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Maximilian Carl Emil Weber ( ) (21 April 1864–14 June 1920) was a Germanmarker lawyer, politician, historian, sociologist and political economist, who profoundly influenced social theory and the remit of sociology itself. Weber's major works dealt with the rationalization and so-called "disenchantment" which he associated with the rise of capitalism and modernity. Weber was, along with his associate Georg Simmel, a central figure in the establishment of methodological antipositivism; presenting sociology as a non-empirical field which must study social action through resolutely subjective means. He is typically cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science.

Weber's most famous work is his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which began his work in the sociology of religion. In this work, 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, and stressed that particular characteristics of ascetic Protestantism influenced the development of capitalism, bureaucracy and the rational-legal state in the West. The essay examines the effects Protestantism had upon the beginnings of capitalism, arguing that capitalism is not purely materialist in Karl Marx's sense, but rather originates in religious ideals and ideas which cannot be solely explained by ownership relations, technology and advances in learning alone.

In another major work, Politics as a Vocation, Weber defined the state as an entity which claims a "monopoly on the legitimate use of violence", a definition that became pivotal to the study of modern Western political science. His analysis of bureaucracy in his Economy and Society is still central to the modern study of organizations. His best-known contributions are often referred to as the "Weber Thesis". He was the first to recognize several diverse aspects of social authority, which he respectively categorized according to their charismatic, traditional, and legal forms. His analysis of bureaucracy thus noted that modern state institutions are based on a form of rational-legal authority.


Weber was born in Erfurtmarker in Thuringiamarker, Germanymarker, the eldest of seven children of Max Weber Sr., a wealthy and prominent politician in the National Liberal Party and a civil servant, and Helene Fallenstein, a Protestant and a Calvinist, with strong moral absolutist ideas. Weber Sr.'s engagement with public life immersed the family home in politics, as his salon received many prominent scholars and public figures. Weber was strongly influenced by his mother's views and approach to life, but he did not claim to be religious himself.

The young Weber and his brother Alfred, who also became a sociologist and economist, thrived in this intellectual atmosphere. Weber's 1876 Christmas presents to his parents, when he was thirteen years old, were two historical essays entitled "About the course of German history, with special reference to the positions of the emperormarker and the pope" and "About the Roman Imperial period from Constantine to the migration of nations". 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 began university studies. It seemed clear that Weber would pursue advanced studies in the social sciences.

Max Weber and his brothers, Alfred and Karl, in 1879

In 1882 Weber enrolled in the University of Heidelbergmarker as a law student. Weber joined his father's duelling fraternity, and chose as his major study Weber Sr.'s field of law. Along with his law coursework, young Weber attended lectures in economics and studied medieval history and theology. Intermittently, he served with the German army in Strasbourgmarker.

In the autumn of 1884, Weber returned to his parents' home to study at the University of Berlinmarker. For the next eight years of his life, interrupted only by a term at the University of Göttingenmarker and short periods of further military training, Weber stayed at his parents' house; first as a student, later as a junior barrister, and finally as a Dozent at the University of Berlin. In 1886 Weber passed the examination for "Referendar", comparable to the bar association examination in the Britishmarker and Americanmarker legal systems. Throughout the late 1880s, Weber continued his study of history. He earned his law doctorate 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, Weber took an interest in contemporary social policy. In 1888 he joined the "Verein fĂĽr Socialpolitik", the new professional association of German economists affiliated with the historical school, who saw the role of economics primarily as the solving of the wide-ranging social problems of the age, and who pioneered large-scale statistical studies of economic problems. He also involved himself in politics, joining the left leaning Evangelical Social Congress. 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 in agrarian economics.

