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Radkau sets out, at the beginning of the text, the main aim of this biography, which is to rescue Weber from the place he has been given "as a writer who widened the gulf between C. Snow's 'two cultures' of literature and sociology on the one hand, and natural science and technology on the other" - as an enemy of nature, in point of fact. The portrait of a man driven by the twin demonic passions of a questing and powerful intellect on the one hand and a chained and sublimated eroticism on the other is beautifully realised, and the account of his circle and their loves and conflicts is seamlessly integrated into a challenging and thoughtful review of his oeuvre.

This is a very individual account, foregrounding as it does the genesis of Weber's enthusiasms and the mercurial shifts in his interests and intellectual engagements firmly and clearly in his personal life and circle of friends. As Radkau notes in a charming account of Weber's eccentric and infuriatingly disorganised working methods, this was not a man who ploughed his way systematically through card-index files collected during research and fieldwork.

The limits of his scientific rigour are revealed during an early study of farm workers. The report was prepared in extra-quick time but, behind the scenes, Weber became bored and irritated by the process of preparing and computing the data from the questionnaires employed. He dismissed it as "women's work" and had to be coaxed through the process by his effective and energetic wife.

Weber's passions, imagination and prejudices, the author shows, certainly played a significant role in the origins of his theses. My conceptions of Weber - which were formed long ago on the basis of Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills' edited collection of his papers, his classic texts, the enthusiasm of writers from Talcott Parsons to Zygmunt Bauman for his work, and have stayed largely unchallenged since then - have certainly been complemented by reading this study. One of the dead icons of sociology, neatly consigned to a honoured place on the basis of his classic studies of religion, the rise of capitalism, its related systems of organisation and leadership, and methodology in the human sciences, has become a much more complex and fragile figure, more human and fallible, yet somehow more substantial.

This book makes no connection - perhaps it is too obvious to need mentioning, but it is surely germane - to what his pupil Albert Salomon referred to as Weber's "debate with the ghost of Marx". Perhaps that is part of what has been excised, along with the connections and statements that used to be made connecting his breakdown to the contradictions and conflicts in his political beliefs and his pessimism about the inevitable dehumanisation of the "iron cage" of bureaucratisation in complex modern societies.

Radkau mentions in passing that Alfred Weber was even more pessimistic about these issues than Max, and offered an account of the dangers to one Franz Kafka, a friend of one of his students, when teaching in Vienna.

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In challenging the popular conception of Weber and bringing the emotional and erotic dimensions of his personal life and that of his familiars into conjunction with his work and ideas, this book is as fascinating as it is challenging. It may not overturn the established view of where he fits in the canon, but it is a fine addition to Weber studies. Finally then, join me in developing a cast list for the film of Weber's life. Joachim Radkau, professor of history at the University of Bielefeld, is a fan of musicals. He happily admits to having seen the film Mamma Mia!

Max Weber: A Biography

His love for the genre is so evident that his publisher has even suggested he write a Max Weber musical. Radkau, a renowned environmentalist, does not have a driving licence, and finds bicycles and airplanes the "only really delightful means of transport". He enjoys meditating in his garden - "the best place in the world" - as well as in the sauna, where he contemplates chapters of forthcoming books.

He is a keen dancer who is equally happy to take his wife to a dance hall or simply "hop around the kitchen". His wide-ranging love of music permits him to enjoy listening to both Wagner and Bob Marley, though presumably not at the same time. Radkau has lectured in his field for nearly 40 years, and says he still loves teaching.

He has also been married for 40 years, something he describes as a "record among all our acquaintances". He prepares breakfast for his wife, Orlinde, every day before waking her with a hymn. Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary. Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:. Already registered or a current subscriber? Sign in now. 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.

The move towards a rational-legal structure of authority, utilising a bureaucratic structure, is inevitable in the end. This ties to his broader concept of rationalisation by suggesting the inevitability of a move in this direction. Weber described many ideal types of public administration and government in his masterpiece Economy and Society His critical study of the bureaucratisation of society became one of the most enduring parts of his work. Weber listed several preconditions for the emergence of the bureaucracy: [] The growth in space and population being administered, the growth in complexity of the administrative tasks being carried out and the existence of a monetary economy —these resulted in a need for a more efficient administrative system.

Weber's ideal bureaucracy is characterised by hierarchical organisation, by delineated lines of authority in a fixed area of activity, by action taken and recorded on the basis of written rules, by bureaucratic officials needing expert training, by rules being implemented neutrally and by career advancement depending on technical qualifications judged by organisations, not by individuals.

The decisive reason for the advance of the bureaucratic organisation has always been its purely technical superiority over any other form of organisation. While recognising bureaucracy as the most efficient form of organisation and even indispensable for the modern state, Weber also saw it as a threat to individual freedoms and the ongoing bureaucratisation as leading to a "polar night of icy darkness", in which increasing rationalisation of human life traps individuals in the aforementioned " iron cage " of bureaucratic, rule-based, rational control.


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Weber also formulated a three-component theory of stratification , with social class, social status and political party as conceptually distinct elements. In Weber's theory, issues of honour and prestige are important. This distinction is most clearly described in Weber's essay Classes, Staende, Parties , which was first published in his book Economy and Society. All three dimensions have consequences for what Weber called " life chances " opportunities to improve one's life. Weber scholars maintain a sharp distinction between the terms status and class, even though, in casual use, people tend to use them interchangeably.

As part of his overarching effort to understand the unique development of the Western world, Weber produced a detailed general study of the city as the characteristic locus of the social and economic relations, political arrangements, and ideas that eventually came to define the West.

This resulted in a monograph, The City , which he probably compiled from research he conducted in — It was published posthumously in , and , was incorporated into the second part of his Economy and Society , as chapter XVI, "The City Non-legitimate Domination ".

