PDA

View Full Version : Max Weber



Woebot
28-03-2014, 11:37 AM
heard a radio show on this guy:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Weber

great stuff i thought.

following the logic around his theory of how protestantism/calvinism feed into capitalism - i thought the explanation of one's feelings upon being unemployed (ie without vocation and therefore damned) were very powerful.

also great to hear capitalism talked about in a more nuanced way than one hears from marxists.

anyone have a handle on this dude?

Slothrop
28-03-2014, 12:34 PM
The Birth of Capitalism from the Spirit of Protestantism is a good read, although it's heavier on the Spirit of Protestantism than the Birth of Capitalism, if that makes sense...

The equation of idleness with immorality is a very pervading thing in western society, I think, although IIRC Weber argues that once you've got capitalism running, that becomes self sustaining without the religious element.

There's quite a lot of interesting stuff about early Protestant settlers in North America trying to get Indian converts to lead "rational" lives - essentially to move over to European farming methods which were significantly less efficient than the semi-nomadic way of life they'd been following up to then, because sitting around chilling rather than working your fingers to the bone to stay alive was clearly a bit morally suspect...

Mr. Tea
28-03-2014, 02:00 PM
It's an interesting idea and I'm sure there's something in it but I find it all bit too neat and tidy. It may have been true historically but these days we're a nation of slackers and sickie-pullers, aren't we? I mean here I am, Dissensussing in the middle of the working day and nothing bad is happening to me. Just got back from a leisurely pub lunch, in fact. Now how many people in China/Korea/Japan could have done that? East Asian work ethic >>> "Protestant" work ethic.

Mr. Tea
28-03-2014, 02:10 PM
Having said that, the current government's equation of unemployment with moral turpitude when there are simply more jobs that people is certainly noteworthy and worrying. But I don't know if this has much to do with residual cultural Protestantism or just general meanness and authoritarianism.

Edit: fewer jobs than people, durr.

Woebot
28-03-2014, 04:15 PM
There's quite a lot of interesting stuff about early Protestant settlers in North America trying to get Indian converts to lead "rational" lives - essentially to move over to European farming methods which were significantly less efficient than the semi-nomadic way of life they'd been following up to then, because sitting around chilling rather than working your fingers to the bone to stay alive was clearly a bit morally suspect...

funny.

i'm really intrigued to check him discussing other religions.

Woebot
28-03-2014, 04:17 PM
It's an interesting idea and I'm sure there's something in it but I find it all bit too neat and tidy. It may have been true historically but these days we're a nation of slackers and sickie-pullers, aren't we? I mean here I am, Dissensussing in the middle of the working day and nothing bad is happening to me. Just got back from a leisurely pub lunch, in fact. Now how many people in China/Korea/Japan could have done that? East Asian work ethic >>> Protestant work ethic.

but you did turn up for work didn't you mr tea?

w/regards to the eastern work ethic - as slothrop hints/remarks - the argument goes that *capitalism* was supplanted in china post 1980 without its underlying idealogy

Mr. Tea
28-03-2014, 04:44 PM
Does that mean everyone in China just sat around doing whatever before the wicked influence of Capitalism crept in and turned everyone into workaholics? It's hardly as if communist movements and regimes haven't fetishized work as a social, even spiritual good, in contrast to the idle classes who own wealth but don't produce it.

In premodern times (and indeed early modern times, up to the 20th century in many places) much of the world was feudal, just as it was in Europe prior to the agricultural and industrial revolutions. The majority of people were peasants who worked hard not because of some ideology equating hard work with moral goodness but because they got a beating/went hungry if they didn't.

Slothrop
28-03-2014, 08:32 PM
funny.

i'm really intrigued to check him discussing other religions.

That's not direct from Weber - it's something I've picked up from my girlfriend being an Early Americanist. I'll see if I can get a good source from her.

Woebot
29-03-2014, 04:22 PM
Does that mean everyone in China just sat around doing whatever before the wicked influence of Capitalism crept in and turned everyone into workaholics?

i think the point (apparently) is that they weren't individually dedicated to accruing capital. not that they didn't work - slight difference in that of course...

not my own opinion necessarily - wouldn't dream of having one of those.

HMGovt
30-03-2014, 10:29 AM
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yqj31

In Our Time on Max Weber must be the show you heard?

m99188868
03-04-2014, 10:45 AM
also great to hear capitalism talked about in a more nuanced way than one hears from marxists.

