Max Weber in America

Max Weber in America

Max Weber in America

Max Weber in America

Excerpt

From the beginning, discussion of Max Weber’s writings and ideas has been interwoven with a fascination for his life. Karl Jaspers established the point of view early in his retrospective appreciations: the work was seen to reflect the person, and the person the work. The fascination has never lost its attractions. This can seem surprising, for Weber’s life was in some ways so unexceptional. What did he really do, after all? His meteoric rise in the university world was cut short by illness. He actually served on faculties only at the beginning and end of his career, and for barely six years. No school of thought bore his imprint, and his actual students were few in number. In public life his occasional efforts at a political career came to nothing. His interventions in political affairs and public debate left him an outsider in his own time. His efforts to establish new directions or new institutions in intellectual life similarly fell on deaf ears or, as with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie, ended in misunderstandings and his sudden withdrawal. Even the great editorial project of his life, the encyclopedic Grundriss der Sozialökonomik (Basic Outline of Social Economics), became a casualty of World War I and remained a mere fragment when Weber died in 1920. Viewed as a whole, the life offers a sobering record of disappointment and failure.

And yet there was still the work, fragmentary as it may have been, covering the sweep of world history and culture, and raising the largest questions about the emergence of the modern world. Much of it remained unfinished or scattered throughout journals, handbooks, occasional publications, or newspapers. Weber’s favorite medium was the extended essay, the handbook article, the encyclopedia entry, the exploratory investigation of indeterminate length— the kind of writing that would make an editor cringe today. With the exception of his dissertation and habilitation, he did not write a single book. Form seems to have counted for little; expressing the ideas in words on paper, often by dictation, was what mattered above all. Perhaps we should not be surprised, then, that much of this work was hidden or forgotten. It is astonishing, nevertheless, to note that two of his articles (on German agriculture, forestry, and industry) published in English translation in The Encyclopedia Americana in 1907-8 were unknown until this century, having escaped any of the previous bibliographical dragnets, starting with those cast in the 1920s by his wife and a few diligent Munich students.

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