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Wertrational, or value-oriented rationality, is characterized by striving for a goal which in itself may not be rational, but which is pursued through rational means. The values come from within an ethical, religious, philosophical or even holistic context--they are not rationally "chosen." The traditional example in the literature would be an individual seeking salvation through following the teachings of a prophet. Pehaps a more relevant example would be a person who attends the university because they value the life of the mind--a value that was instilled in them by parents, previous teachers, or chance encounter (Elwell, 1999).
Affective action is anchored in the emotional state of the person rather than in the rational weighing of means and ends. Sentiments are powerful forces in motivating human behavior. Attending university for the community life of the fraternity, or following one's boyfriend to school would be examples. Finally, traditional action is guided by customary habits of thought, by reliance on what Weber called "the eternal yesterday." Many students attend university because it is traditional for their social class and family to attend--the expectation was always there, it was never questioned (Elwell, 1999).
Weber's typology is intended to be a comprehensive list of the types of meaning men and women give to their conduct across sociocultural systems (Aron, 1970). As an advocate of multiple causation of human behavior, Weber was well aware that most behavior is caused by a mix of these motivations--university students, even today, have a variety of reasons for attending. In marketing themselves to students, university advertising attempts to address (and encourage) all of these motivations (a look at some university brochures, however, would indicate a clear attempt to focus their appeal on career aspirations).
But Weber went further than a mere classification scheme. He developed the typology because he was primarily concerned with modern society and how it differs from societies of the past (Aron, 1970). He proposed that the basic distinguishing feature of modern society was a characteristic shift in the motivation of individuals. In modern society the efficient application of means to ends has come to dominate and replace other springs of social behavior. His classification of types of action provides a basis for his investigation of the social evolutionary process in which behavior had come to be increasingly dominated by goal-oriented rationality (zweckrational)--less and less by tradition, values or emotions. Because of this focus, he is often thought of as an "idealist," one who believes that ideas and beliefs mold social structure and other material conditions. But he committed himself to no such narrow interpretation of sociocultural causation. He believed that this shift in human motivation is one of both cause and effect occurring in interaction with changes in the structural organization of society. The major thrust of his work attempts to identify the factors that have brought about this "rationalization" of the West.
While his sociology
begins with the individual motivators of social action, Weber does not
stay exclusively focused on the micro level. While he proposed that
the basic distinguishing feature of modern society was best viewed in terms
of this characteristic shift in motivation. He also believed that
the shift was based on structural and historical forces.
The ideal type involves determining the "logically consistent" features of a social institution. The ideal type never corresponds to concrete reality but is a description to which we can compare reality. "Ideal Capitalism," for example, is used extensively in social science literature. According to the ideal type, capitalism consists of four basic features:
Some have seriously misinterpreted Weber and have claimed that he liked bureaucracy, that he believed that bureaucracy was an "ideal" type of organization. Others have pronounced Weber "wrong" because bureaucracies do not live up to his list of "ideals." But Weber described bureaucracy as an "ideal type" in order to more accurately describe their growth in power and scope in the modern world. His studies of bureaucracy still form the core of organizational sociology.
The bureaucratic coordination of the action of large numbers of people has become the dominant structural feature of modern societies. It is only through this organizational device that large-scale planning and coordination, both for the modern state and the modern economy, become possible. The consequences of the growth in the power and scope of these organizations is key in understanding our world.
Again, it should be kept in mind that Weber is describing an ideal type; he was aware that in empirical reality mixtures will be found in the legitimation of authority. The appeal of Jesus Christ, for example, one of the most important charismatics in history, was partly based on tradition as well.
In this connection, it is often said that Weber was in a running dialogue with the ghost of Karl Marx. But contrary to many interpretations, Weber was not attempting to refute Marx, he was very respectful of Marx's contributions to understanding human societies. But he did disagree with Marx's assertion of the absolute primacy of material conditions in determining human behavior (Aron, 1970; Coser, 1977). Weber's system invokes both ideas and material factors as interactive components in the sociocultural evolutionary process. He argued that Marx had presented an overly simplified theory that had unduly emphasized one particular causal chain, the one leading from the economic infrastructure to the cultural superstructure. This, Weber believed, could not adequately take into account the complex web of causation linking social structures and ideas.
to show that the relations between ideas and social structures were multiple
and varied, and that causal connections went in both directions.
