Max Weber

German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist
The Truth is the Truth.

Maximilian Carl Emil Weber (21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) was a German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist whose ideas profoundly influenced social theory and social research. Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as among the three founders of sociology.



  • The capacity to distinguish between empirical knowledge and value-judgments, and the fulfillment of the scientific duty to see the factual truth as well as the practical duty to stand up for our own ideals constitute the program to which we wish to adhere with ever increasing firmness.
    • Max Weber, “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy” (1904)
  • When I studied modern Catholic literature in Rome a few years ago, I became convinced how hopeless is to think that there are any scientific results this church cannot digest... I could not honestly participate in such anti-clericalism. It is true that I am absolutely unmusical in matters religious and that I have neither the need nor the ability to erect any religious edifices within me — that is simply impossible for me, and I reject it. But after examining myself carefully I must say that I am neither anti-religious nor irreligious. In this regard too I consider myself a cripple, a stunted man whose fate it is to admit honestly that he must put up with this state of affairs (so as not to fall for some romantic swindle)... For you a theologian of liberal persuasion (whether Catholic or Protestant) is necessarily most abhorrent as the typical representative of a halfway position; for me he is in human terms infinitely more valuable and interesting... than the intellectual (and basically cheap) pharisaism of naturalism, which is intolerably fashionable and in which there is much less life than in the religious position (again, depending on the case, of course!)
    • Max Weber, letter to Ferdinand Tönnies, Feb. 19, 1909; As cited in: James T. Kloppenberg. Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920. Oxford University Press, 24 mrt. 1988. p. 498
  • Mysticism intends a state of "possession," not action, and the individual is not a tool but a "vessel" of the divine. Action in the world must thus appear as endangering the absolutely irrational and other-worldly religious state. Active asceticism operates within the world; rationally active asceticism, in mastering the world, seeks to tame what is creatural and wicked through work in a worldly "vocation" (inner-worldly asceticism). Such asceticism contrasts radically with mysticism, if the latter draws the full conclusion of fleeing from the world (contemplative flight from the world). The contrast is tempered, however, if active asceticism confines itself to keeping down and to overcoming creatural wickedness in the actor's own nature. For then it enhances the concentration on the firmly established God-willed and active redemptory accomplishments to the point of avoiding any action in the orders of the world (asceticist flight from the world). Thereby active asceticism in external bearing comes close to contemplative flight from the world. The contrast between asceticism and mysticism is also tempered if the contemplative mystic does not draw the conclusion that he should flee from the world, but, like the inner-worldly asceticist, remain in the orders of the world (inner-worldly mysticism).
    In both cases the contrast can actually disappear in practice and some combination of both forms of the quest for salvation may occur. But the contrast may continue to exist even under the veil of external similarity. For the true mystic the principle continues to hold: the creature must be silent so that God may speak.
  • The Truth is the Truth.
    • Max Weber's last words (1920), as quoted in Prophets of Yesterday : Studies in European Culture, 1890-1914 (1961) by Gerhard Masur, p. 201
  • 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
  • Only on the assumption of belief in the validity of values is the attempt to espouse value-judgments meaningful. However, to judge the validity of such values is a matter of faith.
    • Max Weber (1949/2011), Methodology of Social Sciences, Edward E. Shils & Henry A. Finch (transl. & ed.). p. 55
  • Since Judaism made Christianity possible and gave it the character of a religion essentially free from magic, it rendered an important service from the point of view of economic history. For the dominance of magic outside the sphere in which Christianity has prevailed in one of the most serious obstructions to the rationalization of economic life. Magic involves a stereotyping of technology and economic relations. When attempts were made in China to inaugurate the building of railroads and factories a conflict with geomancy ensued … Similar is the relation to capitalism of the castes in India. Every new technical process which an Indian employs signifies for him first of all that he leaves his caste and falls into another, necessarily lower … An additional fact is that every caste makes every other caste impure. In consequence, workmen who dare not accept a vessel filled with water from each other's hands, cannot be employed together in the same factory room. Obviously, capitalism could not develop in an economic group thus bound hand and foot by magical means.
    • Max Weber, General Economic History, trans. by Frank Knight, 1961. p 265

