Charles Camic, Philip S. Gorski, David M. Trubek, eds. Max Weber's Economy and Society: A Critical Companion. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2005. xii + 403 pp. $77.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8047-4716-5; $29.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8047-4717-2.
Yuichi Shionoya. The Soul of the German Historical School: Methodological Essays on Schmoller, Weber and Schumpeter. Berlin: Springer, 2005. xv + 207 pp. $129.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-387-23083-2.
Reviewed by Peter C. Caldwell (Department of History, Rice University)
Published on H-German (March, 2006)
Making Sense and Making Use of Max Weber's Economy and Society
Few works in social science have made as profound an impression as Max Weber's Economy and Society. Yet the main points of the work tapped by later scholars at times seem contradictory. The work combines methodological individualism with systematic examination of social structures and their internal laws and tendencies; it combines a typology of social forms that seeks to avoid the pitfalls of social evolutionary thought with a history of the rise of the West and its inescapable iron casing of rationalization and bureaucratization; and it unites a resounding attack on Marxism and socialist thought in general with a provocative extension of the Marxist notion of alienation from the proletariat to other parts of society, most important bureaucracy.
The profusion of arguments and themes in Economy and Society leads to the question of whether the text is, in fact, coherent. The massive Max Weber Gesamtausgabe currently under production reinforces that question. What was Weber's magnum opus is now spread across six separate volumes (of which three have appeared so far). The first five volumes consist of matter unpublished by Weber and probably composed before 1914; these are organized according to folders (now missing) left by Weber upon his death. This material was intended for publication as part of a handbook of social economics that never appeared. The final volume, due to be released this year, consists of material that Weber assembled for publication soon before his death. As Wolfgang Mommsen notes in his essay on the edition in Max Weber's Economy and Society: A Critical Companion, the editors of the collected works have abandoned the "pretense" that the texts currently assembled in Economy and Society "formed one coherent work" (p. 74). Weber's life work has been left scattered, its unity in question. And yet, the importance of Economy and Society lies precisely in its response to several different imperatives, in particular the attempt to provide an explanation of modernity and the rise of the "West" while at the same time resisting monocausal, teleological argumentation and taking into account the subjective intentions of individual actors. How to grasp these complex writings is the central problem of the two volumes under review here.
The new Critical Companion is the best single volume introduction to the issues raised by Weber. The editors have brought together a group of outstanding scholars with deep knowledge of Weber in specific areas. Unlike, for example, the uneven preparation of the scholars represented in Cambridge Companion to Max Weber, all the authors here have knowledge of both Weber's own contexts and the role of Weber in contemporary scholarship. They do not hesitate to point out Weber's limits, both factual and methodological--an approach in line with Weber's own matter-of-fact notion of scholarship. Günther Roth's useful essay on Weber's background as scion of the cosmopolitan bourgeoisie sets the biographical stage, and Mommsen's essay on the origins and execution of Weber's "grand sociology" orient the reader toward Weber's complex texts and their contradictory arguments.
Charles Camic, Philip S. Gorski, and David Trubek have provided an excellent account of Weber's methodological challenges in their introduction to the Critical Companion, as does the important work of Yuichi Shionoya from 1986-2001, also under review here. As they argue, Weber's work responded to two competing approaches to social knowledge at the end of the nineteenth century. An empirical and historical approach associated with Gustav Schmoller and the Historical School of economics sought full, detailed description of the organic development of nations and other presupposed historical entities rather than general laws of society. Against this "idiographic" approach, fraught with spoken and unspoken assumptions about the organic entity under surveillance, a "nomothetic" approach, exemplified by the work of the Austrian School of neoclassical economics, sought general laws of social development, based on individuals' rational decision-making. Carl Menger not only assumed a methodological individualism but also an ontological one, which viewed "the rational individual as a historical universal" (Critical Companion, p. 13). As the editors point out (pp. 3-4), and Shionoya argues in his own essay on the topic (p. 31), the conflict between idiographic and nomothetic methodologies continues to divide the social sciences, with economics and to a lesser extent political science oriented toward abstract, general laws; and cultural anthropology and to a lesser extent history tending to present "thick" descriptions of facts and processes. Max Weber himself came down squarely on the side of Menger's methodological individualism when he criticized the Historical School's assumption of an organic unity and supra-individual actors. But at the same time, he rejected the notion that the only alternative was to search for general laws of society on the model of the natural sciences. Causal interpretation in social research, for Weber, had to focus on the particular, not the general, if it was to say anything meaningful: the specific causes without which events or structures would have been impossible. He sought, in short, a methodological individualism that was not ontological but rather historical, insofar as it recognized that the "individual" was not a constant across time.
