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Max Weber
Max Weber in 1918, facing right
Portrait by Ernst Gottmann, 1918
Maximilian Karl Emil Weber

(1864-04-21)21 April 1864
Died14 June 1920(1920-06-14) (aged 56)
Munich, Bavaria, Germany
Alma mater
Notable work
(m. 1893)
Doctoral advisors
Notable studentsElse von Richthofen
Main interests
  • History
  • economics
  • sociology
  • law
  • religion
Notable ideas

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (/ˈvbər/; German: [ˈveːbɐ]; 21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) was a German sociologist, historian, jurist and political economist, who is regarded as among the most important theorists of the development of modern Western society. His ideas profoundly influence social theory and research. While Weber did not see himself as a sociologist, he is recognized as one of the fathers of sociology, along with Karl Marx and Émile Durkheim.

Born in Erfurt in 1864, Weber studied law and history at the universities of Berlin, Göttingen, and Heidelberg. After earning his doctorate in law and habilitation from the latter in 1889 and 1891, he married his distant cousin Marianne Schnitger and became a professor at the universities of Freiburg and Heidelberg. In 1897, he had a psychological breakdown after he had an argument with his father, who died shortly thereafter. He ceased teaching and travelled during the late 1890s and early 1900s. Shortly before his trip to the United States, he recovered and slowly resumed his scholarship. At that point, he wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. After the beginning of the First World War, he supported the German war effort and was in charge of the army hospitals in Heidelberg. Increasingly critical of the government's actions during the war, he supported the democratisation of Germany. He participated in the Lauenstein Conferences in 1917 and gave the lectures "Science as a Vocation" and "Politics as a Vocation" during the next few years. After the war ended, Weber was among the founders of the German Democratic Party, ran unsuccessfully for a seat in parliament, and advised the committee that drafted the Weimar Constitution in 1919. He became frustrated with politics and resumed teaching, this time at the universities of Vienna and Munich. After possibly contracting the Spanish flu, he died of pneumonia in 1920 at the age of 56. His Economy and Society, which he had been writing at the time, was left unfinished.

Weber's main intellectual concern was in understanding the processes of rationalisation, secularisation, and the ensuing sense of disenchantment. He formulated a thesis arguing that such processes were associated with the rise of capitalism and modernity. Weber also argued that the cultural influences embedded in religion were driving factors in the creation of capitalism. Weber first elaborated this theory in his The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, where he included ascetic Protestantism among the major elective affinities that led to the rise of market-driven capitalism and the rational-legal systems in the Western world. Weber's The Protestant Ethic was the earliest part in his broader consideration of world religions, as he later examined the religions of China and India, as well as ancient Judaism. In another major work, "Politics as a Vocation", Weber argued that states were defined by their monopoly on violence and categorised social authority into three distinct forms: charismatic, traditional, and rational-legal. Weber was also a key proponent of methodological anti-positivism, arguing for the study of social action through interpretive rather than purely empiricist methods. Weber made a variety of other contributions in economic history, theory, and methodology.

After his death, the rise of Weberian scholarship was slowed by the political instability of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi Germany. After the Second World War, 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 later twentieth century, Weber's reputation began to rise 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 Marx and Durkheim. As a result of these works, Weber is commonly regarded as one of the central figures in the development of the social sciences.

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Personal life

Early life

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber was born on 21 April 1864 in Erfurt, Province of Saxony, Prussia, but his family moved to Berlin in 1869.[1] He was the oldest of eight children to Max Weber Sr. and his wife Helene Fallenstein.[2] Over the course of his life, Weber Sr. held posts as a lawyer, a civil servant, and a parliamentarian for the National Liberal Party in the Prussian Landtag and German Reichstag.[3] Fallenstein was partly descended from French Huguenot immigrants and came from a wealthy background.[4] Over time, Weber Jr. would be affected by the marital and personality tensions between his father, "a man who enjoyed earthly pleasures" while overlooking religious and philanthropic causes, and his mother, a devout Calvinist "who sought to lead an ascetic life" and held moral absolutist ideas.[5]

A group photograph of Max Weber with his brothers Alfred and Karl
Max Weber (left) and his brothers, Alfred (center) and Karl (right), in 1879

Weber Sr.'s 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 and economist, passed their formative years in this intellectual atmosphere.[6] In 1870, Weber entered the Döbbelin private school in Charlottenburg.[7] While in class, bored and unimpressed with teachers – who, in turn, resented what they perceived as a disrespectful attitude – Weber secretly read all forty volumes by the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.[8] Goethe would later exert an important influence on his thought and methodology.[9] Before entering university, he would 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, at roughly the same time of the year, he wrote another historical essay, "Observations on the Ethnic Character, Development, and History of the Indo-European Nations". All of these essays were non-derivative contributions to the philosophy of history and were derived from Weber's reading of "numerous sources".[11]

