Max Weber

Max Weber

German sociologist, jurist, and political economist (1864–1920)

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (/ˈvbər/; German: [ˈveːbɐ]; 21 April 1864  14 June 1920) was a German sociologist, historian, jurist, and political economist who was one of the central figures in the development of sociology and the social sciences more generally. His ideas continue to influence social theory and research.

Quick Facts Born, Died ...

Born in Erfurt in 1864, Weber studied law and history in Berlin, Göttingen, and Heidelberg. After earning his doctorate in law in 1889 and habilitation in 1891, he married his cousin Marianne Schnitger and taught in Freiburg and Heidelberg. In 1897, he had a breakdown after his father died following an argument. Weber ceased teaching and travelled until the early 1900s. He recovered and wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. During the First World War, he initially supported Germany's war effort but became critical of it and supported democratisation. He also gave the lectures "Science as a Vocation" and "Politics as a Vocation". After the war, Weber co-founded the German Democratic Party, unsuccessfully ran for office, and advised the drafting of the Weimar Constitution. Becoming frustrated with politics, he resumed teaching in Vienna and Munich. He possibly contracted the Spanish flu and died of pneumonia in 1920 at the age of 56. A book, Economy and Society, was left unfinished.

One of Weber's main intellectual concerns was in understanding the processes of rationalisation, secularisation, and disenchantment. He formulated a thesis arguing that such processes were associated with the rise of capitalism and modernity. Weber also argued that the Protestant work ethic influenced the creation of capitalism in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. It was the earliest part in his broader consideration of the world religions, as he later examined the religions of China, India, and ancient Judaism. In terms of government, Weber argued that states were defined by their monopoly on violence and categorised social authority into three distinct forms: charismatic, traditional, and rational-legal. He was also a key proponent of methodological antipositivism, arguing for the study of social action through interpretive rather than purely empiricist methods. Weber made a variety of other contributions to economic sociology, political sociology, and the sociology of religion.

After his death, the rise of Weberian scholarship was slowed by the Weimar Republic's political instability and the rise of Nazi Germany. In the post-war era, organised scholarship began to appear, led by Talcott Parsons, who used Weber's works to support his idea of structural functionalism. Over the course of the twentieth century, Weber's reputation rose due to the publication of translations of his works and scholarly interpretations of his life and works. He began to be regarded as a founding father of sociology, alongside Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim. As a result of these works, Weber is commonly regarded as one of the central figures in the development of the social sciences.


Early life and education

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber was born on 21 April 1864 in Erfurt, Province of Saxony, Kingdom of Prussia, but his family moved to Berlin in 1869.[1] He was the oldest of Max Weber Sr. and Helene Fallenstein's eight children.[2] Over the course of his life, Weber Sr. held posts as a lawyer, civil servant, and parliamentarian for the National Liberal Party in the Prussian Landtag and German Reichstag.[3] His involvement in public life immersed his home in both politics and academia, as his salon welcomed scholars and public figures such as the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey, the jurist Levin Goldschmidt, and the historian Theodor Mommsen. The young Max Weber and his brother Alfred, who also became a sociologist, passed their formative years in this intellectual atmosphere.[4] Fallenstein was partly descended from the French Huguenot Souchay family [de], which had obtained wealth through international commerce and the textile industry.[5] Over time, Weber Jr. was affected by the marital and personality tensions between his father, who enjoyed material pleasures while overlooking religious and philanthropic causes, and his mother, a devout Calvinist and philanthropist.[6]

Max Weber (left) and his brothers, Alfred (center) and Karl (right), in 1879

Weber entered the Doebbelinsche Privatschule in Charlottenburg in 1870, before attending the Kaiserin-Augusta-Gymnasium between 1872 and 1882.[7] While in class, bored and unimpressed with his teachers, Weber secretly read all forty volumes by the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.[8] Goethe later exerted an important influence on his thought and methodology.[9] Before entering university, he read many other classical works, including those by the philosopher Immanuel Kant.[10] For Christmas in 1877, a thirteen-year-old Max Weber gifted his parents two historical essays, entitled "About the Course of German History, with Special Reference to the Positions of the Emperor and the Pope" and "About the Roman Imperial Period from Constantine to the Migration Period". Two years later, also during Christmastime, he wrote another historical essay, "Observations on the Ethnic Character, Development, and History of the Indo-European Nations". These three essays were non-derivative contributions to the philosophy of history and were derived from Weber's reading of "numerous sources".[11]

In 1882, Weber enrolled in Heidelberg University as a law student, later studying at Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin and the University of Göttingen.[12] Simultaneously with his studies, he practiced law and worked as a lecturer.[13] In 1886, Weber passed the Referendar examination, which was comparable to the bar association examination in the British and U.S. legal systems. Throughout the late 1880s, he continued to study law and history.[14] Under the tutelage of Levin Goldschmidt and Rudolf von Gneist, Weber earned his law doctorate in 1889 by writing a dissertation on legal history titled Development of the Principle of Joint Liability and a Separate Fund of the General Partnership out of the Household Communities and Commercial Associations in Italian Cities. It was a part of a longer work, On the History of Commercial Partnerships in the Middle Ages, Based on Southern European Documents, which he published in the same year.[15] Two years later, Weber worked with the statistician August Meitzen to complete his habilitation, a post-doctoral thesis, titled Roman Agrarian History and Its Significance for Public and Private Law.[16] Having thus become a Privatdozent, Weber joined the faculty of Friedrich Wilhelm University, lecturing, conducting research, and consulting for the government.[17]

Weber's years as a university student were dotted with several periods of military service, the longest of which lasted between October 1883 and September 1884. During this time, he was in Strasbourg and attended classes taught by his uncle, the historian Hermann Baumgarten.[18] Weber befriended Baumgarten and he influenced Weber's growing liberalism and criticism of Otto von Bismarck's domination of German politics.[19] During his first few years in university, he was a member of a fraternity and placed emphasis on drinking beer and academic fencing.[20] He was a member of the Burschenschaft Allemannia Heidelberg [de] and obtained several duelling scars on the left side of his face as the result of his duelling.[21] His mother was displeased by his behaviour and slapped him when he came home after his third semester ended in 1883. However, Weber matured, increasingly began to take his mother's side in family arguments, and grew estranged from his father.[22]


Max Weber and his wife Marianne in 1894

Max Weber had a relationship and semi-engagement with Emmy Baumgarten, the daughter of Hermann Baumgarten, from 1887 until her declining mental health caused him to break off their relationship five years later.[23] Afterwards, he entered a relationship with his distant cousin Marianne Schnitger in 1893 and married her on 20 September.[24] The marriage made Weber financially independent, which allowed him to leave his parents' household.[25] They had no children.[26] Marianne was a feminist activist and an author in her own right.[27] She was instrumental in collecting, editing, and publishing Weber's writings in book form after his death, while her biography of him is an important source for understanding Weber's life.[28] In 1909, they befriended a former student of his, Else von Richthofen, and the pianist Mina Tobler [de]. After a failed attempt to court Richthofen, Weber began an affair with Tobler in 1911.[29] Eight years later, he began a sadomasochistic affair with Richthofen. Meanwhile, she was simultaneously conducting an affair with his brother, Alfred. Max Weber's affairs lasted until his death in 1920.[30]

