazi legal propaganda. Weber's personal and professional letters show considerable disgust for the anti-semitism of his day. It is doubtful that Weber would have supported the Nazis, had he lived long enough to see their doings.

Weber was very critical of German conservatives and the German emperor. Before the First World War he believed that emperor William II was a weak leader, who with the conservatives were destroying Germany's diplomatic position. The 1908 Daily Telegraph interview of William II especially was a great disappointment in his view. During the First World War, Weber was very critical of the German government. He thought that the right-wing Alldeutscher Verband and the German army leaders were making Germany lose the war. He was against the undemocratic views of the right-wing, which alienated the working class and resulted in strikes and revolution. He was opposed to unlimited submarine warfare, which resulted in a declaration of war from the United States.

Weber was afraid of too much bureaucracy. In 1912 he heard that officials of the government were working together with officials of large corporate companies. Weber wanted to create a large left-wing political party combining social democrats and left-wing liberals to counter the bureaucratic threat. The social democrats were willing to talk with Weber, eager as they were to lose their isolation in the German society and politics. It was very hard to find liberals who were prepared to cooperate with Weber, so the plan failed.

Weber was opposed to the request of the majority of the German parliament for peace negotiations and strongly advocated continuing the war in many newspaper articles. At the same time, the right-wing, supported by the army, was agitating against the parliament's decision. When he found that peace was requested because of the near collapse of Austria, which had been kept secret from the press, he became enraged, for the army had known about the coming collapse of Austria. Weber strongly denounced the German emperor and the German army and advocated peace in a speech at a mass meeting in Munich accompanied by a social-democratic speaker. This speech led to sympathy among socialists for Max Weber.

Weber openly advocated resistance to the allies in 1918. He hoped that the battle would go on until the whole of Germany was occupied, and wanted to defend the eastern cities of Thorn, Danzig and Reichenberg against the Poles and the Czechs. He tried to win over the working classes who didn't want to continue the war and hoped for international revolution. Weber was against the revolution of 1918 because he feared that a strong right-wing reaction would follow. He tactically called himself a socialist, but the revolting workers regarded him as old-fashioned. President Ebert of Germany wanted him as minister of interior in November 1918, but he later chose Hugo Preuss. Ebert then wanted Weber as ambassador in Vienna, but Weber's anti-government attitude in speeches made this impossible. In early 1919 he lost a possible seat in the German parliament because of his alienation from the revolution in 1918.

Weber was a member of the German delegation during the peace negotiations in Versailles. Weber first wanted Germany not to sign the treaty, but he feared that this would only make things worse for Germany after a while and doubted for months what would be the best solution: signing or not.

In America, Weber's politics are less well known. Apologists claim that Weber's distinction between "evaluative" politics and "value-neutral" science shields his sociology from the harsh realpolitik of his personal convictions. The debate over Weber's politics continues to this day.

AchievementsEdit

Along with Karl Marx, Vilfredo Pareto and Émile Durkheim, Weber was one of the founders of modern sociology. Whereas Pareto and Durkheim, following Comte, worked in the positivist tradition, Weber created and worked – like Werner Sombart, his friend and then the most famous representative of German sociology – in the antipositivist, idealist and hermeneutic tradition. Those works started the antipositivistic revolution in social sciences, which stressed the difference between the social sciences and natural sciences, especially due to human social actions (which Weber differentiated into traditional, affectional, value-rational and instrumental). Weber's early work was related to industrial sociology, but he is most famous for his later work on the sociology of religion and sociology of government.

Max Weber began his studies of rationalisation in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which he shows how the aims of certain Protestant denominations, particularly Calvinism, shifted towards the rational means of economic gain as a way of expressing that they had been blessed. The rational roots of this doctrine, he argued, soon grew incompatible with and larger than the religious, and so the latter were eventually discarded. Weber continues his investigation into this matter in later works, notably in his studies on bureaucracy and on the classifications of authority. In these works he alludes to an inevitable move towards rationalization.