Actually, Weber's thesis on capitalism can be viewed as an inversion of classical marxist materialism. Instead of the material basis shaping and determining thought, religion, etc., the roles are inversed. As Mr. Tea said, though, this central hypothesis has never been really proven in a hard way.

He has written a whole book on Confucianism and Taoism, where the question why capitalism didn't develop in China is posed. Short answer: their cultural framework did not contain all elements necessary for the birth of capitalism.

If you like Weber, you should read up his lecture on politics as a vocation. It's still very relevant.

padraig (u.s.)
14-04-2014, 04:44 PM
The majority of people were peasants who worked hard not because of some ideology equating hard work with moral goodness but because they went hungry if they didn't

no offense, but that's badly misrepresenting Weber. The generic notion of “work ethic” that's passed into popular culture is, unfortunately, rather different from what he meant by it. it's not about simply working harder, but the rational (rigorous and systematic) organization of one's life in pursuit of, not just profit for its own sake but the fruits of being industrious – i.e. the spirit of capitalism – for some purpose logically following from one of several theological tenets found in Calvinism a/o in some later, mostly Puritan strands of Protestantism – i.e. the Protestant ethic (or more accurately the Calvinist-Puritan ethic). Specifically, Weber wasn’t interested theology for its own sake but its pragmatic effects on the personal economic attitudes and activity of the faithful and in the consequences of that for the development of rational bourgeois capitalism. I won't try to sum up all his arguments b/c I don't think I could do them justice in a few sentences.

More generally, Weber's the kind of thinker, like Foucault, where even if you don't agree w/all his outcomes there's enormous value in his thinking and approach to problems. He was enormously influential on social sciences and it's not hard to see why. He really stressed value-neutral inquiry; recognized the impossibility of objectivity in non-hard science except as an unobtainable ideal to strive toward; wrote extensively and penetratingly on rationalization, disenchantment, technocracy and so on, all things that only increased, massively, since his writing.

I enjoy reading him on capitalism b/c unlike Marxists, he's ultimately interested in pragmatic effects, outcomes rather than fitting his ideas into a system. He doesn't view capitalism as a priori bad or good of itself, neither as a stage in an inevitable historical development nor the pinnacle of human achievement. He's also very good on how ideas (in this case theological) can have long-ranging, enormous and totally unexpected consequences unrelated or even totally opposed to the original intent. Several times in The Protestant Ethic... he makes the point that the theological roots of these economic attitudes are usually rapidly jettisoned and eventually forgotten, which among other things explains why the influence he's talking about can be hard to initially discern. he's also, unlike Marx, a fairly quick and engaging read. oh and he has a dry German sense of humor that pops every so often.

anyway, I highly recommend The Protestant Ethic... and "Politics as Vocation". Economy and Society is on my to-read list, and I'd also like to read his book on ancient Judaism.

padraig (u.s.)
14-04-2014, 04:58 PM
also, here's a quote that may shed some light on why it's hard to discern the theological influences he was discussing in modern capitalist economic relations


But in any case asceticism certainly deprived all labor of this worldly attractiveness, today forever destroyed by capitalism, and oriented it to the beyond. Labor in a calling as such is willed by God. The impersonality of present day labor, what, from the standpoint of the individual, is its joyless lack of meaning, still has a religious justification here. Capitalism at the time of its development needed laborers who were available for economic exploitation for conscience's sake. Today it is in the saddle, and hence able to force people to labor without transcendental sanctions.

also, on China etc - Weber is very clear that capitalistic enterprise has existed in many societies at many times in the form of things like tax farming, adventure capitalism (i.e. the funding of sea expeditions or war profiteering). Capitalism, the system as we know it, is distinguished by rationality, specifically the rational organization of labor. the "East Asian work ethic" or whatever, I would speculate is rather about cultural values on obedience, identifying one's one self of worth w/the company's, etc.

also, Weber was hardly unfamiliar w/Marxism - I mean he was a German sociologist who's life overlapped w/Marx's. I think if anything he would point that Marxism is in many ways a furtherance of the Protestant ethic, the Puritans minus God.

Mr. Tea
14-04-2014, 05:39 PM
no offense, but that's badly misrepresenting Weber.

Oh for sure, I mean it wasn't meant to represent him as anything because I'm not directly familiar with his ideas - it was more a comment on things I've seen people write here/elsewhere online. I'll listen to that programme, it sounds interesting.

Marxism as "Puritanism minus God" is certainly a neat idea - fits in very well with the way hard-socialist states have often loved to slander capitalist societies as "decadent". Not that we aren't very decadent, in many ways, but I'd say that's probably preferable to a joyless, worthy cult of Labour.

