Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

due, in large part, to the complexity of his thought. He sought to found a formal science that was also sensitive to subjective meaning in human life. He described the orderly evolution of capitalism and modern bureaucracy, yet he could bring to his scientific descriptions a powerful moral concern for the human spirit. In 1918, in Munich, he delivered his public lectures on Politics as a Vocation and Science as a Vocation, which together demonstrate Weber's grasp of the complex demands of the scientific life in politically troubled times. He was first and foremost a scientist, yet he was active in German public life. He died in 1920 in his fifty-sixth year, leaving his wife, Marianne, who had participated with him in the intellectual world centered in their home in Heidelberg.

"The Spirit of Capitalism and the Iron Cage" comprises two parts of Weber's Protestant Ethic. The "spirit of capitalism" is Weber's most famous ideal-type (a unique feature of his method). It is used here to present the ethical orientation, or disposition, of the modern capitalist. The iron cage metaphor at the end of Protestant Ethic is the best-known expression of Weber's doubts about the modern world, which are developed, in more technical terms, in his analysis of "The Bureaucratic Machine". The fragment "What Is Politics?" from Weber Politics as a Vocation, outlines his theory of social domination, which is still used in contemporary critical theories. "Types of Legitimate Domination" illustrates the breadth of Weber's theory. Here, he touched on legal, political, and sociological insights to formulate his important theory of traditional, modern, and charismatic authority. At the same time, these selections show the extent to which his sociology attempted to solve the riddle of social life that becomes acute in the modern world: Why do people agree to obey authority? "Class, Status, Party," though difficult in places, is worth reading because it is one of Weber's most succinct attempts to supplement Marx's class analysis by demonstrating the importance of status groups, as well as political parties and class position, in determining how social power is distributed in modern societies. This selection, in particular, was an important model for C. Wright Mills's critique of post-World War II American society, The Power Elite.


The Spirit of Capitalism and the Iron Cage

Max Weber ( 1905)

In the title of this study is used the somewhat pretentious phrase, the spirit of capitalism. What is to be understood by it? The attempt to give anything like a definition of it brings out certain difficulties which are in the very nature of this type of investigation.

If any object can be found to which this term can be applied with any understandable meaning, it can only be an historical individual, i.e. a complex of elements associated in historical reality which we unite into a conceptual whole from the standpoint of their cultural significance.

Such an historical concept, however, since it refers in its content to a phenomenon significant for its unique individuality, cannot be defined according to the formula genus proximum, differentia specifica, but it must be gradually put together out of the individual parts which are taken from historical reality to make it up. Thus the final and definitive concept cannot stand at the beginning of the investigation, but must

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Excerpt from Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Weber, © 1968. Reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ.

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