Early work and breakdown

In the years between the completion of his dissertation and habilitation, Weber took an interest in contemporary social policy. In 1888, he joined the Verein für Socialpolitik.[31] The Verein was an organisation of reformist thinkers who were generally members of the historical school of economics.[32] He also involved himself in politics, participating in the founding of the left-leaning Evangelical Social Congress in 1890. It applied a Protestant perspective to the political debate regarding the Social question.[33] In the same year, the Verein established a research program to examine the Ostflucht, which was the western migration of ethnically German agricultural labourers from eastern Germany and the corresponding influx of Polish farm workers into it. Weber was put in charge of the study and wrote a large part of the final report, which generated considerable attention and controversy, marking the beginning of his renown as a social scientist.[34]

From 1893 to 1899, Weber was a member of the Pan-German League (Alldeutscher Verband), an organisation that campaigned against the influx of Polish workers. The degree of his support for the Germanisation of Poles and similar nationalist policies continues to be debated by scholars.[35] Weber and his wife moved to Freiburg in 1894, where he was appointed professor of economics at the University of Freiburg.[36] During his tenure there, in 1895, he gave a provocative lecture titled "The Nation State and Economic Policy", where he criticised the immigration of Poles and blamed the Junkers for perpetuating Slavic immigration to serve their selfish interests.[37] It influenced the politician Friedrich Naumann to create the National-Social Association, which was a Christian socialist and nationalist political organisation.[38] Weber was pessimistic regarding the association's ability to succeed, and it dissolved after winning a single seat in the Reichstag during the 1903 German federal election.[39] In 1896, he accepted an appointment to a chair in economics and finance at Heidelberg University.[40] There, Weber and his wife became the central figures in the eponymous Weber Circle, which included Georg Jellinek, Ernst Troeltsch, and Werner Sombart. Younger scholars, such as György Lukács and Robert Michels, also joined it.[41]

In 1897, Weber had a severe quarrel with his father. Weber Sr. died two months later, leaving the argument unresolved.[42] After this, Weber became increasingly prone to depression, nervousness, and insomnia, which made it difficult for him to fulfill his duties as a professor.[43] His condition forced him seek an exemption from his teaching obligations, which he was granted in 1899. He spent time in a sanatorium in the Heilanstalt für Nervenkanke Konstanzer Hof in 1898 and a different one in Bad Urach in 1900. Weber also travelled to Corsica and Italy between 1899 and 1903 in order to alleviate his illness.[44] He fully withdrew from teaching in 1903 and did not return to it until 1918.[45] Weber thoroughly described his ordeal with mental illness in a personal chronology that his widow later destroyed. Its destruction was possibly caused by Marianne's fear that his work would have been discredited by the Nazis if his experience with mental illness were widely known.[46]

Later work

Max Weber in 1907

After recovering from his illness, Weber accepted a position as an associate editor of the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik in 1904, alongside his colleagues Edgar Jaffé and Werner Sombart. It facilitated his reintroduction to academia and became one of the most prominent social science journals as a result of his efforts.[47] Weber published some of his most seminal works in this journal, including his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which became his most famous work and laid the foundations for his later research on the impact of religion on the development of economic systems.[48] Also in 1904, he was invited to participate in the Congress of Arts and Sciences held in connection with the World's fair (Louisiana Purchase Exposition) in St. Louis, alongside his wife, Werner Sombart, Ernst Troeltsch, and other German scholars.[49] Taking advantage of the fair, the Webers embarked on a trip that began and ended in New York City and lasted for almost three months. They travelled throughout the country, from New England to the Deep South. Different communities were visited, including German immigrant towns and African American communities.[50] They also visited North Carolina, where some of Weber's relatives in the Fallenstein family had settled.[51] Weber used the trip to learn more about America's social and theological conditions and this experience played a role in the development of the Protestant work ethic.[52] After returning, Weber felt that he was unable to resume regular teaching and remained a private scholar, helped by an inheritance in 1907.[53]

Shortly after returning, Weber's attention shifted to the then-recent Russian Revolution of 1905.[54] He learned Russian in a few months, subscribed to Russian newspapers, and discussed Russian political and social affairs with the Russian émigré community in Heidelberg.[55] He was personally popular in that community and twice entertained the idea of a trip to Russia. His schedule prevented it, however.[56] While he was sceptical of the revolution's ability to succeed, Weber supported the establishment of a liberal democracy in Russia.[57] He wrote two essays on it that were published in the Archiv.[58] He interpreted the revolution as having been the result of the peasant's desire for land.[59] He discussed the role of the obshchina, rural peasant communities, in Russian political debates. He interpreted them as having been difficult for liberal agrarian reformers to abolish due to a combination of its basis in natural law and the rising kulak class's manipulation of them for their own gain.[60] His general interpretation of the Russian Revolution was that it lacked a clear leader and was not based on the goals of the Russian intellectuals. Instead, it was the result of the emotional passions of the peasants.[61]

In 1909, having become increasingly dissatisfied with the conservatism and perceived lack of methodological discipline in the Verein, he co-founded the German Sociological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie) and served as its first treasurer.[62] Weber associated the society with the Verein and viewed the two organizations as not having been competitors.[63] He unsuccessfully tried to steer the direction of the organization.[64] As part of that, Weber tried to make the Archiv the official journal of the society.[65] He resigned from the position in 1912.[66] The reason for his resignation was his support for value neutrality in the social sciences, as that was a controversial position in the organization. Weber  alongside Simmel, Sombart, and Tönnies  placed an abbreviate from of it into the society's statutes, promting criticism.[67]

Political involvements

Later, during the spring of 1913, Weber holidayed in the Monte Verità community in Ascona, Switzerland.[68] While holidaying, he was advising Frieda Gross in her custody battle for her children. He opposed Erich Mühsam's involvement due to Mühsam's support for anarchism, arguing that the case needed to be dealt with by bourgeois reformers who were not "derailed".[69] A year later, also in spring, he again holidayed in Ascona.[70] In the community, there were several different expressions of the radical political and lifestyle reform movements that were in existence at the time. They included naturism, free love, and Western esotericism, among others. Weber was critical of the anarchist and erotic movements in Ascona, as he viewed their fusion as having been politically absurd.[71]

First World War

After the outbreak of the First World War, Weber, aged 50, volunteered for service and was appointed as a reserve officer in charge of organising the army hospitals in Heidelberg, a role he fulfilled until the end of 1915.[72] Weber's views on the war and the expansion of the German Empire changed over the course of the conflict.[73] Early on, he supported the German war effort, with some hesitation, viewing the war as having been necessary to fulfill Germany's duty as a leading state power. In time, however, Weber became one of the most prominent critics of both German expansionism and the Kaiser's war policies.[74] Weber publicly criticised the Belgian annexation policy and unrestricted submarine warfare, later supporting calls for constitutional reform, democratisation, and universal suffrage.[75]

Max Weber (facing right) with Ernst Toller (facing camera) during the Lauenstein Conferences in 1917

He and his wife also participated in the 1917 Lauenstein Conferences that were held at Lauenstein Castle [de] in Bavaria.[76] These conferences were planned by the publisher Eugen Diederichs and brought together intellectuals, including Theodor Heuss, Ernst Toller, and Werner Sombart.[77] Weber's presence elevated his profile in Germany and served to dispel some of the romantic atmosphere of the event. After he spoke at the first one, he became involved in the planning for the second one, as Diederichs thought that the conferences needed someone who could serve as an oppositional figure. In this capacity, he argued against the political romanticism that Max Maurenbrecher, a former theologian, espoused. Weber also opposed what he saw as the excessive rhetoric of the youth groups and nationalists at Lauenstein, instead supporting the democratisation of Germany.[78] For Weber and the younger participants, the romantic intent of the conferences was irrelevant to the determination of Germany's future.[79]