While Weber basically agreed with Marx that economic factors were key in
understanding the social system, he gave much greater emphasis to the influence
and interaction of ideas and values on sociocultural evolution. It
is in this light that the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
must be read.
Weber believed that the rationalization of action can only be realized when traditional ways of life are abandoned (Coser, 1977). Modern people often have a difficult time realizing the hold of tradition on pre-industrial peoples. Tradition was overpowering in pre-modern societies. Weber's task was to uncover the forces in the West that caused people to abandon their traditional religious value orientation and encouraged them to develop a desire for acquiring goods and wealth.
After careful study, Weber came to the belief that the protestant ethic broke the hold of tradition while it encouraged men to apply themselves rationally to their work. Calvinism, he found, had developed a set of beliefs around the concept of predestination. It was believed by followers of Calvin that one could not do good works or perform acts of faith to assure your place in heaven. You were either among the "elect" (in which case you were in) or you were not. However, wealth was taken as a sign (by you and your neighbors) that you were one of the God's elect, thereby providing encouragement for people to acquire wealth. The protestant ethic therefore provided religious sanctions that fostered a spirit of rigorous discipline, encouraging men to apply themselves rationally to acquire wealth.
non-Western cultures as well. He found that several of these preindustrial
societies had the technological infrastructure and other necessary preconditions
to begin capitalism and economic expansion. The only force missing
were the positive sanctions to abandon traditional ways. While Weber
does not believe that the protestant ethic was the only cause of the rise
of capitalism, he believed it to be a powerful force in fostering its emergence.
By its very nature bureaucracy generates an enormous degree of unregulated and often unperceived social power. Because of bureaucracy's superiority over other forms of organization, they have proliferated and now dominate modern societies. Those who control these organizations, Weber warned, control the quality of our life, and they are largely self-appointed leaders.
Bureaucracy tends to result in oligarchy, or rule by the few officials at the top of the organization. In a society dominated by large formal organizations, there is a danger that social, political and economic power will become concentrated in the hands of the few who hold high positions in the most influential of these organizations.
The issue was first raised by Weber, but it was more fully explored by Robert Michels a sociologist and friend of Weber's. Michels (1915) was a socialist and was disturbed to find that the socialist parties of Europe, despite their democratic ideology and provisions for mass participation, seemed to be dominated by their leaders, just as the traditional conservative parties. He came to the conclusion that the problem lay in the very nature of organizations. He formulated the 'Iron Law of Oligarchy': "Who says organization, says oligarchy."
According to the "iron law" democracy and large scale organization are incompatible. Any large organization, Michels pointed out, is faced with problems of coordination that can be solved only by creating a bureaucracy. A bureaucracy, by design, is hierarchically organized to achieve efficiency--many decisions that have to be made every day cannot be made by large numbers of people in an efficient manner. The effective functioning of an organization therefore requires the concentration of much power in the hands of a few people.
The organizational characteristics that promote oligarchy are reinforced by certain characteristics of both leaders and members of organizations. People achieve leadership positions precisely because they have unusual political skill; they are adept at getting their way and persuading others of the correctness of their views. Once they hold high office, their power and prestige is further increased. Leaders have access and control over information and facilities that are not available to the rank-and-file. They control the information that flows down the channels of communication. Leaders are also strongly motivated to persuade the organization of the rightness of their views, and they use all of their skills, power and authority to do so.
By design of the organization, rank and file are less informed than their "superiors." Finally, from birth, we are taught to obey those in positions of authority. Therefore, the rank and file tend to look to the leaders for policy directives and are generally prepared to allow leaders to exercise their judgment on most matters.
have control over very powerful negative and positive sanctions to promote
the behavior that they desire. They have the power to grant or deny
raises, assign workloads, fire, demote and that most gratifying of all
sanctions, the power to promote. Most important, they tend to promote
junior officials who share their opinions, with the result that the oligarchy
become a self-perpetuating one. Therefore, the very nature of large scale
organization makes oligarchy within these organizations inevitable. Bureaucracy,
by design, promotes the centralization of power in the hands of those at
the top of the organization.
