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.
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. (2) In my view, the texts, which are classified as Weber's political publications, are equally important and informative documents on the Weberian concepts of nation and nationalism. David Beetham (Beetham 1985 (1974): 119) has already criticized the view that Weber's political publications are not relevant to understand his theoretical views, His book Max Weber and the Theory of Modern Politics is one of the many contributions to the considerable body of literature on Weber's nationalism. This literature is centered on the question of his political value commitments: was he nationalist rather than liberal or democrat, or vice versa? How is his nationalism compatible with his reputation as an individualist, a liberal and democratic thinker, whose theory of "plebiscitary democracy" was an important contribution to the political theory of democracy?
The prevailing view of Weber as an ardent German nationalist was most strongly stated and carefully documented by Wolfgang Mommsen (1974-(1959): 40-96), supported by Raymond Aron 1991 (1964), and is accepted by Andreas Anter (1995), Beetham, Perry Anderson, Nicholas Xenos (1993) and others. The proponents of this view maintain that (German) nationhood was the supreme value and purpose of Weber's political theory. The critics of this view include Catherine Colliot-Thelene (1990), Wilhelm Hennis (Hennis 1987; Hennis 1996), Lawrence A. Scarf (Scarf 1989: 31ff), and recently Kari Palonen (2001). While pinpointing the influence of Nietzsche's radical elitism on Weber's world outlook (Hennis 1987: 167-194), Hennis foregrounds the roots of Weber's value commitments in the Old European tradition of practical philosophy as described by the German historian Otto Brunner (Brunner (1956) 1968). According to Hennis (Hennis 1987:59-114), Weber inherits from this tradition his concern with the "quality of human beings" or "humankind" (Menschentum), sharing this concern both with Nietzsche and the Social Darwinism of his time. In Hennis' view, Weber was interested in nationhood and the national state not because he was committed to them as "ultimate values," but only because under "modern" conditions they have became unavoidable matters of fact which must be taken into account by all realistic or "sober" (nuchtern) proposals on how to improve the "quality of human beings" and "life conduct" (Lebensfuhrung) (Hennis 1987: 82-88).
However, the most important challenge to the prevalent view is Kari Palonen's paper "Was Max Weber a 'Nationalist'?" (2001). This challenge is part of his enterprise to reestablish Weber's reputation as a liberal and democratic thinker by interpreting his work as a continuation of another part of Old European heritage--the rhetorical tradition (Palonen 1998; Palonen 1999; Palonen 2002). Palonen pleads for a "rhetorical turn" in political science which means its transformation into the kind of discourse analysis concerned with "redescription" techniques used by politicians and publicists in their speech acts to adapt the existing political language to the contingencies of political action. "Rhetorical turn" also means the transformation of political science into the kind of history of political and social concepts concerned with the (macro)changes in the vocabulary of some specific community or with (micro)changes in the vocabulary of some specific author.
These changes can be either those of reference (narrowing or broadening) or of attitude (positive, negative, neutral) of the author's use of certain specific words. Analyzing changes in Weber's use of the word "nationalism," Palonen emphasizes that Weber was rather reluctant to identify himself as a "nationalist." He finds only one passage of this kind. This is the well-known statement from Weber's inaugural lecture, published in 1895: "we economic nationalists measure the classes who lead the nation or aspire to do so with the one political criterion we regard as sovereign" (Weber 1994 (1895):20). Palonen contrasts this self-identification with Weber's statements in his late publicistic writings. Here he distances himself from "nationalism," describing his political standpoint as "national anti-nationalist": "our policy will furthermore, necessarily be anti-nationalistic, not antinational" (Weber 1991b (1918): 122). In these writings, Weber associates "nationalism" with expansionist, annexionist and imperialist policies, as can be seen from the following statement: "we are now facing the necessity of a complete reorientation of the foreign policy. This should be a national but not an imperialistic one" (Weber 1991a (1918): 114).
Palonen explains this contrast by the change in the reference or scope of Weber's concept of nationalism: late Weber identifies "nationalism" with what in his earlier word usage would be referred to as one specific species of nationalism: "expansionist, imperialistic nationalism." But what did "nationalism" mean for Weber in his earlier, not yet narrower usage? As I understand Palonen's argument, "nationalism" in this sense can be defined as a positive attitude to "nation." However, in Palonen's view such a definition makes sense only provided there is a clear idea of what "nation" is. Did Weber have such an idea? After surveying Weber's casuistic reflections on 'nation' (3) in his Economy and Society, Palonen comes to the conclusion (in my view, erroneous one) that they amount to "deconstruction" or "dissolution" of the very concept of nation: "as an analytic concept 'nation' only refers to a vague expectation of a feeling of solidarity" (Palonen 2001: 207). (4) Was then Weber a "nationalist"? Palonen hesitates. On the one hand, he concedes that "Nation remained for Weber a quasi-mythical label containing a positive value, and he upheld this value by disregarding the specific chances contained in his own nominalist dissolution of the concept" (Palonen 2001: 210). On the other, he maintains that in Weber's last years, his positive attitude to the German state was stronger than his attitude to the German "nation." Describing this as a "relatively marginal change," he concludes nevertheless: "it seems to me that the relatively marginal change at the level of the attitudes makes it justified to call Weber, although not a 'nationalist', an apologist of the nation state within the concert of great powers" (Palonen 2001:210).
Palonen's analysis has the merit of showing that Weber's view on nations and nationalism changed. However, I will try to show that it changed not in the way Palonen maintains. This change can be described not as the "narrowing," but rather as the "widening" of his original concept of "nationalism." The "nationalism" late Weber is criticizing (expansionist and imperialist nationalism of great powers) was his own early nationalism. Most importantly, this nationalism was "economic" nationalism, as Weber says in his famous statement cited above.
By questioning the presumption that Weber's nationalism has no well-considered ideas on nations and nationalism that serve as a conceptual framework for his political choices, the criticisms of the received view by Palonen and Hennis and others are useful. Hennis is only interested in discovering more fundamental value premises in Weber's thinking that would make nationalism appear as rational in its role as a means to some more "ultimate" value. However, Weber's political commitment to nationalism or (later) the "national antinationalist" policy of the German state, had descriptive premises, too, which articulated some specific views on what nations and nationalism are. The reconstruction of these (changing) premises and the discussion of their relevance for contemporary work on nations and nationalism is the main objective of this article.
Neither Palonen nor other researchers pay due consideration to the real message of early Weber's self-description as an "economic nationalist." Weber says he is about to speak about nationalism and nations in terms of the discipline he represents. This discipline was political economy, which in the Germany of Weber's times was characteristically called "national economy" (Nationalokonomie), its name referring to the importance of "nation" to the very constitution of its subject. In my reconstruction of Weber's thinking on nations and nationalism, I will take Weber's roots in "national economy" seriously, proceeding from the assumption that his early …
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Publication information: Article title: Max Weber on Nations and Nationalism: Political Economy before Political Sociology *. Contributors: Norkus, Zenonas - Author. Journal title: Canadian Journal of Sociology. Volume: 29. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 2004. Page number: 389+. © 1997 Canadian Journal of Sociology. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
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