Entering Academia

In 1882, Weber enrolled in Heidelberg University as a law student, later transferring to Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin and then the University of Göttingen.[12] Simultaneously with his studies, he practiced law and worked as a lecturer.[13] In 1886, Weber passed the examination for Referendar, comparable to the bar association examination in the British and U.S. legal systems. Throughout the late 1880s, Weber continued his study of 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. This work would be used as part of a longer work, On the History of Commercial Partnerships in the Middle Ages, Based on Southern European Documents, published in the same year.[15] Two years later, working with statistician August Meitzen, Weber completed 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, doing 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 to 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 acted similarly to the other students, who were members of fraternities and placed emphasis on drinking beer and 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, right, and Marianne, left, in 1894
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 1892 and married her a year later. Marianne was a feminist activist and author in her own right.[24] She was instrumental in collecting and publishing Weber's journal articles as books after his death, while her biography of him is an important source for understanding Weber's life.[25] They had no children.[26] The marriage granted long-awaited financial independence to Weber, allowing him to finally leave his parents' household.[27] In 1909, they befriended a former student of his, Else von Richthofen, and the pianist Mina Tobler. After a failed attempt to court Richthofen, Weber began an affair with Tobler in 1911.[28] Eight years later, he began a sadomasochistic affair with Richthofen, who was also conducting an affair with his brother, Alfred.[29] These affairs lasted until his death in 1920.[30]

Career and later life

Early work

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, a new professional association of German economists affiliated with the historical school, who saw the role of economics primarily as finding solutions to the social problems of the age and who pioneered large scale statistical studies of economic issues. He also involved himself in politics, joining the left-leaning Evangelical Social Congress.[31] In 1890, the Verein established a research program to examine "the Polish question", or ostflucht: the influx of Polish farm workers into eastern Germany as local labourers migrated to Germany's rapidly industrialising cities.[32] 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 Weber's renown as a social scientist.[33]

From 1893 to 1899, Weber was a member of the Pan-German League (Alldeutscher Verband), an organisation that campaigned against the influx of the Polish workers; the degree of Weber's support for the Germanisation of Poles and similar nationalist policies is still debated by modern scholars.[34] In some of his work, in particular his provocative 1895 lecture "The Nation State and Economic Policy", Weber criticised the immigration of Poles and blamed the Junker class for perpetuating Slavic immigration to serve their selfish interests.[35] Weber and his wife, Marianne, moved to Freiburg in 1894, where Weber was appointed professor of economics at the University of Freiburg, before accepting the same position at Heidelberg University in 1896.[36] There, they 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.[37]

Mental health concerns

In 1897, Weber Sr. died two months after a severe quarrel with his son that was never resolved.[38] After this, Weber became increasingly prone to depression, nervousness and insomnia, making it difficult for him to fulfill his duties as a professor.[39] His condition forced him to reduce his teaching and eventually leave his course unfinished in the autumn of 1899. After spending the summer and autumn of 1900 in a sanatorium, Weber and his wife travelled to Italy at the end of the year, not returning to Heidelberg until April 1902. He would again withdraw from teaching in 1903 and would not return until 1919.[40] Weber's ordeal with mental illness was carefully described in a personal chronology that was destroyed by his wife. This chronicle was supposedly destroyed because Marianne feared that Weber's work would be discredited by the Nazis if his experience with mental illness were widely known.[41]

Later work

Max Weber in 1907, holding a hookah
Max Weber in 1907

After Max Weber's breakdown, he was unable to engage in academic work between 1897 and 1902 due to exhaustion. As a result, he sought a dismissal from his professorship, which he acquired in late 1903.[42] Once he had recovered from his illness, he accepted a position an as associate editor of the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik in the next year, where he worked with his colleagues Edgar Jaffé and Werner Sombart. It became one of the most prominent social science journals as a result of his efforts. The Archiv also facilitated his reintroduction to academia.[43]

In 1904, Weber began to publish some of his most seminal papers in this journal, notably 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 cultures and religions on the development of economic systems.[44] In it, Weber argued that the source for the "spirit of capitalism" was in the Protestant Reformation. More specifically, he traced it to the Puritan religions. They placed great importance on work, to a degree where other actions mattered less.[45] They had a religious calling to work that caused them to systematically obtain wealth. The Puritans wished to prove that they were members of the elect who were destined to go to Heaven.[46] Benjamin Franklin's personal ethic, as described in his "Advice to a Young Tradesman", was used as an example of the economic ethic that the Protestant sects had.[47] The thesis also contained themes that Weber would later prove central to his scholarship: rationalisation and the ideal type.[48] Rationalisation pertained to the increasing systemisation of life that ultimately caused religious influence to decline.[49] Rationalisation also caused Western society to be caught in the "iron cage", or steel-hard casing, that was the economic order that modern capitalism created.[50] The ideal types were representative figures, or case studies, that represented concepts.[51]

Also in 1904, Max Weber 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.[52] 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.[53] Among the places visited was North Carolina, where some of his relatives in the Fallenstein family had settled.[54] Weber used the trip to learn more about America and this experience played a role in the development of the Protestant work ethic. He used the trip to find social and theological conditions that could contribute to his thesis. Weber also used the trip to further his knowledge of the United States' social and economic conditions more generally.[55] After returning, Weber felt that he was unable to resume regular teaching at that time and continued on as a private scholar, helped by an inheritance in 1907.[56] In 1909, disappointed with the Verein, he co-founded the German Sociological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie, or DGS) and served as its first treasurer. He resigned from the position in 1912.[57]