Has anyone done an analysis on residual cultural Puritanism in the way chocolates, desserts and so on are often marketed as "sinful" or (Marx help us) "naughty"?

Mr. Tea
15-04-2014, 11:55 AM
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03yqj31

In Our Time on Max Weber must be the show you heard?

Listened to this last night, thanks for the link. Very interesting I thought, especially with regard to how (modern) capitalism and modernity generally somehow failed to occur in China first, when China was socially/technologically well in advance of Europe for hundreds of years.

(I also liked the bit where the woman mentions Martin Luther and Bragg interrupts with "That's Martin Luther, the 16th-century theologian and reformer" for the benefit of the terminally ignorant listener-at-home, and there's a pause and she goes "er, yeees...", as if he'd just said "That's Barack Obama, the incumbent President of the Unites States".)

padraig (u.s.)
15-04-2014, 04:06 PM
have often loved to slander capitalist societies as "decadent"

Puritans also despised the idle, noble landed classes, but for sloth and waste rather than specifically parasitism.

and there many, many other similarities; untethering of production from personal pecuniary gain (at least as a primary motive), predication on rational organization of labor (a bourgeois invention), the asceticism practiced by adherents, to name a few. i it's not a perfect comparison I'm sure but generally, I mean, replace "glory of God" w/"dictatorship of the proletariat" and there you go. someone somewhere must have written a book or dissertation on the subject.

also, I haven't listened to that program so I don't know the arguments she puts forth on China, but generally on why capitalism did and didn't develop in places, Weber cites some examples. one is early America - i.e. Puritan New England became a capitalist stronghold while the South, despite equally if not more favorable environmental conditions, was dominated by seigneurial plantations. could dig out the relevant quotations if someone's interested.

padraig (u.s.)
15-04-2014, 04:13 PM
also speaking of early America


move over to European farming methods which were significantly less efficient than the semi-nomadic way of life

there is no way farming is less efficient, production-wise, than hunting-gathering. one of the hallmarks of h-g is that it requires much lower population densities. long-term sustainability is another thing, but simply production per area, no. the imposition of moral values by one culture on another is, of course, a different topic.

but this doesn't really have anything to do w/Weber, just wanted to note.

Mr. Tea
15-04-2014, 04:20 PM
Puritan New England became a capitalist stronghold while the South, despite equally if not more favorable environmental conditions, was dominated by seigneurial plantations.

Which could almost be seen as a late form of feudalism, right? I mean, bonded serfs in mediaeval Europe* were essentially slaves - probably not, in general, treated as badly as black slaves were in the pre-war South, but nonetheless the property of the local landowners.


one of the hallmarks of h-g is that it requires much lower population densities.

Yeah, the relative inefficiency of hunter-gathering is surely evidenced by the fact that 99% of the world's population doesn't follow that lifestyle any more. But this is a topic we've done to death more times than I can be bothered to count...

*and Russia until the 19th century

padraig (u.s.)
15-04-2014, 04:29 PM
Which could almost be seen as a late form of feudalism

"feudalism" is a historically load word (i.e., medievalists use it to mean something much more narrow and specific) but, basically, yes. here's Weber:


Similarly, the early history of the North American colonies is dominated by the sharp contrast of the adventurers, who wanted to set up plantations with the labor of indentured servants [and later slaves], and live as feudal lords, and the specifically middle-class outlook of the Puritans

and there's more in that vein


we've done to death more times than I be bothered to count...

absolutely, and sustainability (let alone superiority) is another matter. I just wanted to make the distinction.

Mr. Tea
20-04-2014, 11:14 PM
On the point raised in the programme about how capitalism took off in some countries with no history of Protestantism (e.g. Japan), and (apparently, this goes a bit beyond my history knowledge) only developed very late in Scotland, which was traditionally one of the most Protestant parts of Protestant Europe, far moreso than England:

Is there anything to say about how different kinds of capitalism arose? I mean, the heartland of German industrial capitalism is Bavaria which is traditionally Catholic, isn't it? Whereas the Protestant Hanseatic port towns in the north of the country, along with their Dutch counterparts, developed a form of capitalism based mainly around trade rather than agricultural or industrial production.

