Max Weber

The Truth is the Truth.

Maximilian Carl Emil Weber (1864-04-21 – 1920-06-14) was a German sociologist and political economist.



  • Denn obwohl der moderne Mensch im ganzen selbst beim besten Willen nicht imstande zu sein pflegt, sich die Bedeutung, welche religiöse Bewußtseinsinhalte auf die Lebensführung, die Kultur und die Volkscharaktere gehabt haben, so groß vorzustellen, wie sie tatsächlich gewesen ist, so kann es dennoch natürlich nicht die Absicht sein, an Stelle einer einseitig »materialistischen« eine ebenso einseitig spiritualistische kausale Kultur- und Geschichtsdeutung zu setzen. Beide sind gleich möglich, aber mit beiden ist, wenn sie nicht Vorarbeit, sondern Abschluß der Untersuchung zu sein beanspruchen, der historischen Wahrheit gleich wenig gedient.
    • The modern man is in general, even with the best will, unable to give religious ideas a significance for culture and national character which they deserve. But one can, of course, not aim to replace a one-sided materialistic with an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and of history. Each is equally possible, but each, if it does not serve as the preparation, but as the conclusion of an investigation, accomplish equally little in the interest of historical truth.
  • Es ist das Schicksal unserer Zeit, mit der ihr eigenen Rationalisierung und Intellektualisierung, vor allem: Entzauberung der Welt, daß gerade die letzten und sublimsten Werte zurückgetreten sind aus der Öffentlichkeit, entweder in das hinterweltliche Reich mystischen Lebens oder in die Brüderlichkeit unmittelbarer Beziehungen der Einzelnen zueinander. Es ist weder zufällig, daß unsere höchste Kunst eine intime und keine monumentale ist...
    • 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.
    • Science as a Vocation [Wissenschaft als Beruf] (1918)
  • 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.
  • It goes without saving that religions must clash with scientific truth insofar as they assert empirical facts or the causal impact on them of something supernatural. However, 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. The steady slow impact of the practical consequences of our view of nature and history may perhaps make these ecclesiastical powers wither away (unless such fools as Ernst Haeckel will spoil everything), but no anti-clericalism based on 'methaphysical' naturalism can accomplish this. 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). I am like a tree stump from which new shoots can sometimes grow, but I must not pretend to be a grown tree. From this follows quite a bit: 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!)
    • From a letter to Ferdinand Tönnies; quoted from E. Baumgarten, ed., "Max Weber: Werk und Person" (Tübingen; Mohr, 1964), p. 670; in "Max Weber's Vision of History-Ethics and Methods", by Guenther Roth and Wolfgang Schluchter (1979), p. 83.
  • 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.
    • As quoted in Basit Bilal Koshu's The Postmodern Significance of Max Weber's Legacy, p. 62.
  • 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.
    • As quoted in Basit Bilal Koshu's The Postmodern Significance of Max Weber's Legacy, pp. 48; 114
  • The Truth is the Truth.
    • Last words, as quoted in Prophets of Yesterday : Studies in European Culture, 1890-1914 (1961) by Gerhard Masur, p. 201
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 'The Theory of Social and Economic Organization'

Quotes about WeberEdit

  • Beneath the surface radicalism of Berlin’s assertion of irreducibly discrepant norms lies a tacit ecumenicism willing to compound them. The unspoken value that arbitrates between them is happiness – or rather its shadow, as Berlin speaks more reticently of avoidance of suffering. Utilitarian calculation, disavowed in Mill, discreetly reappears in its negative form as the best broker available. Berlin’s pluralism is not ultimately agonistic. The difference is very clear if we compare him with the great theorist of modern polytheism, Max Weber. 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. This Nietzschean note is wholly missing in Berlin. It is no accident that he should scarcely ever have alluded to Weber’s work, for all its absolute centrality to his theme. According to Annan, such silence bespeaks a dismissal even he finds ill-judged. It is more likely to have been discomfort.
    • Perry Anderson, A Zone of Engagement (1992), Ch. 11 : The Pluralism of Isaiah Berlin
  • The enormous critical literature on The Protestant Ethic has found fault even with this point of departure of Weber's inquiry. The "spirit of capitalism," it has been alleged, was extant among merchants as far back as the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and a positive attitude toward certain categories of business pursuits could be discovered in the writings of the Scholastics.
    Weber's question is nevertheless justified if it is asked in a comparative vein. No matter how much approval was bestowed on commerce and other forms of money-making, they certainly stood lower in the scale of medieval values than a number of other activities, in particular the striving for glory. It is indeed through a brief sketch of the idea of glory in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that I shall now attempt to renew the sense of wonder about the genesis of the "spirit of capitalism."
    • Albert O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests (1977), "The Idea of Glory and Its Downfall"
  • 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.)

Weber on methodologyEdit

  • 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)
  • [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)
  • 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.)

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