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History and Sociology in the Work of Max Weber

Author(s): Guenther Roth and Max Weber


Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 27, No. 3, Special Issue. History and Sociology
(Sep., 1976), pp. 306-318
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British30urnalof SociologyVolume
27 Aumber
3 September
I976
Guerlther Roth

Historyandsociology
in theworkofMaxWeber
Max Weberbeganhis academiccareeras an historianand endedit as a
sociologist,but intellectuallythis move meant for him a divisionof
labour,not an antagonisticrelationshipbetweenthe rolesof historian
and sociologist.His methodologicalpositionis not well suitedfor the
defenceof vestedinterestsin disciplinary
boundariesorforthepreference
of one academicfield over the other. I would like to suggestthat a
re-examinationof Weber'sthought may be useful primarilyfor the
sake of understandingsome of the waysin whichimportantquestions
about past and presentcan be dealt with irrespectiveof the narrow
survivalinterestsof the two disciplines.
In the courseof his careerWebergraduallycameto championa new
sociology,which differedfromthe old evolutionarysociology,against
detractorsamonghistoriansand economistswho failedto comprehend
the difference.He expectedto be recognizedas 'a partisanin methodological matters,somethingI want to be', as he wrote to Heinrich
Herknerin I909. One importantaspectof this partisanshipinvolved
the struggleagainstorganicistand otherreifiedconceptsof sociallife,
which had been basic to the old sociologyand its followersamong
evolutionaryhistorians.lWhen Weber took one of the first German
chairsin sociologyat the Universityof Munichafterthe end of World
WarI, he wrote(on g MarchI920) to the economistRobertLiefmann,
who had attackedsociology: 'I do understandyour battle against
sociology.But let me tell you: If I now happen to be a sociologist
accordingto my appointmentpapers,then I becameone in orderto
put an end to the mischievousenterprisewhich still operateswith
collectivistnotions (Kollektiabegriffie).
In other words, sociology,too,
can only be practisedby proceedingfromthe action of one or more,
few or many,individuals,that means, by employinga strictly"individualist"method.'2This remarkanticipatedWeber'selaborationin
the firstchapterof Economy
andSociety,
whichwasaboutto be published,
albeit after his sudden death. In his introductorymethodological
observationshe made it plain that with regardto this 'individualist'
method,which only througha 'tremendousmisunderstanding'
could
be equated with 'an individualistsystem of values', there was no
differencebetween sociologyand history, since 'both for sociology
in the presentsenseand for historythe objectof cognitionis the subjective meaning (Sinnzusammenhang)
of action'.3However,in the same

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Historyandsociolopin theworkof Max Weber

3o7

context Weber proposeda division of labour between history and


sociology:
As we have takenforgrantedthroughoutthis presentation,sociology
formulatestype concepts and searches for general uniformities
(Regeln)within the streamof events, in contrastto history,which
aims at the causal analysis and causal attributionof individual
actions,structuresand personalitiesthat have culturalsignificance
Sociologicalconcept formationtakes its materials,as paradigms,
essentiallyalbeitnot exclusively,fromthe realitiesof actionthat are
alsorelevantfromthe perspectivesof history.In particular,sociology
proceedsaccordingto considerationsof the service it can render
throughits conceptformationto the historicallycausalattribution
of culturallysignificantphenomena.4
In I920 statementssuch as these could be helpfulin answeringthe
oftenaskedscepticalquestionas to the academicrationaleof sociology,
althoughthey were unlikelyto convincethe determineddoubters.In
his briefdistinctionWeberdid not go all the way in reducingsociology
to clio'shandmaiden,but the formulationof 'typeconceptsand general
uniformities'in Economy
andSocietywas indeed primarilyan auxiliary
operationforhistoricalanalysisproper.Sociologyin thissensewaspart
of the 'methodology'of history,basicallya comparativeand typological
procedure,a logicalpreconditionforcausalanalysis.BeforeWorldWarI,
when he consideredpublishingEconomy
andSociety
in its originalform,
Weberwroteto the medievalistGeorgvon Below,who remainedone
of the mostvociferousopponentsof sociologyas an academicdiscipline
in the I920S:
We are absolutelyin accord that historyshould establishwhat is
specificto, say, the medievalcity; but this is possibleonly if we first
find what is missingin other cities (ancient,Chinese,Islamic).And
so it is with everythingelse. It is the subsequenttaskof historyto find
a causal explanationfor these specific traits.... Sociology as I
understandit, can performthis very modestpreparatorywork.5
If this distinctioncouldlegitimatean academicdivisionof labour,it
certainlydid not prescribethat the individualresearcherbe eitheran
historianor a sociologist.Methodologically,the importantpoint was
the recognitionof the differencein levelsof analysisirrespectiveof the
labels given to them. In fact, in his earliestgeneral methodological
statementWeberwrote about these two levels as aspectsof the work
carriedon in one and the same discipline.When he took over the
ArchisfurSozialwissenschaft
undSozialg5olitik
in I904 withEdgarJaffieand
WernerSombart,a majoreventin the historyof Germansocialscience
and of the methodologicalcontroversiesof the time, he made a programmaticstatementaboutwhat he then called'socialeconomics'and
not yet 'sociology':

