School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Max Weber -
An Exemplary Moralist

 


The Person The Years of Mastery 
Introduction An Exemplary Moralist
The Early Academic Career  
   
The Work  
Introduction The Function of Ideas
Natural Science, Social Science, and Value Relevance Class, Status and Power
The Ideal Type Bureaucracy
Causality and Probability Rationalization and Disenchantment
Types of Authority  

Early in June 1920, Weber developed a high fever, and at first it was thought that he suffered from the flu. The illness was later diagnosed as pneumonia, but it was too late. He died on June 14th.

The last fevered words of the man whose physical appearance was once compared by a contemporary to that of Albrecht Durer's gaunt knights, were: "The Truth is the Truth." Weber indeed had much in common with those Germanic cultural heroes who battled for what they considered justice and truth, unconcerned with what lesser souls might consider the demands of expediency. He was a man in the tradition of Luther's "Here I stand, I can do no other," even though at times it would almost appear to his contemporaries that he had more in common with Don Quixote.

In all circumstances Weber remained fiercely independent in his political stand, refusing to bend to any ideological line. He was the man who advocated after the lost war that the first Polish official to set foot in the city of Danzig should be shot, thus appearing to support the politics of the right; he was also the man who pressed for the execution of the right-wing assassin of Kurt Eisner, the socialist leader of Bavaria's revolutionary government. He was the man who hated Ludendorff, the detested head of the general staff, yet toyed with the idea of defending him after the war against what he considered unjust accusations and even attempted to convert him to his version of plebiscitarian democracy.

Wherever he perceived an injustice, Weber entered the arena like a wrathful prophet castigating his fellows for their moral sloth, their lack of conviction, their sluggish sense of justice. When the academic powers refused to recognize the merit of a Sombart or a Simmel or a Michels, Weber rose passionately to their defense, even risking old friendships, when he felt that certain of his colleagues were moved by expediency in refusing professorships to Jews or political radicals. When Russians, Poles, and Eastern Jewish students were shunned by respectable German professors, Weber gathered them around himself and invited them to him home. When, during the war, pacifists and political radicals like the poet Ernst Toller were being persecuted, he asked them to his famous Sunday open house. Later, when Toller was arrested, Weber testified for him in a military court and succeeded in having him releases. When anti-Semitic, right-wing students in Munich insulted a Jewish student, Weber got hold of their leader and insisted that he apologize immediately. When a friend of his, Frieda Gross, had a love affair with a Swiss anarchist and was threatened with losing the custody of her children, Weber fought in the courts for over a year to defend her maternal rights. When Ernst Troeltsch refused during the war, in his capacity as administrator of a military hospital, to permit French prisoners to be visited by Germans, Weber denounced this as a "wretched case of chauvinism" and broke off relations with his old friend.

Always and everywhere, Weber followed only the call of his own demon, refusing to be bridled by political expediency. He was first and foremost his own man. Although he repeatedly entered the political arena, he was not truly a political man--if we define such a man (as Weber himself did) as one who is able to make compromises in the pursuit of his aims. Weber has written that the true politician feels "passionate devotion to a 'cause,' to the god or demon who is overlord." This passion he possessed in full measure; but the concomitant sense of "distant to things and men" did not characterize his political actions, although it is very much in evidence in his scholarly work. As a result, Weber found himself isolated in his political activities. He never qualified as "a good party man." His open nationalism of the Freiburg days antagonized his old-fashioned liberal friends, while his attacks on the Prussian Junkers made him the bete noire of the conservatives. His dire prophecy that socialism would hasten the trend toward bureaucratization, rather than bring the promised freedom from necessity, alienated him from the Social Democrats despite his sympathy for the labor unions and his admiration for the sober virtues of skilled German workmen. His passionate attacks against Kaiser Wilhelm and his entourage, his violent outbursts against the leadership in the war effort, endeared him to the pacifist and radical left, whose trust he yet failed to gain after he characterized the revolution as a bloody carnival.

How could Weber, the exponent of "disenchantment" and "the ethic of responsibility," the German patriot and life-long admirer of the innerworldly asceticism of the Protestant Ethic feel himself drawn to rebels and outcasts? Why could the dispassionate and disciplined author of Science as a Vocation not hide his sympathies for passionate bohemians or Tolsotyan mystics? These questions become clearer after examining the context of his Germany and considering more fully his involvement in its politics.

From Coser, 1977:242-243.

  

Websites On Weber Work By Weber
Max Weber Class Notes (External Link) Bureaucracy
  Fundamental Concepts in Sociology (External Link)
  The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
   



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010