Causal explanation, but on the level of particular events and situations; an orientation toward individual understanding of a situation as a way into the complexities of social events; a rejection of higher organic units that supposedly "evolve" and a focus instead on complexes of causes: the complicated methodological work carried out by Weber is indeed an impressive attempt to find a way between cultural description and causal explanation. But its importance for historians lies at least as much in the details of his work as in theory alone. In this respect, Shionoya limits the usefulness of his work by seeking "universal" rather than "time-bound" aspects of Weber's methodology (p. x). Economy and Society is exciting precisely where method is applied to concrete, historical problems. That is where the Critical Companion is so useful: the contributors take up Weber's actual practice, which at times threatens to burst the bonds of his methodological individualism.
Several contributions ask whether that methodological individualism makes sense. David Levine, in his challenging essay on "The Continuing Challenge of Weber's Theory of Rational Action," notes the puzzling fact that Economy and Society begins with methodological individualism and restricts the proper field of social analysis to "conscious," that is, rationally considered action; habit and affect-determined action, by contrast, become almost unconscious reflex actions and perhaps not even social at all (pp. 101-102). While the path Weber took to this position--through subject-oriented German legal traditions and marginalism in economics and idealism--makes it understandable, Levine asks whether Weber unnecessarily restricted his conception of social action. Habitual actions, for example, need not be automatic reactions on the same level as reflexes; they may involve thought and creativity. Affect in a complex situation involves more than just immediate (presumably non-rational) feeling but also sentiments and underlying beliefs. In any event, Levine continues, psychology has pointed out complexities in affect--and thus the understanding of an individual--unnoticed by Weber (pp. 112-113). Finally, Weber's notion of social action neglects interaction, which has its own logic (examined by Jürgen Habermas, among others). Mustafa Emirbayer makes a similar point in his essay, which turns to the pragmatist tradition for more positive accounts of the creative potential of both tradition and affect. Weber's methodology, both Levine and Emirbayer conclude, tends to neglect or denigrate as non-rational important areas of human experience--in particular those areas that contain "emergent," not yet articulated social phenomena.
Weber's methodological individualism is furthermore in tension with his own account of rationalization, a process that appears to take place above the level of the individual. His search for the structural conditions that made modern capitalism or bureaucracy possible also seems to point to supra-individual forces in the modern world (p. 115). Weber, like Simmel, shows how social phenomena follow their own, internal rules of development (Eigengesetzlichkeit). Structures and processes at times seem to have a separate existence in Weber's work. At the same time, as Richard Swedberg argues, methodological individualism need not exclude structures and processes that make up, for example, an economic or social order; the point is rather that such are not comprehensible except through the actions and intentions of individuals (pp. 130, 135). Nonetheless, Levine succeeds in isolating an important cultural limitation of Weber. His methodological individualism, especially in the realm of values, tends to take on a more substantive character, especially when he stresses the "heroic individual" (p. 197) confronted with the need to make a value-based decision.
Ethics preoccupied Weber from his 1895 speech on the nation-state to his lectures on vocation of 1917-18. His influential distinction of 1904 between the necessary and legitimate role of values in formulating a research problem and the actual investigation of a topic (in which the scholar should strive for objectivity) helped provide a defense of scholarship in an era when value consensus could not be assumed. That formulation bears its own problems, as Weber recognized. He himself referred to the "hair-line which separates science from faith," and noted that the "objective validity of all empirical knowledge rests exclusively upon the ordering of the given reality according to categories which are subjective." In other words, the subjectively chosen categories of investigation (such as race or nation) may inject "subjective" elements into "objective" analysis. Unfortunately, none of the essays in the Critical Companion takes on the problem of value and objectivity as it developed within the framework of Economy and Society.
