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Max Weber

 Max Weber by Joachim Radkau (Polity) Max Weber (1864-1920) is recognized throughout the world as the most important classic thinker in the social sciences — there is simply no one else who has been more influential. The affinity between capitalism and Protestantism, the religious origins of the Western world, the force of charisma in religion as well as in politics, the all-embracing process of rationalization and the bureaucratic price of progress, the role of legitimacy and of violence as offsprings of leadership, the 'disenchantment' of the modern world together with the never-ending power of religion, the antagonistic relation between intellectualism and eroticism: all these are key concepts which attest to the enduring fascination of Weber's thinking.

When Joachim Radkau's biography appeared in Germany in 2005 it caused a sensation. Based on an abundance of previously unknown sources and richly embedded in the German history of the time, this is the first fully comprehensive biography of Max Weber ever to appear. Radkau brings out, in a way that no one has ever done before, the intimate interrelations between Weber's thought and his life experience. He presents detailed revelations about the great enigmas of Weber's life: his suffering and erotic experiences, his fears and his desires, his creative power and his methods of work, as well as his religious experience and his relation to nature and to death. By understanding the great drama of his life, we discover a new Max Weber, until now unknown in many respects, and, at the same time, we gain a new appreciation of his work.

This book will become the standard work on the life of Max Weber. It will be indispensable to students and scholars throughout the social sciences and will appeal to a wide readership interested in knowing more about the life of one of the most brilliant thinkers of the twentieth century.

Excerpt: A first suspicion that there was a tale to be told about Max Weber came to me, not untypically for my generation, from the United States forty years ago. At the time I was working on my dissertation concerning the post-1933 German emigration to the USA, and I became friendly with one member of this group, the historian George W. F. Hallgarten, who finally ended up in Washington. We subsequently wrote a book together, Deutsche Industrie and Politik, in which several passages had to be blacked out under pressure from the Deutsche Bank: this made us comrades-in-arms (for Weber, the strongest bond after an erotic relationship), despite our 42-year age difference. As a student, in the summer of 1920, Hallgarten had attended Weber's final lecture and wept at the news of his death, and for the rest of his life he felt under his spell. Shortly before his own death (1975) he was even planning to write a book on 'Max Weber's Sociology — a Tool in the Hands of the Historian'. Nor was he alone in being so enchanted by the great enchanter: a cult of 'Saint Max' was actually typical among German emigres; Franz L. Neumann once famously said, 'It is here, in the United States, that Max Weber really came to life.' I later also came in contact with Karl August Wittfogel — formerly, in his communist period, an opponent of Weber's — who tried in his way to complete Weber's fragments on the natural basis of society. I feel myself to be his successor in this respect.

Through Hallgarten I developed a kind of psycho-physical contact with Weber. But again and again the cult associated with the 'myth of Heidelberg' aroused feelings of aversion in me. For a long time I had a sense that Werner Sombart and Georg Simmel — both on familiar terms with Weber, though later in his shadow — offered greater inspiration, or at least greater challenges. Thus, in the 1980s I attacked Sombart's thesis that a shortage of wood had threatened capitalism with collapse in the eighteenth century, and I thereby triggered endless controversy among historians of the forest. From Simmel's essay 'The Metropolis and Mental Life' (1903) I drew important stimuli for my history of Nervosität in Germany.

Unexpectedly, this very subject opened me up to the correspondence of Max and Marianne Weber, a real treasure trove for the semantics of 'the nerves' at the turn of the twentieth century. The decoding of old reports on neurasthenic patients also proved valuable training for my Weber researches; you don't get far with hard-to-read handwriting unless you have a certain kind of sporting ambition. Forty years ago I read with pleasure the collective volume The Historian as Detective, edited by Robert W. Winks. And the young Talcott Parsons read Weber's The Protestant Ethic `as if it were a detective story'. Similarly, a biographer of Weber needs a detective's instinct for clues. There is an ocean of literature about Max Weber, but it should not be thought that all the facts about him have long been clear and that only a theory is required to distil them. In my study of the sources, I would have one amazing experience after another.