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 was instrumental in collecting and publishing Weber's journal articles as books after his death. The couple moved to Freiburg in 1894, where Weber was appointed professor of economics at Freiburg University, before accepting the same position at the University of Heidelbergmarker in 1896. Next year, Max Weber Sr. died, two months after a severe quarrel with his son that was never resolved. After this, Weber became increasingly prone to nervousness and insomnia, making it difficult for him to fulfill his duties as a professor. His condition forced him to reduce his teaching, and leave his last course in the fall of 1899 unfinished. After spending months in a sanatorium during the summer and fall of 1900, Weber and his wife traveled to Italy at the end of the year, and did not return to Heidelberg until April 1902.

After Weber's immense productivity in the early 1890s, he did not publish a single paper between early 1898 and late 1902, finally resigning his professorship in fall 1903. Freed from those obligations, in that year 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, 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. This essay was the only one of his works that was published as a book during his lifetime. Also that year, he visited United Statesmarker and participated in the Congress of Arts and Sciences held in connection with the World's Fair (Louisiana Purchase Exposition) at St. Louismarker. Despite his successes, Weber felt that he was unable to resume regular teaching at that time, and continued on as a private scholar, helped by an inheritance in 1907. In 1912, Weber tried to organise a left-wing political party to combine social-democrats and liberals. This attempt was unsuccessful, presumably because many liberals feared social-democratic revolutionary ideals at the time.

Max Weber in 1917
During the First World War, Weber served for a time as director of the army hospitals in Heidelberg. In 1915 and 1916 he sat on commissions that tried to retain German supremacy in Belgium and Poland after the war. Weber's views on war, as well as on expansion of the German empire, changed throughout the war. He became a member of the worker and soldier council of Heidelberg in 1918. In the same year, 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 favor 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. Weber's contributions to German politics remain a controversial subject to this day.

Weber resumed teaching during this time, first at the University of Viennamarker, then in 1919 at the University of Munichmarker. In Munich, he headed the first German university institute of sociology, but ultimately never held a personal sociology appointment. Weber left politics due to right-wing agitation in 1919 and 1920. Many colleagues and students in Munich argued against him for his speeches and left-wing attitude during the German Revolution of 1918 and 1919, with some right-wing students holding protests in front of his home. Max Weber contracted the Spanish flu and died of pneumonia in Munich on June 14, 1920.


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. Along with Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim, Weber is regarded as one of the founders of modern sociology, although in his time he was viewed primarily as a historian and an economist. Whereas 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, 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 began his studies of rationalisation in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which he argued that the redefinition of the connection between work and piety in Protestantism, and especially in ascetic Protestant denominations, particularly Calvinism, shifted human effort towards rational efforts aimed at achieving economic gain. In Calvinism in particular, but also in Lutheranism, Christian piety towards God was expressed through or in one's secular vocation. Calvin, in particular, viewed the expression of the work ethic as a sign of "election". 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 continued his investigation into this matter in later works, notably in his studies on bureaucracy and on the classifications of authority into three types—legitimate, traditional, and charismatic. In these works Weber described what he saw as society's movement towards rationalization.

It should be noted that many of Weber's works famous today were collected, revised, and published posthumously. Significant interpretations of Weber's writings were produced by such sociological luminaries as Talcott Parsons of Harvard, who imparted to Weber's works a functionalist and teleological perspective (although Weber himself claimed his works were merely descriptive of the phenomena he was studying), and C. Wright Mills.

Sociology of religion

Weber's work on the sociology of religion started with the essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which grew out of heavy "field work" among Protestant sects in America, 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, although without judging or valuing them, like some of the contemporary thinkers who followed the social Darwinist paradigm; Weber wanted primarily to explain the distinctive elements of the Western civilization. In the analysis of his findings, Weber maintained that Calvinist (and more widely, Protestant) religious ideas had had a major impact on the social innovation and development of the economic system of Europe and the United Statesmarker, 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 systematization 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 freedom 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 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 put forward the thesis that Calvinist ethic and ideas influenced the development of capitalism. In this work, he relied on a great deal of statistics from the era, which indicated the predominance of Protestants among the wealthy, industrial, and technical classes relative to Catholics. He also noted the shift of Europe's economic center after the Reformation away from Catholic countries such as France, Spain and Italy, and toward Protestant countries such as England, Scotland, Germany and Holland. This theory is often viewed as a reversal of Marx's thesis that the economic "base" of society determines all other aspects of it. Christian religious devotion had historically been accompanied by rejection of mundane affairs, including economic pursuit. Why was that not the case with Protestantism? Weber addressed that paradox in his essay.