By 1910-20, when Weber composed Economy and Society, his focus had shifted to the problem of where values originate in the first place. Günther Roth refers to attempts to read Weber "as a relativist (even decisionist) political theorist" as "ambivalent and awkward" (p. 31). But Harvey Goldman's examination of Weber's treatment of "ethics, meaning, and the question of how to lead one's life" (p. 47) points toward a decisionist theory of values with ramifications for normative political theory. Goldman notes an important change in Weber's approach to values after World War I had begun. He had already argued that irreconcilable values existed in the world in 1904, but, Goldman argues, at that point he still focused on the value of the personality that chooses values, and employed a language of relative costs, choices and so on (p. 50). During World War I, he began to invoke polytheism to describe value conflict. He began to refer to an "irreconcilable deadly struggle" among warring gods whom individuals served, an image that, Goldman argues, is actually not polytheistic, but reflects the absolutism of Christianity and monotheism. Unlike polytheism, which assumed that individuals can worship different gods within a stable community, Weber's notion assumes conflict (pp. 52-54). His ethics set the individual before the stark choice of acting on absolute, moral conviction or acting responsibly in light of probable outcomes--that is, without an absolute goal, following purely technical dictates (p. 62). While the tension between conviction and responsibility can, in fact, work out in practice (and Goldman may underestimate Weber's argument in 1918 that an ethics of responsibility and an ethics of conviction must play a "mutually complementary" rather than absolutely antithetical role), Goldman is right when he notes that Weber lacks a notion of how to mediate value conflicts (p. 62).
Political decisionism is, of course, different from individual ethics. At issue on the level of politics is an important debate that transpired after 1945 about Weber's legacy for the new West German democracy: did Weber's nationalist liberalism represent a road not taken by Germany, and therefore a possible way out of the dead end of National Socialism, or was Weber's thought--and German liberalism in general--really part of the problem insofar as it sought a "democracy" centered on leader selection or even a single, charismatic leader (Führerdemokratie)? It was no accident that the name Carl Schmitt appeared in the post-1945 debate. Schmitt was, like Weber, a thinker who put power into the center of his political theory; like Weber, he advocated a strong presidency; like Weber he pointed out the inevitability of conflict over values in the modern world, where political differences always contained the possibility of existential conflict between friend and enemy. It is unfortunate that this discussion about the relationship between Weber's idea of a Führerdemokratie and the end of Weimar remains largely external to the Critical Companion; Duncan Kennedy's brief aside (p. 348) is the only direct reference to the debate, and Kennedy does not pursue the problem. Nonetheless, several important pieces on democracy and revolution ask whether Weber had an adequate normative theory of democracy in addition to the impressive technical critique of the German Empire in his "Parliament and Government in Germany under a New Political Order."
Regina F. Titunik's essay, entitled "Democracy, Domination, and Legitimacy in Max Weber's Political Thought," addresses an apparent gap in Weber's work on democratization. The problem, as she sees it, is that Weber is concerned primarily with domination--that is, inequality and unequal power relations--and its legitimacy, not with "a condition of equal freedom where no one will prevails over others," which "seemingly requires no supporting ideological legitimation" (p. 145). As a liberal, Titunik argues, Weber implicitly took the condition of free and equal human beings as the starting-point or touchstone for considering relationships of rule" (p. 145); nevertheless, moments were present in Weber's work when rule was absent and some form of democracy existed--though only "on a transitional basis" (p. 146). But these transitional forms, Titunik shows, were of great import for Weber. They included moments of direct democracy, when the rule of notables was challenged in uprisings; they included the occidental city, which provided for self-government in place of direct domination; they included the sect, based on grace and voluntary association rather than the given hierarchy of the existing church; and they included the rights of man. The examples Titunik has found show how Weber's empirical work at times pointed beyond the bounds of his political theory of legitimation. But they may not add up to a kind of concealed utopian moment in Weber. Titunik herself notes that Weber found in direct democracy the tendency to accelerate the growth of bureaucratic structures, as a way of compensating for the lack of expertise of the masses. Weber's interventions in politics, meanwhile, focused on leadership rather than action from below (indeed on the plebiscitary Führerdemokratie in his recommendations for the Weimar constitution). There is not much room for domination-free self-government on the basis of Weber's work. Indeed, as Hans Joas notes in another essay in the collection, Weber refers to human rights as "extreme rationalist fanaticism" in an important section of Economy and Society (p. 375).
