The fields of sociology, law and economics have had many contributions from renowned people of the ancient and modern era. This has led to many scholars advocating for increased attention on the intersection of these disciplines forming what is commonly known as the economic sociology of law.
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Amongst the ancient contributors is the great sociologist and political economist known as Karl Emil Maximilian or “Max” Weber (Roth 2). Max Weber made great contributions in the discipline of sociology where he profoundly influenced the issues of rationalism and disenchantment in the face of modernity as well as capitalism.
His works were much diversified such that even after the First World War he was one of the founders of the German Democratic Party which was a liberal party formed to fight for the rights of the Germans. All these incorporated with other works are what made him alongside other sociologists such as Emile Durkheim to be named as the principal developers of modern social science.
This paper is therefore an in-depth analysis of the life and works of Max Weber with emphasis of the main three works on Economic history, theory of bureaucracy and politics as a vocation. It also provides a biography and an introduction to the works of Max Weber alongside his main contributions to the field of sociology.
The Biography of Max Weber
Born in Erfurt- Germany in the year 1864 Karl Emil Maximilian or “Max” Weber was the eldest child of Max Weber’s Sr. seven children. Max Weber was privileged to grow up in an intellectual environment since his father was a prominent civil servant while his mother held strong morals for her children.
This is what influenced him together with one of his younger brothers Alfred who is also a great economist and sociologists to be great intellectuals. For instance, he at one time presented two written essays one on ‘The course of German History’ and another on ‘The Roman Imperial Constantine to the migration of nations’ to his parents as Christmas gifts.
This was a clear indication that this child had great idea which when well nurtured would make him a great intellectual in the society and the whole world at large.
His career began in the year 1882 when he enrolled for a law course in the University of Heidelberg but thereafter left the military for the University of Berlin. He continued studying law until he later graduated in the year 1889 and thereafter lectured at the University of Berlin while consulting for the government.
Among his early works was the completion of his dissertation on ‘The History of Medieval Business Organizations’ in which he majored on the contemporary social policy (Roth 1). The subsequent years of Max Weber were filled with much research and findings in the disciplines of sociology and political economy until his death in June 1920 as a result of pneumonia caused by contraction of Spanish flu.
Max Weber’s contributions to Sociology
Just as mentioned above, Max Weber was a great sociologist and political economist who made great contributions to the intellectual world. To begin with, he showed how social institutions depend on each other for instance an alteration in a religious institution would definitely affect the economic situation of the place.
This differed from the belief that people had long before that religion and economics were sectors of different worlds. Among his other major contributions was on Protestantism whereby he illustrated the emergent related values that eventually led to the modern capitalism (Camic et al, 416).
Max Weber introduced the notion of bureaucracy in which he isolated the three types of societal authorities that is charismatic, traditional and rational-legal. Throughout his life, Weber did not support traditional nor charismatic authorities since he viewed them to be unfair and unjust to the society.
He instead supported rational-legal type of leadership which to him was bureaucratic and open to everyone in the society. Last but not least Max Weber preferred rationalism to capitalism as he believed that it was the best way of interpreting modernity.
The Three works of Max Weber
The Economic History
Despite the fact that Max Weber majored on sociological theories, he also made accomplishments in the discipline of economics. Weber referred to himself as a political economist since he was a member of the German historical school of economics. At that time, economics was underdeveloped not as it is in the modern era.
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This makes it impossible to establish the great works that Max Weber did during that time as there have been many revolutions in economics. However, throughout his research in economics, Weber was very interested in interpreting the economic history. Among the greatest treatise written by Max Weber on the economic history was ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ (Camic et al, 416).
This was very fundamental in the economic progress as various interpretations were raised to show the influence of Protestants in relation to the Catholics. Max Weber argued that there was a relation between religion and economics such that a change in the religious institution would have an eventual effect on the economic situation of the society in place.
He further proposed that there was a great link between the economic development and the cultural relation of the people in the society. This theory was the biggest facilitator of the industrial capitalism that took place in Western Europe.
The theory of economic history was further subdivided into smaller divisions namely; Human capital theory of protestant Economic History and Work ethic.
According to Max Weber’s economic theory of capitalism, he suggested that the greatest investment in the labor market is education since it provided high earnings and increased productivity (Camic et al, 416). This theory can be proved by a simple model shown below;
U(y S) = log (y(S)) +rd (S) – h(S)
This model shows the positive marginal returns that result from education investment. On work ethic, Max Weber sanctioned that people were free to accumulate as much wealth as they could. He believed that God was able to provide human beings with wealth despite having them work to earn the wealth.
