Max Weber

German sociologist, jurist, and political economist (1864–1920) / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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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.

Quick facts: Max Weber, Born, Died, Alma mater, Notab...
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

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.