Weberian (Weber) Sociology - Examining the Principle Tenets.

Published: 11th June 2009
Views: N/A


Globalisation is a keyword that governs modern politics. This is thus a very complex term worth investigating. It is a term with abundant hidden political agenda. It is a term the political components of which, inevitably regulate all areas of the establishment at all levels of the system. Bureaucracy is always very much central to any true understanding and dissemination of such a globally - encompassing phenomenon, and in this sense bureaucracy is always deeply a political act.

Bureaucracy is one of the principle tenets of Weberian Sociology and a very valid contribution to this particular school of thought. Another important Weberian concept worth exploring is Rationalisation. What I find very interesting is that what Max Weber stresses in his writings is the fact that, despite all the combined efforts of modern capitalistic society to turn life and the common free human being into a "fat-taker" or wasicun, (Lame Deer, 1972:37), basing itself on economy, and despite the strong contribution by globalisation to these ends in structuring everything and everyone bureaucratically, hardly anything occurs or takes place in the "ideal" (Weber) way or in a rational manner. And this is what I intend to explore during the course of this terse essay, in that some, if not all, of the structures that make up society do not necessarily function in the systematic way that they should and that Max Weber understood that human beingness is a dynamic force that is naturally (and here I stress the word 'nature') perennially irrational. This also goes in line with Weber's philosophy on Social Science in that he denied that sociology can leave out the real life experience of the agents or social actors in the reasoning and building up of collective abstract concepts such as the "state".

According to Lovell K. & Lawson K.S., it is important to realise, in any field of inquiry, that although the researcher has found empirical evidence which supports the consequences of a hypothesis, this does not prove that he has found 'the real cause of some phenomenon' (1970:52). Therefore, the researcher should be aware not to draw generalisations on insufficient evidence. There is always the danger that incorrect conclusions may follow through inexperience of the scientist concerned in other relevant fields or strict adherence to the dogmas of the school from which s/he comes, or even because of unhealthy over-enthusiasm. Max Weber's critique of positivism also foresaw these dangers in that he believed that despite the positivist attitude condoned by some, sociologists cannot discover universal laws of human behaviour comparable to those of the natural sciences.

"Scientific knowledge threatens the old ways of doing things; it is detrimental to the stability and the status quo" (Hempel, undated:notes). In a bureaucratic regime or in a police-state, generally speaking, the passing on of all knowledge is censored, doctored and narrowed down to the utilitarian necessities of the state. Here one brings to mind the set-up of the system of countries of the European eastern-bloc during the cold war years, one brings to mind the Central and South-American police-states and one recollects Cuba and the tragic, hapless, ill-fated Cultural Revolution in China in the late fifties. It is not difficult for the democratic mind in the "free world" to diagnose and underline the common factors underlying all the policies of these countries during the past fifty years. But policies are formulated upon the ideologies of whoever is in power. I think of it in this way: for the apparat-chic neither an absolute nor any relevant truth is material to knowledge; it is immaterial. What is imperative and mandatory is the dissemination of a knowledge which is compatible with the more viable and most immediate needs of the God-Head-State and a tailor-made bureaucratic structure that ensures the smooth-running of whatever the resultant developing rationalisation of society. Weber expounded that bureaucracy secures a rational society, but at the same time he states that "In reality, action takes this course only in unusual cases, ... and even then there is usually only an approximation to the ideal type" (Weber in a translation by Henderson and Parsons, 1964: 88-120). Max Weber explained that there are three pure types of legitimate authority and that the validity of their claims may be based on 1) rational grounds, 2) traditional grounds, or finally, 3) on charismatic grounds. And it is in the assumption of society resting on a belief in the legality of a pattern of rules (rational grounds) that bureaucracy is built and that is why if knowledge is power, knowledge is a threat to that state. That is also why modern research shows that, in truth, bureaucracies work inefficiently and in ways that Weber did not anticipate. However I would argue that in realising that an agent's actions are, on the greater hand, irrational and so, unpredictable, and therefore cannot really be scientifically measured (being also a tenet of critical theorists), Weber, like Merton, knew, or must have known, or at least should have predicted that bureaucratic culture is not so flexible and thus not very coherent to the relativity of all that governs the actions of the individual social actor and collectively, society.

At this point one cannot but mention Merton's concept of ritualism in society's blind following of rules and regulations, turning rules from a means to an end in themselves. Here again it is worth mentioning that since knowledge can, with the sincere understanding of interest, bring about enlightenment in the individual, thus re-creating an individual that examines his/er present position and needs, and understands that a change is needed in the status quo, then the chain that is the strict adherence to rules can be broken. And it is thus in the unpredictability of the human consciousness that social reality can be changed and instrumental rationality of modern bureaucratic capitalistic administrations challenged.

As regards to instrumental rationality or the preoccupation of the means to obtaining something rather than the ends towards which one is in actual fact doing so, Max Weber presents a very interesting argument when tackling what he called the "Protestant Ethic." He states that " the impulse to acquisition.... has in itself nothing to do with capitalism". He goes on to say that "capitalism may even be identical with the restraint, or at least a rational tempering, of this irrational impulse". Further to this, in his 'The Religion of China', Weber compares Confucianism to Puritanism, in that " Rationalism was embodied in the spirit of both ethics". He argues that Confucian rationalism meant rational adjustment to the world whilst Puritan rationalism meant rational mastery of the world. He explains that this was founded on the Puritan enthusiasm that the Confucian lacked completely. However he also states that "the rejection of the world by occidental asceticism was insolubly linked to its opposite, namely, its eagerness to dominate the world". Therefore I believe it would be perfectly legitimate for one to ask the following:

Were capitalism, in truth, identical with a restraint or at least with a rational tempering of the irrational impulse of total and blind acquisition, what can one make out of the idea that the rejection of the world by occidental asceticism was insolubly linked to its eagerness to dominate the world?