With hindsight I can see how Weber had already been long at work in my unconscious. In his footsteps I devoted myself for a time to the history of Pietism, and again to the history of music, but in each case I eventually got stuck. When I tried to prove, through a comparison with Asian civilizations, that Europe's centuries-long complaint about wood shortages had paradoxically reflected its relative abundance of forest, I followed Weber's strategy of a vast circling movement in the East to gain victory for the thesis (in his case, the historical function of Protestantism as a catalyst for capitalism). And after I had finished my biography of Weber, when I was preparing my 'world history of the environment' for an American translation (Nature and Power, Cambridge University press, New York, 2008), it dawned on me that I had unconsciously taken Weber's Economy and Society as my model. Much as Weber there went into the social history of 'original types' of 'socialization', so did I set out the environmental history of 'original symbioses between man and nature'. In the end my new study of Weber became a way into my own subconscious. Indeed, why not? The point of working on Weber is ultimately to work with Weber and thereby to develop one's own intellectual resources.

I received quite a boost from Lawrence A. Scan book about Weber, Fleeing the Iron Cage(University of California Press), which I took with me on a three-week cycling tour. In particular there was the sentence: 'What is needed, above all, is to encounter Weber once again from the beginning and with a sense of judgment alert to the potentials of what he actually wrote and said.' Yes, that was precisely what I wanted to do. Fortune then came to my aid when a chain of coincidences gave me access to correspondence of Max and Marianne Weber which had previously been hidden from the public eye, and in which a new Weber began to emerge. Weber first became famous through The Protestant Ethic, but that 'worldly asceticism' was not his own religion; this is something that has often been misunderstood. Stanislav Andreski (Max Weber's Insights and Errors, 1984 Routledge & Kegan Paul Books Ltd ) thought he had found in Weber a case 'which fits Freud's idea that creativity stems from repression and sublimation of sexual desire'. But, oh no, Max Weber is not at all a good example of that.

This is not to say that the exact opposite is true. The German media have sometimes given the impression that I see Weber as illustrating Wilhelm Reich's theory of the orgasm as man's only salvation. I am not one of the eternal sixty-eighters, however, and I am far from denying that the spirit has its own life and its own pleasures. Sexuality is not a prima causa; on the contrary, Weber's life-story shows how intellectual developments open the individual to erotic experiences. Weber's life ended under the sign of Venus, not of Mars. Lawrence Scaff, in his review of the German edition of my book, recalled that 'the relationship between intellect and eros, Athena and Aphrodite, is an old theme, from Plato onward'. In Weber's case the story of this relationship was an exciting drama.

In my view, a high point in this drama was the formation of the concept of charisma. There have been heated discussions of this in Germany. Gangolf Hübinger reproached me for underestimating the extent to which Gladstone served as Weber's model of the charismatic leader. But Thomas Karlauf, in his major biography of Stefan George (Stefan George — Die Entdeckung des Charisma), brilliantly reconstructed the erotic aura that surrounded the concept of charisma. As our two biographies developed, they had a mutually stimulating influence on each other. Ralf Dahrendorf has said that the 'rediscovery of Max Weber' is bringing the social sciences back down to earth, from the clouds of 'systems' and 'domination-free communication'. 'Personal networks', with their anthropological side and their connectedness through lifestyles and life-crises, are shaping up as the new 'Weber paradigm'. In this respect, Weber's encounter with George seems to have been a pointer to things to come. I do not believe, however, that Weber would have thought much of a 'Weber paradigm'. In an admittedly rather high-spirited essay 'The Heroic Ecstasy of Drunken Elephants: The Substrate of Nature in Max Weber — a Missing Link between his Life and Work' (in Volker Berghahn and Simone Lässig, eds, Biography between Structure and Agency: Central European Lives in International Historiography, New York: Berghahn Books, 2008), I have argued matters out with a number of critics.