According to Weber, one of the universal tendencies that Christians had historically fought against, was the desire to profit. After defining the spirit of capitalism, Weber argued that there were many reasons to look for the origins of modern capitalism in the religious ideas of the Reformation. Many observers, such as William Petty, Montesquieu, Henry Thomas Buckle, John Keats, and others had commented on the affinity between Protestantism and the development of the commercial spirit.

Weber showed that certain types of Protestantism – notably Calvinism – favored 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. In addition, the Reformation view "calling" dignified even the most mundane professions as being those that added to the common good and were blessed by God, as much as any "sacred" calling could. This Reformation view, that all the spheres of life were sacred when dedicated to God and His purposes of nurturing and furthering life, profoundly affected the view of work.

To illustrate and provide an example, Weber quoted the ethical writings of Benjamin Franklin:

Remember, that time is money.
He that can earn ten shillings a day by his labor, and goes abroad, or sits idle, one half of that day, though he spends but sixpence during his diversion or idleness, ought not to reckon that the only expense; he has really spent, or rather thrown away, five shillings besides.


Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.(Italics in the original)

Weber noted that this is not a philosophy of mere greed, but a statement laden with moral language. Indeed, Franklin claimed that God revealed to him the usefulness of virtue.

To emphasize the work ethic in Protestantism relative to Catholicism, Weber noted a common problem that industrialists faced when employing precapitalist laborers: agricultural entrepreneurs would try to encourage time spent harvesting by offering a higher wage, with the expectation that laborers would see time spent working as more valuable and so engage it longer. However, in precapitalist societies similar attempts often resulted in laborers spending less time harvesting. Laborers judged that they could earn the same amount as previously, while spending less time working and having more leisure. Weber also noted that societies having more Protestants were those that have a more developed capitalist economy.

It was particularly advantageous in technical occupations for workers to be extremely devoted to their craft. To view the craft as an end in itself, or as a "calling" would serve this need well. This attitude was well-noted in certain classes which have endured religious education, especially of a Pietist background.

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 the essay had already 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 the Japanesemarker people, Jews and other non-Christians.

The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism

The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism was Weber's second major work on the sociology of religion. Weber focused on those aspects of Chinesemarker 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 patrimonial 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 favor 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 civilization 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 favored 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 Buddhism

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 Indianmarker 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 ancient 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 analyzes why they occupied the highest place in Indian society for so 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 Western countries from following the paths of China and India, and his next work, Ancient Judaism was an attempt to prove this theory.

Ancient Judaism

In Ancient Judaism, his fourth major work on the sociology of religion, Weber attempted to explain the "combination of circumstances" which resulted in the early differences between Oriental and Occidental religiosity. It is especially visible when the innerworldly asceticism developed by Western Christianity is contrasted with mystical contemplation of the kind developed in Indiamarker. 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 ancient Jewish prophecy. Stating his reasons for investigating ancient Judaism, Weber wrote that
Anyone who is heir to the traditions of modern European civilization 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.

Further on he adds:
"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 analyzes 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 civilization.