In November, shortly after the second conference, Weber was invited by the Free Student Youth, a student organisation, to give a lecture in Munich, resulting in "Science as a Vocation".[80] In this lecture, he described an inner calling as having been necessary for one to enter scholarship. Weber thought that only a particular type of person was able to have a career in academia. He used his own career as an example of a person whose career was in academia. Recalling the arguments that he made regarding the Protestant work ethic, he stated that the path forward in scholarship required the scholar to understand the potential for a lack of success and be methodical in their research. Specialisation was also an aspect of modern scholarship that a scholar needed to engage in.[81] Disenchantment and intellectual rationalisation were major aspects of his commentary on the role of the scholar in modernity. These processes resulted in the value of scholarship being questioned. Weber argued that scholarship could provide certainty through its starting presumptions, despite its inability to give absolute answers.[82]

Weimar Republic

Following the end of the war, Weber unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Weimar National Assembly in January 1919 as a member of the liberal German Democratic Party, which he had co-founded.[83] He also advised the National Assembly in its drafting of the Weimar Constitution.[84] While he was campaigning for his party, Weber critiqued the left and complained about the leaders of the leftist Spartacus League, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. He regarded the German Revolution of 1918–1919 as having been responsible for Germany's inability to fight against Poland's claims on its territory in the east.[85] His opposition to it may have prevented Friedrich Ebert, the new president of Germany and a member of the Social Democratic Party, from appointing him as a minister or ambassador.[86] Weber was also critical of the Treaty of Versailles, which he believed unjustly assigned war guilt to Germany. Instead, he believed that many countries were guilty of starting it, not just Germany.[87] In making this case, Weber argued that Russia was the only great power that actually desired the war.[88] He also regarded Germany as not having been culpable for the invasion of Belgium.[89] Overall, Weber's political efforts were largely unsuccessful, with the exception of his support for a democratically elected and strong presidency.[90]

Max Weber in 1918

On 28 January 1919, after his electoral defeat, Weber delivered a lecture titled "Politics as a Vocation", which commented on the subject of politics.[91] Towards the end of the lecture, he defined politics as having been "a slow, powerful drilling through hard boards".[92] His lecture was prompted by the political turmoil of the early Weimar Republic and was requested by the Free Student Youth. He defined politics as having been divided into three aspects: passion, judgment, and responsibility. There was also a division between conviction and responsibility. These two concepts were sharply divided, but it was possible for them to be present in a single individual, particularly the ideal politician.[93] He also divided legitimate authority into the three categories of traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal authority.[94] Ultimately, Weber thought that the political issues of his day required consistent effort to resolve, rather than the quick solutions that the students preferred.[95]

Shortly before he left to join the delegation in Versailles on 13 May 1919, Max Weber used his connections with the German National People's Party's deputies to meet with Erich Ludendorff. He spent several hours unsuccessfully trying to convince Ludendorff to surrender himself to the Allies.[96] This debate also shifted to other subjects, such as who was culpable for the failure of the German war effort. Weber thought that the German high command had failed, while Ludendorff regarded Weber as a supporter of democracy who was partially responsible for the revolution. Weber tried to disabuse him of that notion by expressing support for a democratic system with a strong executive. Since he held Ludendorff responsible for the failure of the German war effort and having sent many young Germans to die on the battlefield, Weber thought that he should surrender himself and become a political martyr. However, Ludendorff was not willing to do so and wished to simply live off of his pension.[97]

Last years

Weber's grave in Heidelberg

Frustrated with politics, Weber resumed teaching, first at the University of Vienna in 1918, then at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in 1919.[98] In Vienna, Weber filled a previously vacant chair in political economy that he had been in consideration for since October 1917.[99] Later, in Munich, he was appointed to Lujo Brentano's chair in social science, economic history, and political economy. He accepted the appointment in order to be closer to his mistress, Else von Richthofen.[100] Responding to student requests, he gave a series of lectures on economic history. The student transcriptions of it were later edited and published as the General Economic History by Siegmund Hellmann [de] and Melchior Palyi [de] in 1923.[101] In terms of politics, right-wing students responded to his opposition to the pardoning of the Bavarian Minister-President Kurt Eisner's murderer, Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley, by disrupting his classes and protesting in front of his home.[102]

In early 1920, Max Weber gave a seminar that contained a discussion of Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West.[103] Weber respected him and privately described him as having been "a very brilliant and scholarly dilettante".[104] That seminar provoked some of his students, who knew Spengler personally, to suggest that he debate Spengler alongside other scholars. They met in the Munich town hall and debated for two days.[105] The audience was primarily young Germans of different political perspectives, including communists. While neither Weber nor Spengler were able to convince the other of their points, Weber was more cautious and careful in his arguments against Spengler than the other debaters were. Afterwards, the students did not feel that they had an answer to the question of what should be done to resolve the issues that Germany faced after the end of the First World War.[104]

Lili Schäfer, one of Max Weber's sisters, committed suicide on 7 April 1920 as a result of the end of her affair with the pedagogue Paul Geheeb. Weber thought positively of it, as he thought that it was justified and aligned with his perspective that suicide could be an honourable act.[106] Weber and his wife took in Lili's four children and planned to raise them. He was uncomfortable with his newfound role as a father figure but thought that Marianne was fulfilled as a woman by this event. She later formally adopted the children in 1928. Weber wished for her to stay with the children in Heidelberg or move closer to Geheeb's Odenwaldschule ("Odenwald School") so that he could be alone in Munich with his mistress, Else von Richthofen. He left the decision to Marianne, but she said that only he could make the decision to leave for himself.[107] While this was occurring, Weber began to believe that own life had reached its end.[108]

On 4 June 1920, Weber's students were informed that he needed to cancel classes due to a cold. By 14 June 1920, the cold had turned into influenza and he died of pneumonia in Munich.[109] He had likely contracted the Spanish flu and been subjected to insufficient medical care. Else von Richthofen, who was present by his deathbed alongside his wife, thought that he could have survived his illness if he had been given better treatment.[110] His body was cremated in the Munich Ostfriedhof after a secular ceremony, and the urn that contained his ashes was later buried in the Heidelberg Bergfriedhof [de] in 1921. The funeral service was attended by his students, including Eduard Baumgarten [de] and Karl Loewenstein, and fellow scholars, such as Lujo Brentano.[111] At the time of his death, Weber had not finished writing Economy and Society, his magnum opus on sociological theory. His widow, Marianne, helped prepare it for its publication in 1922.[112] She later published a biography of her late husband in 1926 which became one of the central historical accounts of his life.[113]


Weber's sociology treated social action as its central focus.[114] He also interpreted it as having been an important part of the scientific nature of the field.[115] He divided social action into the four categories of affectional, traditional, instrumental, and value-rational action action.[116] In his methodology, he distinguished himself from Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx in that his primary focus was on individuals and culture.[117] Whereas Durkheim focused on the society, Weber concentrated on the individual and their actions (i.e. structure and action). Compared to Marx, who argued for the primacy of the material world over the world of ideas, Weber valued ideas as motivating actions of individuals.[118] He was open to the idea that social phenomena could have several different causes and placed importance on social actors' interpretations of their actions.[117]