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Guenther
Roth

308

To the extent that our discipline(Wissenschaft)


attemptsto explain
particularculturalphenomenaof an economicnatureby showing,
throughcausalregress,that they originatedin individualcauses,be
they economicor not, it seeks 'historical'knowledge.Insofaras it
tracesa particularelementof culturallife, namelythe economicone,
throughthe most diverseculturalcontexts,it aims at an historical
interpretation
from a specificpoint of view [i.e., the problematical
relationship between economic and non-economicfactors] and
offersa partialpicture,a preliminary
steptowarda completehistorical
analysis of Gulture
(volle
historische
Xulturerkenntnis
Weber's emphasis).6
Of course,Weber did not believe in the existenceof society as a
quasi-organicentity, an objectivelydelimitedstructure,which would
allow a completeanalysisof cultureand in this sensethe discoveryof
'the truth', as it was postulatedby organicisttheoriesand also by
Marxismwith its correspondence
theoryof objectand concept.Rather,
a completeanalysisof culture meant investigatingthe manifoldrelationshipsamong the major areas of social life, and for this reason
Economy
andSociety
elaboratessociologiesof the 'particularelementsof
culturallife' economy,law, dominationand 'culture'(in the narrower
sense of the term), especiallymusic. Recently WolEgangMommsen
pointedout, quite correctly,that Weber'remainedfaithfulthroughout
his life to the methodologicalpositionwhichhe had takenup between
I903 and I907....
It may well be said that [his] later work was
essentiallyan elaborateattemptto knit a varietyof "partialpictures"
of cultureinto a generalframeworkof "idealtypes"in orderto get as
closeas possible'to what I preferto call here that 'completehistorical
analysisof culture'(ratherthan whathe translatesas 'a comprehensive
perceptionof culture').7
In his methodologicalwritingsWebertookhis standon the scholarly
disputesof his time among studentsof history,economicsand jurisprudence,from the aftermathof the Methodenstreit
of the I880S to the
later controversies
in the Verein
fur Socialpolitik.
Thesewritings,mostof
which are now available in English (in sometimesunsatisfactory
translation),are polemicalor programmatic.8
They addressthemselves
either to the work of other scholarsor deal broadlywith procedures
whichscholarsuse irrespectiveof the level of theirown methodological
awarenessandsophistication.
They do not spelloutthe waysin whichhe
himselfproceededin his own empiricalstudies,althoughthey do not
conflictwith his generalposition.It is true that Weberhas occasionally
been criticizedforforgettingto practisehis own methods,mostrecently
by BryanS. Turner,9who has chargedthat Weberfailedto applythe
method of Verstehen
in studying Islamic saints mistakenly,in my
opinion.10But while I perceiveno basicinconsistencies,I do consider
Weber'smethodologicalpracticein need of explication.This should
helpus to perceivemoreclearlyhisresearchstrategy,beyondhisgeneral

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in theworkof Max Weber


Historyandsociology

3o9

remarksand scatteredpointers,and thus to get a bettergraspof the


relationshipbetweenhistoryand sociologyin his work.
LEVELS OF ANALYSIS:
SITUATIONAL

