Course:SOCI1110/Max Weber

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Max Weber

Max Weber circa 1894
Born: April 21, 1864, Erfurt, Germany
Died: June 14, 1920 (aged 56), Munich Germany
Spouce: Marianne Weber (m. 1893)
Father: Max Weber Sr.
Mother: Helene Weber (Fallenstein)

Early Life and Education

Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber was born on April 21, 1864 in Erfurt, Prussia (present day Germany). His father, Max Weber Sr., was greatly involved in public life due to being a politically active lawyer and so his home was constantly immersed in both politics and academics which stimulated the boy’s intellectual interests at an early age. Weber Sr. often enjoyed “earthly pleasures”, unlike his ascetic wife Helene Weber, formerly Fallenstein, their conflicting influences had actually played an important part on the younger Max which he has often cited.

Weber did not begin his life as an economist but instead as a jurist. He first studied jurisprudence at the Universities of Heidelberg, Strassburg, Berlin, and Gottingen, he then became Gerichtsreferendar or court clerk, and took his doctor's degree at Berlin in 1888. He didn’t stay too long as he left the Prussian judicial service some time later, with the rank of Assessor, and in 1892 became a lecturer on Roman and commercial law at the University of Berlin, where he was appointed professor of commercial and German law in 1893.

Early Works

Max Weber eventually got a job teaching economics at the Freiburg University in Germany in 1884, before returning to Heidelberg in 1896 as a professor. Unfortunately in 1897 Max had a falling out with his father two months before his death, which was never resolved and after his father’s death in 1897, Weber suffered a mental breakdown. He became plagued by depression, insomnia, and nervousness which made it impossible for him to continue his career as a professor leaving his autumn course in 1899 unfinished and so he spent the next five years in and out of sanatoriums. Weber resumed his scholarly activities in 1903, becoming the co-editor of the “Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft” and in 1904 Weber began to publish his own scholarly work. From this time on he lived as a private scholar, mostly in the city of Heidelberg, returning only briefly to more formal work in Munich and Vienna; while in 1907 an inheritance had finally made him financially independent. He did not teach again until after The First World War.

Weber’s work reveals extraordinary intellectual tensions, as he was a political realist and a nationalist who nevertheless criticized his country with detachment and treated national shibboleths with derision. He was also an analyst of power politics who examined constitutional problems with the spirit of political engineering, and yet he was deeply concerned with the ethical problems and with the cultural significance of the power struggles. There are also further contradictions with his work, he was a monarchist who openly denounced the Kaiser. He was also liberal with a pessimistic view of the masses and awareness of the need for personal leadership and a passionate individualist faced with the rising forces of collectivism. His work bristles with an awareness of the unresolved paradoxes of the human condition which Weber sought to understand on the basis of his extraordinary historical knowledge and to conceptualize at a level between historical description and a theory of sociological universals.

Later Works and Major Contributions

Indeed, the nature of his most important work after his partial recovery suggests that his prolonged suffering had led him to develop brilliant insights into the relationships of Calvinist Morality, and compulsory labour, into the relationship between various religious ethics, economic and social processes; as well as into many other questions lasting importance. Max Weber produced by far his most important work in the 17 years between the worst part of his illness and his death (1903-1920).

Weber’s studies into sociology of religion began with his most famous publication, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905). There were two observations that provided the initial propulsion for the essay, one, that in many parts of the world at that time, great material achievements had resulted from the work of monastic orders dedicated to a life of the spirit; and two, that Protestant sects were noted for their economic success, especially in the early phases of modern capitalism. To Weber, there appeared to exist a paradoxically positive relationship between ascetic religious beliefs and economic enterprise. Weber began to resolve the challenging paradox by noting that both the Puritan religion and the capitalist enterprise are characterized to an unusual degree, this then suggested a source of affinities between the two. This publication laid the foundations for his later research on the impact of cultures and religions on the development of economic systems. Also in 1904, Weber visited the United States of America and participated in the Congress of Arts and Sciences, held in connection with the World’s Fair in St.Louis.