In terms of methodology, Weber was primarily concerned with the question of objectivity and subjectivity, going on to distinguish social action from social behavior, noting that social action must be understood through the subjective relationships between individuals.[119] According to him, the study of social action through interpretive means or verstehen ("to understand") needed to be based upon understanding the subjective meaning and purpose that individuals attached to their actions.[120] Determining an individual's interpretation of their actions required either empathically or rationally derived evidence.[121] Weber noted that the importance of subjectivity in the social sciences made the creation of fool-proof, universal laws much more difficult than in the natural sciences and that the amount of objective knowledge that social sciences were able to create was limited. Overall, he supported objective science as a goal worth striving for but noted that it was ultimately an unreachable goal.[122]

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 in Sociological Writings, 1904.[123]

The principle of methodological individualism, which holds that social scientists should seek to understand collectivities solely as the result of the actions of individual persons, can be traced to Weber. In the first chapter of Economy and Society, he argued that only individuals "can be treated as agents in a course of subjectively understandable action".[124] In other words, Weber contended that social phenomena can be understood scientifically only to the extent that they are captured by models of the behaviour of purposeful individuals, ideal types, from which actual historical events necessarily deviate due to accidental and irrational factors.[125] However, his interpretation of methodological individualism differed from the economic interpretation thereof in that it did not treat individuals as having been isolated from other potential actors.[126] An ideal type's analytical constructs never exist in reality, but they provide objective benchmarks that real-life constructs can be measured against.[127]

Weber's methodology was developed in the context of wider debates about social scientific methodology.[128] The first of which was the Methodenstreit ("method dispute").[129] His position was close to historicism, as he understood social actions as being heavily tied to particular historical contexts and its analysis required the understanding of subjective motivations of individuals.[130] Therefore, his methodology emphasised the use of comparative historical analysis.[131] As such, he was more interested in explaining how a certain outcome was the result of various historical processes rather than predicting an outcome of those processes in the future.[132] The second debate that shaped Weber's perspective on methodology was the Werturteilsstreit ("value-judgment dispute").[133] This debate was held between 1909 and 1914 on the subject of value-judgements in the social sciences. It originated with a debate between the supporters of the idea that ethics was an important consideration in the field of economics and those who opposed that in the Verein für Socialpolitik.[134] Weber's position was that the social sciences should strive to be value-free. In his view, scholars and students needed to avoid using their position to promote political values in the classroom. Science had no part in the choosing of values. With regards to economics, he argued that productivity was not a useful scientific concept, as it could impede the proper evaluation of economic phenomena.[135]



Rationalisation and the question of individual freedom in an increasingly rational society, was a central theme in Weber's scholarship.[136] This theme was situated in the larger context of the relationship between psychological motivations, cultural values, cultural beliefs, and the structure of the society.[132] Weber understood rationalisation as increasing knowledge, growing impersonality, and the enhanced control of social and material life.[137] He was ambivalent towards rationalisation. Weber admitted that it was responsible for many advances, particularly freeing humans from traditional, restrictive, and illogical social guidelines. However, he also criticised it for dehumanising individuals as "cogs in the machine" and curtailing their freedom, trapping them in the bureaucratic iron cage of rationality and bureaucracy.[138] His studies of the subject began with The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.[139] In it, he argued that the redefinition of the connection between work and piety in Protestantism and especially in ascetic Protestant denominations, particularly Calvinism, caused a shift towards rational efforts that were aimed at achieving economic gain.[140] In Protestantism, piety towards God was expressed through one's secular vocation.[141] The religious principles that influenced the creation of capitalism became unnecessary and it became able to propagate itself.[142]

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 in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, 1990.[143]

Weber continued his investigation into this matter in later works, notably in his studies on bureaucracy and on the classification of legitimate authority into three types  rational-legal, traditional, and charismatic  of which rational-legal was the dominant one in the modern world.[144] In these works, Weber described what he saw as society's movement towards rationalisation.[145] Bureaucratic states justified themselves through their own rationality and were supported by expert knowledge, which was what made them rational.[146] Rationalisation could also be seen in the economy, with the development of a highly rational and calculating capitalism. Capitalism's rationality related to its basis in calculation, which separated it from alternative forms of economic organization.[147] State bureaucracy and capitalism served as the twin pillars of the developing rational society. These changes eliminated the preexisting traditions that relied on the trades.[143] Weber also saw rationalisation as one of the main factors that set the West apart from the rest of the world.[148]

Related to rationalisation was the process of disenchantment, in which the world was becoming more explained and less mystical, moving from polytheistic religions to monotheistic ones and finally to the Godless science of modernity.[149] Older explanations of why events occurred relied on the belief in supernatural interference in the material world. Due to disenchantment, this gave way to rational and scientific explanations for events.[150] According to the Sociology of Religion religious activity began with actions in the material world that people associated with vague spirits and gave magical meanings to. Over time, these magical beliefs became increasingly systemised and the spirits became gods that were represented by symbols.[151] This increasing theological systemisation resulted in polytheism and organised religion.[152] Western monotheism was spurred on by increasing rationality, which resulted in groups focusing on specific gods for political and economic purposes, creating a universal religion.[153] For Weber, Protestantism encouraged an increased pursuit of rationality that led to the devaluing of itself.[154] In turn, this devaluation led to nihilism through its destruction of unifying values.[155]

The Rational and Social Foundations of Music

Max Weber also applied rationalisation to music in his The Rational and Social Foundations of Music.[156] In writing it, he was partially influenced by his affair with the pianist Mina Tobler [de]. Meanwhile, the scholarly impetus was a sense that Western music was the only type that had become harmonic, while the music of other cultures was more intense and focused on hearing.[157] He thought that music was becoming increasingly rational and had moved away from the conditions that had defined it under feudalism. Similarly, he argued that changes in the construction of musical instruments and simultaneous social and economic changes had influenced that shift. Musical instruments became more advanced as new materials and construction processes were developed, while the socio-economic positions of the players of different instruments shifted.[158] In creating this theory, he was influenced by the scientist Hermann von Helmholtz's application of science to the discussion of harmonisation in music. Weber opposed his interpretation of it, which he viewed as having been reductionist.[159]

Sociology of religion

Weber's work in the field of sociology of religion began with the book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.[160] It continued with The Religion of China, The Religion of India, and Ancient Judaism.[161] However, his work was left incomplete as a result of his sudden death in 1920, which prevented him from following Ancient Judaism with studies of early Christianity and Islam.[162] The three main themes within the books were: religious ideas' effect on economic activities, the relationship between social stratification and religious ideas, and the distinguishable characteristics of Western civilisation.[163] His goal was to find reasons for the different developmental paths of the cultures of the Western world and the Eastern world, without making value judgments, unlike the contemporaneous social Darwinists. Weber simply wanted to explain the distinctive elements of Western civilisation.[164] Weber also proposed a socio-evolutionary model of religious change where societies moved from magic to ethical monotheism, with the intermediatory steps of polytheism, pantheism, and monotheism. According to him, this was the result of growing economic stability, which allowed for professionalisation and the evolution of an increasingly sophisticated priesthood.[165] As societies grew more complex and encompassed different groups, a hierarchy of gods developed. Meanwhile, as their power became more centralised, the concept of a universal God became more popular and desirable.[166]

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

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 in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905.[141]