Political involvements

Later in 1912, Max Weber tried to organise a left-wing political party to combine social democrats and liberals. This attempt was unsuccessful, in part because many liberals feared social democratic revolutionary ideals.[58] During the spring of 1913, Weber holidayed in the Monte Verità community in Ascona.[59] During this time, 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".[60] A year later, also in spring, he again holidayed in Ascona.[61] 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.[62]

World War I

At the outbreak of World War I, 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.[63] Weber's views on the war and the expansion of the German empire changed during the course of the conflict.[64] Early on, he supported nationalist rhetoric and the war effort, though with some hesitation, viewing the war as a necessity to fulfill German duty as a leading state power. In time, however, Weber became one of the most prominent critics of German expansionism and of the Kaiser's war policies.[65] Weber publicly attacked the Belgian annexation policy and unrestricted submarine warfare, later supporting calls for constitutional reform, democratisation, and universal suffrage.[66]

Max Weber, facing right, lecturing with Ernst Toller in the center of the background
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 in Thuringia.[67] These conferences were planned by the publisher Eugen Diederichs for the purpose of bringing together intellectuals who would create a new age for Germany. Theodor Heuss, Ernst Toller, and Werner Sombart were among the other intellectuals who were invited.[68] 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 was being espoused by Max Maurenbrecher, a former theologian. Weber also opposed what he saw as the excessive rhetoric of the youth groups and nationalists at Lauenstein, instead supporting the democratisation of Germany.[69] For Weber and the younger participants, the romantic intent of the conferences was irrelevant to the determination of Germany's future.[70]

In November, shortly after the second conference, Weber was invited by the Free Student Youth, a student organisation, to give a lecture in Munich. The resulting lecture was titled "Science as a Vocation".[71] In it, he described an inner calling as having been necessary for one to enter scholarship. The potential for a lack of success and career advancement was also an aspect of the career path. Weber thought that only a particular type of person would be able to make a career in academia. He used his own career as an example of a person whose career was in academia. Recalling his arguments made regarding the Protestant ethic, he stated that the path forward in scholarship required the scholar to be self-denying and methodical in their research. The modern scholar was to be a specialist who would be able to avoid amateurism.[72] A major aspect of his commentary on the role of the scholar in modernity related to disenchantment and intellectual rationalisation. These processes resulted in the nature of life itself being question, causing there to be a question of the role of scholarship in life. Weber argued that scholarship could provide certainty through the use of its starting presumptions, in spite of its inability to give absolute answers.[73]

Post-World War I

Weber joined the worker and soldier council of Heidelberg in 1918. He then served in the German delegation to the Paris Peace Conference and as advisor to the Confidential Committee for Constitutional Reform, which drafted the Weimar Constitution.[74] Motivated by his understanding of the American model, he advocated for a strong, popularly elected presidency as a constitutional counterbalance to the power of the professional bureaucracy.[75] More controversially, he also defended the provisions for emergency presidential powers that became Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. These provisions were later used by Adolf Hitler to subvert the rest of the constitution and institute rule by decree, allowing his regime to suppress opposition and gain dictatorial powers.[76]

Max Weber in 1918, facing right and looking at the camera
Max Weber in 1918

Weber would also run, though unsuccessfully, for a parliamentary seat, as a member of the liberal German Democratic Party, which he had co-founded.[77] He opposed both the leftist German Revolution of 1918–1919 and the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, principled positions that defied the political alignments in Germany at that time, and which may have prevented Friedrich Ebert, the new president of Germany and a member of the Social Democratic Party, from appointing Weber as a minister or ambassador.[78] Overall, Weber's political efforts were largely unsuccessful, with the exception of his advocacy of a strong presidency that would be democratically elected.[79]

In Weber's critique of the left, he complained of the leaders of the leftist Spartacus League, led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, that controlled the city government of Berlin while Weber was campaigning for his party. He regarded the German Revolution as having been responsible for the inability of Germany to fight against Poland's claims on former German territory.[80] Weber was, at the same time, critical of the Versailles Treaty, which he believed unjustly assigned war guilt to Germany when it came to the war, as Weber believed that many countries were guilty of starting it, not just Germany.[81] In making this case, Weber argued that Russia was the only great power that actually desired the war. He also regarded Germany as not having been culpable for the invasion of Belgium.[82]

In January 1919, after he and his party were electorally defeated, Weber delivered a lecture titled "Politics as a Vocation", which commented on what he saw as the inherent violence and dishonesty among politicians.[83] About the nature of politicians, he concluded that, "in nine out of ten cases they are windbags puffed up with hot air about themselves. They are not in touch with reality, and they do not feel the burden they need to shoulder; they just intoxicate themselves with romantic sensations."[84] 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 being divided into three aspects: passion, judgment, and responsibility. There was also a division between conviction and responsibility. These two concepts were sharply divided, but could be present in a single individual, particularly the ideal politician.[85] The types of authority were themselves divided into traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal.[86] Ultimately, Weber thought that the resolution to the political issues of his day required consistent effort, rather than the quick solutions that the students preferred.[87]

