Max Weber

  1. Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism

Weber argued that the pursuit of profit was justified by religion. Members of the protestant ethic were encouraged to work hard, be successful in their businesses, and reinvest into further development instead of “worldly pleasures”. Members of the society at that time were subject to a certain “calling” that each of them had to fulfill to glorify God. Hard work signified reverence and being close to God while laziness and subscribing to self-fulfillment was condemned. Simply being a member of the church was not enough; everyone had to work hard at their purpose in life. Predestination was also used as a tool to reduce upsetting difference over economic inequality. Those who possessed material wealth were viewed as favored in the eyes of God and were blessed with salvation in afterlife. Those who have not accumulated material wealth in contrast must then continue to work harder at pleasing God in their fulfillment of their “calling”. According to the text, “Weber saw in religious beliefs a system of meaning aimed at explaining the existence of suffering and evil in the world. Such explanations have a profound impact on individuals’ actions and on the broader social order.”  It was this spirit that Weber believed gave birth to capitalism.

  1. Iron Cage

Weber contested that it wouldn’t be long before man’s pursuit of profit would surpass the religious rationalization it had imparted in society’s perception of material wealth and become transformed into a subconscious inclination based on self-wants. Similar to Marx’s fetishism of commodities theory, Weber claimed that “material goods have gained an increasing and finally inexorable power over the lives of men”. In essence the iron cage has trapped and conditioned modern society in the pursuit of the rich and famous lifestyles, despite having the means to support and afford it. Modern society transitioned from working hard to achieve the ultimate purpose or meaning in life to working hard to spend profusely to satisfy our need to have newer and better products.

  1. Class, Status, and Party

In this section of the chapter we find Weber’s main critique of Marx’s historical materialism and account of capitalism. Weber argued that the distinct interests and forms of power were connected to economic classes, status groups, and parties. Below are Weber’s accounts of the structure of class, status, and parties:

Weber defines Class as “people who share ‘life chances’ or possibilities that are determined by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income within the commodity and labor markets.” Classes are products of “class situation” which entails a situation that reflects the type or amount of exchange of goods a group of individuals can pursue in the market.

Weber’s concept of Status is placed by a specific social estimation of honor, whether it is positive or negative. Weber contends that the accumulation of wealth does not transfer over or entails positive social status. He gives an example of a drug dealer who can accumulate the wealth of a certain class but would not gain that respect or honor of that class or status group.

Parties according to Weber function toward acquiring social power and influencing social action within their perspective class situation or status groups. Parties are only functional within rational order of some type of which includes a staff of persons ready to work towards the specific interests and perform on a more legal platform.

  1. The types of Legitimate Domination

Weber goes on in this section of the chapter to define domination and legitimacy in classification of authority. He defines legitimacy as belief systems that allow authority figures to exercise power over individuals based on their obedience, which entails true power. Weber contends that there are three pure types of legitimate domination and that the validity of claims to legitimacy is based upon rational/legal-rational: which are rules enacted under an authority figure that is issued to place those commands, traditional: where obedience is owed to the actual custom of authority and is tied to a tradition or regime of its power, and lastly charismatic authority: which is dominance being placed by an exemplary character of an individual person that can cause a switch of pattern in social structures.

  1. Bureaucracy

Weber argued that bureaucracies have become the dominant form of organization in modern society and believed that it was the key process of rationalization of the Western society. Weber placed bureaucracy as being superior over all other forms or social organization due to its, “precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of files, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs”. Though a great form of organization, Weber also argued that bureaucracies would ultimately lead to dehumanizing individuals and that increased rationalization would place modern society into an iron cage based on rational rules that leave us ultimately with no control over our decisions. We would be forced to succumb to the structure of society.

  1. Critique

I believe that Weber’s account for capitalism and the structure of society in comparison to Marx’s is very relevant and necessary in order to fully understand the social constructs of society. His argument of the necessity of understanding an individual’s motives and social norms behind behavior is key to understanding this country, especially due to how diverse this country is and the vast range of customs and ethnicities. I believe that his account for class and status creates more of a responsibility for the individuals themselves placing themselves there and gives more of a reason as to why statuses and classes are structured the way they are.

  1. Application to Modern Society

Weber’s prediction of society becoming trapped into an “iron cage” is displayed almost all over the world. With this notion of us wanting to compete or flaunt how “better off” we are by our imitation of the elite class, people are forced to work more and more hours per day just to earn enough income to spend on our imitation of the elite’s lives. It became indoctrinated within our norms and values to place certain things with status levels such as where we shop, eat, attend school, etc.

  1. Research Questions
  2. Can religious beliefs be attributed to class stagnation (the possible notion of people staying within their class and maybe not wanting to be rich because it can be viewed as being evil)?
  3. Does Weber’s account for bureaucracy stem into Marx’s account of Capitalism at all?

One thought on “Max Weber”

  1. Great review Emanuela. You read my mind when you tied together the commodity fetish and the iron cage. Remember, for Weber, religion exemplified cultural influences. I wonder if a modern application of Weber’s notion of mysticism would not locate the motivations for work outside religion. Say in popular culture or media as the primary cultural influence. It would be interesting to see how people connect religion and material success today? Is the connection as strong as Weber leads us to believe it was during the Protestant Reformation? Does it continue to shape people’s drive for material success? Or do we use religion to help explain our lack of material success similar to how Marx explained the opiate of the masses? These would all be great research questions!

    Great work!

    Dr. J

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