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905; 1920)Edit

  • Benjamin Franklin's own character demonstrates that the issue is more complex: his character appears clearly, however seldom, in his autobiography as one of candor and truthfulness. It is also evident in Franklin's tracing of his realization—virtues can be "useful"—back to a revelation from God that was designed, he believed, to guide him onto the path of righteousness. Something more is involved here than simply an embellishing of purely self-interested, egocentric maxims.
    The complexity of this issue is above all apparent in the summum bonum ["supreme good"] of this "ethics": namely, the acquisition of money, and more and more money, takes place here simultaneously with the strictest avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of it. The pursuit of riches is fully stripped of all pleasurable (eudämonistischen), and surely all hedonistic, aspects.
    Accordingly, this striving becomes understood completely as an end in itself—to such an extent that it appears as fully outside the normal course of affairs and simply irrational, at least when viewed from the perspective of the "happiness" or "utility" of the single individual. Here, people are oriented to acquisition as the purpose of life; acquisition is no longer viewed as a means to the end of satisfying the substantive needs of life. Those people in possession of spontaneous, fun-loving dispositions experience this situation as an absolutely meaningless reversal of a "natural" condition (as we would say today). Yet this reversal constitutes just as surely a guiding principle of [modern] capitalism as incomprehension of this new situation characterizes all who remain untouched by [modern] capitalism's tentacles.
    • Ch. 2 : The "Spirit" of Capitalism
  • No one any longer knows who will live in this steel-hard casing and whether entirely new prophets or a mighty rebirth of ancient ideas and ideals will stand at the end of this prodigious development. Or, however, if neither, whether a mechanized ossification, embellished with a sort of rigidly compelled sense of self-importance, will arise. Then, indeed, if ossification appears, the saying might be true for the “last humans” in this long civilizational development:

    narrow specialists without mind, pleasure-seekers without heart; in its conceit, this nothingness imagines it has climbed to a level of humanity never before attained.

    • Ch. 5 : Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • This study has attempted, of course, merely to trace ascetic Protestantism’s influence, and the particular nature of this influence, back to ascetic Protestantism’s motives in regard to one, however important, point. The way in which Protestant asceticism was in turn influenced in its development and characteristic uniqueness by the entirety of societal-cultural conditions, and especially economic conditions, must also have its day. For sure, even with the best will, the modern person seems generally unable to imagine how large a significance those components of our consciousness rooted in religious beliefs have actually had upon culture, national character, and the organization of life. Nevertheless, it can not be, of course, the intention here to set a one-sided spiritualistic analysis of the causes of culture and history in place of an equally one-sided “materialistic” analysis. Both are equally possible. Historical truth, however, is served equally little if either of these analyses claims to be the conclusion of an investigation rather than its preparatory stage.
    • Ch. 5 : Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism

"Science as a Vocation" (1917)Edit

Max Weber, Science as a Vocation (1917)

  • The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world. Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental.
  • After Nietzsche’s devastating criticism of those “last men” who “invented happiness,” there is probably no need for me to remind you of the naïve optimism with which we once celebrated science, or the technology for the mastery of life based on it, as the path to happiness. Who believes this, apart from a few overgrown children occupying university chairs or editorial offices?

Prefatory Remarks to Collected Essays in the Sociology of Religion (1920)Edit

  • This naive manner of conceptualizing capitalism by reference to a “pursuit of gain” must be relegated to the kindergarten of cultural history methodology and abandoned once and for all. A fully unconstrained compulsion to acquire goods cannot be understood as synonymous with capitalism, and even less as its “spirit.” On the contrary, capitalism can be identical with the taming of this irrational motivation, or at least with its rational tempering. Nonetheless, capitalism is distinguished by the striving for profit, indeed, profit is pursued in a rational, continuous manner in companies and firms, and then pursued again and again, as is profitability. There are no choices. If the entire economy is organized according to the rules of the open market, any company that fails to orient its activities toward the chance of attaining profit is condemned to bankruptcy.
    Let us begin by defining terms in a manner more precise than often occurs. For us, a "capitalist" economic act involves first of all an expectation of profit based on the utilization of opportunities for exchange; that is of (formally) peaceful opportunities for acquisition. Formal and actual acquisition through violence follows its own special laws and hence should best be placed, as much as one may recommend doing so, in a different category. Wherever capitalist acquisition is rationally pursued, action is oriented to calculation in terms of capital. What does this mean?