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is Weber's most famous work.[167] It was the start of his research on how religions affected the development of economic systems.[48] In the book, he put forward the thesis that the Protestant work ethic, which was derived from the theological ideas of the Reformation, influenced the development of capitalism.[168] Weber was looking for elective affinities between the Protestant work ethic and capitalism.[169] He argued that the Puritans' religious calling to work caused them to systematically obtain wealth.[170] They wished to prove that they were members of the elect who were destined to go to Heaven.[171] Weber used Benjamin Franklin's personal ethic, as described in his "Advice to a Young Tradesman", as an example of the Protestant sects' economic ethic.[172] Both rationalisation and the ideal type, concepts that later became central to his scholarship, appeared in the thesis.[139] Rationalization caused the West to be trapped in the stahlhartes Gehäuse ("iron cage" or "steel-hard casing") that was the modern capitalist economic order.[142] The ideal types were representative figures, or case studies, that represented concepts.[173]

Christian religious devotion was historically accompanied by the rejection of mundane affairs, including economic pursuit.[174] Weber argued that the origin of modern capitalism was in the religious ideas of the Reformation.[175] According to him, certain types of Protestantism  notably Calvinism  were supportive of the rational pursuit of economic gain and the worldly activities that were dedicated to it, seeing those activities as having been endowed with moral and spiritual significance.[176] The spirit of capitalism was found in the desire to work hard in a way that pleased the worker and signified their worth, originally had a basis in theology.[177] In particular, the Protestant work ethic motivated the believers to work hard, be successful in business, and reinvest their profits in further development rather than frivolous pleasures.[178] Weber thought that self-restraint, hard work, and a belief that wealth could be a sign of salvation were representative of ascetic Protestantism.[179] The notion of a calling, when combined with Predestination, meant that each individual had to take action to prove their salvation to themselves.[180] However, the success that these religious principles created ultimately removed them as an influence on modern capitalism as a result of its creation of a worldly perspective. As a result, the inheritors of that system were entrapped in a socioeconomic iron cage.[142]

The Religion of China

The Religion of China: Confucianism and Taoism was Weber's second major work on the sociology of religion. Hans Gerth [de] edited and translated it into English.[181] He focused on those aspects of Chinese society that were different from those of Western Europe, especially those aspects that contrasted with Puritanism. As part of that, he questioned why capitalism had not developed in China.[182] He focused on the issues of Chinese urban development, Chinese patrimonialism and officialdom and Chinese religion and philosophy  primarily Confucianism and Taoism  as the areas in which Chinese development significantly differed from the European route.[183] According to Weber, Confucianism and Puritanism were superficially similar, but were actually largely different from one another.[184] Instead, they were mutually exclusive types of rational thought, each attempting to prescribe a way of life based on religious dogma.[185] Notably, they both valued self-control and restraint and did not oppose accumulation of wealth. However, both of those qualities were simply means to different final goals.[186] Confucianism's goal was "a cultured status position", while Puritanism's goal was to create individuals who were "tools of God". For Weber, Puritans sought rational control of the world and rejected its irrationality while Confucians sought rational acceptance of that state of affairs.[187] Therefore, he stated that it was the difference in social attitudes and mentality, shaped by the respective dominant religions, that contributed to the development of capitalism in the West and the absence of it in China.[188]

The Religion of India

The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism was Weber's third major work on the sociology of religion. In it, he dealt with the structure of Indian society, with the orthodox doctrines of Hinduism and the heterodox doctrines of Buddhism, with modifications brought by the influence of popular religiosity and finally with the impact of religious beliefs on the secular ethic of Indian society.[189] In Weber's view, Hinduism in India, like Confucianism in China, was a barrier for capitalism.[190] The Indian caste system, which developed in post-Classical India and served as the source for legitimate social interactions, served as a key part of that. Both Hinduism and the high status of the Brahmins upheld the caste system. The Brahmins used their monopoly on education and theological authority to maintain their position, while Hinduism created a psychological justification for it in the form of the cycle of reincarnation.[191] A person's position in the caste order was thought to have been determined by one's actions in their past life.[192] As a result, advancement of the soul and obeying the predetermined order were more important than seeking advancement in the material world, including economic advancement.[193]

Weber ended his research of society and religion in India by bringing in insights from his previous work on China to discuss the similarities of the Asian belief systems.[194] He noted that the believers saw the meaning of life as otherworldly mystical experience.[195] The social world was fundamentally divided between the educated elite, following the guidance of a prophet or wise man and the uneducated masses whose beliefs are centered on magic. In Asia, there was no Messianic prophecy to give both educated and uneducated followers meaning in their regular lives.[196] Weber juxtaposed such Messianic prophecies, notably from the Near East, with the exemplary prophecies found on the Asian mainland, focused more on reaching to the educated elites and enlightening them on the proper ways to live one's life, usually with little emphasis on hard work and the material world.[197] It was those differences that prevented Western countries from following the paths of the earlier Chinese and Indian civilisations. His next work, Ancient Judaism, was an attempt to prove this theory.[198]

Ancient Judaism

In Ancient Judaism, his fourth major work on the sociology of religion, Weber attempted to explain the factors that resulted in the early differences between Eastern and Western religiosity.[199] He contrasted the innerworldly asceticism developed by Western Christianity with the mystical contemplation that developed in India.[200] Weber noted that some aspects of Christianity sought to conquer and change the world, rather than withdraw from its imperfections.[199] This fundamental characteristic of Christianity originally stemmed from ancient Jewish prophecy.[201] Weber classified Jewish people as having been a pariah people, which meant that they were separated from the society that contained them.[202] He examined the creation and social structure of the ancient Jewish people. In his view, the Israelites maintained order through a covenant with the war god Yahweh and the practice of warrior asceticism. Under Solomon, that changed into a more law-based and organised society than the old confederation was. Religiously, the priests replaced the previous charismatic religious leaders. Weber interpreted the rise of prophets from the shepherds as having begun with Elijah, who promulgated political prophesies and served as an opponent of the monarchy.[203]


Max Weber used the concept of theodicy in his interpretation of theology and religion throughout his corpus.[204] This involved both his scholarly and personal interests in the subject. It was central to his conception of humanity, which he interpreted as having been connected with finding meaning. Theodicy was a popular subject of study amongst German scholars who sought to determine how a world created by an omnibenevolent and omnipotent being can contain suffering. As part of this tradition, Weber was careful in his study of the subject.[205] Rather than interpreting it through a theological or ethical lens, he interpreted it through a social one.[206] Furthermore, he incorporated Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of Ressentiment into his discussion of the topic. However, he disagreed with Nietzsche's emotional discussion of the topic and his interpretation of it as having been a Jewish-derived expression of slave morality.[207]

He divided theodicy into three main types:[208]

  1. Persian dualism – God is not all powerful and misfortune comes from outside his power
  2. Indian doctrine of karma – God is not all powerful and misfortune comes from inside oneself
  3. Doctrine of predestination – Only a chosen few will be saved from damnation

Weber defined the importance of societal class within religion by examining the difference between the theodicies of fortune and misfortune and to what class structures they apply.[209] The concept of the work ethic was attached to the theodicy of fortune. Therefore, because of the Protestant work ethic, there was an increase of higher class outcomes and more education among Protestants.[210] Those without the work ethic believed in the theodicy of misfortune, believing wealth and happiness were granted in the afterlife. Another example of how this belief of religious theodicy influences class, was that those of lower economic status the poor, tended towards deep religiousness and faith as a way to comfort themselves and provided hope for a more prosperous future, while those of higher economic status preferred the sacraments or actions that proved their right to possess greater wealth.[211]