In fact, come to that, didn't what we might call finance capitalism (or even just capitalism, full stop) first evolve in mediaeval Venice, a couple of centuries before the Reformation and in an area that remained Catholic in any case? At least that's the history-textbook view but it's still regarded as broadly correct, I think.

padraig (u.s.)
22-04-2014, 03:15 PM
^several things I would say to that, some of which I mentioned above. Before I do, though, if you’re interested, really, read him yourself. It’s only 270-odd pages and not particularly difficult; make sure to get the revised version w/all his footnotes. It’s also hard to explain concepts to someone who hasn’t actually read it. for example, Weber spends like 30 pages nailing down exactly what he means by “Protestant ethic” and “spirit of capitalism”, which I’m obviously not going to reproduce. (I guess this in turn means I have to listen to that radio program, which I will duly do)

Also, I’m not saying Weber's infallible. I just think most of the critiques I hear are directed at the wrong things, or misunderstanding him. He wasn’t saying that Protestants inherently work harder or are better at business, or that Protestantism is a prerequisite for capitalism, except in its initial genesis. It’s about tracing a shift in attitudes toward economic activity back to its conceptual roots, and the consequences of that shift. but, onward:

1. The distinction between all capitalistic enterprise and capitalism as a system predicated on rational organization of labor, and two things about it: first, the former is a wider category of all profit ventures based on capital; that is, all capitalism is capitalistic enterprise but not vice versa. Second, “capitalistic” is a qualitative description while “capitalism” is a systemic out lookout on economic attitude, activity and relations. Those Venetian (and Florentine) bankers were engaged in capitalistic enterprise but lacked that systemic and rational outlook. Which isn’t to say they didn’t influence later finance and bourgeois capitalist practices (especially in their pioneering of double-entry bookkeeping).

2. The rapid severing of economic attitudes from theological roots (it turns out virtually no one likes living under Puritan moralism for very long, but a great many people like making money). Occidental capitalism by definition is an export anywhere outside Western Europe (which isn’t to say that capitalism couldn’t have developed indigenously anywhere else, just that it didn’t). Once the “spirit of capitalism” is freed of the specifically Protestant part of the ethic, it can be exported anywhere and how well it flourishes will have to do with that place’s culture, environment, etc rather than its prior relation or lack thereof to Puritanism, e.g. capitalism taking off in Japan has more to do with Japan than with Protestantism as such.

3. Right at the beginning of The Protestant Ethic Weber discusses the highly disproportionate representation of Protestants (and Jews) in business, ownership of capital, management and the highly skilled technical strata of labor, and in technical education, compared to Catholics, in turn of the 20th-century Germany. It’s the only place in the book he cites any statistics. And you can't equate modes of production with economic attitudes; Soviet (and Chinese) leadership was hugely focused on industrialization. Also, a couple historical points: the Hanseatic League had largely peaked in power by the time of the Reformation; the purest form of “the capitalist spirit” was most found in England (like Marx, Weber chose England as his exemplifying capitalist case study) and the Puritan-dominated American colonies, as well as the Netherlands. Protestantism in Germany had more to do w/Pietism.

4. Scotland: I don't how correct any of this is, but I have some guesses. Protestantism there was Presbyterian rather than Puritan. Though both descended from Calvinism, there are, I believe, significant theological differences, even I couldn't elucidate them, which I'm sure affected economic attitudes, even if I don’t know how. Also various geographic, historic, political etc factors: lack of natural resources (especially prior to discovery of North Sea oil), poor quality of most of the land, decentralization and the huge divide between the Anglicized lowland and Gaelic highlands, the probably disastrous economic impact of the Highland Clearances, and so on. Also, I might be making this up but I have a notion that individual Scots played a disproportionately large role in the economic development of England as entrepreneurs, inventors, engineers, etc?

(btw I'd like to clarify that I'm not really trying to refute your questions, but that considering them helps me better my understanding of Weber's ideas, which is, after all, the point)

padraig (u.s.)
22-04-2014, 03:26 PM
additional fun historical fact for English people: several Florentine banking families (the Bardi, the Peruzzi) went bankrupt supporting Edward III in the early stages of the 100 Years' War after he defaulted on massive loans they made to him. This despite a long history of fiscal irresponsibility by Edwards I-III. Things got so desperate for Edward III w/his various creditors in the early 1340s that he was for a time he had to leave his wife and son as hostages for surety of payment. He also had to pawn the crown jewels for several years.

Mr. Tea
22-04-2014, 05:11 PM
Padraig, that's (as usual) hugely helpful and informative. I really know very little economics as you can probably tell, so I may well put Weber's book on my to-read list (after the six-odd books I'm either reading now or mean to read next).