From Max Weber, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 1946Edit

Max Weber, Hans Heinrich Gerth, C. Wright Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in sociology, 1946, 1958

  • In a democracy the people choose a leader in whom they trust. Then the chosen leader says, 'Now shut up and obey me.' People and party are then no longer free to interfere in his business.
    • p. 42;
  • The problem — the experience of the irrationality of the world — has been the driving force of all religious evolution. The Indian doctrine of karma, Persian dualism, the doctrine of original sin, predestination and the deus absconditus, all these have grown out of this experience. Also the early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.
    • p. 124; Essay "Politics as a vocation"
  • No sociologist, for instance, should think himself too good, even in his old age, to make tens of thousands of quite trivial computations in his head and perhaps for months at a time
    • p. 135 (in 2009 edition)
  • The ultimately possible attitudes toward life are irreconcilable, and hence their struggle can never be brought to a final conclusion.
    • p. 152 (in 2009 edition)
  • The capacity for the accomplishment of religious virtuosos — the “intellectual sacrifice”— is the decisive characteristic of the positively religious man. That this is so is shown by the fact that in spite of (or rather in consequence) of theology (which unveils it) the tension between the value-spheres of “science” and the sphere of “the holy” is unbridgeable.
    • p. 154; Essay: "The prestige and power of the “Great Powers."

Economy and Society, 1978Edit

Max Weber, Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology ‎Guenther Roth & ‎Claus Wittich (ed.) Ephraim Fischoff et al. (trans.), 1978. Translation of Max Weber's Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriß der verstehenden Soziologie from 1924.

