‘The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’’
Karl Emil Maximillian ‘Max’ Weber was born in Erfurt, Prussia in April 1864. Known primarily for his pioneering influence within the emerging field of sociology (alongside Emile Durkheim and Karl Marx), Weber was also a philosopher and political economist.
Weber was a key proponent of ‘methodological anti-positivism’, an outlook which maintained that the social world should not be subjected to the same methods of investigation as the natural world. Rather than the utilisation of empiricism and positivist scientific method, anti-positivists believed that concepts, ideas and linguistics shape how humans conceive their social world.
Weber’s main intellectual theorisation centred on an understanding of the processes of rationalisation, individualisation, secularisation, and ‘disenchantment’ associated with the advent of capitalism and modernity. According to Weber, modernity hailed a new way of thinking about the world, a mindset which no longer had a place for enchantment, magic and mystery. He believed that as the world becomes more explained, mysticism fades and society progresses from polytheistic religions to atheism, individualism and modernity.
Arguably, his most famous work was The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904) which combined economic sociology and the sociology of religion. Weber believed that religion was one of the core forces driving social change. In this work, he tied Calvinism and capitalism, arguing that the spirit of Western capitalism, the ‘rational’, individualistic strive for economic prosperity, is inherently tied to the wider Protestant cultural values and beliefs.
After the First World War, Weber helped to found the German Democratic Party. Following this, he was an advisor to the committee that drafted the Weimar Constitution in 1919. He died in 1920 after contracting Spanish flu.
McFalls, L., Max Weber's 'Objectivity' Reconsidered (2007).
Saler, M., 'Modernity and Enchantment: A Historiographical Review', The American Historical Review 111:3 (2006), pp.692-716.