While it is easy to see oligarchy within formal organizations, Weber's views on the inevitability of oligarchy within whole societies are a little more subtle. The social structure of modern society has become dominated by bureaucracy. Bureaucracies are necessary to provide the coordination and control so desperately needed by our complex society (and huge populations). But while modern societies are dependent on formal organization, bureaucracy tends to undermine both human freedom and democracy in the long-run. While government departments are theoretically responsible to the electorate, this responsibility is almost entirely fictional. It often happens, in fact, that the electorate (and even the congress) do not even know what these bureaucracies are doing. Government departments have grown so numerous, so complex, that they cannot be supervised effectively.
The modern era is one of interest-group politics, in which the degree of participation of the ordinary citizen in the forging of political positions is strictly limited. Our impact on political decision making depends, to a large extent, on our membership in organizational structures. The power of these groups, in turn, depend in large part on such organizational characteristics as size of membership; and commitment of membership to the goals of the organization; and wealth of the organization. But it is through organization that we lose control of the decision making process.
Those on top of bureaucratic hierarchies can command vast resources in pursuit of their interests. This power is often unseen and unregulated, which gives the elite at the top of these hierarchies vast social, economic, and political power. The problem is further compounded by huge corporations, economic bureaucracies that have tremendous impact over our lives, an impact over which we have little control. Our control over corporations is hardly even fictional any longer. Not only do these economic bureaucracies affect us directly, they also affect our governments--organizations supposedly designed to regulate them.
quote Peter Blau on this topic: "The most pervasive feature that
distinguishes contemporary life is that it is dominated by large, complex,
and formal organizations. Our ability to organize thousands and even millions
of men in order to accomplish large-scale tasks--be they economic, political,
or military--is one of our greatest strengths. The possibility that
free men become mere cogs in the bureaucratic machines we set up for this
purpose is one of the greatest threats to our liberty."
Weber's general theory of rationalization (of which bureaucratization is but a particular case) refers to increasing human mastery over the natural and social environment. In turn, these changes in social structure have changed human character through changing values, philosophies, and beliefs. Such superstructural norms and values as individualism, efficiency, self-discipline, materialism, and calculability (all of which are subsumed under Weber's concept of zweckrational) have been encouraged by the bureaucratization process.
Bureaucracy and rationalization were rapidly replacing all other forms of organization and thought. They formed a stranglehold on all sectors of Western society:
It is horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving toward bigger ones--a state of affairs which is to be seen once more, as in the Egyptian records, playing an ever increasing part in the spirit of our present administrative systems, and especially of its offspring, the students. This passion for bureaucracy ...is enough to drive one to despair. It is as if in politics. . . we were to deliberately to become men who need "order" and nothing but order, become nervous and cowardly if for one moment this order wavers, and helpless if they are torn away from their total incorporation in it. That the world should know no men but these: it is in such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is, therefore, not how we can promote and hasten it, but what can we oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parceling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life.
thinking can be contrasted with wertrational, which involves the assessment
of goals and means in terms of ultimate human values such as social justice,
peace, and human happiness. Weber maintained that even though a bureaucracy
is highly rational in the formal sense of technical efficiency, it does
not follow that it is also rational in the sense of the moral acceptability
of its goals or the means used to achieve them. Nor does an exclusive focus
on the goals of the organization necessarily coincide with the broader
goals of society as a whole. It often happens that the single-minded pursuit
of practical goals can actually undermine the foundations of the social
order (Elwell, 1999). What is good for the
bureacracy is not always good for the society as a whole--and often, in
the long term, is not good for the bureaucracy either.
One of the most well-documented cases of the irrationality factor in business concerns the Chevrolet Corvair (Watergate, the IRS, the Post Office, recent elections, and the Department of Defense provide plenty of government examples). Introduced to the American Market in 1960, several compromises between the original design and what management ultimately approved were made for financial reasons. "Tire diameter was cut, the aluminum engine was modified, the plush interior was downgraded and a $15 stabilizing bar was deleted from the suspension system" (R. Wright, 1996). As a result, a couple of the prototypes rolled over on the test tracks and it quickly became apparent that GM had a problem (J. Wright, 1979; R. Wright, 1996). De Lorean again takes up the story.