`A Struggle over Weber' is the title of a piece by Wilhelm Hennis on the current state of Weber research. The struggle among different branches of science over the dead Weber — each one would like to have him for itself —sometimes reminds one of the wrangling between Hellenes and Trojans over the dead body of Patroclus. I prefer to keep out of this myself (which does not mean that I prefer to avoid any fight). Historians take delight in quoting Weber's outburst against 'this damned science of sociology' (MWG 11/6, 641), at the Frankfurt Sociologists' Conference in 1910 of all places; or the heartfelt groan in 1918, in his farewell speech at Heidelberg, that 'most of what goes by the name of sociology is a fraud'. But, in what he said about Georg Simmel, the same Weber mocked 'the ridiculous self-crucifixion before the name of sociology', as if it were the devil incarnate. He cannot be pinned down in this or that single quote. The dispute among university faculties obstructs our view of the whole Weber. For this reason, I removed a chapter about Weber and sociology from the manuscript of this book.

Stanislav Andreski (Social Sciences as Sorcery, 1972) counts Weber among the chief sorcerers of the social sciences. But he becomes confused about this, for he thinks that a good social scientist must have a sense of humour and he can find no trace of one in Weber. It is the old cliché of Weber the sombre ascetic. In 2007 a song at the Cologne carnival, 'I'm so happy not to be a Protestant', was still repeating it: 'Max Weber hat gesagt, daß nur die Arbeit wichtig ist / daß der Herrgott den begnadigt, der die Pflichten nicht vergißt ... Dagegen sind die Katholiken richtig supercool / bei denen sind die Pfaffen Polen, Inder oder schwul.' [`Max Weber said that only work is important / that the Lord pardons those who remember their duties. . . Catholics, on the other hand, are really supercool; / their priests are Poles, Indians or gays.'] I am pretty sure that Weber would have roared with laughter at these words. Theodor Heuss, the first president of the Federal Republic of Germany, who knew Weber well and made some of the most intelligent observations about him, had relished his 'earthy laughter' (WzG 72). Even the philosopher Heinrich Rickert, who already knew Weber in his school days and later tried to torpedo the Weber cult, had to admit: 'Weber's enchanting geniality and his delightful, wide-ranging sense of humour were irresistible' (WzG 111). In 1932 Eduard Baumgarten thought he could hear the dead Weber laugh when Marianne Weber said in public that she 'couldn't care less' about Goethe.

From what we know today, Weber laughed most often and most heartily in the company of Americans: during his trip to the USA in 1904, after his years of deep depression. By no means did he see America through the spectacles of The Protestant Ethic. There is also a lot of disguised humour to be discovered in his work. A term such as 'trained professional ecstatics' [schulmäßigen Berufsekstatikern] (AJ 96) is full of comedy, though perhaps this is not so evident in translation. With regard to the difficulties that translators have had with Weber — ever since Parsons rendered `stahlharte Gehäuse' as 'iron cage' in 1928 — he sometimes reminds us of Lao-tse, whose Tao Te Ching is read differently in every translation. (I once joked to Sam Whimster, the editor of Weber Studies, that nowadays perhaps 'Geist des Kapitalismus' would be better translated as 'ghost' rather than 'spirit' of capitalism — how loudly Weber would have denounced the lack of professional honour in today's bankers!)

All the more grateful am Ito Patrick Camiller, who translated my often very German style into smoothly flowing English and, in quite a number of places, found English equivalents for the melody of the German language or German wordplay; 'Schnauzer and 'Spatz' — the nicknames for Marianne Weber and Else Jaffe — became `Snouty' and 'Sparrow'. He also took the trouble, whenever possible, to find and insert the English source material or bibliographical references corresponding to the German original. I have cut the thousand and more pages of the German by just under a third for the English edition, sacrificing, for example, detailed accounts of Weber's ancestors and the reception history of Weber's work, as well as sections of chapters dealing with his writings on the stock exchange, his debate with Karl Marx, his relations with Rickert, Simmel and the neurologist Willy Hellpach, and his quarrels with Arnold Ruge and Adolf Koch. But I have also worked into the text a large number of new discoveries and new ideas. The German edition had the subtitle Die Leidenschaft des Denkens, but Lord Ralf Dahrendorf assured me that 'The Passion of Thinking' sounds alien to English ears. I would like to thank John Thompson of Polity Press for his friendly collaboration, and Inter Nationes for the financial support it gave to the translation.