The state, politics, and government

In political sociology, one of Weber's most influential contributions is his lecture "Politics as a Vocation", in which he defined the state as an entity that was "based on the legitimate use of force".[212] Accordingly, Weber proposed that politics is the sharing of state power between various groups, whereas political leaders were those who wielded this power.[213] A politician needed to combine the oppositional gesinnungsethik and verantwortungsethik [de] (the "ethic of conviction" and the "ethic of responsibility").[214] An adherent of the verantwortungsethik justified their actions based on their consequences. Meanwhile, an adherent of the gesinnungsethik justified their actions based on their ideals.[215] While Weber thought that both of them would ideally be present in a politician, he associated them with different types of people and mindsets. These different types of people and mindsets reflected the pacifists and those who wanted to reverse Germany's defeat in the First World War, respectively.[216]

Weber distinguished three ideal types of legitimate authority:[217]

  1. Charismatic authorityfamilial and religious
  2. Traditional authoritypatriarchs, patrimonialism, feudalism
  3. Rational-legal authority – modern law and state, bureaucracy

In his view, all historical relationships between rulers and ruled contained these elements, which could be analysed on the basis of this tripartite classification of authority.[218] Charismatic authority would be held by extraordinary figures and was unstable, as it relied on the charismatic figure's success and would resist institutionalisation.[219] It was forced to be routinised into more structured forms of authority. An administrative structure would be formed by the followers of the charismatic leader.[220] In an ideal type of traditional rule, sufficient resistance to a ruler led to a "traditional revolution".[221] Traditional authority was based on loyalty to preestablished traditions and those who were placed into authority as a result of those traditions.[222] Rational-legal authority would rely on bureaucracy and belief in both the legality of the society's rules and the legitimacy of those who were placed into power as a result of those rules.[223] The move towards a rational-legal structure of authority, using a bureaucratic structure, is inevitable in the end.[221]


Weber's commentary on societal bureaucratisation is one of the most prominent parts of his work.[224] According to him, bureaucracy was the most efficient method of societal organisation and the most formally rational system. It was necessary for modern society to function and would also be difficult to destroy.[225] Bureaucratic officials felt superior to non-bureaucrats, had a strong sense of duty, and had fixed salaries that caused them to be disinclined to pursue the acquisition of money. Bureaucracy was less likely to be found among elected officials.[224] Bureaucracy suited capitalism well in that it would treat all people without regard for individuals.[226] It was also a requirement for both modern capitalism and modern socialism to exist.[227] The depersonalisation related to its increased efficiency. Bureaucrats could not openly make decisions arbitrarily or base them on personal favours.[228] As the most efficient and rational way of organising, bureaucratisation was the key part of rational-legal authority. Furthermore, he saw it as the key process in the ongoing rationalisation of Western society.[229]

Weber listed six characteristics of an ideal type of bureaucracy:[230]

  1. It was in a fixed area that was governed by rules
  2. Bureaucracies were hierarchical
  3. Its actions were based on written documents
  4. Expert training was required
  5. Bureaucrats were completely devoted to their work
  6. The system relied on basic rules that were learnable

The development of communication and transportation technologies made more efficient administration possible and popularly requested. Meanwhile, the democratisation and rationalisation of culture resulted in demands that the new system treat everyone equally.[231] Weber's ideal bureaucracy was characterised by hierarchical organisation, delineated lines of authority in a fixed area of activity, action taken on the basis of written rules, bureaucratic officials needing expert training, rules being implemented neutrally, and career advancement depending on technical qualifications judged by organisations.[232] While recognising bureaucracy as having been the most efficient form of organisation and indispensable for the modern state, Weber was also critical of it. In his view, an inescapable bureaucratisation of society would happen in the future. A hypothetical victory of socialism over capitalism would not be able to prevent that future.[233] Economic and political organisations needed entrepreneurs and politicians in order to counteract bureaucrats. Otherwise, they would be stifled by bureaucracy.[227]

Social stratification

Weber also formulated a three-component theory of stratification that contained the conceptually distinct elements of social class, social status, and political party.[234] This distinction was most clearly described in his essay "The Distribution of Power Within the Gemeinschaft: Classes, Stände, Parties", which was first published in his book Economy and Society.[235] Status served as one of the central ways in which people were ranked in society. As part of it, issues of honour and prestige were important.[236] With regards to class, the theory placed heavy emphasis on class conflict and private property as having been key to its definition.[237] While Weber drew upon Marx's interpretation of class conflict in his definition of class, he did not see it as being the defining aspect of all social relations and stratification.[238] Political parties were not given as much attention by Weber as the other two components were, as he thought that they were not particularly effectual in their actions. They existed to seek power to benefit their members materially or ideologically.[239]

The three components of Weber's theory were:[234]

  1. Social class – Based on an economically determined relationship with the market
  2. Status (Stand) – Based on non-economic qualities such as honour and prestige
  3. Party – Affiliations in the political domain

This conceptualization emerged from Weber's study of farm labour and the stock exchange, as he found social relationships that could not be explained through economic class alone. The Junkers had social rules regarding marriage between different social levels and farm labourers had a strong sense of independence, neither of which was economically based.[240] Weber maintained a sharp distinction between the terms "status" and "class", although non-scholars tend to use them interchangeably in casual use.[241] Status and its focus on honour emerged from the Gemeinschaft, which denoted the part of society where loyalty originated from. Class emerged from the Gesellschaft, a subdivision of the Gemeinschaft that included rationally driven markets and legal organisation. Parties emerged from a combination of the two.[242] Weber interpreted life chances, the opportunities to improve one's life, as having been a definitional aspect of class. It related to the differences in access to opportunities that different people might have had in their lives.[243] The relationship between status and class was not straightforward. One of them could lead to the other, but an individual or group could have success in one but not the other.[244]

The City

The origin of a rational and inner-worldly ethic is associated in the Occident with the appearance of thinkers and prophets … who developed in a social context that was alien to the Asiatic cultures. This context consisted of the political problems engendered by the bourgeois status-group of the city, without which neither Judaism, nor Christianity, nor the development of Hellenistic thinking are conceivable.

—Max Weber in The City, 1921.[245]

As part of his overarching effort to understand the unique development of the Western world, Weber wrote a general study of the European city and its development in antiquity and the Middle Ages titled The City.[246] According to him, Christianity served to break the traditional bonds of kinship by causing its believers to participate in the religion as individuals. However, the institutions that formed as a result of this process were secular in nature.[247] He also saw the rise of a unique form of non-legitimate domination in medieval European cities that successfully challenged the existing forms of legitimate domination  traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal  that had prevailed until then in the medieval world.[248] These cities were previously under the jurisdiction of several different entities that were removed as they became autonomous. That process was caused by the granting of privileges to newer cities and the usurpation of authority in older ones.[249]


Weber primarily regarded himself as an economist, and all of his professorial appointments were in economics, but his contributions to that field were largely overshadowed by his role as a founder of modern sociology.[250] As a political economist and economic historian, Weber belonged to the German historical school of economics, represented by academics such as Gustav von Schmoller and his student Werner Sombart.[251] While Weber's research interests were largely in line with this school, his views on methodology and marginal utility significantly diverged from those of the other German historicists. Instead, they were closer to those of Carl Menger and the Austrian school of economics, the traditional rivals of the historical school.[252] The division caused by the Methodenstreit caused Weber to support a broad interpretation of economics that combined economic theory, economic history, and economic sociology in the form of Sozialökonomik [de] ("social economics").[253]