Sociology of religionEdit

Weber's work on the sociology of religion started with the essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and continued with the analysis of The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism, The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, and Ancient Judaism. His work on other religions was interrupted by his sudden death in 1920, which prevented him from following Ancient Judaism with studies of Psalms, Book of Jacob, Talmudic Jewry, early Christianity and Islam.

His three main themes were the effect of religious ideas on economic activities, the relation between social stratification and religious ideas, and the distinguishable characteristics of Western civilization.

His goal was to find reasons for the different development paths of the cultures of the Occident and the Orient. In the analysis of his findings, Weber maintained that Calvinist (and more widely, Christian) religious ideas had had a major impact on the development of the economic system of Europe and the United States, but noted that they were not the only factors in this development. Other notable factors mentioned by Weber included the rationalism of scientific pursuit, merging observation with mathematics, science of scholarship and jurisprudence, rational systematisation of government administration, and economic enterprise. In the end, the study of the sociology of religion, according to Weber, merely explored one phase of the emancipation from magic, that "disenchantment of the world" that he regarded as an important distinguishing aspect of Western culture.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of CapitalismEdit

Cover of book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

Cover of one of many editions of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

Weber's essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus) is his most famous work. It is argued that this work should not be viewed as a detailed study of Protestantism, but rather as an introduction into Weber's later works, especially his studies of interaction between various religious ideas and economic behaviour.

In The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber puts forward the thesis that the Puritan ethic and ideas influenced the development of capitalism. Religious devotion has usually been accompanied by rejection of mundane affairs, including economic pursuit. Why was that not the case with Protestantism? Weber addresses that paradox in his essay.

He defines "the spirit of capitalism" as the ideas and habits that favour the rational pursuit of economic gain. Weber points out that such a spirit is not limited to Western culture, when considered as the attitude of individuals, but that such individuals – heroic entrepreneurs, as he calls them – could not by themselves establish a new economic order (capitalism). Among the tendencies identified by Weber were the greed for profit with minimum effort, the idea that work was a curse and a burden to be avoided, especially when it exceeded what was enough for modest life. "In order that a manner of life well adapted to the peculiarities of capitalism" wrote Weber "could come to dominate others, it had to originate somewhere, and not in isolated individuals alone, but as a way of life common to whole groups of man".

After defining the spirit of capitalism, Weber argues that there are many reasons to look for its origins in the religious ideas of the Reformation. Many observers like William Petty, Montesquieu, Henry Thomas Buckle, John Keats, and others have commented on the affinity between Protestantism and the development of the commercial spirit.

Weber showed that certain types of Protestantism – notably Calvinism – favoured rational pursuit of economic gain and worldly activities which had been given positive spiritual and moral meaning. It was not the goal of those religious ideas, but rather a byproduct – the inherent logic of those doctrines and the advice based upon them both directly and indirectly encouraged planning and self-denial in the pursuit of economic gain. A common illustration is in the cobbler, hunched over his work, who devotes his entire effort to the praise of God.

Weber stated that he abandoned research into Protestantism because his colleague Ernst Troeltsch, a professional theologian, had initiated work on the book The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches and Sects. Another reason for Weber's decision was that that essay has provided the perspective for a broad comparison of religion and society, which he continued in his later works.

The phrase "work ethic" used in modern commentary is a derivative of the "Protestant ethic" discussed by Weber. It was adopted when the idea of the Protestant ethic was generalised to apply to Japanese, Jews and other non-Christians.

The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism Edit

The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism was Weber's second major work on the sociology of religion. Weber focused on those aspects of Chinese society that were different from those of Western Europe and especially contrasted with Puritanism, and posed a question why capitalism did not develop in China. In Hundred Schools of Thought Warring States Period, he concentrated on the early period of Chinese history, during which the major Chinese schools of thoughts (Confucianism and Taoism) came to the fore.