  • Sociology... is a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and consequences. We shall speak of "action" insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to his behavior - be it overt or covert, omission or acquiescence. Action is "social" insofar as its subjective meaning takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course.
    • p. 4
  • For the purposes of a typological scientific analysis it is convenient to treat all irrational, affectually determined elements of behavior as factors of deviation from a conceptually pure type of rational action. For example a panic on the stock exchange can be most conveniently analysed by attempting to determine first what the course of action would have been if it had not be influenced by irrational affects; it is then possible to introduce the irrational components as accounting for the observed deviations from this hypothetical course...Only in this way is it possible to assess the causal significance of irrational factors as accounting for the deviation of this type. The construction of a purely rational course of action in such cases serves the sociologist as a type (ideal type) which has the merit of clear understandability and lack of ambiguity. By comparison with this it is possible to understand the ways in which actual action is influenced by irrational factors of all sorts, such as affects and errors, in that they account for the deviation from the line of conduct which would be expected on hypothesis that the action were purely rational.
    • p 6
  • Social action, like all action, may be oriented in four ways. It may be:
(1) instrumentally rational (zweckrational), that is, determined by expectations as to the behavior of objects in the environment and of other human beings; these expectations are used as "conditions" or "means" for the attainment of the actor's own rationally pursued and calculated ends;
(2) value-rational (wertrational), that is, determined by a conscious belief in the value for its own sake of some ethical, aesthetic, religious, or other form of behavior, independently of its prospects of success;
(3) affectual (especially emotional), that is, determined by the actor's specific affects and feeling states;
(4) traditional, that is, determined by ingrained habituation.
  • p 24-25
  • The term "social relationship” will be used to denote the behavior of a plurality of actors insofar as, in its meaningful content, the action of each takes account of that of the others and is oriented in these terms. The social relationship thus consists entirely and exclusively in the existence of a probability that there will be a meaningful course of social action – irrespective, for the time being, of the basis of this probability.
    • p. 26-27 (1978 edition)
  • The continual utilization and procurement of goods, whether through production or exchange, by an economic unit for purposes of its own consumption or to procure other goods for consumption. will be called "budgetary management" (Haushalt).
    • p. 87 ; Definition of a household.
  • Bureaucracy develops the more perfectly, the more it is "dehumanized," the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation.
    • p. 975
    • Alternative translation:
Bureaucracy's specific nature . . .develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is “dehumanized,” the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation.
  • As cited in: Joseph H. Carens (1981), Equality, Moral Incentives, and the Market. p. 205
  • Characteristics of Modern Bureaucracy
Modern officialdom functions in the following manner:
  1. There is the principle of official jurisdictional areas, which are generally ordered by rules, that is, by bws or administrative regulations.
This means:
(I) The regular activities required for the purposes or the bureaucratically governed structure all' assigned as official duties.
(2) The authority to give the commands required for the discharge of these duties is distributed in a stable way and is strictly delimited by rules concerning the coercive means, physical, sacerdotal, or otherwise, which may be placed at the disposal of officials.
(3) Methodical provision is made for the regular and continuous fulfilment of these duties and for the exercise of the corresponding rights; only persons who qualify under general rules are employed.
In public and lawful government these three elements constitute 'bureaucratic authority.' In private economic domination, they constitute bureaucratic 'management.' Bureaucracy, thus understood, is fully developed in political and ecclesiastical communities only in the modern state, and, in the private economy, only in the most advanced institutions of capitalism. Permanent and public office authority, with fixed jurisdiction, is not the historical rule but rather the exception. This is so even in large political structures such as those of the ancient Orient, the Germanic and Mongolian empires of conquest, or of many feudal structures of state. In all these cases, the ruler executes the most important measures through personal trustees, table-companions, or court-servants. Their commissions and authority are not precisely delimited and are temporarily called into being for each case.
  • p. 956
  • The principles of office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher ones.
    • p. 957 ; Second characteristic of modern bureaucracy
  • The management of the modern office is based upon written documents ('the files'), which are preserved in their original or draught form. There is, therefore, a staff of subaltern officials and scribes of all sorts. The body of officials actively engaged in a 'public' office, along with the respective apparatus of material implements and the files, make up a 'bureau.' In private enterprise, 'the bureau' is often called 'the office.'
    • p. 957 ; Third characteristic of modern bureaucracy
  • IV. Office management, at least all specialized office management-- and such management is distinctly modern--usually presupposes thorough and expert training. This increasingly holds for the modern executive and employee of private enterprises, in the same manner as it holds for the state official.
V. When the office is fully developed, official activity demands the full working capacity of the official, irrespective of the fact that his obligatory time in the bureau may be firmly delimited. In the normal case, this is only the product of a long development, in the public as well as in the private office. Formerly, in all cases, the normal state of affairs was reversed: official business was discharged as a secondary activity.
VI. The management of the office follows general rules, which are more or less stable, more or less exhaustive, and which can be learned. Knowledge of these rules represents a special technical learning which the officials possess. It involves jurisprudence, or administrative or business management.
  • p. 958 ; Fourth to sixth characteristic of modern bureaucracy
  • Bureaucratization offers above all the optimum possibility for carrying through the principle of specializing administrative functions according to purely objective considerations. Individual performances are allocated to functionaries who have specialized training and who, by constant practice increase their expertise. "Objective" discharge of business primarily means a discharge of business according to calculable rules and "without regard for persons."
    • p. 975
  • In contrast to all other forms of domination, the economic domination of capital cannot, because of its 'impersonal character', be ethically regulated. ... The competitiveness, the market, the labour market, the monetary market, the commodity market, in one word 'objective' considerations, neither ethical nor anti-ethical, but simply non-ethical ... determine behaviour at the decisive points.
    • Cited in The War of Gods: Religion and Politics in Latin America (1996), p. 143
  • A fully developed bureaucratic mechanism stands in the same relationship to other forms as does the machine to the non-mechanical production of goods. Precision, speed, clarity, documentary ability, continuity, discretion, unity, rigid subordination, reduction of friction and material and personal expenses are unique to bureaucratic organization.
    • As cited in: Tomas Brytting, Richard Minogue (2016), The Anatomy of Fraud and Corruption: Organizational Causes and Remedies.