This theory was and has been hotly debated for its interpretation and exact mechanisms. However, Max Weber argues that the work ethic was the driving force for making the Protestants to increase their output in work. This theory further explains the reason as to why the Protestants increase their savings with the hope of increasing their investments as well as productivity in the long-run.
Other of Max Weber’s contributions in the theory of economic history was the formulation of the three-phase theory of stratification. The three components of this theory were distinctly different elements as follows;
- The Social class explains the economic relationship that exists between market operators such as employees, investors just to mention but a few.
- The party class defines the political affiliations of the party members.
- Status class refers to the non-economic characteristics such as prestige and denomination.
In this social stratification, Max Weber concluded that the different classes led to different consequences leading to what he referred to as life chances. According to Max Weber, economics was diversified with broad coverage of the economic and the non-economic issues that have great economical influence.
Criticism of this theory
This theory is the most debated of all his theories because of the controversy it provides. Most scholars have questioned as to whether Max Weber was exactly addressing the issue of economic inequality present at that time or rather was he trying to make further clarification of origin of capitalism.
A common criticism was that Max Weber was in fact trying to give wrong interpretations for the Catholic and protestant doctrines in addition to wrongly explaining capitalism. Most scholars could not establish the relationship between denomination and work ethic.
The most important thing was to establish the validity of Weber’s statements in this theory which have proved to be futile. For instance, Joseph Schumpeter one of the greatest economists dismissed Max Weber’s argument that capitalism began during the industrial revolution. He instead tabled it out that it was started in Italy in the 14th century.
Nevertheless, the critics can be explained by Max Weber’s initial sentence of this theory where he denotes that this theory is based on within-country comparisons. Max Weber focuses on western civilized states which he argues that his theory is most applicable.
My point of view
This theory is very controversial regardless of the fact that Max Weber tried to prove it by even using statistical data combined with the church doctrines. There are parts of the theory that I agree to while others are completely unachievable.
For instance when Max Weber states that wealth is God’s grace to His people, I definitely disagree to this statement. If that were the case, we would not have people working hard including himself. I however, concur with him when he states that education is a great investment to increased productivity and earnings.
Further support to this theory can be established even from the above given equation of marginal returns of education. Again on this theory I disagree with Max Weber’s fact that religion and economics were closely related.
This is because although all people have a denomination, the denomination has nothing to do with their economic status or rather economic contribution. Last but not least, I would like to recommend Max Weber for his great works in economics especially on the development of social stratifications regardless of the fact that he was more of a sociologist.
Bureaucracy can be defined as an organization that is headed by government officials who are not elected. Bureaucracy could also mean long chains of command within an organization that are unnecessary and are put in place to control the operations of the organization (Roth 2).
According to Max Weber who happens to be among the first founders and discoverers of the studies of bureaucracy, defines bureaucracy as a modern form of organization rising from the western world. He further describes it as the foundation to the continuing rationalization of the western society.
In this organization leadership and management of the organization was based on intellectual structure. By introducing the bureaucratic theory Max Weber expected to solve the problems associated with the earlier forms of administration.
His target was to make administration a more effective and efficient system. He knew by so doing he would provide the job security needed to the employees in any organization that adapted the system. It would also empower workers by giving them a chance to grow and develop themselves in terms of their careers.
Features of a bureaucratic organization
Max Weber came up with quite a number of features or characteristics of his theory of bureaucracy which include the following. First was about specialization of jobs and division of labor. This implied that duties were clearly defined and merit was used to allocate duties.
Only skilled and specialized personnel were appointed rather than the hierarchical where a leader would appoint those close to them in favor. There was also the issue of management by rules.
This meant that the officials were governed and made their rulings and decisions in accordance with the laid down rules of the organization. The rules were made at the executive or high levels of the organization’s management and executed to even the lowest levels of the organization consisting of the subordinate staff.
There was also the hierarchy of authority or office. This was to replace the traditional system of authority where there was no clear chain of command within an organization.
Max Weber’s hierarchy of office pointed out that the top management of an organization was responsible for its control whereas the lower offices should take orders from above and respect them. It is also a two way traffic where the high offices should accept orders from the lower authority and consider their appeals just like any other. Selection based on caveat is another feature of Weber’s theory.
This feature implies that only qualified officials who meet the required credentials are appointed. Those employed are remunerated in terms of salary or wages and not gifts like land or property. The remuneration offered should also be determined by the qualifications of the successful official appointed or elected.
This principle rules out the issue of officers who are unqualified being appointed into offices they cannot serve as required. They are also overpaid or underpaid while some are given the organizations property as their remuneration which in the long run results in embezzlement and misappropriation of the organizations resources.
