Max Weber

Max Weber (1864 - 1920)

Marx thought of religion the opiate of the masses. Not so Weber, who wrote in his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism:

No one knows who will live in this cage (‘iron 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 ideal,; or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might be truly said: ‘Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (1958 edition, 181–82)

Weber believed that God had been killed by the forces of modernity, particularly science. The disenchantment of the world resulted; an absence of meaning inherent in life, or what Marx called self-alienation. The reenchantment with the world came with the triumph of the positivist models of science over cultural values. Science, in the Enlightenment, promised endless progress and a cornucopia of wealth attributable to the march of reason (knowledge) with no limits. With no boundaries, individuals had to create their own values out of nothing. The danger of modern times is that it leaves man on his own to make his way through the world. Science created one set of laws; another set of idiosyncratic rules formed ad hoc to provide the methodologies for the human sciences. The two worlds could not be bridged accept by men of conviction and responsibility (the blend of the two emerging in the ethical man). Science, too, was divided by subjectivism. Hence, Weber believed that perspectives had to be oriented according to circumstances. Moral rules embodied both intentionalism and consequentialism for philosophies to orient the scientific researcher in the world. Even the choice of problem to be thematized had to arise out of self-willed choices, dictated by needs, some momentary and others perdurable. The will to truth was the executive agency of the moral individual to reconcile objective science and subjective culture in the real world.

Professionalism in the various disciplines and the work world created "iron cages" from which researchers, workers, and citizens could only view the world from an internalized set of rules (the self-sacrificing values of the Protestant work ethic in which the Elect succeeded in their entrepreneurial endeavors) that conformed to the dictates of predictability, calculability, and the domination of the world. Understanding (Verstehen) characterized the social sciences; explanation (Erklaren) the natural laws of the physical universe. Value-free actions in the moral domain provided the possibility of a synthesis that could engender a worldview acceptable to rational people. He achieved this apparent rapprochement through creating "ideal types" for points of view in which the will to truth asserts itself counterfactually. The constructs are ideal in the sense that they allow us to function in the world outside the roles assigned by the forces of modernity, enabling individuals to take a self-critical stance toward self while reworking the real world according to duty and intention to attain a degree of wholeness and humanity.

In politics, he wanted a civil society where virtuous men and women expressed themselves in the public domain; yet he partially contradicts himself by advocating a strong leader to impose his will on the masses to shape their behavior according to a vocational politics. This viewpoint could be used by either the left or the right for their own purposes. In the worst cases, Georg Lukacs supported Stalin, while Karl Schmitt wholly endorsed Hitler. Weber saw the need for a strong man to deal with the impersonality and sheer weight of political power, that is, the professional bureaucracy and civil service administration entrenched within the state by positivist laws, to create a domain for praxis or free action above the mundane world. Great deeds would allow the common individual to assert his individuality in an age of the mass man. He could have his cake and eat it too, for Weber allowed for civil associations to socialize man with a common denominator in patriotism, or love of country (in this instance, Germany).

In conclusion, the "cash nexus" of Marx corresponds to the "iron cages" of Weber, with world alienation the resulting concept. The concepts complement each other. Marx wanted class struggle; Weber wanted great leaders to provide role models for civic participation that would be democratic, in a constrained sense, in a rationalized industrial society.