Max Weber – Quotes

“There is no absolutely “objective” scientific analysis of culture… All knowledge of cultural reality… is always knowledge from particular points of view. … an “objective” analysis of cultural events, which proceeds according to the thesis that the ideal of science is the reduction of empirical reality to “laws,” is meaningless… [because]… the knowledge of social laws is not knowledge of social reality but is rather one of the various aids used by our minds for attaining this end.” —Max Weber, “Objectivity” in Social Science, 1897.

We know of no scientifically ascertainable ideals. To be sure, that makes our efforts more arduous than in the past, since we are expected to create our ideals from within our breast in the very age of subjectivist culture.

—Max Weber, 1909

Weber questions rationalisation, and notes that modern society is the result of individualization, which originated in the Reformation period. The society that is created in the process of rationalization, however, is antagonistic to the drive towards individualism.

“How is it at all possible to salvage any remnants of ‘individual’ freedom of movement in any sense given this all-powerful trend?”

—Max Weber

Bureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge.

—Max Weber

The development of the concept of the calling quickly gave to the modern entrepreneur a fabulously clear conscience – and also industrious workers; he gave to his employees as the wages of their ascetic devotion to the calling and of co-operation in his ruthless exploitation of them through capitalism the prospect of eternal salvation.

—Max Weber

[Sociology is] the science whose object is to interpret the meaning of social action and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which the action proceeds and the effects which it produces. 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 […] the meaning to which we refer may be either (a) the meaning actually intended either by an individual agent on a particular historical occasion or by a number of agents on an approximate average in a given set of cases, or (b) the meaning attributed to the agent or agents, as types, in a pure type constructed in the abstract. 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.

—Max Weber, The Nature of Social Action, 1922.

Weber on value, and the measurement of value:

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.”

Habermas on Weber:

What Weber depicted was not only the secularisation of Western culture, but also and especially the development of modern societies from the viewpoint of rationalisation. The new structures of society were marked by the differentiation of the two functionally intermeshing systems that had taken shape around the organisational cores of the capitalist enterprise and the bureaucratic state apparatus. Weber understood this process as the institutionalisation of purposive-rational economic and administrative action. To the degree that everyday life was affected by this cultural and societal rationalisation, traditional forms of life – which in the early modern period were differentiated primarily according to one’s trade – were dissolved.

—Jürgen Habermas, Modernity’s Consciousness of Time, 1985.

His Biographer, Joachim Radkau, on Weber’s importance:

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.

— Joachim Radkau, Max Weber: A Biography, 2005

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