Max Weber also gives purposely impersonal as another feature of the theory of bureaucracy. It is mainly concerned with the relationship between the employees and the organization’s customers. It states that all staff and clients should be treated by the same token with no influencing factors whatsoever. Lastly the career paths in a bureaucratic organization are clear.
This meant that when one is employed in an organization becomes part of the organizations employee and it is seen as a lifetime career. Once the employee is elected or appointed he or she assumes job protection from uninformed removal from office.
This was seen to stop the tendency of leaders in the traditional system where they could dismiss or appoint an official at their own free will. It also gave officials a chance to grow themselves career wise in the organization. Rational-legal authority was also among the features of the theory of bureaucracy.
It deals with the rules and regulations governing those in office in terms of their legality and their command powers. The authority was no longer based on wealth of an official or their position in the organization or hierarchy.
Criticism of the theory
By the above principles of bureaucracy Max Weber aimed at achieving the best and competent results in an organization where it was adapted. However, for Weber all did not go well with his bureaucracy theory as he had criticism of his theory.
First there was the issue that it did not pay attention to human relations or the casual groups yet they form the back bone of business organizations today. It was also argued that the theory is suitable for state organizations or organizations that have changes at slow pace.
Critics claim that the theory is mainly concerned with rules and regulations which tend to be inflexible and unbendable. Communication between the different parties in the organization and coordination is also hampered by the inflexibility of the system.
Bureaucratic system is associated with excessive paper work and documentation which is seen as a waste of time and resources. The time and resources wasted documentation can be used in other important activities that are fruitful to the organization.
The long chains of command in the organization also make decision making cumbersome, tedious and difficult. This makes it difficult for the organization to make quick decisions that might have been beneficial to the organization if made at an early stage rather than making it too late such that the organization has already incurred losses.
The theory is more vigilant on the qualifications and remuneration of employees while it neglects the essence of devotion and obligation of the employees. It tends to rule out the fact that employees can be highly qualified and yet unproductive if not well coordinated and supervised.
In a nut shell Weber’s bureaucracy theory aimed at changing the way organizations were headed. The theory elaborated the chains of command and employee relation, conduct and employment strategies. This theory is highly effective as it tries to minimize the instances of abuse of office and also lays down the rules and regulations that govern the organization’s management.
Many organizations today still use this system and it has proved effective and successful despite the fact that they have to do one or two principles that hinder its effectiveness. Weber’s principle behind his bureaucratic theory was to minimize inputs and maximize output which is today’s dream of any organization that aims at making profits or achieving its objectives and mission.
My point of view on the Theory of Bureaucracy by Max Weber
This theory can be said to be a big achievement in the rapidly growing world despite the fact that it was introduced long ago. I concur with Max Weber that bureaucracy is one of the best ways of running an organization or enterprise.
This is because most needs of the employees are catered for if not all. The creation of specialization of duties as an operation management system is something that requires thumbs up for Max Weber. This is because specialization not only maximizes output but it also breaks the monotony thus increasing efficiency.
A comparison with other governing forms in organizations, bureaucracy stands at a good position of being chosen as the preferable mode of governance. In addition to this, it can be depicted that most organizations are operating in a very competitive environment and the theme of maximization of outputs has to be adopted if at all the organization wants to continue existing.
In order to achieve this, Max Weber’s theory of bureaucracy has to be adopted. However, regarding this theory I would make recommendations especially in the areas where Max Weber was criticized. This is for instance, in the issue of paying close attention to the casual laborers who form the backbone of most organizations of the world. Making the rules a bit flexible is another thing so as to avoid same rulings year in year out.
Politics As A Vocation
Max Weber was a man of great and divergent ways as it has been previously mentioned. In addition to sociology and economics, he also had an eye on politics. As a matter of fact he was a chief campaigner of liberalism in Germany.
This was further affirmed when he released an article on ‘politics as a vocation’ a speech he gave during a lecture at Munich University in the year 1918. This speech was later published in the following year by Duncker and Humboldt both of Munich University.
Given the fact that Germany had lost in the First World War leading to a great political turmoil in the nation, psychologically prepared Max Weber that he would have to answer a couple of questions from his students during this lecture.
At the beginning of his lecture to the students, Max Weber cautioned them that the speech would disappoint them in a number of ways since their expectations would definitely be shuttered at the end of the speech. The article ‘politics as a vocation by Max Weber reviews what politics is all about as well as the general features that those who would like to take politics as a vocation should poses.
In the entire speech Max Weber talked about politics as a career choice and gave his point of view on the issue. He talked of politics being a form of legitimate violence that is characterized by people dominating others thus creating a state. In his description of legitimateness he gives three forms namely; charismatic, traditional and virtue of legality types of leadership (Weber 2).