The “lethal blue crystals” of Zyklon-B used in the gas chambers were supplied by two German firms which had acquired the patent from I. G. Farben (Shirer, 1960). Their product could do the most effective job for the least possible cost, so they got the contract. Shirer (1960) summarizes the organization of evil. “Before the postwar trials in Germany it had been generally believed that the mass killings were exclusively the work of a relatively few fanatical S.S. leaders. But the records of the courts leave no doubt of the complicity of a number of German businessmen, not only the Krupps and the directors of I.G. Farben chemical trust but smaller entrepreneurs who outwardly must have seemed to be the most prosaic and decent of men, pillars--like good businessmen everywhere--of their communities” (972-973). In sum, the extermination camps and their suppliers were models of bureaucratic efficiency using the most efficient means available at that time to accomplish the goals of the Nazi government.
But German corporations went beyond supplying the government with the machinery of death, some actively participated in the killing process. "This should occasion neither surprise nor shock. I.G. Farben was one of the first great corporate conglomerates. Its executives merely carried the logic of corporate rationality to its ultimate conclusion...the perfect labor force for a corporation that seeks fully to minimize costs and maximize profits is slave labor in a death camp. Among the great German corporations who utilized slave labor were AEG (German General Electric), Wanderer-Autounion (Audi), Krupp, Rheinmetall Borsig, Siemens-Schuckert and Telefunken" (Rubenstein, 1975: 58).
synthetic rubber (Buna) plants at Auschwitz are a good example of the relationship
between corporate profits and Nazi goals. I.G. Farben's investment
in the plant at Auschwitz was considerable--over $1,000,000,000 in 1970s
American dollars. The construction work required 170 contractors
and subcontractors, housing had to be built for the corporate personnel,
barracks for the workers. SS guards supplied by the state would administer
punishment when rules were broken. The workers at the plants were treated
as all other inmates in the camp. The only exception was one of diet, workers
in the plants would receive an extra ration of "Buna soup" to maintain
"a precisely calculated level of productivity" (Rubenstein,
1975: 58). Nor was any of this hidden from corporate executives;
they were full participants in the horror. With an almost inexhaustible
supply of workers, the corporation simply worked their slave laborers to
The problem is further compounded by the decline of many traditional institutions such as the family, community, and religion, which served to bind pre-industrial man to the interests of the group. Rationalization causes the weakening of traditional and religious moral authority (secularization); the values of efficiency and calculability predominate. In an advanced industrial-bureaucratic society, everything becomes a component of the expanding machine, including human beings (Elwell, 1999).
is a seeming paradox-- bureaucracies, the epitome of rationalization, acting
in very irrational ways. Thus we have economic bureaucracies in pursuit
of profit that deplete and pollute the environment upon which they are
based; political bureaucracies, set up to protect our civil liberties,
that violate them with impunity; Agricultural bureaucracies
(educational, government, and business) set up to help the farmer, that
end up putting millions of these same farmers out of business; Service
bureaucracies designed to care for and protect the elderly, that routinely
deny service and actually engage in abuse. The irrationality of bureaucratic
institutions is a major factor in understanding contemporary society. Weber
called this formal rationalization as opposed to substantive rationality
(the ability to anchor actions in the consideration of the whole). It can
also be called the irrationality of rationalization, or more generally,
the irrationality factor (Elwell, 1999). The
irrationality of bureaucratic institutions is a major factor is understanding
Weber believed that the alienation documented by Marx had little to do with the ownership of the mode of production, but was a consequence of bureaucracy and the rationalization of social life. Marx asserted that capitalism has led to the "expropriation" of the worker from the mode of production. He believed that the modern worker is not in control of his fate, is forced to sell his labor (and thus his self) to private capitalists. Weber countered that loss of control at work was an inescapable result of any system of rationally coordinated production (Coser, 1977). Weber argued that men could no longer engage in socially significant action unless they joined a large-scale organization. In joining organizations they would have to sacrifice their personal desires and goals to the impersonal goals and procedures of the organization itself (Coser, 1977). By doing so, they would be cut off from a part of themselves, they would become alienated.