Max Weber

According to Weber, the city as a politically autonomous organisation of people living in close proximity, employed in a variety of specialised trades, and physically separated from the surrounding countryside, only fully developed in the West and to a great extent shaped its cultural evolution:. The origin of a rational and inner-worldly ethic is associated in the Occident with the appearance of thinkers and prophets This context consisted of the political problems engendered by the bourgeois status-group of the city, without which neither Judaism, nor Christianity, nor the development of Hellenistic thinking are conceivable.

Weber argued that Judaism , early Christianity, theology, and later the political party and modern science, were only possible in the urban context that reached a full development in the West alone. Weber regarded himself primarily as a " political economist ", [] [] [] and all of his professorial appointments were in economics, though today his contributions in that field are largely overshadowed by his role as a founder of modern sociology. As an economist, Weber belonged to the "youngest" German historical school of economics. Though his research interests were always in line with those of the German historicists, with a strong emphasis on interpreting economic history , Weber's defence of " methodological individualism " in the social sciences represented an important break with that school and an embracing of many of the arguments that had been made against the historicists by Carl Menger , the founder of the Austrian School of economics, in the context of the academic Methodenstreit "debate over methods" of the late 19th century.

Unlike other historicists, Weber also accepted the marginal theory of value also called "marginalism" and taught it to his students. Max Weber's article has been cited as a definitive refutation of the dependence of the economic theory of value on the laws of psychophysics by Lionel Robbins , George Stigler , [] and Friedrich Hayek , though the broader issue of the relation between economics and psychology has come back into the academic debate with the development of " behavioral economics ".

Weber's best known work in economics concerned the preconditions for capitalist development, particularly the relations between religion and capitalism, which he explored in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as well as in his other works on the sociology of religion. Although today Weber is primarily read by sociologists and social philosophers , Weber's work did have a significant influence on Frank Knight , one of the founders of the neoclassical Chicago school of economics , who translated Weber's General Economic History into English in Weber, like his colleague Werner Sombart , regarded economic calculation and especially the double-entry bookkeeping method of business accounting, as one of the most important forms of rationalisation associated with the development of modern capitalism.

In order to make possible a rational utilisation of the means of production, a system of in-kind accounting would have to determine "value"—indicators of some kind for the individual capital goods which could take over the role of the "prices" used in book valuation in modern business accounting. But it is not at all clear how such indicators could be established and in particular, verified; whether, for instance, they should vary from one production unit to the next on the basis of economic location , or whether they should be uniform for the entire economy, on the basis of "social utility", that is, of present and future consumption requirements Nothing is gained by assuming that, if only the problem of a non-monetary economy were seriously enough attacked, a suitable accounting method would be discovered or invented.

The problem is fundamental to any kind of complete socialisation. We cannot speak of a rational "planned economy" so long as in this decisive respect we have no instrument for elaborating a rational "plan". This argument against socialism was made independently, at about the same time, by Ludwig von Mises. The prestige of Max Weber among European social scientists would be difficult to over-estimate.

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He is widely considered the greatest of German sociologists and Weber's most influential work was on economic sociology , political sociology , and the sociology of religion. But whereas Durkheim, following Comte , worked in the positivist tradition, Weber was instrumental in developing an antipositivist , hermeneutic , tradition in the social sciences.

Weber presented sociology as the science of human social action ; action that he separated into traditional , affectional , value-rational and instrumental. By "action" in this definition is meant the human behaviour when and to the extent that the agent or agents see it as subjectively meaningful In neither case is the "meaning" to be thought of as somehow objectively "correct" or "true" by some metaphysical criterion. This is the difference between the empirical sciences of action, such as sociology and history and any kind of a priori discipline, such as jurisprudence, logic, ethics, or aesthetics whose aim is to extract from their subject-matter "correct" or "valid" meaning.

In his own time, however, Weber was viewed primarily as a historian and an economist.

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The affinity between capitalism and Protestantism, the religious origins of the Western world, the force of charisma in religion as well as in politics, the all-embracing process of rationalisation and the bureaucratic price of progress, the role of legitimacy and of violence as the offspring of leadership, the "disenchantment" of the modern world together with the never-ending power of religion, the antagonistic relation between intellectualism and eroticism: all these are key concepts which attest to the enduring fascination of Weber's thinking.

Many of Weber's works famous today were collected, revised and published posthumously. Significant interpretations of his writings were produced by such sociological luminaries as Talcott Parsons and C. Wright Mills.


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Parsons in particular imparted to Weber's works a functionalist, teleological perspective; this personal interpretation has been criticised for a latent conservatism. Had Weber lived longer, the German people of today would be able to look to this example of an ' Aryan ' who would not be broken by National Socialism. Weber's friend, the psychiatrist and existentialist philosopher Karl Jaspers , described him as "the greatest German of our era".

Weber's untimely death felt to Jaspers "as if the German world had lost its heart". Weber's explanations are highly specific to the historical periods he analysed.

A Founding Figure of Sociology

Many scholars, however, disagree with specific claims in Weber's historical analysis. For example, the economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalism did not begin with the Industrial Revolution but in 14th century Italy. Also, the predominantly Calvinist country of Scotland did not enjoy the same economic growth as the Netherlands, England and New England. It has been pointed out that the Netherlands, which had a Calvinist majority, industrialised much later in the 19th century than predominantly Catholic Belgium, which was one of the centres of the Industrial Revolution on the European mainland.

For an extensive list of Max Weber's works, see Max Weber bibliography. Weber wrote in German. Original titles printed after his death are most likely compilations of his unfinished works of the Collected Essays 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.