SOCIOLOGICAL,

HISTORICAL,

In the last few yearsa numberof writingshave appearedin England


whichhavedealtwith bothWeber'shistoricalconcernsandhis research
strategy,ratherthan merelywith his methodologyon the level of the
philosophyof science or with his advocacyof 'freedomfrom value
judgment'. StanislawAndreski,David Beetham,Anthony Giddens,
WolEgangMommsen,John Rex, Arun Sahay and BryanS. Turner,ll
in particular,have madesignificantcontributionsto ourunderstanding
of Weber the practisingsociologistand historian.12I would like to
add to their methodologicalobservationsby focusingon the levels of
analysisin Weber'sworks (and indirectlyin historiographiclogic).
Recently I suggested that there are three levels, configurational,
developmentaland situational,and thatin his scholarlywritingsWeber
concernedhimself mainly with the first two.13Mommsenhas now
introducedanotherterminologyfor thesetwo levels,and Beethamhas
shownin detail that in his politicalwritingsWeberundertooka situational analysis,an aspectI had neglected.14I shall try once more to
clarifythe levelsand commentbrieflyon Beethamand Mommsen.
Weber'slevelsof analysisresultedfromhis perceptionof the purposes
of historiography,its contemporarypossibilitiesand limitations,and
this perceptionwas influencedby the intellectualsituationin whichhe
found himself. He came to stand at a crucialjuncture in modern
withthe evolutionary
the pointat whichdisillusionment
historiography,
views of the precedingthreegenerations(whetherDeist or naturalist)
stronglydesirable.Thisdisillusionreorientation
madea methodological
ment came about partly because of changes in intellectualclimate
(ongoing secularization,but also the incipient scepticism toward
scientificlaws as all-explanatorydevices); partly it was the result of
rapidlyaccumulatingresearchthat did not seemto supportthe various
evolutionarystage theories.If there was no deterministicscheme of
evolutionarydevelopment,the only empiricalalternativeseemedto be
the constructionof 'type concepts' (or socio-historicalmodels, as I
preferto call them) and of developmentalor seculartheoriesof longrangehistoricaltransformation.15
crisisoccurredin the yearsbeforeWorldWar I
This historiographic
when Europeanhegemonyreached its zenith. The capitalistworld
systemwas closeto envelopingthe wholeglobe, yet the futuredid not
appearto Weberas certainand benignas it had to believersin progress
This setting
amongearlierEuropeangenerationsand contemporaries.
has been describedby Beethamand Mommsen,and I will limit myself
to the methodologicalobservationthat Weberbeganto askthe kindof

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Guenther
Roth

3IO

questionsthat are indicativeof a reflectivestance in a situationof


reorientation:Who arewe that we have comethisfar? How did we get
here? Whereare we likelyto go ? And whereshouldwe go fromhere?
The answersto thesequestionsseemedbestgiven fromthe perspective
of universalhistory.The questionof our identity,of who we are, had
previously been answered largely in terms of European legacies,
especiallythe Judaeo-Christiantradition.Becauseof the world-wide
impact of Westerncivilization,it seemedappropriateto answerthis
question,in addition,throughresearch-oriented
comparisonwith the
other civilizationsof past and present.The problemwas one of configuration,the firstlevel of historicalanalysis.The questionof how we
did get that far had to be answeredon the second,the 'historical',level
of analysisand was a causalproblem;it wasfeasibleonly afteridentifying the phenomenon(configuration)
to be explained.The answerto the
first query was couched in terms of the distinctivenessof Western
rationalism,a uniqueconfiguration;the answerto the secondquestion
was given in terms of historicalconcatenationsthat had broughtit
about.The questionof wherewe standand arelikelyto go is dealtwith
on the level of situationalanalysisand of extrapolatingfromperceived
trends.In the absenceof a beliefin determinismand evolutionism,this
is an open-endedtrend analysis.Where should we go? The answer
involvesall threelevelsof empiricalanalysis,butit requiresalsoa moral
choice, eithera reaffirmationor a modificationof one's own commitments.For this last answerWeberdid not claimthe protectivemantle
of science and scholarship-since values cannot be legitimatedby
science but a rationaldecisionhad to be basedon as cleara graspof
universalhistoryas possible.
The threelevels are all historicalin a generalsense,but in Weber's
terminologythe firstis that of sociologyf type or modelconstruction
and of rules of experience-whereasthe second level, the causal explanationof past events, is labelled by him 'historical'in quotation
marksor sometimes'developmental'(entwicklungsgeschichtlich).
On this
level we find his secularor developmentaltheories.Occasionallyhe
calls the thirdlevel, whichwe find in his politicalwritings,an analysis
of the 'generalsocial and politicalsituation',as when he disclaimsin
'Russia'sTransitionto Pseudo-Constitutionalism'
(I9I7)
that he had
intendedto provide'somethinglike a "history"of the last half year'.l6
(By 'history'Weberheremeant'chronicle'ratherthan causalexplanation.) His own phrasing,then, may justify naming this third level
'situationalanalysis'.
Mommsenis right in saying that Weber became a sociologistby
retreatingfrom'history',the levelof causalanalysis.But thiswasonly a
strategicretreat.AlthoughEconomy
andSociety
was not meantto explain
the uniquenessof Westernrationalism,it offiersa typologicalframework
for its study; thus it is sociologystrictlyas a 'preliminary'and 'preparatory'exercise.Its typologyconsistsof modelssuch as bureaucracy,