Edward A. Shils, one of the American discoverers of Weber, recalls that `reading Max Weber was literally breathtaking' — so much so that he sometimes had to stand up and catch his breath. My own experience was similar. And, precisely when I read Weber again after finishing my book, I became anxious that I had overlooked something because of my lack of distance. Be that as it may, I never cherished the absurd ambition to write the 'ultimate Weber biography', as one critic accused me of doing. Weber is a never-ending subject. The best that my book could achieve was, as Lawrence A. Scaff might have put it, to make it easier 'to encounter Weber once again', unencumbered by prejudices and with the explorer's fresh curiosity. The point is not to erect a monument to Weber but to bring him back to life.

Max Weber was born on 21 April 1 864 in Erfurt, the first of eight children. His brother Alfred, with whom he repeatedly argued throughout his life, was four years younger. In 1869 the Weber family moved to Charlottenburg, when the Berlin city council appointed the father, Max Weber, senior, as a paid councillor. At the age of two Max Weber, junior, fell ill with meningitis; it took several painful years for him to be cured of it. His father pursued a dual career, as head of the Berlin building department and as a National Liberal representative in the Reichstag and the Prussian parliament, while his mother Helene did voluntary work for relief of the poor. At that time a number of leading academics and National Liberals used to meet in the Weber home. In 1882 Max Weber passed his Abitur and went to study in Heidelberg, then in 1884 switched to law and economics in Berlin. In between he performed his military service in Alsace. In 1889 he gained his doctorate with a thesis in the history of law, concerning North Italian trading companies in the Middle Ages. In 1891 he qualified as a university lecturer with a work on Roman agrarian history. Having joined the influential Verein fur Sozialpolitik in 1888, he was commissioned by it in 1890 to evaluate the material on the German territories east of the Elbe contained in a country-wide survey of farm-workers; this resulted in 1892 in his first major work, which immediately made a name for him. On 20 September 1893 he married his second cousin Marianne Schnitger ( b. 1870). In 1894 he accepted the offer of a chair in economics at Freiburg, where his inaugural address, 'The Nation State and Economic Policy' ( 13 May 189S), attracted attention because of its combination of brusque nationalism and attacks on the big landlords east of the Elbe. In 1897 he accepted an offer in Heidelberg. On 14 June 1897 he provoked a violent quarrel with his father by accusing him of making demands on the mother for his own selfish reasons. When the father died on 10 August 1897, there had been no reconciliation. In the summer of 1898 'nervous' disorders made Max Weber increasingly incapable of work, and in 1899 he was excused from further teaching duties. In 1903, at his own request, he was released from academic service.

From the summer of 1898 Weber became increasingly incapable of work, and in 1899 he obtained dispensation from teaching duties. Only in 1918, almost twenty years later, did he feel to some extent in a condition to resume regular lecturing. The doctors diagnosed neurasthenia. In 1898 and 1900 he spent several months in sanatoria: first at the Konstanzer Hof on Lake Constance, then at Dr Klüpfel's establishment in Urach at the foot of the Swabian Alb. The courses of treatment were unsuccessful. Instead, between 1899 and 1903, Weber sought relief in travels to Corsica and then Italy. In 1902 he gradually regained his capacity for scholarly work, although until 1909 creative periods were continually interrupted by relapses. He began by settling accounts with the Historical School of German political economy ( in Roscher and Knies) and followed this with essays on the theory of science. In 1903, when to his relief he was definitively released from his teaching post, he began work on the two parts of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (published in 1904-5), which established his international reputation. In 1904 he travelled with his wife to the United States, having been invited to attend an international scholarly congress on the occasion of the St Louis world exhibition in Missouri. He took the opportunity to make a month-long trip through the country and later drew repeatedly on his impressions. Upon his return, he took over the editorship of the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik, which would become the most important outlet for his writings. Under the impact of the 1905 Revolution he learned the Russian language and made himself familiar with conditions in Russia; in 1906 he published two extensive articles on the crisis there. He now began to make occasional public appearances again and to take positions on various political issues. In 1907 Marianne Weber published Ehefrau und Mutter in der Rechtsgeschichte [Wife and Mother in the History of Law], a major work written with her husband's help in which some of the themes of his later work were already discernible. In 1908 the couple achieved a degree of financial independence thanks to Marianne's inheritance of 350,000 marks; they could now afford to gather together a circle of mainly young scholars, who met at their home on a regular basis. From April 1910 they lived in a villa on the Neckar built by Max Weber's grandfather, Fallenstein.