Shortly before he left to join the delegation in Versailles on 13 May 1919, Max Weber used his connections with the deputies of the German National People's Party to meet with Erich Ludendorff. He spent several hours unsuccessfully trying to convince Ludendorff to surrender himself to the Allies.[88] This debate also shifted to other subjects, such as who was culpable for the failure of the war effort. Weber thought that the 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 arguing in favour of a democracy that would have a strong executive power. Since Weber held Ludendorff responsible for the failure of the German war effort and had sent many young Germans to die on the battlefield, he thought that he should surrender himself and assume the status of a political martyr. However, Ludendorff was not willing to do so and wished to simply live off of his pension.[89]

Last years

A photograph of Max Weber's grave
Weber's grave in Heidelberg

Frustrated with politics, Weber resumed teaching during this time, first at the University of Vienna in 1918, then at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in 1919.[90] Some of his lectures from that period were collected into the General Economic History, which was published in 1923.[91] In Vienna, Weber filled a previously vacant chair in political economy that he had been in consideration for since October 1917.[92] Later, in Munich, he headed the first German university institute of sociology, but he never held a professorial position in the discipline. Many colleagues and students in Munich attacked his response to the German Revolution, while some right-wing students held protests in front of his home.[58]

In early 1920, Max Weber gave a seminar that contained a discussion of Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West.[93] Weber respected him and privately described him as having been "a very brilliant and scholarly dilettante".[94] 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.[93] 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. After the debate, 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.[94]

Lili, one of Max Weber's sisters, committed suicide as a result of the end of her affair with the pedagogue Paul Geheeb on 7 April 1920.[95] Weber and his wife took in their four children and planned to raise them. He was uncomfortable with his newfound role as a father figure, but thought that Marianne had been 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, who said that only he could make the decision to leave for himself.[96]

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.[97] He had likely contracted the Spanish flu and been subjected to insufficient medical care. Else von Richthofen, who was present for his death alongside his wife, thought that he could have survived his illness if he had been given better treatment.[98] His body was cremated and the ashes were buried in Heidelberg.[99] At the time of his death, Weber had not finished writing his magnum opus on sociological theory: Economy and Society. His widow, Marianne, helped prepare it for its publication in 1922.[100]


Sociology, for Max Weber, was "a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects".[101] Made clear in his methodology, Weber distinguished himself from Durkheim, Marx, and other classical figures, in that his primary focus would be on individuals and culture.[102] 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, at least in the big picture.[103] He was open to the idea that social phenomena could have several different causes, which separated him from Marx's determinism.[102]


Weber would primarily be 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 how individuals subjectively relate to one another.[104] Study of social action through interpretive means or verstehen ("to understand") must be based upon understanding the subjective meaning and purpose that individuals attach to their actions.[105] Social actions may have easily identifiable and objective means, but much more subjective ends.[106] 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 would be able to create was limited. Overall, Weber supported the goal of objective science as one worth striving for, though he noted that it is ultimately an unreachable goal.[107]

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.[108]

The principle of methodological individualism, which holds that social scientists should seek to understand collectivities (e.g. nations, cultures, governments, churches, corporations, etc.) solely as the result and the context of the actions of individual persons, can be traced to Weber, particularly to the first chapter of Economy and Society, in which he argued that only individuals "can be treated as agents in a course of subjectively understandable action".[109] 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 – models that Weber called "ideal types" – from which actual historical events necessarily deviate due to accidental and irrational factors.[110] The analytical constructs of an ideal type never exist in reality, but provide objective benchmarks against which real-life constructs can be measured.[111]

Weber's methodology was developed in the context of a wider debate about methodology of social sciences, the Methodenstreit ("method dispute").[112] Weber's 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 (social actors).[113] Therefore, Weber's methodology emphasised the use of comparative historical analysis.[114] As such, Weber 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.[115]



Many scholars have described rationalisation and the question of individual freedom in an increasingly rational society, as the main theme of Weber's work.[116] This theme was situated in the larger context of the relationship between psychological motivations, cultural values and beliefs (primarily religion), and the structure of the society (usually determined by the economy).[115] Weber understood rationalisation, first, as the individual cost-benefit calculation; second, as the wider bureaucratic organisation of the organisations; and finally, in the more general sense, as the opposite of understanding the reality through mystery and magic (i.e. disenchantment).[117] Weber began his studies of the subject in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which he argued that the redefinition of the connection between work and piety in Protestantism and especially in ascetic Protestant denominations, particularly Calvinism, shifted human effort towards rational efforts aimed at achieving economic gain.[118] In the Protestant religion, piety towards God was expressed through one's secular vocation (secularisation of calling).[119] The rational roots of this doctrine, he argued, soon grew incompatible with and larger than the religious and so the latter were eventually discarded.[120]

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.[121]

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 the rational-legal (through bureaucracy) was the dominant one in the modern world.[122] In these works, Weber described what he saw as society's movement towards rationalisation.[123] Rationalisation could also be seen in the economy, with the development of highly rational and calculating capitalism.[124] Bureaucracy in the state and capitalism served as the twin pillars of the developing rational society. The preexisting traditions that relied on the trades were eliminated as a result of those changes.[121] Weber also saw rationalisation as one of the main factors setting the European West apart from the rest of the world.[125]

