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Heroic Love: The Ethic of Brotherliness in Max Weber's 'Vocation' Lectures

Author(s): Michael Symonds and Jason Pudsey

Source: Max Weber Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1 (JANUARY 2007), pp. 63-87
Published by: Max Weber Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24579673
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[MWS 7.1 (2007) 63-87]
ISSN 1470-8078

Heroic Love:
The Ethic of Brotherliness in Max Weber's 'Vocation' Lectures

Michael Symonds
Jason Pudsey


This paper examines the concept of brotherly love as utilized by Max Weber in his
sociology of religion and, especially, in his famous 'vocational' speeches. It argues
that a central concern of Weber in this body of work was the fate of such brotherly
love within the history of Western religious and societal rationalization. It also
suggests that Weber implicitly advocates such an ethic in his vocation lectures as
a means of living a life sensitive to human suffering in the face of the impersonal
structures of Modernity.

Keywords: brotherliness, mysticism, Puritanism, religion, suffering, Weber.


At the end of Max Weber's famous and heavily scrutinized lectures

on the vocations of politics and science, there are some enigmatic
phrases that prescribe a manner of love alongside the arduous nature
of the vocational life. In Politics as a Vocation, Weber talks of the cul
tivation of 'plain brotherliness in personal relations' (PV: 128)1; and

1. In keeping with the format common in most of the secondary literature on

Weber, we have abbreviated the titles of his works in the following manner: PV for
'Politics as a Vocation': SV for 'Science as a Vocation'; IR for 'Intermediate Remarks'
(also known as 'Religious Rejections of the World'); IEEWR for 'Introduction to the
Economic Ethics of the World Religions' (also known as 'The Social Psychology of
the World Religions'); ES for Economy and Society; AJ for Ancient Judaism; India for
The Religion of India; China for The Religion of China; PE for The Protestant Ethic and the
Spirit of Capitalism; PS for "The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism'. For the
German texts: WG for Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft; PB for 'Politik als Beruf ; WB for
'Wissenschaft als Beruf'. We will give parallel quotations from the German when the
terms used by Weber are crucial to his position. However, except for one explicit case
taken up at the end of the paper, we are not engaged in any kind of challenge to the
standard English translations (although Buss (1985) usefully highlights many of the
limitations of these current translations).

Max Weber Studies 2007, Department of Applied Social Sciences, London Metropolitan
University, Old Castle Street, London El 7NT, UK.

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64 Max Weber Studies

in Science as a Vocation, after a discus

most sublime values have retreated from
erliness of direct and human relation
in almost his final words, that we shoul
"demands of the day" in human relati
(SV: 156). Although the importance of 'b
ness' within Weber's work has been n
for example, Bellah 1999; Bologh 199
1976; Scaff 1991: ch. 3; Schluchter 198
the meaning of these parts of Weber's
been examined. This is scarcely surpris
regarding this 'brotherly love' in 'huma
minor role in the vocation speeches, wh
and demanding themes. Furthermore,
an ambiguous and confusing way by We
understanding provided in the lecture
of Weber's use of these terms in his em
in Economy and Society, however, rev
complex presentation of a Christian et
stantially aids an understanding of th
tion speeches. In this paper, we attem
and indicate the ways in which such u
ethical recommendations in the vocation
if such a reading is correct, many cur
lectures have misinterpreted or down
Weber's moral vision.

Brotherliness, Suffering and Nietzsche

Throughout Weber's empirical studies of the world religions, we

find a constant reference to a type of universal love he terms 'broth
erliness'. In IR, this love is the central theme of his analysis, and is
used by him as an ideal-typical moral counterpoint to the increasing
impersonality found in Western modernity. Weber makes clear in
this work, and in his IEEWR and ES, that this 'brotherliness' is an
ethical framework that emerges from sustained religious thought
around the problem of suffering. 'The brute fact that suffering exists'
(IR: 354) in a divinely created world poses the essential ethical prob
lem for salvation religions, according to Weber, and this dilemma is
exacerbated the more the divine is conceived in a unitary, universal
sense (ES: 519). A resolution to this ethical dilemma is sought, Weber

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 65

argues, in the development of a specific ethic of love 'brotherli

ness'. This form of love is an ethic of care, resting on the inevitable
imperfections and suffering of the Other. For Weber, this ethic of
brotherliness emerges when:
The magical ties and exclusiveness of the sibs have been shattered...
This ethic has simply taken over the original principles of social and
ethical conduct which the 'association of neighbours' had offered (IR:
329; also see ES: 361).2

