Max Weber on Nations and Nationalism: Political Economy before Political Sociology *

By Norkus, Zenonas | Canadian Journal of Sociology, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Max Weber on Nations and Nationalism: Political Economy before Political Sociology *


Norkus, Zenonas, Canadian Journal of Sociology


Abstract: Although Weber voiced doubts about the scientific value of the concepts of "ethnicity" and "nation," in his work one can detect the outlines of two theories of nation. In the political-sociological theory (exposed in Economy and Society), the nation is understood as a status group united by common historical memory and fighting for the prestige of power and culture with other nations. Besides that, in his early work Weber outlines the political-economical (or "national-economical") theory of nation, conceiving nation as the organizational form of economic association which is optimal in the fight for "elbow-room" in the globalized "Malthusian world" as described by the classical model of long-term economic dynamics. Weberian political-economical concept of nations and nationalism is explicated using recent idea of rent-seeking, and is applied to highlight the deficiencies of the prevailing E.Gellner-E.Hobsbawm-B.Anderson theory of nations and nationalism.

Resume: Bien que Weber ait des hesitations concernant la valeur scientifique des notions de la "nation" et "l'ethnicite" c'est possible distinguer les esquisses des deux theories de la nation dons ses travaux. La theorie politique-sociologique (en Economie et societe) define la nation comme une groupe de statut uni par la memoire historique commune, qui se battre contre les autres nations pour le prestige de pouvoir et culture. Dons ses travaux premiers Weber profile aussi la theorie politique-economique (ou "national-economique") de la nation. Ici la nation est conceptualisee comme une formed' organisation de association economique, qui est optimale pour la lutte pour l'espace vitale dans "le monde scion Malthus" (comme il c'est decrit dons le medele classique de la dynamique economique d'une longue duree) globalisee. La conception weberienne politique-economique des nations et nationalisme est reconstruite an utilisant la notion contemporaine des "lutte pour des rentes" (rent-seeking). Cette conception est aussi utilise pour exposer les defauts de in theorie de la nation et nationalisme de E.Gellner-E. Hobsbawm-B.Anderson, qui prevaut jusqu' a present.

Introduction

In one of his essays comparing the theoretical views of Max Weber and Ernest Gellner, Perry Anderson noted: "Whereas Weber was so bewitched by the spell of nationalism that he was never able to theorize it, Gellner has theorized nationalism without detecting the spell" (Anderson, P. 1992: 205). Anderson wants to say that Gellner's theory of nationalism (Gellner 1983, Gellner 1994) cannot explain the attractiveness of the ideas of nationalism. About Weber, Perry Anderson claims that although the famous German sociologist in his political views was an ardent German nationalist, he had no well-considered concept of nations and nationalism, and unreflectively adopted the dominant ideology in Wilhelmine Germany.

In my paper, drawing on Weber's early writings (some of them became more accessible only after their reprint in his Gesamtausgabe), I try to reconstruct Weber's early political-economic (or "national-economic") concept of nation. This is done in the second section of my paper. The first section discusses the later and more widely known political-sociological concept of nation, which is documented by Economy and Society, and the publications during the First World War. In the fourth and concluding section, I will try to evaluate both of Weber's concepts of nation from the viewpoint of the contemporary discussion about nations and nationalism. Most importantly, I will attempt to show here how Weber's early political-economic concept of nations and nationalism can be useful for the revival of the political-economic concept of nationhood which has unfortunately been eclipsed in current discussions. But firstly, I must explain how my contribution is related to the existing body of literature on Weber's notions about nations and nationalism.

One of the reasons why Perry Anderson and other authors writing about the irrationalism and arbitrariness of Weber's nationalism (1) do not find the conceptual foundations of his political choice, is that in their searches they restrict themselves to the quite fragmentary chapters of Weber's Economy and Society devoted to ethnicity and nations, written between 1910 and 1914, and not prepared by Weber himself for publication.

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