That said, Titunik's essay provides a valuable way into understanding Weber's dynamic political sociology, where action with one aim, such as an anti-bureaucratic uprising, may lead to utterly opposed consequences--the creation of a new elite based on expertise in the face of disorganization or the transformation of direct, spontaneous charisma into institutions. As a social scientist with an eye for details, Weber's writing on the Russian Revolution of 1905, undertaken in the midst of the events, marked an early and important example of modern approaches to revolution, stressing processes, the formation of alliances and the tendency toward dictatorship and new bureaucracies. In his essay on Weber's theory of revolution, Randall Collins draws out the theoretical implications of Weber's narrative of revolution. By contrast, he notes, Weber's theoretical discussion of revolution in Economy and Society stressed the tendency toward chaos and increased rationalization of bureaucratic control: the only counter-current to the tendency toward "undemocratic bureaucracy" is to be found in historical accident, and this "hurried list" of "historical factors does not add up to a coherent theory of democracy" (p. 316). Weber's theoretical discussions of legitimacy and democracy in Economy and Society, in short, would not go far in explaining 1989. At the same time, though, his practical reporting on 1905, with its careful articulation of ideas and interests at particular moments and its sense of an open political outcome, could be of service to historians.
Titukin and Collins both play an overarching narrative of bureaucratization and rationalization off against the openness and potential of situations. The essays foreground the central tension between grand narrative (even if "only" of occidental rationalization--which becomes, after all, universal in Weber's account) and local situation. Hans Kippenberg takes up this tension in an essay that goes to the heart of Weber's work--his sociology of religions. That section of Economy and Society, Kippenberg notes, was written around 1913-14, before the transformative experience of war. It built on Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1908), in particular the latter's notion of an "elective affinity" between certain communal structures (Weber conceptualizes religion as "communal action," with a specific form of orientation to the world) and economic structures (pp. 174-175). But it preceded Weber's famous "intermediary reflections" (Zwischenbetrachtungen), in which he examined the different effects of rationalization in different social systems of the modern world. Key to the conception after 1913 was Weber's notion of the "disenchantment" of the world, the process by which all aspects of the world become potentially explainable. "Disenchantment" would become central to Weber's conception of occidental culture and the process of rationalization as a universal process. As Kippenberg cogently argues, however, the result was not simply a godless universe, or secularization. The gradual decline of the expectation that the universe would be meaningful, associated with the positivization of law (p. 176), did not lead to an end to religiosity. Instead, an inward-oriented religiosity arose, world-rejecting in form, but with different effects depending on its precise nature. The world-rejecting religions were nevertheless part of the world. Indeed, their social function consisted of detaching religion from other, "worldly" social functions. Meaning remained in other areas of modern life as well, and could even take on sharper forms at the level of specifically individualistic social systems, such as eroticism and art, which reasserted the individual and tended to "re-enchant" the world. In short, the rationalizing modernity of Weber's "Intermediary Reflections" is complex and differentiated, very different from his monochrome image of an iron casing of rationalization. Religion does not go away in modernity, just as neither communal action nor meaning do; rather, it occupies a different and increasingly complex place in the world.
The Weber painted by Kippenberg is much closer to Niklas Luhmann than to Oswald Spengler or Friedrich Nietzsche. It is unfortunate that no further explanation of the relationship between Weber and Luhmann appears in the book, since such work would help clarify Weber's place in German sociological traditions. Such comparisons serve to focus on the key aspects distinguishing one theorist's work from another's. Erik Olin Wright's essay on exploitation in Weber provides just such a useful comparison between Weber and Marx. Wright notes that Weber does not have a theory of exploitation, which lay at the heart of Marx's theory of value. In many other ways, though, despite Weber's harsh words for Marx and for socialism in general, he was a student of Marx, stressing class in his work on capitalism, cutting through bourgeois ideology to stress the subordinate place of workers. Weber even expands Marx's notion of proletarianization--the separation of the worker from ownership of the means of production--to a more general characteristic of modernity: bureaucratic rationalization, for example, similarly separates office workers from the means of production. The central difference, according to Wright, lies in how Weber and Marx addressed inequality--as difference in life chances in Weber's case, as exploitation in Marx's. That difference, according to Wright, is profound. Weber is primarily interested, not in economic justice (a skeptical Weber might ask in response: what is justice?) but in economic efficiency, the optimal performance of individuals or firms in a market economy. Marx is focused on the irrationality of exploitation and the possibility of an alternative. As Wright notes, Weber's critique of the economic inefficiency of socialism tends to exclude the task of imagining some other set of social relations that is not exploitative. Weber's value-free scholarship, then, denigrates fundamental challenges to capitalism while agreeing that capitalism itself may be "substantively irrational," that is, not rational in relationship to values; it implies that worker self-control, however, is ipso facto "technically irrational" (p. 227).