Importantly then, Weber considers that religious brotherliness

emerged, not out of the realm of familial love,3 but out of a wide
spread neighbourhood ethic which had been based on the giving of
aid and alms to those clearly in distress within the community and
brotherhood of the faith.4 Under this new brotherly ethic, the love
of one's brother in faith becomes extended to include all humanity,
including one's enemies. Not physical proximity, as was the case in
neighbourly ethics, but human suffering became the basis of group
identity within such religions:
The principle that constituted the communal relations among the
salvation prophecies was the suffering common to all believers. And
this was the case whether the suffering actually existed or was a con
stant threat, whether it was external or internal. The more the imper
atives that issued from the ethic of reciprocity among neighbours
were raised, the more rational the conception of salvation became,
and the more it was sublimated into an ethic of absolute ends...such
commands...rose to the attitude of Caritas, love for the sufferer per
se, for one's neighbour, for man, and finally for the enemy... The
psychological tone as well as the rational, ethical interpretation
of this inner attitude can vary widely. But its ethical demand has

2. Although not the dominant theme, in his analysis of Chinese rationalization

Weber (China: ch. 8, esp. 233, 236) implies that the sib and 'magical garden' were
never broken or challenged by a revolutionary salvation religion based on brotherli
ness. For this reason, Chinese cultural history was not subject to the same paradoxes
of brotherliness (that we will soon examine) as other cultures. This point becomes
clarified if the explicit theme of brotherliness in IR is taken into account when China
is read. Although China has been the subject of much scrutiny and critique (see
Bendix 1977; Eisenstadt 1971, 1985; Elvin 1984; Hamilton 1985,1990; Molloy 1980;
Nelson 1976; Parsons 1968; Ulmen 1991; van der Sprenkel 1954,1964; Warner 1970),
this point has been overlooked.
3. Indeed, this ethic of love was pitted against the family ties of blood and mar
riage, which were conceived as a threat to such religious devotion (IR: 329).
4. A detailed example of the ethic of brotherliness at work at this level of the
religious community and arising from the ethic of the neighbourhood, is provided
by Weber in his analysis of the Judaic tradition (AJ: 64,67,342-43).

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66 Max Weber Studies

always lain in the direction of a universalis

beyond all barriers of societal associations,
faith (IR: 330).

In discussing the origins of this brotherly love within religious

attempts to deal with the problem of suffering, Weber is at pains to
contrast his position to the Nietzschean explanation of such types
of love as being based upon the resentment of the inferior peoples
of history (IEEWR: 270; ES: 494; also ES: 934-35). His discussion of
Nietzsche's work in this regard is easily his most sustained treat
ment of Nietzsche, and is usually ignored by commentators who
are more interested in seeking the commonalities between the two
thinkers.5 Essentially, while admitting the power of Nietzsche's
arguments in The Genealogy of Morals, Weber will argue against
him for two reasons. Firstly, Weber believes that the resentment
of the underprivileged is not the cause of all salvation religions,
as demonstrated by the example of Buddhism where it arises from
the privileged/intellectual strata. Secondly, in the only religion in
which resentment does play a significant role, Ancient Judaism,
such a role is limited by a large range of other factors.6 Weber also

5. One major exception to the trend of not dealing with Weber's arguments
against Nietzsche on resentment is B. Turner (1996). Turner claims that although Weber
was critical of, and wanted to limit, the resentment thesis, WebeTs arguments in A],
and elsewhere, have some correlation with Nietzsche, especially in agreeing on differ
ent types of theodicies and goodness. Turner also believes that Weber's own personal
theodicy was one of the (very Nietzschean) isolated prophet of doom (1996:158-65).
This may be correct to a degree, but, in our view, it tips the balance far too much in
favour of Nietzsche and does not consider the more obvious rejection of the resent
ment thesis, especially when the dimension of brotherliness is included. However, it is
undoubtedly correct that Weber did maintain the Nietzschean personality idealbut
alongside and in tension with brotherliness, as we will argue below.
6. Some brief explanation of Judaism and the resentment thesis can be found
in IEEWR and ES, but it is in A] that Weber gives a highly detailed account of the
development of Judaic beliefs. Resentment and revenge are certainly there as part of
the explanation (e.g. AJ: 367, 404), but only amongst a large number of other deter
minants, including climate, civic culture and the internal logics of Judaic theology.
And when resentment and its morality are discussed by Weber, their origins are
not understood by him in the same manner as Nietzsche (see A]: 365-77 on how
the theodicy of Deutero-Isaiah developed suffering, humility and the redeemer as
central to Judaism). Nietzsche is not mentioned by name in A], but this absence
and the relatively minor role resentment plays in this work should in themselves
be regarded as constituting a sort of reply to Nietzsche's claims. It should also be
remembered that the explicit dealing with Nietzsche's thesis comes in the general
introduction (IEEWR) to the religious studies (Gesammelte Aufstze zur Religionssozi
ologie, first published in 1920) of which A J is a part.