By 200 BC, the Chinese state had developed from a loose federation of feudal states into a unified empire with patrimonal rule, as described in the Warring States Period.

As in Europe, Chinese cities had been founded as forts or leaders' residences, and were the centres of trade and crafts. However, they never received political autonomy and its citizens had no special political rights or privileges. This is due to the strength of kinship ties, which stems from religious beliefs in ancestral spirits. Also, the guilds competed against each other for the favour of the Emperor, never uniting in order to fight for more rights. Therefore, the residents of Chinese cities never constitute a separate status class like the residents of European cities.

Early unification of the state and the establishment of central officialdom meant that the focus of the power struggle changed from the distribution of land to the distribution of offices, which with their fees and taxes were the most prominent source of income for the holder, who often pocketed up to 50% of the revenue. The imperial government depended on the services of those officials, not on the service of the military (knights) as in Europe.

Weber emphasised that Confucianism tolerated a great number of popular cults without any effort to systematise them into a religious doctrine. Instead of metaphysical conjectures, it taught adjustment to the world. The "superior" man (literati) should stay away from the pursuit of wealth (though not from wealth itself). Therefore, becoming a civil servant was preferred to becoming a businessman and granted a much higher status.

Chinese civilisation had no religious prophecy nor a powerful priestly class. The emperor was the high priest of the state religion and the supreme ruler, but popular cults were also tolerated (however the political ambitions of their priests were curtailed). This forms a sharp contrast with medieval Europe, where the Church curbed the power of secular rulers and the same faith was professed by rulers and common folk alike.

According to Confucianism, the worship of great deities is the affair of the state, while ancestral worship is required of all, and the multitude of popular cults is tolerated. Confucianism tolerated magic and mysticism as long as they were useful tools for controlling the masses; it denounced them as heresy and suppressed them when they threatened the established order (hence the opposition to Buddhism). Note that in this context, Confucianism can be referred to as the state cult, and Taoism as the popular religion.

Weber argued that while several factors favoured the development of a capitalist economy (long periods of peace, improved control of rivers, population growth, freedom to acquire land and move outside of native community, free choice of occupation) they were outweighed by others (mostly stemming from religion):

  • technical inventions were opposed on the basis of religion, in the sense that the disturbance of ancestral spirits was argued to lead to bad luck, and adjusting oneself to the world was preferred to changing it.
  • sale of land was often prohibited or made very difficult.
  • extended kinship groups (based on the religious importance of family ties and ancestry) protected its members against economic adversities, therefore discouraging payment of debts, work discipline, and rationalisation of work processes.
  • those kinship groups prevented the development of an urban status class and hindered developments towards legal institutions, codification of laws, and the rise of a lawyer class.

According to Weber, Confucianism and Puritanism represent two comprehensive but mutually exclusive types of rationalisation, each attempting to order human life according to certain ultimate religious beliefs. Both encouraged sobriety and self-control and were compatible with the accumulation of wealth. However, Confucianism aimed at attaining and preserving "a cultured status position" and used as means adjustment to the world, education, self-perfection, politeness and familial piety. Puritanism used those means in order to create a "tool of God", creating a person that would serve the God and master the world. Such intensity of belief and enthusiasm for action were alien to the aesthetic values of Confucianism. Therefore, Weber states that it was the difference in prevailing mentality that contributed to the development of capitalism in the West and the absence of it in China.

The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and BuddhismEdit

The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism was Weber's third major work on the sociology of religion. In this work he deals with the structure of Indian society, with the orthodox doctrines of Hinduism and the heterodox doctrines of Buddhism, with modifications brought by the influence of popular religiosity, and finally with the impact of religious beliefs on the secular ethic of Indian society.

The Indian social system was shaped by the concept of caste. It directly linked religious belief and the segregation of society into status groups. Weber describes the caste system, consisting of the Brahmins (priests), the Kshatriyas (warriors), the Vaisyas (merchants) and the Shudras (labourers). Then he describes the spread of the caste system in India due to conquests, the marginalisation of certain tribes and the subdivision of castes.

