Max Weber: biography of this German sociologist and philosopher

Max Weber was a German philosopher, economist, historian, political scientist and sociologist considered by far as one of the founders of empirical sociology.

He is considered one of the great intellectual figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and among his greatest achievements is the discovery of the cultural conditions that allowed the development of capitalism.

Weber’s thinking is still very important today, not without being controversial. Below we will examine his life, his thinking and his impact on German politics of the last century through a brief biography of Max Weber in which we will cover all of these topics.

    Brief biography of Max Weber

    Max Weber’s career is characterized by his analysis of the roots of capitalism, a very tangible system already in its time, in addition to German politics and how the social sciences should conduct their research method. The life of this philosopher is that of a bourgeois, like that of many great German thinkers of his time. who could afford to philosophize amid the comforts of their surroundings. Let’s see how his life went.

    first years

    Maximilian Karl Emil Weber, better known as Max Weber, was born in Erfurt, Germany on April 21, 1864. within a wealthy bourgeois family. From an early age he was interested in politics, as he was the son of a prominent jurist and politician of the National Liberal Party in Bismarck’s time and member of the German Parliament.

    Max Weber witnessed the opportunity to meet in his childhood great intellectual figures of Germany from the second half of the 19th century, invited by his father. Thanks to that be able to acquire in-depth knowledge of how the policy works in the country at a time when Germany was anything but stable.

    University education

    Max Weber he studied law at the universities of Heidelberg, Berlin and Göttingen. Although he enrolled in this career to practice law, as a young man he was very interested in economics, philosophy and, of course, politics, self-taught documenting on these disciplines.

    His interest in contemporary social policy grew as he worked on his thesis.. Because of this interest, he joined the Professional Association of German Economists in 1888, an organization that was among the first to use large-scale statistical studies in economic analysis.

    In 1889, Weber obtained a doctorate from the University of Berlin presenting a thesis in which he spoke about the development of the principle of solidarity in family and commercial enterprises in Italian cities.

    In 1890 he wrote an article on the “Polish question”.. At that time, the eastern part of Germany was undergoing very significant demographic changes, as local field agents moved to cities while vacancies were filled by foreigners, mostly Poles. This work is considered to be one of the great works of empirical research of the time.

    Professional career: teaching and traveling in Europe

    In 1893, he married his distant cousin Marianne Schnitger who, years later, would become a renowned feminist and writer.. Marianne was an important figure not only for her literary contributions and for the defense of women’s rights, but also for collecting and publishing the little-known works of Max Weber after her death.

    Between 1890 and 1897 Weber’s career was headed in the right direction, becoming a very influential figure in Germany, until he suffered a serious setback.. After obtaining the chair of political economy at the universities of Friborg and Heidelberg, his father died. Months earlier, the two had had a heated argument and had yet to make peace, leaving Max Weber in a deep depression.

    He could recover, undertaking many trips through Europe with his wife Marianne, although without seeing being able to resume intellectual and educational activity until 1902.

    Once he found himself more lively, Weber he wrote some essays on what the research method in historical and social sciences should look likeThis is why he would be considered one of the founders of sociology.

    The Final Years: World War I and the Weimar Republic

    At the start of the First World War (1914-1918) Max Weber he accepted the arguments to justify Germany’s involvement in the conflict. He even served as director of military hospitals in Heidelberg, otherwise, as the conflict developed, Weber ended up opting for a more peaceful position.

    After the war he taught again with a chair of economics, Go first to Vienna and then to Munich. Being in the latter city, he would head the first university institute of sociology in Germany. It was during these years that he played a very important role in the history of his country, contributing to the development of the new Constitution of Germany, from which the Weimar Republic was born.

    Max Weber died of pneumonia in Munich on June 14, 1920. At this time, he was writing his book Economics and Society which remained unfinished and would be published posthumously several years later.

    Her thought

    Max Weber is one of the great thinkers of recent times. He is considered to be one of the founders of modern sociology along with Karl Marx, Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim. although, ironically, he does not consider himself a sociologist. He considered himself a historian and believed that sociology and history were two disciplines with convergent knowledge. Either way, there is no doubt that his thinking has had a significant impact on our modern conceptualization of sociology.

    Characteristics of the social sciences

    Weber considers that the social sciences have characteristics that differentiate them from the natural sciences.It is therefore not logical to try to apply the same research method to the social sciences as to those of the more pure sciences. The social method was not to imitate the method of the physical or natural sciences, because in social affairs individuals with conscience, will and intentions are involved.