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 67

points out, against Nietzsche, that, despite its obvious origins in

Judaism, the teachings of Jesus are not reducible to ressentiment
(ES: 498-99).
This critique of the resentment thesis is important, as we will see,
because it does in fact dent the often mentioned notion that Weber's
ideals of 'Personality' should be read as essentially Nietzschean.
More broadly and obviously, it frees Weber from the Nietzschean
reading of morality in his account of religion. Suffering and love are
allowed to be focal points for Weber once Nietzsche's condemnation
of such morality as inferior and reducible to the psychology of slaves
and weaklings has been critiqued.

Impersonality and the Loss of the Personal

Apart from establishing the universal nature of brotherliness and

(contra Nietzsche) its origins in the religious attempt to deal with
the problem of human suffering, IR also outlines the manner in
which brotherliness is an ethic of the personal which is at odds
with the growing impersonality of modern Western value-spheres
(Wertsphren). This tension between the personal and impersonal is
a recurrent theme throughout Weber's works and requires careful
In essence for Weber, 'personal' or 'human'7 relations directly
between people make possible an ethical dimension within social

For every purely personal relationship of man to man, of whatever

sort and even including complete enslavement, may be subjected to
ethical requirements, and ethically regulated. This is true because the
structures of these relationships depend upon the individual wills of
the participants, leaving room in such relations for manifestations of
the virtue of charity (ES: 585).8

The contrast for Weber is with impersonal relations, which are de

prived of this ethical aspect. This quotation goes onto to say:

7. We will take the terms 'personal' ('persnlich') and 'human' ('menschlich',

'Mensch zu Mensch'), when describing relations between people, as basically inter
changeable. This reading is strongly supported by the quotations that follow; and
also by the way Weber's translators have used the German.
8. 'Jede rein persnliche Beziehung von Mensch zu Mensch, wie immer sie sei,
einschlielich der vlligsten Versklavung, kann ethisch reglementiert, an sie knnen
ethische Postulate gestellt werden, da ihre Gestaltung von dem individuellen Willen
der Beteiligten abhngt, also der Entfaltung karitativer Tugend Raum gibt' (WG:

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68 Max Weber Studies

But this is not the situation in the realm of ec

relationships, where personal control is exerci
the degree of rational differentiation of the eco
is no possibility, in practice or even in principle
lation of relationships arising from the holder
bank mortgage and the mortgagee who has o
the bank, or between a holder of federal bond
The growing impersonality of the economy on
tion in the market place follows its own rules
entails economic failure and, in the long run,
see also ES: 636,1186; and especially IR: 331).

The rationalized fulfilment of the econo

the greatest source of unethical imperso
not far behind. In the political sphere:
...the political man acts just like the economi
fact manner, 'without regard to the person', sine
hate and therefore without love. By virtue of
bureaucratic state, in important points is less a
moralisation than were the patriarchal orders
also ES: 600-601,975).

In IR, Weber also discusses the aestheti

spheres of modernity. Impersonality is n
in these spheres, but it still has a presen
values are formed as a reaction to the im
world, as attempts at a worldly, tempor
and are inimical to the ethic of brotherlin
may be personal but they are not ethical i
cive and selfish brutality, according to We
lectual sphere is marked by an 'unbrothe
its valuing of mind and taste (IR: 354); but
ering impersonality of modernity in its
laws of the world' (India: 342). The mea
the ethical once had a place has been sys
disenchanting science (IR: 350-51). The w
natural, seems to have taken on the garb o
All these spheres of modernity will fo
opposition to brotherliness; and all these s
to varying degrees, by impersonality. If
sons in these spheres are not ethical bec
they will nevertheless be unethical bec
brotherliness partly as the result of the o
nalized impersonality in which they are fo