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in theworkof Max Weber


Historyandsociology

3I I

patrimonialism,charismaticrulership and community, hierocracy,


church,sect and othersthat are constructedfromdiffierenttimes and
and Societythere are many historical
places. But even in Economy
thatamountto sketchesof seculartheoriesaboutthegenesis
explanations
and consequencesof particular historical phenomena, from the
Protestantethic to the modernstate.
Withoutspecificallyreferringto Weber,but quitein agreementwith
him, Mommsensuggestsa distinctionsimilarto the one proposedhere:
with processualmodels
he contrastsstructuralmodels (Strukturmodelle)
The former are exemplifiedby 'epochal concepts'
(Verlaufsmodelle).
such as Feudalism,Renaissance,bourgeoissocietyand Fascism.Thus
he thinksof what in an olderterminologywerecalled 'individualideal
types'in contrastto the 'generalideal types',on which I focused.But
the logicof theirconstructionis the samein thisrespect:'Suchexplanatory modelsare primarilystatic and accentuatethe elementsthat are
dominantin a socialstructure.However,they alwayscontainimplicitly
a specificpatternof socialchange.This is evidentfromthe simplefact
thatmostof the timetheyconstitutea contrastto oldersocialformations
or emphasizecertain trends.... Processualmodels are rarely explicated to the same degreeas structuralmodels.As a rule, they serveas
guidelinesfor narrationsof a predominantlychronologicalkind.'l7
Mommsencitesas examplesde Tocqueville'stheoryof democratization
and the marxisttheoryof historicalstages.l8
The socio-historicalmodels as well as the seculartheoriesare not
intendedto explainwhatis happeningin a givensituation.One model
alone cannotadequatelydescribea given case; a batteryof modelsor
hyphenatedtypes, such as patrimonialbureaucracy,can provide a
better approximation.Their utility lies in serving as base lines for
of a case. Whileseculartheoriesattempt
identifyingthe distinctiveness
to trace a long line of causation,they too have limitedusefulnesswith
regardto a given situation.Theoriessuch as thoseof democratization
and industrializationdiminishin explanatoryvalue when we look at
the relativelyshort time span of a few years or even two or three
decades, because they are concerned with long-range structural
changes, and radical changes rarely happen within a short period.
Phenomenalike the charismaticeruptionof an ethic of ultimateends
during the I960S cannot be sufficientlyexplainedby recourseto the
seculartheory of corporatecapitalismand the affluentsociety, since
that theory covers the time span of'the silent fifties'as well as the
waningof charismaticmassexcitementin the earlyseventies.Hencethe
need for situationalanalysis,whichprobesinto the contemporaryplay
of forces apart from the necessaryrecourseto models such as the
charismaticcommunity.
The constructionof modelsand seculartheoriescan haveideological
overtones,just as situationalanalysis can be relatively neutral in
partisanstruggles.However,situationalanalysisis also the vehiclefor

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Guenther
Roth

3I2

politicalanalysisproper,which is concernedwith the assessmentof a


givendistributionof powerwith a view towardschangingor preserving
it, not with secularchangeor diXerencesbetweencivilizations.In his
many political writings on labour issues and constitutionalreform
Weberdealt explicitlywith questionsof how to bringaboutchange
just like Marx. When David Beetham synthesizedWeber'ssecular
theoryof modernpoliticsfromhis politicalratherthan his sociological
writings,he also showedthat the two kindsof writingdiXerin their
analyticalapproach,not just their manifestintent. Much more is involved here than the diXerencebetween political evaluation and
scholarly'freedomfromvaluejudgment'.It is true that 'the point of
[Weber's]politicalwritingsis to be soughtin the politicalcontext,and
that of his sociology,in the firstinstanceat least, within a particular
scientifictradition'.19However,becausethe focusof politicalanalysis
is on how to bringabout (or prevent)change,'it is possibleto find in
Weber'spoliticalwritingsa sense of the interrelationship
of forcesin
society which is frequentlylacking in his academicwork'.20In his
politicalwritings,then, the crucialissueis the relationshipbetweena
given state and society,the clashof the majorsocialgroupingsin the
politicalarena-in otherwords,for him too, politicalanalysismustbe
classanalysisin one way or another.
When Beetham claims that in Economy
and Society'there is little
politicsas Weberhimselfdefinedit',2l he seemsto meanthat the overall
frameof analysisis not the strugglefor poweramongthe socialclasses
in the society;thiswouldbe trueespeciallyof the Sociologyof Domination which, afterall, was an attemptto extendGeorgJellinek'ssocial
theory of the state, hence an undertakingwithin the 'particular
scientifictradition'of comparativeconstitutionaltheory,which is not
directlyconcernedwithclassstruggles.Yet partof Weber'sachievement
lies in the fact that he treatedempiricallythe 'validity'of modes of
legitimationin relationto the perennialpowerstrugglesbetweenrulers
and staffis(and partlyalso the subjects).
There is, of course,a considerablethematicand analyticaloverlap
between Weber'spolitical and scholarlystudies. Economy
andSociety
containselementsof classanalysisnot onlyin the influentialchapteron
class, status and party in the political community,but also in the
chapteron law and, evenmoreso, in the chapteron the worldreligions,
which generalizesabout the affinitiesbetweenreligiousideas and all
statusgroups.ButBeethamis rightin pointingto significantdiffierences:
in the scholarly writings modes of legitimationand the technical
superiorityof bureaucracyin relationto otherformsof administration
aregivenspecialattention;in the politicalwritingswiththeirsituational
focusthe Germanand Russianbureaucracies
appearas vestedinterests,
if not as outright parasites,preventingneeded social change and
reflectingthe class structureof the two societies. In the scholarly
writingscapitalismis treatedas partof Westernrationalism,whereasin