Weber discusses the organization 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, summarizing 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 government

In the sociology of politics and government, one of Weber's most significant contributions is his Politics as a Vocation essay. 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. In this essay, Weber wrote that 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 vocation 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:

  1. charismatic domination (familial and religious),
  2. traditional domination (patriarchs, patrimonalism, feudalism), and
  3. legal domination (modern law and state, bureaucracy).
In his view, every historical relation between rulers and ruled contained such elements and they 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 critical study of the bureaucratisation of society, the rational ways in which formal social organizations apply the ideal type characteristics of a bureaucracy. It was Weber who began the studies of bureaucracy and whose works led to the popularization of this term. Many aspects of modern public administration go back to him, and a classic, hierarchically organized 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 rationalization (of which bureaucratization is a part) as a shift from a value-oriented organization and action (traditional authority and charismatic authority) to a goal-oriented organization and action (legal-rational authority). The result, according to Weber, is a "polar night of icy darkness", in which increasing rationalization 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, after Stalin's takeover – that socialism in Russiamarker would lead to over-bureaucratization rather than to the "withering away of the state" (as Karl Marx had predicted would happen in communist society).


While Weber is best known and recognized today as one of the leading scholars and founders of modern sociology, he also accomplished much in other fields, notably economics, although this is largely forgotten today among orthodox economists, who pay very little attention to his works. The view that Weber is at all influential to modern economists comes largely from non-economists and economic critics with sociology backgrounds. During his life distinctions between the social sciences were less clear than they are now, and Weber considered himself a historian and an economist first, sociologist distant second.

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. In contrast Sombart located the rise of capitalism successively in the Enlightenment ideal of reason and control of nature, Judaism and urbanization. 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 one of the main sociological paradigms, with many supporters as well as critics. 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, which Weber termed "Ideal Type". The idea can be summarized 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. Weber's Ideal Type became one of the most important concepts in social sciences, and led to the creation of such concepts as Ferdinand Tönnies' "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).

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) can be considered the Historical School at its empirical best.

As a critic of socialism

In the final years of his career Weber became vocal critic of socialism, both in European and Bolshevik variants. He saw Lenin's ideal of applying hierarchical mode of organization in the firm on society at large as an attempt to universalize serfdom. He believed that workers in socialist society still would work in hierarchy, but this time in much worse form of it, fused with government power.

Weber developed, independently from Ludwig von Mises, a critique of socialism as an economically impossible system. Weber stated that when socialism abolishes private property in the means of production, it would at the same time abolish market prices and monetary calculation of cost and profit, and that way make a rational planned economy impossible. Socialist central planners can resort to calculation in-kind, but this type of economic coordination would be grossly inefficient. According to Weber, the main reason why a socialist in-kind mode of economic calculation cannot work is because it is unable to solve the problem of imputation (i.e. to determine the relative price of capital goods):

Critical responses to Weber

Influence from and on the Austrian school

During his own lifetime, Weber was critical of the neoclassical economic approaches of authors such as Carl Menger and Friedrich von Wieser, 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 Phenomenology 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.

Interestingly, given their methodological and sociological differences, Weber and Mises were not only acquainted, they shared an admiration for each other’s work. Mises considered Weber a "great genius" and his death a blow to Germany. Likewise, Weber comments that Mises’s Theory of Money and Credit is the monetary theory most acceptable to him. Weber accepted Ludwig von Mises's criticism of socialist economic planning and added his own argument. He believed that under socialism workers would still work in a hierarchy, but that now the hierarchy would be fused with government. Instead of dictatorship of the worker, he foresaw dictatorship of the official.

Historical critiques

The economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalism did not begin with the Industrial Revolution but in 14th century Italy. In Milanmarker, Venicemarker, and Florencemarker the small city-state governments lead to the development of the earliest forms of capitalism. In the 16th century Antwerpmarker was a commercial center of Europe. It was also noted that the predominantly Calvinist country of Scotlandmarker did not enjoy the same economic growth as Holland, England, and New England. In addition, it has been pointed out that Holland, which was heavily Calvinist, industrialized much later in the 19th century than predominantly Catholic Belgium, which was one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution on the European mainland.