Weber pays special attention to Brahmins and analyses why they occupied the highest place in Indian society for many centuries. With regard to the concept of dharma he concludes that the Indian ethical pluralism is very different both from the universal ethic of Confucianism and Christianity. He notes that the caste system prevented the development of urban status groups.

Next, Weber analyses the Hindu religious beliefs, including asceticism and the Hindu world view, the Brahman orthodox doctrines, the rise and fall of Buddhism in India, the Hindu restoration, and the evolution of the guru. Weber asks the question whether religion had any influence upon the daily round of mundane activities, and if so, how it impacted economic conduct. He notes the idea of an immutable world order consisting of the eternal cycles of rebirth and the deprecation of the mundane world, and finds that the traditional caste system, supported by the religion, slowed economic development; in other words, the "spirit" of the caste system militated against an indigenous development of capitalism.

Weber concludes his study of society and religion in India by combining his findings with his previous work on China. He notes that the beliefs tended to interpret the meaning of life as otherworldly or mystical experience, that the intellectuals tended to be apolitical in their orientation, and that the social world was fundamentally divided between the educated, whose lives were oriented toward the exemplary conduct of a prophet or wise man, and the uneducated masses who remained caught in their daily rounds and believed in magic. In Asia, no Messianic prophecy appeared that could have given "plan and meaning to the everyday life of educated and uneducated alike". He argues that it was the Messianic prophecies in the countries of the Near East, as distinguished from the prophecy of the Asiatic mainland, that prevented the countries of the Occident from following the paths of development marked out by China and India, and his next work, Ancient Judaism was an attempt to prove this theory.

Ancient JudaismEdit

In Ancient Judaism, his fourth major work on the sociology of religion, Weber attempts to explain the "combination of circumstances" that was responsible for the early differences between Oriental and Occidental religiosity. It is especially visible when the interworldly asceticism developed by Western Christianity is contrasted with mystical contemplation of the kind developed in India. Weber noted that some aspects of Christianity sought to conquer and change the world, rather than withdraw from its imperfections. This fundamental characteristic of Christianity (when compared to Far Eastern religions) stems originally from the ancient Jewish prophecy.

Stating his reasons for investigating ancient Judaism, Weber wrote that "Anyone who is heir to the traditions of modern European civilisation will approach the problems of universal history with a set of questions, which to him appear both inevitable and legitimate. These questions will turn on the combination of circumstances which has brought about the cultural phenomena that are uniquely Western and that have at the same time (…) a universal cultural significance".

"For the Jew (…) the social order of the world was conceived to have been turned into the opposite of that promised for the future, but in the future it was to be overturned so that Jewry could be once again dominant. The world was conceived as neither eternal nor unchangeable, but rather as being created. Its present structure was a product of man's actions, above all those of the Jews, and God's reaction to them. Hence the world was a historical product designed to give way to the truly God-ordained order (…). There existed in addition a highly rational religious ethic of social conduct; it was free of magic and all forms of irrational quest for salvation; it was inwardly worlds apart from the path of salvation offered by Asiatic religions. To a large extent this ethic still underlies contemporary Middle Eastern and European ethic. World-historical interest in Jewry rests upon this fact. (…) Thus, in considering the conditions of Jewry's evolution, we stand at a turning point of the whole cultural development of the West and the Middle East".

Weber analyses the interaction between the Bedouins, the cities, the herdsmen and the peasants, including the conflicts between them and the rise and fall of the United Monarchy. The time of the United Monarchy appears as a mere episode, dividing the period of confederacy since the Exodus and the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan from the period of political decline following the Division of the Monarchy. This division into periods has major implications for religious history. Since the basic tenets of Judaism were formulated during the time of Israelite confederacy and after the fall of the United Monarchy, they became the basis of the prophetic movement that left a lasting impression on the Western civilisation.

