Max Weber – one of the Founders of Sociology

Max Weber (1864 - 1920)

Max Weber (1864 – 1920)

On April 21, 1864German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist Max Weber was born. Max Weber‘s ideas profoundly influenced social theory and social research. Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim [3] and Karl Marx,[4] as among the three founders of sociology.

“The capacity to distinguish between empirical knowledge and value-judgments, and the fulfillment of the scientific duty to see the factual truth as well as the practical duty to stand up for our own ideals constitute the program to which we wish to adhere with ever increasing firmness.”
— Max Weber, “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy” (1904)

Early Years

Max Weber was born in Erfurt, Province of Saxony, Prussia. He was the oldest of the seven children of Max Weber Sr., a wealthy and prominent civil servant and member of the National Liberal Party, and his wife Helene (Fallenstein). He joined the University of Heidelberg to study law and later moved to the University of Berlin. Next to studying, Weber was also occupied as a junior lawyer. He continued his studies on law and history throughout the 1880s. In 1889, Weber earned his law doctorate and two years later he completed his Habilitationsschrift On Roman Agrarian History and its Significance for Public and Private Law. He then joined the University of Berlin where he gave lectures and also consulted the government.

Verein für Socialpolitik

Meanwhile, Weber became interested in social policies. As a member of the “Verein für Socialpolitik“, Weber was one of the first to emphasize the the role of economics as finding solutions to the social problems of the age. Weber further became one of the first researchers to pioneer large scale statistical studies of economic issues. For instance, he took part in the research on “the Polish question” or Ostflucht: the influx of Polish farm workers into eastern Germany as local laborers migrated to Germany’s rapidly industrializing cities. This work is believed to have Max Weber’s beginnings as a social scientist.

The Weber Circle

After Weber‘s marriage with Marianne Schnitger, he transfered to the University of Heidelberg were he became the central figure in the ‘Weber Circle’. The circle consisted of his wife, who was a feminist activist and author, Georg Jellinek, Ernst Troeltsch, Werner Sombart and Robert Michels. In 1900 the Weber’s traveled to Italy for health reasons and returned to Heidelberg in 1902. One year later he resigned his professorship and became associate editor of the Archives for Social Science and Social Welfare. Starting from 1904, Weber published some of his most influential works including “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism“. In 1909 he co-founded the German Sociological Association (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie, or DGS). After the first World War, Weber resumed teaching at the University of Vienna and later at Munich.

World War I

At the beginning of the First World War, Max Weber was a disciplinary officer of the hospital commission in Heidelberg for one year. During the Lauenstein Conferences of 1917, he pleaded for a consistent continuation of the war. From the beginning of the war, however, he strongly warned against exaggerated demands for annexation, which would make it more difficult to conclude a peace treaty, and against warfare that could provoke the United States to enter the war. At the same time, he advocated a parliamentary system based on the British model that would significantly limit the political leadership role of the monarchs in Germany.

After the War

After the end of the war, Weber belonged to the founding circle of the left-liberal German Democratic Party (DDP), for which he even wanted to run for the Constituent National Assembly. In 1919 he was appointed expert of the German delegation at the Peace Conference on the Treaty of Versailles under the leadership of the Reich Foreign Minister Count Brockdorff-Rantzau. In 1919 he was appointed to the Chair of National Economics at the University of Munich. Max Weber reacted with increasing alienation to the continuing radicalization of the German right after the end of the war, which did not want to accept defeat. The fact that right-wing radical student groups tried to sabotage his lecture also had an effect here.

Max Weber died on June 14, 1920. At the time of his death, Weber had not yet finished writing his magnum opus on sociological theory: “Economy and Society“. His widow Marianne helped prepare it for its publication in 1921–22. Max Weber is the youngest of the three founding fathers of German sociology (alongside Tönnies and Simmel). He is regarded as the founder of the sociology of domination and, alongside Émile Durkheim,[3] as the founder of the sociology of religion. Along with Karl Marx [4] and Georg Simmel,[5] he is also one of the most important classics of economic sociology. Weber also provided important impulses for numerous other areas of sociology, such as media sociology, music sociology and sociology of law. He described sociology as “a science which interprets social action and thereby wants to explain its course and effects causally”. In this definition, the concept of social action marks the central (albeit not the only) fact that is constitutive for sociology as a science.

Alan Macfarlane, 7. Lecture on Max Weber (1864 1920), [7]

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