Features of rationalisation included increasing knowledge, growing impersonality and enhanced control of social and material life.[126] Weber was ambivalent towards rationalisation; while admitting it was responsible for many advances, in particular, freeing humans from traditional, restrictive and illogical social guidelines, 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.[127] 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.[128] However, another interpretation of Weber's theory of disenchantment, advanced by the philosopher Jason Josephson Storm, claimed that Weber did not envision a binary between rationalisation and magical thinking, and that Weber actually referred to the sequestering and professionalisation of magic when he described disenchantment, not to the disappearances of magic.[129] Regardless, for Weber the processes of rationalisation affected all of society, removing "sublime values ... from public life" and making art less creative.[130]

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 and continued with his analyses in The Religion of China, The Religion of India, and Ancient Judaism.[131] His work on other religions, however, would be interrupted by his sudden death in 1920, which prevented him from following Ancient Judaism with studies of early Christianity and Islam.[132] The three main themes within the books were: the effect of religious ideas on economic activities; the relation between social stratification and religious ideas; and the distinguishable characteristics of Western civilisation.[133]

Weber saw religion as one of the core forces in society.[114] His goal was to find reasons for the different development paths of the cultures of the Occident and the Orient, although without judging or valuing them, like some of the contemporary thinkers who followed the social Darwinist paradigm; Weber wanted primarily to explain the distinctive elements of the Western civilisation.[134] He maintained that Calvinist (and more widely, Protestant) religious ideas had a major impact on the social innovation and development of the economic system of the West, but noted that they were not the only factors in this development. Other notable factors mentioned by Weber included the rationalism of scientific pursuit, merging observation with mathematics, science of scholarship and jurisprudence, rational systematisation and bureaucratisation of government administration and economic enterprise.[135] In the end, the study of the sociology of religion, according to Weber, focused on one distinguishing part of the Western culture, the decline of beliefs in magic, or what he referred to as the "disenchantment of the world".[136]

Weber also proposed a socio-evolutionary model of religious change, showing that in general, societies have moved from magic to polytheism, then to pantheism, monotheism and finally, ethical monotheism.[137] According to Weber, this evolution occurred as the growing economic stability allowed professionalisation and the evolution of ever more sophisticated priesthood.[138] As societies grew more complex and encompassed different groups, a hierarchy of gods developed and as power in the society became more centralised, the concept of a single, universal God became more popular and desirable.[139]

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.[119]

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is Weber's most famous work.[140] It has been argued that this work should not be viewed as a detailed study of Protestantism, but rather as an introduction into Weber's later works, especially his studies of interaction between various religious ideas and economic behaviour as part of the rationalisation of the economic sphere. In the book, Weber put forward the thesis that Calvinist ethic and ideas influenced the development of capitalism.[141] He noted the post-Reformation shift of Europe's economic centre away from Catholic countries such as France, Spain and Italy, and towards Protestant countries such as the Netherlands, England, Scotland, and Germany. Weber also noted that societies having more Protestants were those with a more highly developed capitalist economy.[142] Similarly, in societies with different religions, most successful business leaders were Protestant.[143] Weber thus argued that Roman Catholicism impeded the development of the capitalist economy in the West, as did other religions such as Confucianism and Buddhism elsewhere in the world.[119]

Christian religious devotion had historically been accompanied by rejection of mundane affairs, including economic pursuit.[144] Weber showed that certain types of Protestantism – notably Calvinism – were supportive of rational pursuit of economic gain and worldly activities dedicated to it, seeing them as endowed with moral and spiritual significance.[145] Weber argued that there were many reasons to look for the origins of modern capitalism in the religious ideas of the Protestant Reformation.[146] In particular, the Protestant ethic (or more specifically, Calvinist ethic) motivated the believers to work hard, be successful in business, and reinvest their profits in further development rather than frivolous pleasures.[143] The notion of calling meant that each individual had to take action as an indication of their salvation; just being a member of the Church was not enough.[147] Predestination also reduced agonising over economic inequality and further, it meant that a material wealth could be taken as a sign of salvation in the afterlife.[148] The believers therefore justified pursuit of profit with religion, as instead of being fuelled by morally suspect greed or ambition, their actions were motivated by a highly moral and respected philosophy. Weber would call this the "spirit of capitalism": it was the Protestant religious ideology that was behind – and inevitably led to – the capitalist economic system.[149] This theory is often viewed as a reversal of Karl Marx's thesis that the economic "base" of society determines all other aspects of it.[150]

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 this text into English.[151] Weber focused on those aspects of Chinese society that were different from those of Western Europe, especially those aspects that contrasted with Puritanism. His work also questioned why capitalism did not develop in China.[152] 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 differed most distinctively from the European route.[153]

According to Weber, Confucianism and Puritanism were superficially similar, but were actually largely different from one another. [154] Instead, they were mutually exclusive types of rational thought, each attempting to prescribe a way of life based on religious dogma.[155] 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.[156] Confucianism's goal was "a cultured status position", while Puritanism's goal was to create individuals who are "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.[157] Therefore, Weber 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.[158]