Quotes about Max WeberEdit

20th century
  • Then the works of Max Weber, first translated from the German in the 1940s — he wrote around 1910, incredibly — began to find their way into social science thought. At first, with his celebration of the efficiency of bureaucracy, he was received with only reluctant respect, and even with hostility. All writers were against bureaucracy. But it turned out, surprisingly, that managers were not. When asked, they acknowledged that they preferred clear lines of communication, clear specifications of authority and responsibility, and clear knowledge of whom they were responsible to. They were as wont to say "there ought to be a rule about this," as to say "there are too many rules around here," as wont to say "next week we've got to get organized," as to say "there is too much red tape." Gradually, studies began to show that bureaucratic organizations could change faster than non-bureaucratic ones, and that morale could be higher where there was clear evidence of bureaucracy.
    • Charles Perrow, "The short and glorious history of organizational theory." Organizational Dynamics 2.1 (1973): 3-15. p. 6
  • In Weber, the gods that have risen from their graves in a disenchanted world are truly warring – there is no common standard of value, no conceivable truce, among them, any more than in the world of the great powers. The hope of a eudaimonist mediation between rival deities was the paltriest illusion of all...
    • Perry Anderson, A Zone of Engagement (1992), Ch. 11 : The Pluralism of Isaiah Berlin
  • [Weber] formulated the idea of methodology to serve, not simply as a guide to investigation but as a moral practice and a mode of political action.
    • Sheldon Wolin, “Max Weber: Legitimation, Method, and the Politics of Theory,” Political Theory (1981)
New Millennium
  • Weber's methodology was as ethical as it was epistemological
    • Sung Ho Kim, "Max Weber", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Weber's wide-ranging contributions gave critical impetus to the birth of new academic disciplines such as sociology and public administration as well as to the significant reorientation in law, economics, political science, and religious studies. His methodological writings were instrumental in establishing the self-identity of modern social science as a distinct field of inquiry; he is still claimed as the source of inspiration by empirical positivists and their hermeneutic detractors alike. More substantively, Weber's two most celebrated contributions were the “rationalization thesis,” a grand meta-historical analysis of the dominance of the west in modern times, and the “Protestant Ethic thesis,” a non-Marxist genealogy of modern capitalism. Together, these two theses helped launch his reputation as one of the founding theorists of modernity. In addition, his avid interest and participation in politics led to a unique strand of political realism comparable to that of Machiavelli and Hobbes. As such, Max Weber's influence was far-reaching across the vast array of disciplinary, methodological, ideological and philosophical reflections that are still our own and increasingly more so.
    • Sung Ho Kim, "Max Weber", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Broadly speaking, Weber's philosophical worldview, if not coherent philosophy, was informed by the deep crisis of the Enlightenment project in fin-de-siècle Europe, which was characterized by the intellectual revolt against positivist reason, a celebration of subjective will and intuition, and a neo-Romantic longing for spiritual wholesomeness [Hughes 1977]. In other words, Weber belonged to a generation of self-claimed epigones who had to struggle with the legacies of Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche. As such, the philosophical backdrop to his thoughts will be outlined here along two axes: epistemology and ethics. [...] Weber's ethical sensibility is built on a firm rejection of a Nietzschean divination and Foucaultian resignation alike, both of which are radically at odds with a Kantian ethic of duty. In other words, Weber's ethical project can be described as a search for a non-arbitrary form of freedom (his Kantian side) in what he perceived as an increasingly post-metaphysical world (his Nietzschean side). According to Paul Honigsheim, his pupil and distant cousin, Weber's ethic is that of “tragedy” and “nevertheless.” [Honigsheim 2003, 113] This deep tension between the Kantian moral imperatives and a Nietzschean diagnosis of the modern cultural world is apparently what gives such a darkly tragic and agnostic shade to Weber's ethical worldview.
    • Sung Ho Kim, "Max Weber", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

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