You're dead right about Scottish innovation in - particularly - the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. In physics alone there's Jim Maxwell, who unified electricity, magnetism and optics, and Will Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, who was Anglo-Irish by birth but did his great work in Glasgow - and that's two of the most important physicists of the 19th century not just in the UK but world-wide. And there's Watt in the previous century, a key figure in the industrial revolution, of course; Fleming and penicillin...then there's Bell and the telephone, Baird and television... I mean just take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Scottish_inventions_and_discoveries - it's not much of an exaggeration to say Scots invented the modern world. (Well, the bits that weren't invented by Nikola Tesla, anyway.)

Edit: that's funny about Edward III - I wonder if anyone's tried to guarantee a cheque in similar fashion more recently, haha.

padraig (u.s.)
25-04-2014, 07:45 PM
I listened to that radio program, jotted down a few notes

I didn't know any of the stuff about his parents or details about his background, so that was nice

some of it mirrored things I said above: their answer to why capitalism developed in Japan, China, etc; the hugely important point where Weber differs Marx in his belief that - quoting one of the academics, not Weber himself - "a means of production can give rise to many, many different social and economic orders"; his definition of capitalism as total outlook, "the economic way of viewing things"; the transference of monastic asceticism and spiritual calling to worldly pursuit and calling, embodied in the multiple possible translations of beruf; rationalism, and etc.

another interesting point was the accumulation of capital by sober Puritan businessman as an unintended consequence of their embrace of worldly success and hatred of frivolity, i.e. spending wastefully. a semi-related topic, not covered by Weber I think, that I would like to learn more about is the influence of the huge influx of bullion from the New World into Europe on the development of capitalism, as well as industrialization, or at least to what extent it made that development possible simply by increasing the general amount of capital in circulation; if anyone has any good reading recommendations on this topic, please, speak up.

I would also be curious to learn more about the 3rd typical objection to Weber they mentioned, that he misread Calvinist and Puritan theology (which seems like missing the point as he says right off the bat that his interest in the theology itself is totally superficial, only in the pragmatic effects it has on economic attitudes) although I don't know how much desire I have to read much Puritan theology or modern writers writing about that theology.

something mentioned that I didn't see was Weber claiming "religion is the only force powerful enough to generate ethics". it really doesn't sound like something he would say, at least in such a blunt, total way, but perhaps he did in another work. I'm not the expert.

I recently acquired a copy of Economics and Society, which I'll get to at some point. as always I wish I spoke more languages well enough to read them in the original.

Sectionfive
28-04-2014, 03:07 AM
A lazy variant of his stuff was dredged up around 2010 in the dichotomy between prudent northern Europeans, the 'Swabian housewife' etc and feckless Southern Europeans.

Mr. Tea
28-04-2014, 10:41 AM
A lazy variant of his stuff was dredged up around 2010 in the dichotomy between prudent northern Europeans, the 'Swabian housewife' etc and feckless Southern Europeans.

Was still kind of funny that, until recently, trombonists, pastry chefs and hair dressers in Greece could retire and claim state pensions at 50 because of the 'hazardous' nature of their jobs... :rolleyes:

Mr. Tea
28-04-2014, 11:20 AM
Of course, 'fecklessness' is not the same thing as having a useless, corrupt government that passes populist legislation it can't afford.

padraig (u.s.)
30-04-2014, 11:51 PM
this was the very first result when I looked up "Swabian housewife"

http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21595503-views-economics-euro-and-much-else-draw-cultural-archetype-hail-swabian

specifically mentions a Pietist (the closest Germans got to Puritanism) ethic, or at least outlook, as a source of sober frugality etc

obviously Weber himself can't be blamed for shoddy, distorted repurposings of his work for current political ends

and as a core value of his was that investigation should be value-neutral, I doubt he would have enjoyed the moralistic overtones

I would also like to mention that, providentially, there was an editorial in Monday's New York Times about the history of double-entry bookkeeping. the main thrust (which I'm totally for, btw) is that we should seek to familiarize many more people in our society with basic financial techniques and practices - by, for example, including them in high-school curricula - both so they can better understand their own finances (loans, mortgages, planning) and so there can be a better societal grasp of financial scandals and crises, and basic corporate financial practices. it's mostly about Florence and the Dutch (specifically the Dutch East India Company) but Weber gets mentioned, and the whole thing deals obliquely with ideas he worked on. Anyway, it is interesting and relevant and I thought I would mention it.