Economy and Society

A page from the manuscript of the sociology of law within Economy and Society

Weber's magnum opus Economy and Society is an essay collection that he was working on at the time of his death in 1920.[254] Its text was largely unfinished, outside of the first three chapters. The first four chapters were written between 1919 and 1920, but the other chapters were generally written between 1909 and 1914.[255] After his death, the final organisation and editing of the book fell to his widow Marianne. She was assisted by the economist Melchior Palyi [de]. The resulting volume was published in 1922 and was titled Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft.[256] The composition includes a wide range of essays dealing with Weber's views regarding sociology, social philosophy, politics, social stratification, world religion, diplomacy, and other subjects.[257] In 1956, the German jurist Johannes Winckelmann [de] edited and organised a revised fourth edition of Economy and Society, later editing a fifth edition of it in 1976.[258] Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich edited an English translation of the work in 1968. It was based on Winckelmann's 1956 edition of the text that he had revised in 1964.[259]

Methodological individualism

While his research interests placed a strong emphasis on interpreting economic history, Weber's support of methodological individualism represented a break with the historical school and an agreement with the founder of the Austrian school, Carl Menger, in the Methodenstreit ("debate over methods").[260] The term "methodological individualism" was coined in 1908 by the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter as a way of referring to Weber's views on how social phenomena should be explained.[125] Despite the term's usage of "individualism", Weber did not interpret the individual as being the true source for sociological explanations. Instead, while only individuals could engage in intentional action, they were not necessarily separate from the collective group.[261] He interpreted methodological individualism as having had close proximity to verstehende ("interpretive") sociology, as actions could be interpreted subjectively. Similarly, it was also related to ideal types in that it involved discussions of abstract and rational models of human behaviour.[262]

Marginal utility

Unlike other historicists, Weber accepted marginal utility and taught it to his students.[263] His overall economic sociology was based on it.[264] In 1908, Weber published an article, "Marginal Utility Theory and 'The Fundamental Law of Psychophysics'", in which he argued that marginal utility and economics were not based on psychology.[265] As part of that, he disputed Lujo Brentano's claim that marginal utility reflected the form of the psychological response to stimuli as described by the Weber–Fechner law.[266] He rejected the idea that marginal utility and economics were dependent on psychophysics.[266] In general, Weber disagreed with the idea that economics relied on another field.[267] He also included a similar discussion of marginal utility in the second chapter of Economy and Society. Both marginal utility and declining utility's roles in his writings were implied through his usage of instrumentally rational action in that chapter.[268]

Economic calculation

Like his colleague Werner Sombart, Weber regarded economic calculation, particularly double-entry bookkeeping, as having played a significant role in rationalisation and the development of capitalism.[269] Weber's preoccupation with the importance of economic calculation led him to critique socialism as having been a system that lacked a mechanism for efficiently allocating resources to satisfy human needs.[270] Otto Neurath, a socialist thinker, thought that prices would not exist and central planners would use in-kind, rather than monetary, economic calculation in a completely socialised economy.[271] According to Weber, this type of coordination was inefficient because it was incapable of solving the problem of imputation, which related to the difficulties in accurately determining the relative values of capital goods.[272] Weber wrote that the value of goods had to be determined in a socialist economy. However, there was no clear method for doing so in that economic system. Planned economies were, therefore, irrational.[273] This argument against socialism was made independently, at approximately the same time, by Ludwig von Mises.[274] Weber himself had a significant influence on Mises, whom he had befriended when they were both at the University of Vienna in the spring of 1918. However, Mises ultimately regarded him as having been a historian, rather than an economist.[275]


Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx, two of Max Weber's influences

Max Weber was strongly influenced by German idealism, particularly by neo-Kantianism. He was exposed to it by Heinrich Rickert, who was his professorial colleague at the University of Freiburg.[276] The neo-Kantian belief that reality was essentially chaotic and incomprehensible, with all rational order deriving from the way the human mind focused its attention on certain aspects of reality and organised the resulting perceptions was particularly important to Weber's scholarship.[277] His opinions regarding social scientific methodology showed parallels with the work of contemporary neo-Kantian philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel.[278] Weber was also influenced by Kantian ethics more generally, which he nonetheless came to think of as obsolete in a modern age lacking in religious certainties.[279] His interpretation of Kant and neo-Kantianism was pessimistic as a result.[280]

Weber was responding to the effect that Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy had on modern thought. His goal in the field of ethics was to find non-arbitrarily defined freedom in what he interpreted as having been a post-metaphysical age. That represented a division between the parts of his thought that represented Kantianism and Nietzscheanism.[281] After his debate with Oswald Spengler in 1920, Weber was recorded as having said that the world was largely intellectually influenced by Nietzsche and Marx.[282] In The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and "Science as a Vocation", Weber negatively described "die 'letzten Menschen'" ("the 'last men'"), who were Nietzschean "specialists without spirit" who he warned about in both texts.[283] Similarly, he also used Nietzsche's concept of ressentiment in his discussion of theodicy, but he interpreted it differently. Weber disliked Nietzsche's emotional approach to the subject and did not interpret it as having been a type of slave morality that was derived from Judaism.[284]

While a student in Charlottenburg, Weber read all forty volumes by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who later exerted an influence over his methodology and concepts.[8] For him, Goethe was one of the seminal figures in German history.[285] In his writings, including The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber quoted Goethe on several occasions.[9] His usage of "elective affinity" in his writings may have been derived from Goethe, as it had been used as the title of one of Goethe's works.[286] Weber was also influenced by Goethe's usage of the Greek daimon ("fate"). That concept influenced Weber's perspective that one's fate was inevitable and that one was able to use experience to create intellectual passion.[287] He thought that Goethe, his Faust, and Nietzsche's Zarathustra were figures that represented the Übermensch and expressed the quality of human action by ceaselessly striving for knowledge.[288]

Another major influence in Weber's life was the writings of Karl Marx and socialist thought in academia and active politics.[289] While he shared some of Marx's consternation with bureaucratic systems and maligned them as having been capable of advancing their own logic to the detriment of human freedom and autonomy, Weber viewed conflict as perpetual and inevitable and did not host the spirit of a materially available utopia.[290] Writing in 1932, Karl Löwith contrasted the work of Marx and Weber, arguing that both were interested in the causes and effects of Western capitalism, but they viewed it through different lenses. Marx viewed capitalism through the lens of alienation, while Weber used the concept of rationalisation to interpret it.[291] Weber also expanded Marx's interpretation of alienation from the specific idea of the worker who was alienated from his work to similar situations that involved intellectuals and bureaucrats.[292] Scholars during the Cold War frequently interpreted Weber as having been "a bourgeois answer to Marx", but he was actually responding to the issues that were relevant to the bourgeoisie in Wilhelmine Germany. In that regard, he focused on the conflict between rationality and irrationality.[293]