This is to mean that in each and every society, the three types of political leaders will be represented. For instance, in his country Germany, Max Weber visualized that democracy meant that the political arena was made up by charismatic leaders who won elections in a perfect competitive election.
However, of all the three leadership styles, Max Weber advocated for virtue of legality as the best type of leadership to be used in most societies. On traditional leadership, which entails leadership running through the royalty or family chain, he commented that it was not a good type of leadership as the made leaders might not bear the required qualities hence poor management of the legacy.
The citizens of a traditionally led state are compromised to obey the rules despite their nature for fear of their lives (Weber 3). On the other hand charismatic leaders were very hard to find hence not preferable in addition to the fact that it led to poor management.
The citizens here obey the rules as a formality in order to preserve the merits of the positions in the society and politics. According to Max Weber, the state that is led by charismatic leaders is a perfect example of one made up of individuals who have politics as their vocation.
Max Weber further goes on to explain that politics is an art that involves compromising and making decisions that are meant to benefit the society. It is this that drives him to concluding that a political leader has to not only posse’s true Christian ethics but should marry ethics and responsibility.
He further explains that a politician should be passionate about his or her career so as to enable good service to the community. In the process of his lecture, Max Weber goes ahead to identify the three grounds for legitimate rule that a political leader must poses. The first rule is ‘custom’ which entails having authority or power over the past.
The ‘gift of grace or rather charisma’ is another ground for legitimate rule which involves being in authority over the revelations. Lastly, the ‘statues’ refer to the level of obedience or competence of the individual. Combinations of the aforementioned grounds of legitimate rule according to Max Weber lead to a successful political leader.
Centralization of the state
Further in the article of ‘politics as a vocation’ Max Weber identifies two forms of the state. The first type is one where the leader has a separate administration different from that of the people lower in his cadre. The staffs perform duties different from those of the ruler and act in two different worlds in terms of status, wealth and even possessions (Weber et al 4).
The other type is where the administrative staffs below the ruler act completely separate from the ruler in terms of the tools of administration. This is defined as the modern state since the administrative staff does not own wealth of the state.
In this context, Max Weber critically examines the theme of transition that is found in the society. He confers that there are governments where the administration is concentrated on one individual as depicted in the ancient mode of rulings.
In the modern sates as previously explained administrators are independent of the decision as well as the material things of the state. Max Weber gives real examples of states such as Britain, The United states of America and Germany to be modern states (Weber et al 3).
Calling in the context of Modernity
As he lectures, Max Weber introduces the idea of calling to be a significant factor in politics as a vocation. He analyzes the idea and concludes that that it what is required for the development of the modern world. This is because, those who have chosen politics as their vocation in life will be best suited to address the problems and situations of the modern society via their concept of calling (Rathe 1).
My point of view on this article
This article is with no doubt one of the most sterling articles to be written by the great intellectuals of that time. Other than just being a lecture to his students, Max Weber’s article on politics as a vocation is of significant importance to the entire society both of the ancient and modern times.
When he defines the term politics, he eases the tension and fear that most people have regarding the term. It is true that most nations have at one time encountered political turmoil in their nation or even the from neighboring states.
His explanation of political leaders educates the people on the right choice to make during the election of leaders so as to ensure good leadership and developments in their society. The entire lecture is composed of useful and educative statements that if taken into consideration would lead to a successful society. It is because of this reason that the lecture was later published by his mates at the Munich University.
From the above discussion it can be concluded that Max Weber was a person of great integrity. This is depicted by the theories he developed and articles he wrote on the fields of sociology and political economy.
For instance, his article on politics as a vocation gave an insight to the society on what politics is all about as well as advising on the qualities of political leaders (Rathe 1). Secondly, his theory of bureaucracy came as a big development to the society as it enabled maximization of outputs in a bid to earning huge profits.
Lastly but not least is the theory of economic history where he brought about the idea of capitalism as mentioned previously. All these articles and theories faced many criticisms from various scholars and individuals but somehow managed to be of importance to the society.
Camic Charles, Gorski Philips and Trubek David. Max Weber’s Economy and Society: A Critical Companion. Stanford University Press, 2005.
Rathe Brad. Politics as a Vocation. 2010. Web.
Roth Guenther. Max Weber: Family History, Economic Policy, Exchange Reform. 2002. Web.
Weber Max. Politics as a vocation. 1919. Web.
Weber Max, Owen David, Strong Tracy and Livingstone Rodney. The Vocation Lectures. Hackett Publishing, 2004.