Wright's analysis is exceptionally clear, and cuts through many long discussions of Marx and Weber to get to the heart of their disagreement. At the same time, Wright may miss the challenge that Weber posed to contemporary non-Marxist economists, especially those who have taken the road of rational choice analysis, abstract microeconomic modeling and mathematics. Shionoya, in his book on Schmoller, Weber and Schumpeter, shows how Weber, while rejecting specific assumptions of Schmoller, did not turn completely to a neo-classical, efficiency-oriented methodology. Instead, his method focuses on economic institutions, on the regularized contexts in which economic actions are embedded. Richard Swedberg makes a similar point in his essay on Weber's economic sociology. Swedberg notes that Weber's wealth of historical information allows him to cut through the notion that there is only one kind of capitalism, for example. A "political capitalism" that borders on a system allowing rational pillage, a small-scale "commercial capitalism" and a fully rationalized modern capitalist economy all look different. Basic institutions--such as market and firm--function much differently in each case (p. 131). According to Swedberg, the main point of Economy and Society was, in fact, to develop a comprehensive set of social conditions for the functioning of the economy.
The intersection of economic, political and religious factors is perhaps Weber's most important contribution for historians. Two important essays on early modern European history approach this intersection, noting that at stake in their actions is how the history of the "West" will be taught. Both Philip Gorski and Julia Adams start with some of Weber's most important points about the great transformation that occurred in the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries: in Gorski's case, the "elective affinity" between Protestantism and modernity; in Adams's case, the central role of patrimonialism. Each expands the empirical focus of Weber's original questions. Gorski asks whether different models of administrative reform arose in the parts of Europe dominated by Catholicism and by ascetic Protestantism. Bureaucracy broke with traditions of patrimonialism, not simply in response to the demands of war. In Catholic parts of Europe, new bureaucratic structures tended to combine person and office, on the model of Church venality. The Protestant clergyman, by contrast, may have been, Gorski argues, the first bureaucrat: subsisting on a fixed salary, acquiring a position on the basis of academic merit and following a set of rules and procedures and engaging in a separate accounting system for church and home (pp. 281-282). Gorski succeeds in linking Weber's central problems to key new books on early modern transitions. Julia Adams's examination of patrimonialism, patriarchy and new modes of legitimacy based on the image of a nurturing father (which involves the invention of a conservative tradition), points out the way that Weber's ideal type--"itself an unstable formation of signs" (p. 252)--opens the way to the writing of cultural history.
The Critical Companion is the best existing title in English to outline the many issues under discussion in the sprawling Economy and Society. The essays in the volume do not contribute to a sense of this work's overall unity. But taken as a whole they show why the individual texts should continue to be considered together. Only in the full complexity of Weber's vision does the problem underlying Economy and Society become clear: to confront a multitude of phenomena, to abstract from them explanatory types and to develop larger, non-teleological narratives for comprehending the kind of modernity that arose in the North Atlantic world after 1600.
. Max Weber, Gesamtausgabe (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1984ff). Vol. 22/1, Gemeinschaften; Vol. 22/2, Religiöse Gemeinschaften; and Vol. 22/5, Die Stadt have already appeared. Vol. 22/3, Recht; vol. 22/4, Herrschaft; and a separate Vol. 23 consisting of items Weber prepared for publication just before his death (Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft. Soziologie) have yet to appear.
. Stephen Turner, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Max Weber (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
. Max Weber, "'Objectivity' in Social Science and Social Policy," in The Methodology of the Social Sciences, ed. Edward A. Shils and Henry A. Finch (Glencoe: Free Press, 1949).
. Ibid., p. 110.
. Max Weber, The Vocation Lectures, ed. David Owen and Tracy B. Strong (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004), p. 92.
. Central to the discussion was Wolfgang Mommsen's pathbreaking biography of Weber, Max Weber and German Politics 1890-1920 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).
. In Political Writings, ed. Peter Lassman and Ronald Speirs (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 130-271.
. "The President of the Reich," in Political Writings, pp. 304-308.
. Max Weber, The Russian Revolutions, ed. Gordon C. Wells and Peter Baehr (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).
. Partial translation as "Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions," in From Max Weber, ed. H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946), pp. 323-359.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
Peter C. Caldwell. Review of Camic, Charles; Gorski, Philip S.; Trubek, David M., eds., Max Weber's Economy and Society: A Critical Companion and
Shionoya, Yuichi, The Soul of the German Historical School: Methodological Essays on Schmoller, Weber and Schumpeter.
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