Socialism and capitalism are both economic systems based on industrialization--the rational application of science, observation, and reason to the production of goods and services. Both capitalism and socialism are forms of a rational organization of economic life to control and coordinate this production. Socialism is predicated on government ownership of the economy to provide the coordination to meet the needs of people within society. If anything, Weber maintained, socialism would be even more rationalized, even more bureaucratic than capitalism. And thus, more alienating to human beings as well.
"It is apparent that today we are proceeding towards an evolution which resembles (the ancient kingdom of Egypt) in every detail, except that it is built on other foundations, on technically more perfect, more rationalized, and therefore much more mechanized foundations. The problem which besets us now is not: how can this evolution be changed?--for that is impossible, but: what will come of it." Weber feared that our probable future would be even more bureaucratized, an iron cage that limits individual human potential rather than a technological utopia that sets us free.
It is perhaps fitting to close with a quote from Max engaged in speculation on the other future possibilities of industrial systems. While Weber had a foreboding of an "iron cage" of bureaucracy and rationality, he recognized that human beings are not mere subjects molded by sociocultural forces. We are both creatures and creators of sociocultural systems. And even in a sociocultural system that increasingly institutionalizes and rewards goal oriented rational behavior in pursuit of wealth and material symbols of status there are other possibilities:
"No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals or, if neither, mechanized petrification embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: 'Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has obtained a level of civilization never before achieved" (Weber, 1904/1930: 181).
In his own words:
"Within the realm of social conduct one finds factual regularities, that is, courses of action which, with a typically identical meaning, are repeated by the actors or simultaneously occur among numerous actors. It is with such types of conduct that sociology is concerned, in contrast to history, which is interested in the causal connections of important, i.e., fateful, single events (1921/1968).
"An ideal type
is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and
by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present
and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged
according to those one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical
construct. . . . In its conceptual purity, this mental construct . . .
cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality" (1903-1917/1949,
"In view of the tremendous confusion of interdependent influences between the material basis, the forms of social and political organization, and the ideas current in the time of the Reformation, we can only proceed by investigating whether and at what points certain correlations between forms of religious belief and practical ethics can be worked out" (1904/1930, p. 91).
but material and ideal interests, directly govern men's conduct.
Yet very frequently the 'world images' that have been created by 'ideas'
have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been
pushed by the dynamic of interest" (1946/1958,
[For the Calvinist] "The world exists to serve the glorification of God and for that purpose alone. The elected Christian is in the world only to increase this glory of god by fulfilling His commandments to the best of his ability. But God requires social achievement of the Christian because He will that social life shall be organized according to His commandments, in accordance with that purpose" (1904/1930, p. 108).
"Waste of time is thus the first and in principle the deadliest of sins. The span of human life is infinitely short and precious to make sure of one's own election. Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health. . . .is worthy of absolute moral condemnation. . . .[Time] is infinitely valuable because every hour lost is lost to labour for the glory of God. Thus inactive contemplation is also valueless, or even directly reprehensible if it is at the expense of one's daily work. For it is less pleasing to God than the active performance of His will in a calling" (1904/1930, pp. 157-158).
"The religious valuation of restless, continuous, systematic work in a worldly calling, as the highest means of asceticism, and at the same time the surest and most evident proof of rebirth and genuine faith, must have been the most powerful conceivable lever for the expansion of . . . the spirit of capitalism" (1946/1958: 172).
is today an immense cosmos into which the individual is born, and which
presents itself to him, at least as an individual, in so far as he is involved
in the system of market relationships, to conform to capitalist rules of
action" (1904/1930, p. 54).
process of rationalization in the factory and elsewhere, and especially
in the bureaucratic state machine, parallels the centralization of the
material implements of organization in the hands of the master. Thus,
discipline inexorably takes over ever larger areas as the satisfaction
of political and economic needs is increasingly rationalized. This
universal phenomenon more and more restricts the importance of charisma
and of individually differentiated conduct" (1921/1968,
"The principles of office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of supe- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher ones" (1946/1958, p. 197)
"No machinery in the world functions so precisely as this apparatus of men and, moreover, so cheaply. . .. Rational calculation . . . reduces every worker to a cog in this bureaucratic machine and, seeing himself in this light, he will merely ask how to transform himself into a somewhat bigger cog. . . . The passion for bureaucratization drives us to despair" (1921/1968: liii).