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in theworkof Max Weber


Historyandsociology

3I3

his politicalstudiesWeberstressesthe waysin whichcapitalismcreates


classconflicts.
Most of Weber'sextensivepolitical writingsdealt with Imperial
Germany and Imperial Russia, especially with the difficultiesof
establishingliberal democracyin countriesthat lacked the historical
preconditionsfor it. Beethamsees clearlythat Weber'sanalyseswere
not merelyinstitutionalin spiteof his greatinterestin the varietiesand
Weberalwayslookedfor
technicalitiesof constitutionalreconstruction;
the socialbasisof a politicalmovement.He recognizedthat the introduction of advancedcapitalisminto 'underdeveloped'countriessuch
as Germanyand Russia,in which the bourgeoisiehad not playedits
Westernhistoricalrole of promotingreligious,politicaland economic
liberties,militatedagainstthe growthof liberaldemocracyby re-enforcing traditionalistsentiments,such as archaicagrariancommunism(in
the Russiancase), stimulatingradical socialismand frighteningthe
weak bourgeoisieinto submittingto authoritarianrule.
Weber'spoliticalwritings,then, containeda combinationof situational analysis,elementsof models(suchas agrariancommunism)and
sketchesof seculartheories.They also dealt with the possibleshapesof
the future and offered a trend analysis.What is distinctiveabout
Weber'shistoricalvision is his insistenceon keeping 'the future as
history'open to humanwill and resolutionin spite of powerfultrends
towardthe reductionand eliminationof freedom.Neitherin theorynor
in practicedid he accept any 'iron laws' of history. Indeed, it was
important to employ rules of experience, configurations,secular
theoriesand situationalanalysis the whole assemblyof the lessonsof
history exactly for the purpose of'swimming against the stream'.
Here we arriveat the last level of analysis,whichtranscendsthe purely
empiricalrealm:What are we to do now and in the future?In I906
Weber gave an eloquent answerin his essay 'On the Situation of
BourgeoisDemocracyin Russia',which I will quote at length,sinceit
can give us a final illustrationof the way in which he boundtogether
the observationof a trend, a rule of historicalexperience,a model, a
seculartheory,and a declarationof politicalcommitmentin takinghis
standon the issueof the conditionsforliberaldemocracy.
Today the chancesfor democracyand individualismwould be very
poor indeed, if we relied for their 'development'upon the 'social
laws' of the effectsof materialinterests.... May thoserest assured
who livein continuousfearthatin the futuretherecouldbe too much
democracyandindividualismin the world,andnot enoughauthority,
aristocracyand oHiceprestigeand suchthings.As mattersstand,the
treesof democraticindividualismwill not grow skyhigh.According
to all experience,history relentlesslyrecreatesaristocraciesand
authorities,to whomcan cling whoeverfindsit necessaryfor himself
or for the people. If the materialconditionsand the resultant

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Roth
Guenther

3I4

interestconstellationswerepredominant,everysoberanalysiswould
have to drawthe conclusionthat all economicweathervanespoint
in the directionof increasinglack of freedom.It is utterlyridiculous
to attributeelectiveaffinitywith democracyor evenfreedom(in any
sense of the word) to today's advanced capitalism that 'inevitability'of our economicdevelopment as it is now importedinto
Russiaand as it existsin the United States.Rather,the questioncan
be phrasedonly in this way: How can democracyand freedombe
maintainedin the long run under the dominanceof advanced
capitalism? They can be maintainedonly if a nationis alwaysdetermined not to be ruled like a herd of sheep. We individualistsand
partisansof democraticinstitutionsare swimmingagainstthe stream
of materialconstellations.Whoeverdesiresto be the weathervane of
a 'developmentaltendency'may abandonthoseold-fashionedideals
as quickly as possible.The rise of modern freedompresupposed
unique constellationswhich will never repeat themselves.Let us
enumeratethe mostimportantones:First,the overseasexpansion.In
Cromwell'sarmies,in the FrenchConstituentAssembly,in ourwhole
economiclife, even today, there blows that wind frombeyond the
seas.But a newcontinentis no longeravailable.Just as in antiquity,
the populationcentersof westerncultureare movingirresistiblyto
large inland areas,the North Americancontinentand Russiawith
their monotonous plains which favor uniformity. The second
constellationwas the natureof the economicand socialstructureof
the earlycapitalistepochin WesternEurope,and the thirdthe riseof
science. Finally, there were certain values that grew out of the
concrete historicaldistinctivenessof a religiousbody of thought.
These religious conceptionsshaped the ethical quality and the
'higherculture'of modernman,in combinationwith severalequally
peculiar political constellationsand with those material preconditions.22