Weber discusses the organisation of the early confederacy, the unique qualities of the Israelites' relations to Yahweh, the influence of foreign cults, types of religious ecstasy, and the struggle of the priests against ecstasy and idol worship. He goes on to describe the times of the Division of the Monarchy, social aspects of Biblical prophecy, the social orientation of the prophets, demagogues and pamphleteers, ecstasy and politics, and the ethic and theodicity of the prophets.

Weber notes that Judaism not only fathered Christianity and Islam, but was crucial to the rise of modern Occident state, as its influence were as important to those of Hellenistic and Roman cultures.

Reinhard Bendix, summarising Ancient Judaism, writes that "free of magic and esoteric speculations, devoted to the study of law, vigilant in the effort to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord in the hope of a better future, the prophets established a religion of faith that subjected man's daily life to the imperatives of a divinely ordained moral law. In this way, ancient Judaism helped create the moral rationalism of Western civilisation".

Sociology of politics and governmentEdit

In the sociology of politics and government, Weber's most significant essay is probably his Politics as a Vocation. Therein, Weber unveils the definition of the state that has become so pivotal to Western social thought: that the state is that entity which possesses a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, which it may nonetheless elect to delegate as it sees fit. Politics is to be understood as any activity in which the state might engage itself in order to influence the relative distribution of force. Politics thus comes to be understood as deriving from power. A politician must not be a man of the "true Christian ethic", understood by Weber as being the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount, that is to say, the injunction to turn the other cheek. An adherent of such an ethic ought rather to be understood to be a saint, for it is only saints, according to Weber, that can appropriately follow it. The political realm is no realm for saints. A politician ought to marry the ethic of ultimate ends and the ethic of responsibility, and must possess both a passion for his avocation and the capacity to distance himself from the subject of his exertions (the governed).

Weber distinguished three pure types of political leadership, domination and authority: charismatic domination (familial and religious), traditional domination (patriarchs, patrimonalism, feudalism), and legal domination (modern law and state, bureaucracy). In his view, every historical relation between rulers and ruled contained elements that can be analysed on the basis of this tripartite distinction. He also notes that the instability of charismatic authority inevitably forces it to "routinize" into a more structured form of authority. Likewise he notes that in a pure type of traditional rule, sufficient resistance to a master can lead to a "traditional revolution". Thus he alludes to an inevitable move towards a rational-legal structure of authority, utilising a bureaucratic structure. Thus this theory can be sometimes viewed as part of the social evolutionism theory. This ties to his broader concept of rationalisation by suggesting the inevitability of a move in this direction.

Weber is also well-known for his study of the bureaucratisation of society, the rational ways in which formal social organisations apply the ideal type characteristics of a bureaucracy. Many aspects of modern public administration go back to him, and a classic, hierarchically organised civil service of the Continental type is called "Weberian civil service", although this is only one ideal type of public administration and government described in his magnum opus Economy and Society (1922), and one that he did not particularly like himself - he only thought it particularly efficient and successful. In this work, Weber outlines a description, which has become famous, of rationalisation (of which bureaucratisation is a part) as a shift from a value-oriented organisation and action (traditional authority and charismatic authority) to a goal-oriented organisation and action (legal-rational authority). The result, according to Weber, is a "polar night of icy darkness", in which increasing rationalisation of human life traps individuals in an "iron cage" of rule-based, rational control. Weber's bureaucracy studies also led him to his analysis — correct, as it would turn out — that socialism in Russia would, due to the abolishing of the free market and its mechanisms, lead to over-bureaucratisation (evident, for example, in the shortage economy) rather than to the "withering away of the state" (as Karl Marx had predicted would happen in communist society).

EconomicsEdit

While Max Weber is best known and recognised today as one of the leading scholars and founders of modern sociology, he also accomplished much in the field of economics. However, during his life no such distinctions really existed.