Emil Kauder expanded Schumpeter's argument by arguing the hypothesis that Calvinism hurt the development of capitalism by leading to the development of the labor theory of value. Kauder writes "Any social philosopher or economist exposed to Calvinism will be tempted to give labor an exalted position in his social or economic treatise, and no better way of extolling labor can be found than by combining work with value theory, traditionally the very basis of an economic system." In contrast, Catholic areas that were influenced by the late scholastics were more likely to adhere to the subjective theory of value.

Rebuttal of such criticisms look not at small areas such as Holland and Belgium, or between the Mercantilist capitalism of Venice and industrial capitalism proper, but at the larger "blooms" of capitalism, where its beginnings had also taken permanent and decisive hold.

See also


  1. "Max Weber." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 20 Apr. 2009. [1]
  2. Habermas, Jurgen, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Polity Press (1985), ISBN 0-7456-0830-2, p2
  3. 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 sections of various German originals, and the names of the translations often do not reveal what part of German work they contain. Weber's work is generally quoted according to the critical Gesamtausgabe (collected works edition), which is published by Mohr Siebeck in TĂĽbingen, Germany. For an extensive list of Max Weber's works see list of Max Weber works.
  4. Max Weber - Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
  5. Weber, Max The Protestant Ethic and "The Spirit of Capitalism" (1905). Translated by Stephen Kalberg (2002), Roxbury Publishing Company, pp. 19 & 35; Weber's references on these pages to "Superstructure" and "base" are unambiguous references to Marxism's base/superstructure theory.
  6. Periodical, Sociology Volume 250, September, 1999, 'Max Weber'
  7. Sica, Alan (2004). Max Weber and the New Century. London: Transaction Publishers, p. 24. ISBN 0-7658-0190-6.
  8. Gianfranco Poggi, Weber: A Short Introduction, Blackwell Publishing, 2005, Google Print, p.5
  9. Marianne Weber. Last accessed on 18 September 2006. Based on Lengermann, P., & Niebrugge-Brantley, J.(1998). The Women Founders: Sociology and Social Theory 1830–1930. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  10. Essays in Economic Sociology, Princeton University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-691-00906-6, Google Print, p.7
  11. Guenther Roth: "History and sociology in the work of Max Weber", in: British Journal of Sociology, 27(3), 1979
  12. Essays in Economic Sociology, Princeton University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-691-00906-6, Google Print, p.22
  13. Iannaccone, Laurence (1998). "Introduction to the Economics of Religion". Journal of Economic Literature 36, 1465–1496.
  14. Wolfgang J. Mommsen, The Political and Social Theory of Max Weber, University of Chicago Press, 1992, ISBN 0-226-53400-6, Google Print, p.81, p. 60, [2] p. 327.]
  15. Kaesler, Dirk (1989). Max Weber: An Introduction to His Life and Work. University of Chicago Press, p. 18. ISBN 0226425606
  16. Gerth, H.H. and C. Wright Mills (1948). From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. London: Routledge (UK), ISBN 0415175038
  17. Turner, Stephen (ed) (2000). The Cambridge Companion to Weber. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 142.
  18. William Petersen, Against the Stream, Transaction Publishers, ISBN 0-7658-0222-8, 2004, Google Print, p.24
  19. Peter R. Baehr, Founders Classics Canons, Transaction Publishers, 2002, ISBN 0-7658-0129-9, Google Print, p.22
  20. John K. Rhoads, Critical Issues in Social Theory, Penn State Press, 1991, ISBN 0-271-00753-2, Google Print, p.40
  21. Joan Ferrante, Sociology: A Global Perspective, Thomson Wadsworth, 2005, ISBN 0-495-00561-4, Google Print, p.21
  22. Andrew J. Weigert, Mixed Emotions: Certain Steps Toward Understanding Ambivalence, SUNY Press, 1991, ISBN 0-7914-0600-8, Google Print, p.110
  23. Weber, Max The Protestant Ethic and "The Spirit of Capitalism" (Penguin Books, 2002) translated by Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells, pp.9-12
  24. Weber The Protestant Ethic..., pp.15-16
  25. Weber The Protestant Ethic..., pp.17
  26. Daniel Warner, An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1991, ISBN 1-55587-266-2, Google Print, p.9
  27. Randal Marlin, Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion, Broadview Press, 2002, ISBN 1-55111-376-7, Google Print.p155
  28. Wolfgang J. Mommsen, The Political and Social Theory of Max Weber: Collected Essays, University of Chicago Press, 1992, ISBN 0-226-53400-6, Google Print, p.46
  29. Marshall Sashkin, Leadership That Matters, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002, ISBN 1-57675-193-7, Google Print, p.52
  30. George Ritzer, Enchanting a Disenchanted World: Revolutionizing the Means of Consumption, Pine Forge Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7619-8819-X, Google Print, p.55
  31. Erik H. Erikson, Childhood and Society, W. W. Norton & Company, 1963, p. 401. ISBN 039331068X.
  32. Max Weber, 1864–1920 at the New School for Social Research
  33. Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), vol. I, pp. 100–03.
  34. Schumpeter, Joseph: "History of Economic Analysis", Oxford University Press, 1954
  35. Rothbard, Muarry N.: "Economic Thought Before Adam Smith", Ludwig von Mises Press, 1995, pp. 142
  36. Evans, Eric J.: "The Forging of the Modern State: Early Industrial Britain, 1783-1870", Longman, 1983, pp. 114, ISBN 0-5824-8969-5.
  37. Kauder, Emil: "The Retarded Acceptance of the Marginal Utility Theory", Quarterly Journal of Economics 67(4), 1953