Following this one could also ask whether, then, it follows that Puritan rationalism advocated the dominance of the world and if so was it for the pleasure of the Puritan god, for the salvation prospects of mankind or was there simply an economic hidden agenda?

This immediately becomes quite clear in that, unlike his Catholic or Jewish counterparts, the Puritan could demonstrate his religious merit precisely in his economic activity. This made Weber believe that eventually capitalist societies would develop to such a stage that they would no longer require religious legitimation. In our times this is also very true for China that seems to have opened its side door slightly ajar for more trade with the rest of world. Can one hazard to ask at this point if this is indeed a form of the Confucian rationalism in that it is a subtle way to adjust rationally to the world? Napoleon once said "let the Chinese Dragon sleep, for when it awakes, it will astonish the world". Are we at a moment in time when we will witness the dragon awake and come in line with what I have discussed above - will it be insolubly linked with an eagerness to dominate the world? Then again, would this change be attributed to Confucian philosophy or to a change in the line of thought, or for that fact, ideology of Red China's following of Mao's teachings?

What, might one ask, has brought this about in our time if not the phenomenon of globalisation? Modern technology, specifically in the use of the internet, has brought interest and knowledge to the doorstep of every agent of potential change. It is a common saying that one can take a horse to the water but one cannot make it drink. But this was not the case for those who thirsted painfully for so many years. It is therefore in knowledge and enlightenment that emancipation is spawned, injustice dug out and eradicated. Is this the dawn of an era in modern capitalism? What is it spelling for the global community?

But can one say that this is all about the consumption of goods? As regards to this thought Weber states in "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft " that "with some over-simplification, one might say that 'classes' are stratified according to their relations to the production and acquisition of goods; whereas 'status groups' are stratified according to the principles of their consumption of goods as represented by special 'styles of life'". What I point out here, besides the clear and direct comparison that Weber is bringing out, is the boiled down fact that social stratification is based, amongst other things, on production and acquisition, and therefore on economy. My main point then is this, that since globalisation is turning the world into a huge single market, with a possibility for every human being not only to acquire anything s/he desires from any where without the intervention of a middleman, but also to become an entrepreneur with a potential to endless financial resources overnight, then is this not the American dream? Is this not a form of capitalism that until just a few years ago was not possible? The crucial point of my argument is therefore that since this is already occurring at a great velocity in a single direction, then the way that classes have been stratified as indicated by Max Weber above has changed. In such a case, will the class struggle that according to Marx has made up such an important part of history eventually die out completely?


"Once it is fully established, bureaucracy is among those social structures which are the hardest to destroy" (Weber, 1922). I believe that this is still very true even though in the modern world things have changed drastically over the last twenty years. The fact, however, is that modern technology, with all of its inherent complicatedness is still managing to simplify things, and therefore bureaucracy has had some weight lifted off its shoulders. It is also true that a functional specialization of work will always be necessary, for a single human being cannot be his own one-man band at this day and age, and although its (bureaucracy's) abscence may not spell immediate chaos as Weber puts it, it will in all probability simply be replaced by something similar.

In this concise article I have tried to explore a way in which certain contributions to sociology by Max Weber can be examined critically and with a focus. I have blended the concept of rationalisation into the fundamentals of bureaucratic organisation keeping them as far as possible within the perspective of the philosophy of Weber. However I have also attempted to analyse the implications of the effect that modern phenomena such as globalisation may have on these concepts. One must also bear in mind that the advent of globalisation came at the turn of the millennium and alongside another interesting phenomenon which is known as the New Age that advocates the pulling down of all barriers between peoples and particularly cultures and religions. This phenomenon too must have contributed towards the single global market economy. Therefore economy is always at the bottom of everything that happens that brings about change.


ERDOES, R., and LAME DEER, J.F., (1972), "Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions",

New York, Simon and Schuster Inc.

LOVELL, K., and LAWSON, K.S., (1970), "Understanding Research in Education",

London, University of London Press Ltd.

MILLER, S.M., (1904), Excerpts from (1963), "Max Weber", Crowell. ( Originally

published in English in Max Weber (1930), "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of

Capitalism", (Trans. PARSONS, T.), Allen & Unwin.

WEBER, M., (1904), Excerpts from "Objectivity" in "Archive fur Sozialwissenschaft

und Sozialpolitik", Reprinted in SHILS, E.A., and FINCH, H.A., (eds.), (1949),

"The Methodology of the Social Sciences", Free Press.

WEBER, M., (1922), Excerpts from "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft", Reprinted in

PARSONS, T., (ed.), (1947), "The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation",

Free Press.

WEBER, M., (1922), Excerpts from "Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft", Reprinted in

GERTH, H., and WRIGHT MILLS, C., (eds. and trans.), (1946), "Essays in

Sociology", Oxford University Press.

WEBER, M., (1924), Excerpts from "The Religion of China",

(Trans. GERTH, H.:1951), Free Press.

WEBER, M., (1922), Excerpts from "The Sociology of Religion",

(Trans. FISCHOFF, E.: 1965), Methuen.

WEBER, M., (1922), Excerpts from "The Theory of Social and Economic Organisation",

(Trans. HENDERSON, A.M., and PARSONS, T., (ed.): 1964), Oxford University


WEBER, M., (1922), Excerpts from "Class, Status, Party", in THOMPSON, K., and

TUNSTALL, J., ( 1988), "Sociological Perspectives: Selected Readings",

Hammondsworth, Middlesex, Penguin.

Report this article Ask About This Article

More to Explore