Although the whole world agrees that increased erotic tension not only subjectively fosters an affirmative, active and courageous approach to life but also objectively improves performance in numerous areas, it is not usual in a biography to devote a chapter to these erotic-sexual details and their personal foundations. . . . There is no reason to suppress the erotic sphere in our description of an individual. Every historian is able, without losing his composure, to discuss the importance of his hero's attitudes to sexuality. Often this throws a clear light on the hero's character and conduct of life. Hans W. Gruhle, Geschichtsschreibung and Psychologie (1953), pp. 147, 149

No doubt it is true that Christianity is the religion of redemption; but the conception is a delicate one, and must never be taken out of the sphere of personal experience and inner reformation. Adolf Harnack, What Is Christianity? (1901), p. 197

Quests for salvation which arise among privileged classes are generally characterized by a disposition towards an 'illumination' mysticism .. . which is associated with a distinctively intellectual qualification for salvation. . . . The salvation sought by the intellectual is always based on inner need. . . . The intellectual seeks in various ways, the casuistry of which extends into infinity, to endow his life with a pervasive meaning, and thus to find unity with himself, with his fellow men, and with the cosmos. It is the intellectual who conceives of the 'world' as a problem of meaning. Max Weber, Economy and Society, p. 506

In 1909 Max Weber again felt capable of long-term commitments and took on the editing of a multi-volume handbook, the GrundriB der Sozialökonomik. At the December congress of the Verein far Sozialpolitik in Vienna, he pugnaciously argued against the idea of state direction of the economy. And in the following years he made a mark both in the Verein and in the Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Soziologie ( which he had helped to found) through his campaign against value judgements in science. In the autumn of 1909 he fell in love with Else Jaffe, but by January 1910, when Else began an affair with Alfred Weber, their relationship was giving way to seven years of animosity. In the summer of 1912 Max Weber started a relationship with the pianist Mina Tobler, whom he had known since 1909. The relapses in his illness now ceased. In the springs of 1913 and 1914, he holidayed at Ascona and came into contact with lifestyle reformers who were living 'close to nature'. There he often met Frieda Gross, the ex-wife of Else's former lover Otto Gross, and gave her legal support in her battle for custody of her son. The years before 1914 witnessed other violent controversies, but also periods of unusual scientc productivity. Shortly before the war Weber began a study of Oriental religions: his book on Confucianism and Taoism was published in 1915, and an even more detailed work on Hinduism and Buddhism followed in 1916-17. When trusted colleagues at the Grundriß der Sozialökonomik deserted him, he began work on the voluminous manuscript that has often been considered his magnum opus; it would eventually appear as a posthumous fragment under the title Economy and Society. After the outbreak of war in 1914, he worked in Heidelberg on the organization of military hospitals and had special responsibility for disciplinary matters. But he quit this job in September 1915 and tried in vain to find a position in the government service. In March 1916 he wrote an internal memorandum vigorously opposing the intensification of submarine warfare, which led in April 1917 to America's entry into the world war. In the same year he became active in political journalism and fought for a parliamentarization of the Reich. He also risked a return to his profession, by accepting the chair in economics at Vienna on a trial basis. In 1919 he was offered a professorship in Munich, and when he moved there he began an erotic relationship with Else Jaffe, who was also living in the vicinity. At the same time he joined the campaign against the idea of Germany's war guilt, travelling in May 1919 with the German peace delegation to Versailles. On 14 June 1920 he died of a lung infection.

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