Since Weber did not claim the powersof scientificprophecy,the


total courseof eventscould not prove him wrong,but his vision and
foresightcouldnot help but be blurredin manyparticulars.He tookit
for grantedthat 'ourweak eyes' cannotsee far into 'the impenetrable
mists of the future of human history'.23Inevitably,he did observe
that did not turninto historicalreality
trendsand makeextrapolations
becauseof counter-trends.Weber was certainlyright in anticipating
that the trees of democraticindividualismwould not grow skyhigh,
whenthat hopehad not yet diminishedas muchas it has by now. Since
he wrote the passage, the rule of experienceabout the relentless
renascenceof 'authorities'has been buttressedby the proliferationof
authoritariangovernmentsafter both world wars. What may today
strikeus particularlyabouthis assertionthat advancedcapitalismdoes
not inherentlyor necessarilypromotedemocracyis the obssrvation

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in theworkof Max Weber


Historyandsociology

3I5

over the last seventyyearsthat liberaldemocracyhas survivedmainly


in its own heartlands,which also happen to be the centresof the
capitalistworldeconomy.Weber'shopethat Germanywouldturninto
a liberaldemocracyas a resultof internalpartystrugglesprovedvain.
Only WesternGermanyand Japan became liberal democraciesby
virtue of conquest. Weber did not foresee the defeat of advanced
capitalismin Russia, but he anticipatedthat Marxismwould grow
strongerat the expenseof populistromanticism.He understoodthat
Marxism could not theoreticallycope with the 'tremendousand
fundamentalagrarianproblem'24in Russia, and he applied to the
the historicalmaximthat 'the mortalfolly not
Russianrevolutionaries
only of every radical but of every ideologicallyorientedpolicy is its
But he did not anticipatethat Lenin
capacityto missopportunities'.25
wouldbe pragmaticenoughto seehisopportunityandtakeit. However,
he did realizethat a Europeanwarwouldspellthe end of Tsarism,and
he was awarethat the feebleforcesof Russianliberaldemocracywould
have to face either bureaucraticor Jacobin centralism.26When he
recognizedthat Americaand Russiatendedtowardsan inlandmentality, he could not foreseethat Russiawould indeedwithdrawfromthe
capitalistworld systemand that the United Stateswould retreatinto
isolationismin the wake of one worldwar, beforethe next one would
changeall of that becauseof historicalcountertendencies.
The survivalof liberaldemocracyin recognizableformsand in spite
may be explainedin termsof historicallegacies.
of manycounter-trends
Each of the factorsWeber enumeratedas historicalconditionsof the
rise of liberal democracycan be elaboratedinto a secular theory.
Severalof thesetheoriescan be synthesizedinto an overviewof Western
and universalhistory,but they cannot amount to a total theory of
society,sincethe processof additionsof seculartheoriesis theoretically
limitless.Insofaras Marxism,which is one of the targetsof Weber's
passage,hastriedto offera totaltheoryof the courseof Westernhistory,
its claims about the necessaryrelationshipsof all parts have been
beyond the realm of historicalverifiability,and many of its specific
predictionshave been provenwrongby the courseof eventsover the
last century.
To sum up: In Weber'spractisedmethodology'sociology'is the
generalizedaspectof the studyof historyand contrastswith the causal
analysisof individual phenomena.It is true that his most general
definitionof interpretivesociologyat the beginningof PartI of Economy
andSociety(I968), which was writtenyears after the older and more
descriptivePartII on historicaltypology,is thatof 'a scienceconcerning
itselfwith the interpretiveunderstandingof social action and thereby
But this
with the causalexplanationof its courseand consequences'.27
history
in
that
affirm
to
meant
was a polemicalposition,which was
of
construction
The
collectivities.
or
organisms
social
not
only men act,
socio-historicalmodels,such as patrimonialismor rule by notables,is