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 this work he deals 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.[159] In Weber's view, Hinduism in India, like Confucianism in China, was a barrier for capitalism.[160] The Indian caste system made it very difficult for individuals to advance in the society beyond their caste.[161] Activity, including economic activity, was seen as unimportant in the context of the advancement of the soul.[162] He noted, "Perhaps the most important gap in the ancient Veda is its lack of any reference to caste…. nowhere does it refer to the substantive content of the caste order in the meaning which it later assumed and which is characteristic only of Hinduism".[163]

Weber ended his research of society and religion in India by bringing in insights from his previous work on China to discuss similarities of the Asian belief systems.[164] He noted that the believers saw the meaning of life as otherworldly mystical experience.[165] The social world is 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.[166] Weber juxtaposed such Messianic prophecies (also known as ethical prophecies), notably from the Near East region to the exemplary prophecies found on the Asiatic 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.[167] It was those differences that prevented the countries of the Occident from following the paths of the earlier Chinese and Indian civilisations. His next work, Ancient Judaism, was an attempt to prove this theory.[168]

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 Oriental and Occidental religiosity.[169] He contrasted the innerworldly asceticism developed by Western Christianity with mystical contemplation of the kind developed in India.[170] Weber noted that some aspects of Christianity sought to conquer and change the world, rather than withdraw from its imperfections.[169] This fundamental characteristic of Christianity (when compared to Far Eastern religions) originally stemmed from ancient Jewish prophecy.[171] Weber classified Jewish people as having been a "pariah people", which meant that they were separated from the society that contained them.[172] 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 engaged in political prophesies and served as an opponent of the monarchy.[173]


The concept of theodicy played a role in Max Weber's interpretation of theology and religion throughout his corpus. This related to both his scholarly and personal interests in the subject. Theodicy was central to Weber's 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.[174] Rather than interpreting it through a theological or ethical lens, Weber interpreted it through a social one.[175] Furthermore, he incorporated Friedreich Nietzsche's concept of Ressentiment into his discussion of the topic. However, he disagreed with Nietzsche's his emotional discussion of the topic and his interpretation of it as having been a Jewish-derived expression of slave morality.[176] Weber's own interpretation of theodicy was influenced by both his scholarship and his personal investment in the subject.[175]

He divided theodicy into three main types:[177]

  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.[178] 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.[179] 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.[180]

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".[181] Accordingly, Weber proposed that politics is the sharing of state power between various groups, whereas political leaders were those who wield this power.[182] A politician needed to marry the oppositional gesinnungsethik and the verantwortungsethik [de] (the "ethic of conviction" and the "ethic of responsibility").[183] An adherent of the verantwortungsethik would justify their actions based on their consequences. Meanwhile, an adherent of the gesinnungsethik would justify their actions based on their ideals. While Weber thought that they 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 undo Germany's loss in the First World War, respectively.[184]

Weber distinguished three ideal types of political leadership (also known as three types of domination, legitimisation or authority):[185]

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

In his view, every historical relation between rulers and ruled contained such elements, which could be analysed on the basis of this tripartite distinction.[186] Weber noted that the instability of charismatic authority forces it to routinise into a more structured form of authority.[187] In a pure type of traditional rule, sufficient resistance to a ruler would lead to a "traditional revolution". The move towards a rational-legal structure of authority, using a bureaucratic structure, is inevitable in the end.[188] Therefore, this theory could sometimes be viewed as part of the sociocultural evolution theory. That was tied to his broader concept of rationalisation by suggesting the inevitability of a move in this direction.[189]

Weber described many ideal types of public administration and government in his Economy and Society. His critical study of the bureaucratisation of society became one of the most enduring parts of his work.[190] Weber began the study of bureaucracy and his works led to the popularisation of the term.[191] Many aspects of contemporary public administration date back to him and a classic, hierarchically organised civil service of the Continental type is called "Weberian civil service".[192] As the most efficient and rational way of organising, bureaucratisation for Weber was the key part of the rational-legal authority and furthermore, he saw it as the key process in the ongoing rationalisation of the Western society.[190]

Weber listed several preconditions for the emergence of the bureaucracy, which resulted in a need for a more efficient administrative system, including:[193]

  1. The growth in space and population being administered
  2. The growth in complexity of the administrative tasks being carried out and the existence of a monetary economy

Development of communication and transportation technologies made more efficient administration possible (and popularly requested) and democratisation and rationalisation of culture resulted in demands that the new system treat everybody equally.[193] Weber's ideal bureaucracy is characterised by hierarchical organisation, by delineated lines of authority in a fixed area of activity, by action taken (and recorded) on the basis of written rules, by bureaucratic officials needing expert training, by rules being implemented neutrally and by career advancement depending on technical qualifications judged by organisations, not by individuals.[194] While recognising bureaucracy as the most efficient form of organisation and even indispensable for the modern state, Weber also saw it as a threat to individual freedoms and the ongoing bureaucratisation as leading to a "polar night of icy darkness", in which increasing rationalisation of human life traps individuals in the aforementioned "iron cage" of bureaucratic, rule-based, rational control.[195] To counteract bureaucrats, the system needed entrepreneurs and politicians.[196]