    The first thing that stands out is that they have a different purpose, because social branches do not deal with phenomena governed by a universal law, Like physics governed by Newton’s law of gravity or Coulomb’s law of electrostatics. The social sciences study how social movements develop, changes in social vision or migrations, processes endowed with a unique uniqueness.

    Second, Weber points out that the fields of study of the social sciences are defined by the will of those who seek them. Social research is very difficult to free from the chains of subjectivity of those who conduct it, as it cannot be inferred from the principles, values ​​and interests of those who conduct research.

    Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism

    One of Max Weber’s fundamental works is “Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism”, published as an essay series between 1904 and 1905, although it was later compiled in book form. It is thanks to these essays that Weber is considered a kind of “Marx of the bourgeoisie”, because he and Karl Marx shared the idea that capitalism was the dominant aspect of civilization in his time.

    However, there are many differences between Weber and Marx. Unlike Karl Marx, who considered that capitalism had a lot to do with economic structures and class struggle, for Weber he considered that it was the cultural nature that had allowed the rise of this economic system, as well as the religious and ethical mentality prevailing in many Protestant nations.

    According to capitalism developed in places where obtaining wealth was considered a moral duty.. This ethical conception is typical of Calvinist Protestantism, it began to be influential in Europe from the 16th century, when it was organized the Protestant Reformation, causing several countries in northern Europe to cease being Catholic and to accept new versions of Christianity.

    For Weber, it was Calvinist economic ethics that was at the origin of a strong economic and civil development. seen in societies where reform had been successful, such as the Netherlands and England. It was one of the foundations of the modern idea of ​​capitalism, and one that allowed the cultural conditions to exist for this economic system to thrive.

    This ethical position of economics was incompatible with the traditional mentality of Catholic Christianity in the Middle Ages. Catholics followed the dogma that each individual should earn exclusively what was needed to survive, because trying to get more wealth than needed was considered a sin.

    Weber and German politics

    Politically, Weber’s ideology could be seen as liberal, democratic, and reformist. In the midst of World War I he criticized his country’s expansionist goals and, after the humiliating defeat, the philosopher gained political influence as a member of the German expert committee representing the Paris Peace Conference (1918). Collaborated with Hugo Preuss in drafting the Constitution of the Weimar Republic in 1919 and was in favor of parliamentarism.

    Long ago he had spoken of his parliamentary and democratic interests. In 1890, Max Weber wrote a series of articles entitled “Parliament and government in a reconstructed Germany”. These articles called for democratic reforms in the Constitution of the German Empire, which dated from 1871. Weber considered that the problems in German politics were due to a serious problem of leadership.

    After the Weber years, in 1919, he founded the German Democratic Party, With the clear objective of making Germany a country closer to its concept of democracy. He wanted democracy to be a tool for electing strong and charismatic leaders, where demagoguery should impose its desire on the masses. This point of view, while well-intentioned, earned him many criticisms.

    The European left is very critical of the figure of Max Weber based on what he has said about charismatic leaders. For many, Weber is, even if he did not do it on purpose, the one who opened the intellectual ground for Adolf Hitler, a strong and charismatic leader, to seize power, to abuse his charisma to impose himself as dictator. , and commit the terrible war. crimes committed during World War II (1939-1945).

    On the other hand, as a critic coming especially from Marxists, we have Weber’s firm anti-communism and his insistent demand for an aggressive policy of German imperialism.

    Moreover, one of his students, Carl Schmitt, was the inventor of the idea of ​​”Total State”, which makes the left even more disillusioned with Weber because, fundamentally, this implies that the state takes absolute power in emergency situations. This idea would, in fact, be the one that would allow Hitler to feel free to apply Article 48 of the Weimar Republic, taking full powers.

    In Weber’s defense, it must be said that if he had managed to live a little longer, he would hardly have been a supporter of Nazi policy. Weber was a liberal and pro-democrat, besides being very concerned about anti-Semitism prevailing in its time, prior to Nazism. He would never have agreed with the state corporatism and one-party totalitarianism applied under the Third Reich, which his pupil Carl Schmitt did.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Ruiza, M., Fernández, T. and Tamaro, I. (2004). Biography of Max Weber. In Biographies and Lives. The online biographical encyclopedia. Barcelona, ​​Spain). Retrieved from on July 8, 2020.
    • Weber, M. (1995) Max Weber. A biography. Alfonso the Magnanimous.
    • Freund, J. (1973) Sociology of Max Weber, Peninsula.
    • Cobo Bedía, R. (1996). Marianne Weber: Max Weber. A biography. Sociological. Journal of Social Thought, 1996, 1: 181-185. ISSN 1137-1234.

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