"The needs of mass administration make it today completely indispensable. The choice is only between bureaucracy and dilettantism in the field of administration" (1921/1968, p. 224).
"When those subject to bureaucratic control seek to escape the influence of existing bureaucratic apparatus, this is normally possible only by creating an organization of their own which is equally subject to the process of bureaucratization" (1921/1968, p. 224).
[Socialism] "would mean a tremendous increase in the importance of professional bureaucrats" (1921/1968, p. 224).
"Not summer's bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness, no matter which group may triumph externally now" (1946/1958, p. 158).
"To this extent increasing bureaucratization is a function of the increasing possession of goods used for consumption, and of an increasingly sophisticated technique for fashioning external life--a technique which corresponds to the opportunities provided by such wealth" (1946/1958, p. 212).
"It is horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving toward bigger ones--a state of affairs which is to be seen once more, as in the Egyptian records, playing an ever increasing part in the spirit of our present administrative systems, and especially of its offspring, the students. This passion for bureaucracy ...is enough to drive one to despair. It is as if in politics. . . we were to deliberately to become men who need "order" and nothing but order, become nervous and cowardly if for one moment this order wavers, and helpless if they are torn away from their total incorporation in it. That the world should know no men but these: it is in such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is, therefore, not how we can promote and hasten it, but what can we oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parceling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life."
"The state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory"(1946/1958, p. 78).
"When fully developed, bureaucracy stands . . . under the principle of sine ira ac studio (without scorn and bias). Its specific nature which is welcomed by capitalism develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is 'dehumanized,' the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from offcial business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational and emotional elements which escape calculation. This is the specific nature of bureaucracy and it is appraised as its special virtue" (1946/1958, pp. 215-16).
"The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiortiy over any other kind of organization. The fully developed bureaucratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the nonmechanical modes of organization" (1946/1958, p. 214).
"Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs--these are raised tothe optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic organization" (1946/1958, p. 214).
(bureaucracy), with its peculiar impersonal character. . . is easily made
to work for anybody who knows how to gain control over it. A rationally
ordered system of officials continues to function smoothly after the enemy
has occupied the area: he merely needs to change the top officials" (1946/1958,
"Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. Today the spirit of religious asceticism--whether finally, who knows?--has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, also seems to be irretrievably fading, and the idea of duty in one's calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs (1904/1930, pp.181-182).
"In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport (1904/1930, p. 182).
"No one knows
who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this
tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will
be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals or, if neither, mechanized petrification
embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last
stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: 'Specialists
without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it
has obtained a level of civilization never before achieved'" (1904/1930,
Referencing this Site
Verstehen: Max Weber's HomePage is copyrighted by Frank W. Elwell. Should you wish to quote from this material the format should be as follows:
Elwell, Frank, 1996, Verstehen: Max
Weber's HomePage, Retrieved June 1, 1999 (use actual date), http://www.faculty.rsu.edu/~felwell/Theorists/Weber/Whome.htm
About this Site
I originally authored this web site back in 1996 for my students in social theory. There is no claim of originality made here for the bulk of the material--you can dig out most of the information from standard texts or through other secondary and primary sources. My intention in doing the site was simply to present Weber in a fairly coherent and comprehensive manner, using language and structure for the generalists amongst us. I do, however, claim some originality in regard to explaining the rationalization process as well as the difference between formal and substantive rationality (what I have called "the irrationality factor"). In fact, I expand on these Weberian themes considerably in my book, Industrializing America: Understanding Contemporary Society through Classical Sociological Analysis. (Yes, I know, bad title. If I had a chance to do it again it would by "HyperIndustrialism.") I have found Weber's ideas on rationalization, the irrationality factor, and sociocultural evolution, to be particularly difficult to get across to students. Yet these ideas are at the heart of Weber's sociology and, I believe, central in understanding contemporary society.
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