Social stratification

Weber also formulated a three-component theory of stratification, with social class, social status and political party as conceptually distinct elements.[197] The three-component theory of stratification is in contrast to Karl Marx simpler theory of social class that ties all social stratification to what people own. In Weber's theory, issues of honour and prestige are important. This distinction is most clearly described in Weber's essay "The Distribution of Power Within the Gemeinschaft: Classes, Stände, Parties", which was first published in his book Economy and Society.[198]

The three components of Weber's theory are:[198]

  1. Social class – Based on economically determined relationship to the market (owner, renter, employee, etc.)
  2. Status (Stand) – Based on non-economic qualities like honour, prestige, and religion
  3. Party – Affiliations in the political domain

Weber scholars maintain a sharp distinction between the terms "status" and "class", although non-scholars tend to use them interchangeably in casual use. 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. Party emerged from a combination of the two.[199] Weber used the term "life chances" (opportunities to improve one's life) as a definitional aspect of class. It related to the differences in access to opportunities that different people might have had in their lives.[200]

Study of 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.[201]

As part of his overarching effort to understand the unique development of the Western world, Weber produced a detailed general study of the city as the characteristic locus of the social and economic relations, political arrangements, and ideas that eventually came to define the West. This resulted in a monograph, The City.[202] According to Weber, the city as a politically autonomous organisation of people living in close proximity, employed in a variety of specialised trades, and physically separated from the surrounding countryside, only fully developed in the West and to a great extent shaped its cultural evolution.[203] Weber argued that Judaism, early Christianity, theology, and later the political party and modern science, were only possible in the urban context that reached a full development in the West alone.[204] He also saw in the history of medieval European cities the rise of a unique form of "non-legitimate domination" that successfully challenged the existing forms of legitimate domination (traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal) that had prevailed until then in the Medieval world.[205]


Weber regarded himself primarily as an economist, and all his professorial appointments were in economics, though today his contributions in that field are largely overshadowed by his role as a founder of modern sociology.[206] As a political economist and economic historian, Weber belonged to the "youngest" German historical school of economics, represented by academics such as Gustav von Schmoller and his student Werner Sombart.[207] The great differences between that school's interests and methods on the one hand and those of the neoclassical school (from which modern mainstream economics largely derives) on the other, explain why Weber's influence on economics today is hard to discern.[208] However, even though Weber's research interests were very much in line with this school, his views on methodology and marginal utility diverged significantly from those of other German historicists and were closer, in fact, to those of Carl Menger and the Austrian school, the traditional rivals of the historical school.[209]

Economy and Society

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

Weber's magnum opus Economy and Society is a collection of his essays that he was working on at the time of his death in 1920. After his death, the final organisation and editing of the book fell to his widow Marianne. The final German form published in 1922 reflected Marianne's editorial work and intellectual commitment.[210] 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.[211] Beginning in 1956, the German jurist Johannes Winckelmann began editing and organising the German edition of Economy and Society based on his study of the papers that Weber left at his death. English versions of the work were published as a collected volume in 1968, as edited by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich. As a result of the various editions in German and English, there are differences between the organisation of the different volumes.[212]

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 of economics, Carl Menger, in the Methodenstreit ("debate over methods").[213] The phrase "methodological individualism", which came into common usage in modern debates regarding the connection between microeconomics and macroeconomics, was coined by the Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter in 1908 as a way of referring to the views of Weber.[110] According to Weber's theses, social research could not be fully inductive or descriptive, because understanding a phenomenon implied that the researcher needed to go beyond mere description and interpret it; interpretation required classification according to abstract ideal types.[214] This, together with his antipositivistic argumentation (see Verstehen), can be taken as a methodological justification for the model of the "rational economic man" (homo economicus), which is at the heart of modern mainstream economics.[215]

Marginal utility

Unlike other historicists, Weber accepted Marginal utility and taught it to his students.[216] Weber's overall economic sociology was based on it.[217] In 1908, Weber published an article, "Marginal Utility Theory and 'The Fundamental Law of Psychophysics'", in which he drew a sharp methodological distinction between psychology and economics and attacked the claims that the marginal theory of value in economics reflected the form of the psychological response to stimuli as described by the Weber–Fechner law.[218] Max Weber's article was also a rejection of the dependence of the economic theory of value on the laws of psychophysics.[219] Weber also included a similar discussion of marginal utility theory in the second chapter of Economy and Society. Both marginal utility theory and declining utility's roles in his writings were implied through his usage of instrumentally rational action that chapter.[220]

Economic history

Weber's best known work in economics concerned the preconditions for capitalist development, particularly the relations between religion and capitalism, which he explored in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism as well as in his other works on the sociology of religion.[214] He argued that bureaucratic political and economic systems emerging in the Middle Ages were essential in the rise of modern capitalism (including rational book-keeping and organisation of formally free labour), while they were a hindrance in the case of ancient capitalism, which had a different social and political structure based on conquest, slavery, and the coastal city-state.[221] Other contributions included his early work on the economic history of Roman agrarian society (1891) and on the labour relations in Eastern Germany (1892), his analysis of the history of commercial partnerships in the Middle Ages (1889), his critique of Marxism, the discussion of the roles of idealism and materialism in the history of capitalism in his Economy and Society (1922), and his General Economic History (1923), a notable example of the type of empirical work associated with the German Historical School.[214]