Further reading

  • Ankerl, Guy (1972), Sociologues allemands. Avec le dictionnaire de "l'Ethique protestante et l'esprit du capitalisme" de Max Weber, Neuchâtel: A la Baconnière.
  • Green, Robert (1959) (ed.), Problems in European Civilization, Protestantism and Capitalism: The Weber Thesis and Its Critics, Boston: Heath.
  • Korotayev A., Malkov A., Khaltourina D. (2006), Introduction to Social Macrodynamics, Moscow: URSS, ISBN 5-484-00414-4 [2912] ( Chapter 6: Reconsidering Weber: Literacy and "the Spirit of Capitalism").
  • Mitzman, Arthur (1970/1985), The Iron Cage: An Historical Interpretation of Max Weber, New Brunswick NJ: Transaction Books, ISBN 0878559841.
  • Quensel, Bernhard K. (2007), Max Webers Konstruktionslogik. Sozialökonomik zwischen Geschichte und Theorie, Nomos, ISBN 9783832925178 [Revisiting Weber's concept of sociology against the background of his juristic and economic provenance within the framework of "social economics"]
  • Radkau, Joachim (2005), Max Weber [The most important Weber biography on Max Weber's life and torments since Marianne Weber.]
  • Roth, Guenther (2001), Max Webers deutsch-englische Familiengeschichte, J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), ISBN 3-16-147557-7.
  • Shils, Edward and Rheinstein, Max. (1964) Max Weber Law in Economy and Society, ,Cambridge: Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-55651-8; ISBN 0674556518; ISBN 9780674556515.
  • Swatos, William H. (1990) (ed.), Time, Place, and Circumstance: Neo-Weberian Studies in Comparative Religious History. New York: Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-26892-4.
  • Swedberg, Richard (1998), Max Weber and the Idea of Economic Sociology, Princeton: Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-07013-X
  • Swedberg, Richard (1999), "Max Weber as an Economist and as a Sociologist", American Journal of Economics and Sociology, October 1999.
  • Weber, Marianne (1926/1988), Max Weber: A Biography, New Brunswick: Transaction Books, ISBN 0-471-92333-8.

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