From the point of view of the economists, he is a representative of the "Youngest" German historical school of economics. His most valued contributions to the field of economics is his famous work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. This is a seminal essay on the differences between religions and the relative wealth of their followers. Weber's work is parallel to Sombart's treatise of the same phenomenon, which however located the rise of Capitalism in Judaism. Weber's other main contribution to economics (as well as to social sciences in general) is his work on methodology: his theories of "Verstehen" (known as understanding or Interpretative Sociology) and of antipositivism (known as humanistic sociology).

The doctrine of Interpretative Sociology is as well-known as it is controversial and debated. This thesis states that social, economic and historical research can never be fully inductive or descriptive as one must always approach it with a conceptual apparatus. This apparatus Weber identified as the "Ideal Type". The idea can be summarised as follows: an ideal type is formed from characteristics and elements of the given phenomena but it is not meant to correspond to all of the characteristics of any one particular case. It is interesting to compare Weber's Ideal Type to Ferdinand Tönnies' concept of the "Normal Type".

Weber conceded that employing "Ideal Types" was an abstraction but claimed that it was nonetheless essential if one were to understand any particular social phenomena because, unlike physical phenomena, they involve human behaviour which must be interpreted by ideal types. This, together with his antipositivistic argumentation can be viewed as the methodological justification for the assumption of the "rational economic man" (homo economicus).

Max Weber formulated a three-component theory of stratification, with Social class, Social status and party (or politicals) as conceptually distinct elements.

  • Social class is based on economically determined relationship to the market (owner, renter, employee etc.).
  • Status is based on non-economical qualities like honour, prestige and religion.
  • Party refers to affiliations in the political domain.

All three dimensions have consequences for what Weber called "life chances".

Weber's other contributions to economics were several: these include a (seriously researched) economic history of Roman agrarian society, his work on the dual roles of idealism and materialism in the history of capitalism in his Economy and Society (1914) which present Weber's criticisms (or according to some, revisions) of some aspects of Marxism. Finally, his thoroughly researched General Economic History (1923) is perhaps the Historical School at its empirical best.

WorksEdit

Weber wrote his books in German. Original titles printed after his death (1920) are most likely compilations of his unfinished works (note the 'Collected Essays...' form in titles). Many translations are made of parts or selections of various German originals, and the names of the translations often do not reveal what part of German work they contain. For an extensive list of Max Weber's works see list of Max Weber works.

Critical responses to WeberEdit

Despite, or perhaps because of, Weber's influence on modern economics and sociology, aspects of his work have been criticised.

During his own lifetime, Weber was critical of the neoclassical economic approaches of authors such as Carl Menger and Friedrich von Weiser, whose formal approach was quite different from his own historical sociology. The work of these authors eventually led to the creation of the Austrian School of economics. This includes followers of Friedrich von Hayek and, more recently, authors Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw. In their pro-globalization book Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy, they attack Weber for claiming that only Protestantism could lead to a work ethic, pointing to the "Tiger Economies" of Southeastern Asia. However, in these debates, it is easy to overlook that the methods advocated by these later generations of the Austrian School are heavily indebted to the work of Weber. His "action sociology", as they called it, was a frequent topic in the "Mises Circle", an influential group headed by Ludwig von Mises, a key figure in the Austrian School. Among the attendees was a student of Mises, the philosopher of sociology Alfred Schutz, who sought to clarify Weber's interpretive approach in terms of the analytic phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Hence, although Schutz's work, especially The Phonomenology of the Social World(1932), is in effect a profound critique of Weber's method, it is nevertheless an attempt to further it. Hayek also frequently attended these discussions, and the subjective method advanced in his The Counter-Revolution of Science: Studies in the Abuse of Reason(1952) reflects these influences. Ludwig Lachmann, a later member of the Austrian School, made explicit the Austrian School's indebtedness to the Weberian method.

Likewise, Weber's blending of economics with Calvinism has been satirized by such works as "America's Keenest City" by Mongo.

References Edit

Weber's work is generally quoted according to the critical Gesamtausgabe (collected works edition), which is published by Mohr Siebeck in Tübingen, Germany.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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