Economic calculation

In order to make possible a rational use of the means of production, a system of in-kind accounting would have to determine "value" – indicators of some kind for the individual capital goods which could take over the role of the "prices" used in book valuation in modern business accounting. But it is not at all clear how such indicators could be established and in particular, verified; whether, for instance, they should vary from one production unit to the next (on the basis of economic location), or whether they should be uniform for the entire economy, on the basis of "social utility", that is, of (present and future) consumption requirements ... Nothing is gained by assuming that, if only the problem of a non-monetary economy were seriously enough attacked, a suitable accounting method would be discovered or invented. The problem is fundamental to any kind of complete socialisation. We cannot speak of a rational "planned economy" so long as in this decisive respect we have no instrument for elaborating a rational "plan".

—Max Weber in Economy and Society, 1922.[222]

Weber, like his colleague Werner Sombart, regarded economic calculation and especially the double-entry bookkeeping method of business accounting, as one of the most important forms of rationalisation associated with the development of modern capitalism.[223] Weber's preoccupation with the importance of economic calculation led him to critique socialism as a system that lacked a mechanism for allocating resources efficiently to satisfy human needs.[224] Socialist intellectuals like Otto Neurath had realised that in a completely socialised economy, prices would not exist and central planners would have to resort to in-kind (rather than monetary) economic calculation.[225] According to Weber, this type of coordination would be inefficient, especially because it would be incapable of solving the problem of imputation (i.e. of accurately determining the relative values of capital goods).[225]

Weber wrote that, under full socialism, the value of goods would have to be determined. However, there would be no clear method for doing so in that economic system. Planned economies were, therefore, irrational.[222] This argument against socialism was made independently, at about the same time, by Ludwig von Mises.[226] 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 a historian, rather than an economist.[227]


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

Max Weber was strongly influenced by German idealism, particularly by neo-Kantianism. He had been exposed to it by Heinrich Rickert, who was his professorial colleague at the University of Freiburg.[228] Especially important to Weber's work is the neo-Kantian belief that reality was essentially chaotic and incomprehensible, with all rational order deriving from the way the human mind focused attention on certain aspects of reality and organised the resulting perceptions.[229] Weber's opinions regarding the methodology of the social sciences showed parallels with the work of contemporary neo-Kantian philosopher and pioneering sociologist Georg Simmel.[230] 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.[231] His interpretation of Kant and neo-Kantianism was pessimistic as a result.[232]

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 freedom that was not arbitrarily defined in what he interpreted as an age that moved past metaphysics. That represented a division between the parts of his thought that represented Kantianism and Nietzscheanism.[233] 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.[234] 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 Weber warned about in both texts.[235] 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.[176]

While a student in Charlottenburg, Weber read all forty volumes by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who later exerted an influence over Weber's methodology and concepts.[8] For Weber, Goethe was one of the seminal figures in German history.[236] In his writings, including The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber quoted Goethe on several occasions.[9] His usage of "electoral affinity" in his writings may have been derived from Goethe, as it had been used as the title of one of Goethe's works.[237] 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.[238] 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.[239]

Another major influence in Weber's life was the writings of Karl Marx and the workings of socialist thought in academia and active politics.[240] While Weber 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.[241] 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.[242] 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.[243] 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.[244]


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.[245] But whereas Durkheim, following Comte, worked in the positivist tradition, Weber was instrumental in developing an antipositivist, hermeneutic, tradition in the social sciences.[246] In this regard he belongs to a similar tradition as his German colleagues Werner Sombart, Georg Simmel, and Wilhelm Dilthey, who stressed the differences between the methodologies appropriate to the social and the natural sciences.[246] Weber influenced many later social theorists, such as Theodor W. Adorno, Max Horkheimer, György Lukács and Jürgen Habermas.[233] His analysis of modernity and rationalisation significantly influenced the critical theory associated with the Frankfurt School.[247] Different elements of his thought were emphasised by Carl Schmitt, Joseph Schumpeter, Leo Strauss, Hans Morgenthau, and Raymond Aron.[233] 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.[248]

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. 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.[249] 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. 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 process was going on, with most of them settling in the United States and the United Kingdom.[250]

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.[251] Parsons had been using 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.[252]

As the 1940s ended, Max Weber's reputation as a scholar had been rising through its interpretation through the lenses of Parsons's structural functionalism and Mills's conflict theory.[253] 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. In 1968, a complete translation of Economy and Society in the way that it was prepared by Marianne Weber was published.[254] 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.[255]

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 Max Weber's writings, began to take shape.[256] 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.[257] 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.[258] Mohr Siebeck was selected to publish the volumes.[259] 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".[260] Four years later, the project entered publication.[261] It concluded in June 2020 and contains forty-seven volumes, including two index volumes.[262]


See also


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General and cited sources

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