In 1909, disappointed with the Verein, he co-founded the German Sociological Association, and served as its first-treasurer. He sadly did resign from the position and the organization in 1912, and in the same year he attempted to organize a left-wing political party to combine the social-democrats and liberals together. This attempt however was unsuccessful, mainly due to many of the liberals fearing the social-democratic revolutionary ideals.

In political sociology, one of Weber’s most influential contributions is his Politics as a Vocation essay, where Weber unveils the definition of the state as the entity that possesses a monopoly on the “legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Weber went onto distinguishing three ideal types of political leadership. 1) Charismatic Domination (familial and religious), 2) Traditional Domination (patriarchy, patrimonialism and feudalism), 3) Legal Domination (modern law and state, bureaucracy). In Weber’s view, every single historical relation between the rulers and the ruled contained such elements and they can be analysed on the basis of this “tripartite distinction”. He also noted that the instability of charismatic authority forces it to routinized into a much more structured form of authority. In a pure type of traditional rule, sufficient resistance to a ruler can lead to a traditional revolution IE: The French Revolution. The move towards a rational-legal structure of authority, utilizing a bureaucratic structure, is inevitable in the end; thus this theory can be sometimes viewed as part of the social evolutionism theory.

Historical World Events During His Lifetime


  • Second Schleswig War in Germany, The United States was torn by the Civil War, President Lincoln was assassinated, novelist Benjamin Disraeli became Britain's prime minister, and hero of the Civil War Ulysses S. Grant became president of the United States.


  • Bismarck provoked the Franco-Prussian War, Yellowstone became the first National Park, Stanley found Livingstone, Custer met his end at the Little Bighorn, and the 1876 presidential election was most likely stolen.


  • The Great Game was played out in the Second Anglo-Afghan War, Gladstone became prime minister, The Brooklyn Bridge opened with a huge celebration, Krakatoa erupted, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor.


  • Lizzie Borden was charged with an axe murder, Yosemite became a National Park, the Panic of 1893 devastated the economy, the first modern Olympics were held in Greece,and Teddy Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill.


  • The first flight by the Wright brothers, Henry Ford's first Model-T, and Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the Boxer Rebellion and the San Francisco Earthquake.


  • World War I, Treaty of Versailles, huge changes during the Russian Revolution and the beginning of Prohibition, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the sinking of the Titanic and the Spanish flu killed millions around the world.

Last Years

In Weber's final years he became a guest professor in Vienna for a few months in 1918, and afterwards became Professor of Economics at the University of Munich, finally being able to return to his teachings. Sadly in June 1920, at the age of 56, he had contracted the Spanish flu and died of pneumonia; and at the time of his death, Weber had not finished writing his magnum opus on sociological theory: Economy and Society, however his now widow Marianne helped prepare it for its publication in 1921–1922.


  • Dirk Käsler (1988). “Max Weber: an introduction to his life and work.” University of Chicago Press.ISBN 978-0-226-42560-3
  • Johnson, A. (1995). The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.
  • THE LIFE AND WORK OF MAX WEBER. (1923). Quarterly Journal of Economics, 38(1), 87-107.
  • Ho (24 August 2007). "Max Weber". Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. Stanford.
  • Max Weber; Richard Swedberg (1999). Essays in economic sociology. Princeton University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-691-00906-3.
  • Bendix (1977). Max Weber. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-520-03194-4.
  • Weber, Max The Protestant Ethic and "The Spirit of Capitalism" (1905). Transl. by Stephen Kalberg (2002), Roxbury Publ. Co
  • Wolfgang J. Mommsen, The Political and Social Theory of Max Weber, University of Chicago Press, 1992, ISBN 0-226-53400-6
  • Daniel Warner (1991). An ethic of responsibility in international relations. Lynne Rienner Publishers. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-1-55587-266-3.
  • pp. 135-136 in "Politics as Vocation" by Max Weber in Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society, edited and translated by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters. New York: Palgrave MacMillan
  • Bendix (1977). Max Weber. p. 296. ISBN 978-0-520-03194-4.
  • Ludwig M. Lachmann (1970). The legacy of Max Weber. Ludwig von Mises Institute. p. 143. ISBN 978-1-61016-072-8.