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Guenther
Roth

3I6

possiblebecause,in principle,we can understandthe intentionsof men


and causallyexplainthe courseand consequencesof their actions.Of
course,such structuraltypes transcendthe task of 'history'to causally explain a given event; model constructionsynthesizes the
historicalobservationof manyindividualactors.The mainpointabout
interpretivesociologywas simplythat we shouldtry to understandthe
ideasand intentionsof historicalactorsratherthansearchforhistorical
laws of social evolution,as Marx and other evolutionistshad done.
However,on both the level of model and of seculartheory history
provides many lessons in unintended consequences.Revolutionary
charismatends towardroutinization;rule-orientedbureaucracytends
towardbecominga vested interest;and politicalpatrimonialism,an
effort at centralized control, tends toward decentralization.The
paradoxesand ironiesare built rightinto the models.The sameis true
of Weber'smostfamousseculartheory,'The ProtestantEthic and the
Spirit of Capitalism',which is standardfare in the curriculumof
contemporaryacademicsociology,althoughhe properlydescribedit
to HeinrichRickertas 'an essayin culturalhistoryon Protestantism
as
the basisof the modernBerufskultur,
a sortof "spiritualist"
construction
of the moderneconomy'(letterof 4/2/os). Thus, the transitionfrom
the Protestantethicto the spiritof capitalismand fromthisspiritto the
'ironcage'of advancedcapitalismwasone of the seculardevelopments,
fateful for Western history, which poignantlydemonstratedwhat
WernerStarkonce called Weber'srecognitionof the 'heterogonyof
purposes.2s

Weber'sphilosophyof historywas decisionistratherthan pessimistic.


Unlesswe save ourselves,nothingand nobodywill save us. Historical
knowledge,whichcomprisesthe threelevelsof analysisdiscussedhere,
is necessaryfor self-clarification,
for decidingwhat we want and where
we want to go. But that knowledgecannotlead to the kindof scienceof
societythat would unlockthe secretsof historyand providea master
key to the future.
Guenther
Roth
University
of Washington
Notes
I. Cf., G. Roth, 'Value-Neutrality
in
Germanyand the United States' in R.
Bendix and G. Roth, Scholarshipand
Partisanshit,Berkeleyand London,University of California Press, I97I, pp.
37-429
2. Gf., Bruun, H. H., Science, Values

4. Ibid., p. I9. WolfgangMommsen


has criticizedme forretainingin Economy
and Society ( I 968) Parsons'wording of
Geschehen(now rendered as 'stream of
events') as 'empiricalprocess', adding
that this appearedto him 'a characteristic distortiondue to the particularviewand Politics in Max Weber'sMethodology, pointofapredominantlyempiricalsocial
Copenhagen,I972, p. 38.
scientist'. (W. Mommsen, The Age of
3. Max Weber, Economyand Society, Bureaucracy:Perspectiveson the Political
New York, Bedminster,I968 (G. Roth SociologyofMaxWeber,Oxford,Blackwell,
and C. Wittich, eds.), p. I8 and p. I3.
I974, p. I7.) WhileI havetriedto retain,

