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Max Weber

Disambiguation: for the Swiss Federal Councilor, see Max Weber (politician)
Max Weber (1864-1920) sociologist

- Max Weber -
Max Weber was born on April 21, 1864 in Erfurt, Germany, the eldest of seven children of Max Weber and his wife Helene. He was, along with Vilfredo Pareto and Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern sociology. Whereas Pareto and Durkheim, following Comte, worked in the positivist tradition, Weber worked in the idealist or hermeneutic[?] tradition. He is best-known methodologically for his development of the "ideal-type," and substantively for his work on the sociology of religion.

Of marked importance, Max Weber wrote 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 bases many of his economic studies on early twentieth-century Germany.

Significant, too, is Weber's essay "Politics as a Vocation". Therein, Weber posits the definition of the state that has become so pivotal to Western social thought: that the state is that entity which possesses a monopoly upon the legitimate use of 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 obtain to power-based concepts, to be understood as deriving of power. A politician must also not be a man of the "true Christian ethic" (understood by Weber as being the "Ethic of the Sermon of the Mount"--that is to say, the heeding of the injunction to turn the other cheek). An adherent of such an ethic ought be understood to be a saint (for it is only a saint, by Weber, that should find such an ethic a rewarding one). The political realm is no realm for saints. A politician ought marry the ethic of ultimate ends and the ethic of responsibility, and must possess both passion for his avocation and the capacity to distance himself from the subject of his exertions (the governed).

Pivotal in his analysis of the tenets of a faith is the reliance upon "magic" in sermons and faith. Briefly, Protestants become wealthy because they have no "magic wand" to get them into heaven, therefore Protestants have to work constantly and consistently to assure themselves a place in heaven. On the other hand, Catholicism involves much waving of hands, fixed 'magical' rituals, chanted incantations, a bit of water, and an abracadbra-like prayer: believers' souls become purified for their ascent to heaven.

The disparity in wealth between religions is still very prominent, though their are critics who suggest this disparity owes more to historical hangover from colonialism than from a particular creed. However the continuing corruption and disfunctional governments and economies of predominatly Catholic societies is of deep concern.

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

He is also well known for his study of bureaucratization of society.

Max Weber died of pneumonia in Munich, Germany on June 14, 1920.


  • Roman Agrarian History
  • Sociology of Community
  • Sociology of Religion
  • Sociology of the World Religions: Introduction
  • The Rejection and the Meaning of the World
  • The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • Economy and Society
  • Theory of Social and Economic Organization
  • The Russian Revolutions (first written in 1905)
  • The History of Commercial Partnerships in the Middle Ages
  • The City
  • Ancient Judaism
  • The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism
  • Religion of India
  • General Economic History
  • The Agrarian Sociology of Ancient Civilizations

External Links

http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/weber.htm (Significance and some good links)

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