Max Weber

max-weberMax Weber lived from 1864 – 1920. He is one of the architects of modern social science, and he deeply influenced sociology and social theory. His approach is interpretative; he is not just focused on the collection of empirical data. He is famous for his book “The Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism,” 1934.

Max Weber was born in Erfurt, Germany, the eldest of seven children of Max Weber and his wife Helene. He was, along with Karl Marx, 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.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”   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 20th-century Germany, and he found a  disparity in wealth between Protestants and Catholics.  Critics object that one could also make a distinction between northern and southern Europe, but what would that prove?

Weber is well-known for his study of bureaucratization of society; many aspects of modern public administration go back to him.  In his work, Weber lays out a famous description of bureaucratization as a shift from value-oriented organization and action  to goal-oriented organization and action. The result, according to Weber, is a “polar night of icy darkness,” in which increasing bureaucratization of human life-activity 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, necessarily lead to over-bureaucratization and not the “withering away of the state” (as Marx had predicted), but the contrary.

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

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