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Max Weber
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Max Weber

Alternate uses: see Max Weber (politician) for the Swiss Federal Councilor.
and see Max Weber (artist) for the American cubist painter.

Maximilian Weber (April 21, 1864 - June 14, 1920) was a German economist and sociologist, considered as one of the founders of modern sociology, as well as of public administration.

Table of contents
1 Career
2 Achievements
3 List of works
4 See also
5 External links


Max Weber was born in Erfurt, Germany, on April 21]st of 1864 as the eldest of seven children of Max Weber and his wife Helene. He was an elder brother of Alfred Weber.

In 1882 he enrolled in the University of Heidelberg as the student of law.

His independent work began in the fields of law and legal history, with the publication of his doctoral dissertation The History of Medieval Business Organisations in 1889.

In 1891 his second work was published - the Roman Agrarian History and its Significance for Public and Private Law.

In 1893 he married Marianne Schitger.

In 1894 he became a full professor of economics at the Freiburg University.

In 1896 he accepted a position at the University of Heidelberg.

In 1897 due to an ilness he was forced to reduce and eventually halt his regular academic work, and did not recover until 1901. The ilness was likely a mental breakdown caused by death of his father.

In 1903 he become an associate editor of the Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitk (Archives for Social Science and Social Welfare).

Weber felt however that he was unable to resume regular teaching at that time, and contined on as a private schoolar, helped by an inheritance in 1907.

In 1904 he visited United States and participated in the Congress of Arts and Sciences held in connection with the World's Fair at St. Louis.

During the First World War he served for a time as a director of the army hospitals in Heidelberg.

In 1918 he became a consultant to the German Armistice Commission in Treaty of Versailles and to the commission charged with drafting the Weimar Constitution.

From 1918he resumed teaching, first at the University of Vienna, then in 1919 at the University of Munich (where he lead the first ever German institute of sociology).

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


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 - like Werner Sombart, his friend and then the most famous representative of German sociology - in the idealist or hermeneutic tradition.


Max Weber is best known as one of the leading scholars and founders of modern sociology, but Weber also accomplished much economic work. It is generally accepted now that it is in sociology that his contribution was most important. However, during his life no such distinctions really existed and thus he may be seen as an "economist" in that light.

From the point of view of the economists, he is a representative of late German Historical School. His most valued contributions to the field of economy 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. Weber's other main contributions to economics (as well as to social sciences in general) is his work on methodology: his theory of Verstehen (known as the Interpretative Sociology) and his theory of positivism.

The doctrine of Interpretative Sociology is as well-known as it is controversial and debated. 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. This apparatus Weber identified as the "Ideal Type". The idea can be summarised 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 admitted employing "Ideal Types" was an abstraction but claimed it was nonetheless essential if one were to understand any particular social phenomena because, unlike physical phenomena, it involved human behavior which must be interpreted by ideal types. This can be viewed as the methodological justification for the assumption of "rational economic man". (Typologically, see as well Ferdinand Toennies' outspoken different concept of "Normal Type".)

Weber's work on positivism or rather his controversial belief in "value-free" social science, is also still debated. 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 (1914) which present Weber's anti-Marxian views. Finally, his thoroughly researched General Economic History (1923) is perhaps the Historical School at its empirical best

Max Weber formulated a three-component theory of stratification, with social class, status class and party class (or politics) as conceptually distinct elements.
All three dimensions have consequences for what Weber called "life chances".

Sociology of religion

A separate article is on sociology of religion.

In the field of sociology Weber is famous for his work on the sociology of religion and government (see next section).

His sociology of religion started with the essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and followed with the analysis of (), () and (Ancient Judaism). His works on Islam and other religions were interrupted by his sudden death.

His goal was to find reasons for the different development paths of the cultures of Occident and Orient.

His three main themes were to examine the effect of religious ideas on economic activities, to analyze the relation between social stratification and religious ideas, and to ascertain and explain the distinguishable characteristics of Western civilisation.

Sociology of politics and government

Significant, too, is Weber's essay Politics as a Vocation. 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 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).

The phrase, work ethic used in contemporary commentary is a derivative of the protestant ethic [1] discussed by Weber. It was adopted when the idea was generalised to apply to Japanese, Jews and other non-Christians.

Weber distinguished three (pure) types of political leadership, domination and authority: charismatic domination (familial and religious), traditional domination (patriarchs, patrimonalism, feudalism) and legal domination (modern law and state, bureaucracy). In his view every historical relation between rulers and ruled contained elements that can be analyzed on the basis of the above distinction.

Weber is also well-known for his study of bureaucratization of society; many aspects of modern public administration go back to him, and a classic, hierarchically organized civil service of the Continental type is - if basically mistakenly - called "Weberian civil service". In his work, Weber lays out a famous description of bureaucratization as a shift from value-oriented organization and action (see traditional authority and charismatic authority) to goal-oriented organization and action (legal-rational authority). 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).

List of works






See also

External links

Texts of Weber works:

About Weber:
This text is part of the Liberalism series (IV): Liberal thinkers
Liberalism I - Liberalism in countries II - Liberal parties III - Liberal thinkers IV Introduction article

These thinkers had an important influence on the development of liberal thinking:
Baruch Spinoza | John Locke | Voltaire | Benjamin Franklin | David Hume | Jean-Jacques Rousseau | Denis Diderot | Adam Smith | Charles de Montesquieu | Immanuel Kant | Thomas Paine | Thomas Jefferson | Marquis de Condorcet | Jeremy Bentham | Benjamin Constant | Wilhelm von Humboldt | James Mill | Johan Rudolf Thorbecke | Frédéric Bastiat | Alexis de Tocqueville | John Stuart Mill | Herbert Spencer | Thomas Hill Green | Ludwig Joseph Brentano | Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk; | Émile Durkheim | Friedrich Naumann | Max Weber | Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse | Benedetto Croce | Walther Rathenau | William Beveridge | Ludwig von Mises | John Maynard Keynes | José Ortega y Gasset | Salvador de Madariaga | Wilhelm Röpke | Bertil Ohlin | Friedrich August von Hayek | Karl Raimund Popper | John Hicks | Raymond Aron | John Kenneth Galbraith | Isaiah Berlin | James M. Buchanan | John Rawls | Ralf Dahrendorf | Karl-Hermann Flach | Ronald Dworkin | Richard Rorty | Amartya Sen | Hernando de Soto | William Kymlicka | Dirk Verhofstadt

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