School of
Social Sciences
___Introduction to Sociology
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Max Weber -
The Early Academic Career

 


The Person The Years of Mastery 
Introduction An Exemplary Moralist
The Early Academic Career  
   
The Work  
Introduction The Function of Ideas
Natural Science, Social Science, and Value Relevance Class, Status and Power
The Ideal Type Bureaucracy
Causality and Probability Rationalization and Disenchantment
Types of Authority  

As a student at Berlin, Weber developed a strong antipathy for Treitschke's patriotic blustering and ranting but grew to appreciate men of sober scholarship, like his thesis advisor Jakob Goldschmidt and the historian Mommsen, with whom he studied Roman law. Weber had so close a relation with this teacher that at the defense of his Ph.D. thesis on the History of Commercial Societies in the Middle Ages, in 1889, Mommsen said to him: "When I come to die, there is no one better to whom I should like to say this: Son, the spear is too heavy for my hand, carry it on."

In the Berlin years Weber was enormously productive. His frantic work pace was perhaps a means for diverting his increasingly antagonistic feelings toward a father on whom he was still wholly dependent. His Ph.D. thesis, rated summa cum laude, was followed in 1891 by an important work on Roman Agrarian History, which served as his Habilitationsschrift, a post-doctoral thesis necessary for a university teaching position. There followed several studies on the condition of East-Elbian agricultural workers for the Verein fuer Sozialpolitik and for the Evangelisch-sozial Verein. The major one of these East-Elbian studies ran to almost nine hundred pages and was written in about a year, during which time Weber was replacing his former teacher Goldschmidt as a lecturer at the University of Berlin and also holding a full-time job at the bar. In these years Weber submitted himself to a rigid and ascetic discipline, regulating his life by the clock and dividing his daily routine into component parts with monkish rigidity.

Release from this psychic ordeal finally seemed to come in 1893, when he married Marianne Schnitger, the twenty-two-year-old daughter of a physician (a cousin on his father's side), and was appointed to a chair in economics at the University of Freiburg. From then on, Marianne and Max Weber enjoyed a very intense intellectual and moral companionship--theirs was, as the Germans say, a Musterehe--yet, it appears that the marriage was never consummated. Sexual fulfillment came to Weber only in his late forties, shortly before World War I, in an extramarital affair.

Weber's inaugural address of 1895 on The National State and Economic Policy, which combined intense nationalism and superb scholarship, brought him to the attention of a wider scholarly and political world than he had been able to reach with his previous specialized studies. His new renown led to his being called to Heidelberg in 1896 to succeed his former teacher Knies as professor of economics. In Heidelberg, Weber not only reestablished contacts with his other former teachers, Bekker, Erdmannsdoerffer and Kuno Fischer, but found new friends and colleagues, such as the legal scholar Georg Jellinek and the theologian Ernst Troeltsch. The Weber home soon became a gathering ground for the flower of Heidelberg's academic intellectuals, and Weber, though still quite young, came to be seen as the central figure in an extended network of colleagues and like-minded scholars.

In addition to his scholarly concerns, Weber also pursued his political interests, playing an increasing role in Christian-Social political circles and publishing a variety of papers and memoranda on issues of the day. He was settling down to an active and creative participation in the worlds of both scholarship and politics, and he seemed destined to become a major figure in German intellectual life.

All at once, this promising career seemed to come to an end. In July 1897, his parents visited Heidelberg. His father had insisted upon accompanying his wife, who would have preferred to spend a few weeks with her children without him. On that occasion, father and son clashed violently: the son accused his father of treating his mother tyrannically and brutally, and ended by telling the old man to leave his house. The father died only about a month later. Shortly thereafter Max Weber suffered a complete breakdown and did not recover for more than five years.

Weber's unresolved difficulties of identification, his inner conflicts regarding the values of father and mother, aunt and uncle, may partly account for the breakdown. Additional sources of tension and guilt may have arisen from his broken engagement with a mentally burdened cousin and his marriage to yet another cousin, who had previously been courted by a close friend of Weber's from whom he had snatched her away. Chronic overwork, in itself probably a means of escaping inner tensions, may have played its part, as may his impotence with his new wife (which in turn may have been related to his other conflicts). A detailed self- analysis, which Weber prepared for an attending physician, has been lost, so it is unlikely that the concrete causes for Weber's breakdown will ever be fully clarified.

During the next few years, Weber found himself unable to work. Often he could not even concentrate long enough to read. He traveled a great deal, especially to Switzerland and Italy. At times he seemed to be recovering, but another relapse would soon follow. When it seemed unlikely that he would ever again be able to lecture to students, he resigned from his chair at Heidelberg. He spent some time in a sanitarium and was treated by a number of specialists, but all seemed to no avail. Then almost unexpectedly, in 1903, his intellectual forces were gradually restored. He managed in that year to join with Werner Sombart and Edgar Jaffe in the editorship of the Archiv fuer Socialwissenschaft, which became the leading German social science journal; his editorial duties allowed him to reestablish the contacts with friends and academic colleagues he had lost during the years of his illness.

In 1904, his former colleague from Goettingen, Hugo Muensterberg, now at Harvard, invited him to read a paper before a Congress of Arts and Sciences in St. Louis. The lecture he delivered there, on the social structure of Germany, was the first he had given in six and a half years. Weber subsequently traveled through America for over three months and was deeply impressed with the characteristics of American civilization. The roots of many later conceptions on the part played by the Protestant sects in the emergence of capitalism, on the organization of political machines, on bureaucracy, and even on the role of the Presidency in the American political structure can be traced to his stay in America.

From Coser, 1977:237-239.

 

Websites On Weber Work By Weber
Max Weber Class Notes (External Link) Bureaucracy
  Fundamental Concepts in Sociology (External Link)
  The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
   



These pages were originally written by: Angus Bancroft and Sioned Rogers
Redesigned and updated by: Pierre Stapley - 2010