Authors: Max Weber

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

German sociologist

Author Works


Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, 1920–1921 (3 volumes: volume 1 Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus [first pb. 1904–1905; The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1930]; Die protestantischen Sekten und der Geist des Kapitalismus [The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1946]; Die Wirtschaftsethik der Weltreligionen [first pb. 1915 The Social Psychology of the World Religions, 1946, and The Religion of China: Confusianism and Taoism, 1951], 1920; volume 2 Hinduismus und Buddhismus, 1921 [The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, 1958]; volume 3 Das antike Judentum, 1921 [Ancient Judaism, 1952])

Die rationalen und soziologischen Grundlagen der Musik, 1921 (The Rational and Social Foundations of Music, 1958)

Die Stadt, 1922 (The City, 1958)

Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, 1922 (translations include The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, 1947; Max Weber on Law in Economy and Society, 1954; The Sociology of Religion, 1963; and Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, 1968)

Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 1923 (General Economic History, 1927)

From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, 1946

Max Weber on the Methodology of the Social Sciences, 1949

Sociological Writings, 1994


Max Weber (VAY-bur) was one of the founding fathers of modern social science. He was born in 1864 to a solidly established middle-class Prussian family. His father was a successful lawyer and parliamentarian, his mother a woman of culture and piety. Weber spent most of his first twenty-nine years in his parents’ household, first in Erfurt, then in Berlin, where it became a meeting place for prominent politicians and celebrated scholars. In 1882 Weber began his studies in law at the University of Heidelberg, continuing at the universities of Berlin and Göttingen. He became a lecturer in law at the University of Berlin, where he was an enormously productive scholar. From 1894 to 1897, Weber taught economics at the universities of Freiburg and Heidelberg.{$I[AN]9810000764}{$I[A]Weber, Max}{$I[geo]GERMANY;Weber, Max}{$I[tim]1864;Weber, Max}

Max Weber

(Library of Congress)

In 1893, at age twenty-nine, Weber married and moved out of his parents’ home. In 1897 his father died, only a few weeks after he and Max had quarreled violently. Believing that he had contributed to his father’s death, Weber suffered a nervous breakdown. Chronically overburdened by his work and now suffering from exhaustion, remorse, and depression, Weber was forced to suspend his academic work over the next four years. From 1901 on, Weber began to recover and gradually resumed his scholarly work. He accepted a position as an associate editor of the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik (archives for social science and social welfare), which he helped build into the leading social science journal in Germany. Later in the decade, he cofounded, with Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel, the German Sociological Society.

It was in Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik in 1904 that Weber published probably the best known of all of his works, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which traced the development of capitalism in the West to the contributions of Calvinism. Seeking to steer between a vulgar Marxian economic determinism and an equally one-sided idealistic determinism, he offered the monograph as a modest illustration of “how ideas become effective forces in history.” His subsequent analyses of the religions of China, India, and ancient Judaism extended the argument by examining the absence of full-blown capitalism where religious and cultural norms were not supportive.

In 1919 Weber accepted a chair at the University of Munich, where he delivered two classic lectures, “Science as a Vocation” and “Politics as a Vocation.” These lectures highlight the tensions in Weber’s own life between scientific neutrality and political commitment. The years from 1918 to 1920 were a time of especially intense political activity for Weber: He helped found the German Democratic Party, served as adviser to the German delegation to the Versailles peace conference, helped draft the new Weimar Constitution, and unsuccessfully sought nomination to the newly constituted assembly. Throughout the war and postwar years, Weber labored on his never-to-be-completed magnum opus, Economy and Society (the incomplete three volumes were published posthumously). In June, 1920, Weber died of pneumonia; his last words were “The Truth is the Truth.”

The unifying theme throughout Weber’s diverse works is his preoccupation with the concept of “rationalization,” the progressive shift from a world organized and legitimated on the bases of tradition, charisma, and sentiment, to one organized and legitimated on the basis of reason, logic, and efficiency. For Weber, this “disenchantment of the world,” rooted in ancient Judaism, the Enlightenment, and accelerated in later times by industrialization and urbanization, has found its highest expressions in the economic system of capitalism and the organizational system of bureaucracy. Weber’s analysis of bureaucracy still dominates theory and research on the subject.

His contributions to the methodology of the social sciences have also been highly influential. He acknowledged that, in order to establish causality, both natural and human sciences must demonstrate an association among factors. He argued that, whereas in the natural world interactions mean nothing to the insentient objects and organisms involved, human interaction is based on intention, motivation, and shared symbols. Hence, no scientific explanation of human interaction is adequate without reference to this level of meaning, a methodological procedure and imperative he called Verstehen (understanding).

Originally trained as a student of law, Weber’s interests and scholarship ranged across jurisprudence, political science, economics, sociology, comparative religions, and the histories of several nations and civilizations, both ancient and modern. Although he is chiefly regarded as a sociologist, his influence on all these fields has been decisive and enduring.

BibliographyAlbrow, Martin. Max Weber’s Construction of Social Theory. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Excellent extended introduction to most of the elements of Weber’s social theory, including his personal, historical, and intellectual background. Carefully organizes and clarifies the many complicated thematic strands of Weber’s work.Brubaker, Rogers. The Limits of Rationality: An Essay on the Social and Moral Thought of Max Weber. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1984. Careful and persuasive presentation of Weber’s profoundly influential concept of “rationalization” in its various forms. Presents Weber as an ethicist and analyst of modernity and its crises.Collins, Randall. Max Weber: A Skeleton Key. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1986. Superb brief introduction to Weber’s life and thought as well as to some of the critical issues in Weber scholarship. Excellent starting point for further study.Diggins, John Patrick. Max Weber: Politics and the Spirit of Tragedy. New York: Basic Books, 1996. A passionately and clearly written account of Weber’s life as well as of his ethical and political perspective. Uses Weber’s lifelong interest in the United States as a vehicle to explore his relevance to late twentieth century American thought and history.Lehmann, Hartmut, and Guenther Roth, eds. Weber’s Protestant Ethic: Origins, Evidence, Contexts. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Excellent collection of scholarly essays covering a wide range of late twentieth century assessments of Weber’s famous Protestant ethic thesis.Morrison, Ken. Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1995. Provides an accessible and careful survey of Weber’s key works in sociology and methodology. Includes a helpful glossary of Weberian terminology.Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society. Rev. ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 1996. A stimulating, troubling, and highly readable application of the Weberian concept of rationalization in an analysis of the “iron cages” of late twentieth century life.Weber, Marianne. Max Weber: A Biography. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Wiley, 1975. An account of Weber’s life and times, amounting to an intellectual portrait of Weber and post-World War I Germany by an intimate participant.
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