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in theworkof Max Weber


Historyandsociology

3 I

Augsatze zur
wherever feasible, Parsons' choice of essays from Gesammelte
(Tubingen: Mohr,
terms, I do agree with Mommsenthat Wissenschaftslehre
many passagescould be improved. In I95I) presentlyunavailablein English
drawingon a given passage,the choice are the two vigorousattackson Rudolf
of terms in translatingit often depends Stammlerand the critique of Wilhelm
upon the issuewith which the researcher Ostwald, but the Stammlercritique is
andSociety(I968),
tries to deal. A straighttranslationof a summarizedin Economy
whole work is more concerned with 325-32
andIslam,Lon9. B. S. Turner,Weber
generalreadabilityand consistencythan
with multiple meanings and nuances, don, Routledge& Kegan Paul, I974.
I 0. G. Roth, 'On Max Weber'.Contemwhich may become visible or relevant
4: 4, July I975, pp. 366-73.
only in a particular context. I have porarySociolog)",
I I. S. Andreski, 'Method and Subretranslatedthe presentpassage.
stantive Theory in Max Weber'. Brit.
5. M. Weber,op. cit., p. LVIII.
6. Max Weber, 'Die "Objektivitat" 7. Sociol.,I5: I, March I964, pp. I-I8;
sozialwissenschaftlicher und sozial- D. Beetham,Max Weberand the Theory
politischer Erkenntnis' in Gesammelteof Modern Politics, London, Allen
Tubingen, & Unwin, I974; A. Giddens, Politics
Aufsatzezur Wissenschaftslehre,
Mohr, I95I (J. Winckelmann, ed.), and Sociologyin the Thoughtof Max
on theMethod- Weber,London, Macmillan, I 972; W.
p. I53 f., and Max Weber
Glencoe, Free Mommsen,op. cit.; J. Rex, 'Typology
ologyof theSocialSciences,
and Objectivity:A commenton Weber's
Press, I949 (E. Shils, ed.), p. 66.
7. W. Mommsen, op. cit., p. Iof. Four SociologicalMethods'in A. Sahay
Weber'sapproachto constructing'par- (ed.), Max Weberand ModernSociology,
tial pictures'is paralleledby the teaching London,Routledge& KeganPaulvI97I,
practice of academic sociology, which pp. I 7-36; A. Sahay,'The Importanceof
presents its subject matter in segmen- Weber's Methodology in Sociological
talizedcourseson stratification,organiza- Explanation'in A. Sahay, op. cit., pp.
tion, politics, religion, etc. No depart- 67-8I; and B. S. Turner,op. cit.
SocioI 2. Cf., G. Roth, Contemporary
ment attempts that 'complete analysis
op. cit.
of culture' that Weber envisagedas an log)",
Model
I3. G. Roth, 'Socio-Historical
on-going effort at synthesis. Marxistorientedcoursesclaim to presenta total and DevelopmentalTheory:Charismatic
theory of society, but frequently this Community, Charismaof Reason and
boils down to little more than sum- the Counterculture',Amer.Sociol.Rev.,
mariesof the theoriesof capitalismand 40 2n April I975, pp I48-57.
For
imperialism,which put a premium on anotherexemplificationof the first two
intellectual simplification rather than levels, see my essay on 'Religion and
the study of the complex relationships RevolutionaryBeliefs'in a special issue
among the 'partialpictures'.
of SocialForces,55:2, Dec. I976 (forth8. See Weber, 'Marginal Utility coming), edited by D. Chirot, on the
Theoryand the So-CalledFundamental relationshipof historyand sociology. I
Law of Psychophysics',Louis Schneider first tried to sketchthe distinctionin R.
and
trans. and ed. Social ScienceQuarterly, Bendix and G. Roth, Scholarship
'On Some Categories of Partisanship,
I975;
Berkeleyand London, Uni56: I,
InterpretiveSociology',Edith Graeber, versityof CaliforniaPress,I97I, ch. VI,
trans. and ed. unpublishedM.A. thesis 'Sociological Typology and Historical
Explanation'.For a brief discussionof
Norman:Universityof Oklahoma,I 970;
andKnies.The Logical Problems the logic of Weber's construction of
Roscher
of Historical Economics, Guy Oakes models, which does not bring out this
trans. and ed. New York and London: differencebut views his conceptualizaThe tion in the context of present-dayuses
Free Press (Macmillan), I975;
Edward of models in social science, see P. S.
of theSocialSciences,
Methodology
Shils and H. A. Finch trans. and ed. Cohen, 'Models'. Brit. jt. Sociol.,
Glencoe: Free Press, I 949. The only I 7, I 966, pp. 70-8.

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Roth
Guenther

3I8

I4. W. Mommsen, op. cit., and D. Comparative Analysis of Modes of


Production',in I. Vallier, ed., ComparaBeetham,op. cit.
Berkeley and
tive Methodsin Sociology,
I5. On the genesis of Weber's typological approach,see Bendix and Roth, London, Universityof CaliforniaPress,
op. cit., ch. XIII.
97I, pp 49-74
Politische I9. D. Beetham,op. cit., p. 30.
I6. Max Weber, Gesammelte
xo. Ibid.,p.X5X.
Schriften,Tubingen, Mohr, I 97 I (J.
XI. Ibid.,p.I5.
Winckelmann,ed.), p. I06.
Politische
Mommsen, 'Gesellschaftliche X. M. Weber, Gesammelte
I7. W.
op. cit., p. 63 f.
Bedingtheitund gesellschaftlicheRele- Schriften,
23. Ibid., p. 65.
vanz historischerAussagen'in E. Wey24. Ibid., p. 6X.
der
mar and E. Jackel, eds., Die Funktion
25. Ibid., p. 59.
teit, Stuttgart,Klett,
in unserer
Geschichte
26. Ibid., p. 6X.
p. XI8
I975,
and Society( I 968), op.
X7. Economy
I8. The degree to which Marx was
4
P
cit.,
his
in
builder
model
also a structural
28. W. Stark, 'Max Weber and the
comparativestudiesunpublishedduring
of Purposes',SocialResearch,
Heterogony
S.
R.
by
examined
been
has
his lifetime
Warner, 'The Methodologyof Marx's 34: 2) I 967, pp. 249-64.

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