Weber's most influential work was on economic sociology, political sociology, and the sociology of religion. Along with Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim, he is commonly regarded as one of the founders of modern sociology.[294] He was instrumental in developing an antipositivist, hermeneutic, tradition in the social sciences.[295] Weber influenced many scholars across the political spectrum. Left-leaning social theorists, such as Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, György Lukács and Jürgen Habermas were influenced by his discussion of modernity and its friction with modernization.[296] As part of that, his analysis of modernity and rationalisation significantly influenced the Frankfurt School's critical theory.[297] Right-leaning scholars, including Carl Schmitt, Joseph Schumpeter, Leo Strauss, Hans Morgenthau, and Raymond Aron, emphasised different elements of his thought. They placed importance on his discussion of strong leaders in democracy, political ethic's relationship with value-freedom and value-relativism, and combatting bureaucracy through politically based struggle.[281] The scholars who have examined his works philosophically, including Strauss, Hans Henrik Bruun, and Alfred Schütz, have traditionally looked at them through the lens of Continental philosophy.[298]

Weber studies

Weberian scholarship's beginnings were delayed by the ongoing disruption of academic life in the Weimar Republic. Hyper-inflation caused Weber's support for parliamentary democracy to be countered by the decline the respect that professors had for it.[299] The alienation that they experienced from politics caused many of them to become pessimistic and closer to the historical viewpoints espoused by Oswald Spengler in his The Decline of the West.[300] Furthermore, universities were coming under increased state control and influence. After the Nazi Party took power, that process accelerated. The previously dominant style of sociology, that of Alfred Vierkandt and Leopold von Wiese, was largely replaced by a sociology that was dominated by support for the Nazis. Hans Freyer and Othmar Spann were representative of that movement, while Werner Sombart moved towards support for collectivism.[301] The rise of the Nazi Party had relegated Weber's scholarship to a marginal position in the Germany academy. However, some Weberian scholars had left Germany while this was happening, with most of them settling in the United States and the United Kingdom.[302]

These scholars began to involve themselves in American and British scholarship at a time when Weber's writings, such as the General Economic History, were beginning to be translated into English. Talcott Parsons, an American scholar, was influenced by his readings of Weber and Sombart as a student in Germany during the 1920s. He obtained permission from Marianne Weber to publish a translation of The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in his 1930 essay collection, the Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion. This translated version, which was heavily edited by the publisher, was not initially successful.[303] Parsons used this translation as part of his effort to create an academic sociology, which resulted in his 1937 book The Structure of Social Action. In it, Parson's argued that Weber and Durkheim were foundational figures in sociology. His book was not successful until after the Second World War. He then published a translation of Economy and Society as The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. His increasing prominence as a scholar led to this volume's own elevated influence. Other translations began to appear, including C. Wright Mills and Hans Gerth's [de] From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology in 1946. Their volume was a collection of excerpts from Weber's writings. In the last year of the decade, Edward Shils edited a translation of Weber's Collected Essays on Methodology, which was published as The Methodology of the Social Sciences.[304]

As the 1940s ended, Max Weber's reputation as a scholar was rising through its interpretation through the lenses of Parsons's structural functionalism and Mills's conflict theory.[305] Over the course of the next few decades, continued publications of translated versions of Weber's works began to appear, including ones on law, religion, music, and the city. Despite the flawed nature of many of the translations, it became possible to obtain a largely complete view of Weber's scholarship. That was still impeded by the unorganised way in which the translations were published, which prevented scholars from knowing the connections between the different texts.[306] In 1968, a complete translation of Economy and Society in the way that it was prepared by Marianne Weber was published.[307] While an interpretation of Weber that was separate from Parson's structural functionalism had begun with From Max Weber, a more political and historical interpretation was forwarded by Reinhard Bendix's 1948 Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait, Ralf Dahrendorf's 1957 Class and Conflict in an Industrial Society, and John Rex's 1962 Key Problems in Sociological Theory. Raymond Aron's interpretation of Weber in his 1965 text, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, gave an alternative to Parson's perspective on the history of sociology. Weber, while still integral to it, was being framed as one of the three foundational figures, the other two were Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim. Anthony Giddens solidified that interpretation of the three scholars with the publication of his Capitalism and Modern Social Theory in 1971. After the end of the 1970s, more of Weber's less prominent publications began to be published. That effort coincided with the continued writings of critical commentaries on his works and idea, including the creation of a scholarly journal in 2000, Max Weber Studies, that is devoted to such scholarship.[308]

Max Weber-Gesamtausgabe

The idea of publishing a collected edition of Max Weber's complete works was pushed forward by Horst Baier in 1972. A year later, the Max Weber-Gesamtausgabe [de], a multi-volume set of all of his writings, began to take shape.[309] Wolfgang J. Mommsen, Wolfgang Schluchter, Johannes Winckelmann [de], M. Rainer Lepsius, and Horst Baier [de] were the initial editors. After Mommsen's death in 2004, Gangolf Hübinger [de] succeeded him. Winckelmann, Lepsius, and Baier also died before the completion of the project.[310] The writings were organised in a combination of chronological order and by subject, with the material that was not intended to be published by Weber in purely chronological order. The final editions of each text were used, with the exception of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which was published in both its first and final forms.[311] Mohr Siebeck was selected to publish the volumes.[312] The project was presented to the academic community in 1981 with the publication of a prospectus that was colloquially referred to as the "green brochure". It outlined the three sections of the series: "Writings and Speeches", "Letters", and "Lecture Manuscripts and Lecture Notes".[313] Four years later, the project entered publication.[314] It concluded in June 2020 and contains forty-seven volumes, including two index volumes.[315]


See also


  1. Kim 2022; Kaesler 1988, pp. 2–3; Radkau 2009, p. 5.
  2. Kaelber 2003, p. 38; Radkau 2009, p. 11; Kaesler 2014, pp. 148–149.
  3. Kaelber 2003, p. 38; Radkau 2009, p. 5; Honigsheim 2017, p. 100.
  4. Kaesler 1988, pp. 2–3, 14; Radkau 2009, pp. 91–92.
  5. Kaesler 2014, pp. 68, 129–137; Radkau 2009, p. 9; Kim 2022.
  6. Radkau 2009, pp. 54, 62; Kaelber 2003, pp. 38–39; Ritzer 2009, p. 32.
  7. Kaesler 2014, pp. 176–178; Radkau 2009, p. 561.
  8. Kaesler 1988, p. 2; McKinnon 2010, pp. 110–112; Kent 1983, pp. 297–303.
  9. McKinnon 2010, pp. 110–112; Kent 1983, pp. 297–303.
  10. Kaesler 1988, pp. 2–3.
  11. Sica 2017, p. 24; Kaesler 2014, p. 180.
  12. Radkau 2009, pp. 31–33; Bendix & Roth 1977, pp. 1–2.
  13. Berman & Reid 2000, pp. 223–225; Allan 2005, p. 146; Honigsheim 2017, p. 101.
  14. Kaelber 2003, pp. 30–33.
  15. Kaelber 2003, p. 33; Honigsheim 2017, p. 239; Radkau 2009, p. 563.
  16. Bendix & Roth 1977, pp. 1–2; Kaelber 2003, p. 41; Radkau 2009, p. 563.
  17. Kaesler 2014, p. 307; Honigsheim 2017, p. 101.
  18. Kaelber 2003, p. 30; Radkau 2009, pp. 562–564.
  19. Allan 2005, p. 146; Radkau 2009, pp. 31–33.
  20. Kaesler 2014, pp. 191, 207; Gordon 2020, p. 32; Radkau 2009, pp. 32–33.
  21. Kaelber 2003, p. 39; Ritzer 2009, p. 32; Gordon 2020, p. 32.
  22. Radkau 2009, pp. 39–40, 562; Kaelber 2003, pp. 36–38.
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