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 69

Yet there is a further complication here. In IR, Weber makes it clear

that it is not just the spheres of modernity that rise up against the ethic
of brotherliness. He also notes in this work, along with others such
as PE, PS, and India, that the religious sphere itself carries unethical
impersonality within its midst. Such impersonality takes two forms:
that found in Puritanism; and that originating in mysticism.
Puritanism, especially with the consistency of Calvinist predesti
nation, 'renounced the universalism of love' (IR: 332) with 'loveless
clarity' (IR: 359) and was marked by 'impersonality and matter
of-factness' (India: 209). And, most famously, the impersonality of
capitalism and Puritan impersonality can come together without
essential conflict and perhaps in fruitful harmony. Underlying
Puritan impersonality is the way labour in the vocational calling
becomes the absolute standard of moral worth. For the Calvinist:

Brotherly love, since it may only be practised for the Glory of God
and not in the service of the flesh, is expressed in the first place in
the fulfilment of the daily tasks given by the lex naturae; and in the
process this fulfilment assumes a peculiarly objective and impersonal
character, that of service in the interest of the rational organization of
our social environment. For the wonderfully purposeful organization
and arrangement of this cosmos is, according both to the revelation
of the Bible and to natural intuition, evidently designed by God to
serve the utility of the human race. This makes labour in the service of
impersonal social usefulness appear to promote the glory of God and
hence to be willed by Him (PE: 108-109).

Within the highly consistent theology of Calvinism, to be suffering

and not labouring in the world would indicate damnation, which
no action on this earth can, nor should try to, alter. In fact, the elect
would consider 'the sin of one's neighbour', not in terms of 'sympa
thetic understanding' but through 'hatred and contempt for him as
an enemy of God bearing the signs of eternal damnation' (PE: 122).
The pre-eminence given to the impersonal relations of labour in the
world means that the universal, but personal love given to each indi
vidual sufferer has been transcended.
The second example of an impersonal and thus unethical reli
gious manifestation is found within world-denying mysticism. The
emphasis on contemplation and rejection of the world found here
means that the particularities of the Other and their suffering are not
of concern:

...the mystic's 'benevolence'...does not at all enquire into the man to

whom and for whom it sacrifices. Ultimately, mysticism is not inter
ested in his person... Mysticism is a unique escape from this world in

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70 Max Weber Studies

the form of an objectless devotion to anybod

but purely for devotion's sake, or in Baudelair
the "soul's sacred prostitution" ' (IR: 333; also

The motivating drive here is not brothe

of the great problem of suffering, but t
people are treated equally as just a m
deemed impersonal since such love is not
person and their suffering. The world
there cannot be any attachment to parti
love would be a breach of consistent, aco
sense that 'the benevolent mystic giv
for his coat by anybody who accidenta
(IR: 333). Each person is only regarded
lence is dispensed without individuali
reason, from the viewpoint of an ethic
yet proceeded down this line of imper
essentially selfish.9

Organic Social Ethics and Cosmic Br

IR and the other studies of the world re

an ethic of brotherliness is threatened by
on many sidesby the spheres of mod
nalization of the religious sphere itself
there was a period in cultural history
to survive in its personal, ethical form.
Weber makes brief mention of the Lutheran vocational life (ES: 600;
and P: 81, 85; and see n. 11 below); and of the original charismatic
communist communities, especially in the Middle East (ES: 1187; and
A]: 407 on the Essenes). However, his most sustained discussion of an
enduring ethic of brotherliness is found in his analysis of the medi
eval, hierarchical 'organic social ethic' associated with Aquinas (IR:
338-39; ES: 597-601).
Unlike the world-denying forms of acosmic mysticism, this organic
ethic is cosmic in orientation:

Organic social ethics, where religiously sub-structured, stands on the

soil of 'brotherliness', but, in contrast to mystic and acosmic love, is
dominated by a cosmic, rational demand for brotherliness. Its point of

9. This understanding is explicitly maintained in Weber's account of Buddhist

mysticism (India: 208-209,213).

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 71

departure is the experience of the inequality of religious charisma. The

very fact that the holy should be accessible only to some and not to all
is unbearable to organic social ethics (IR: 338, italics added).

Although most virtuosi religions (Weber consistently nominates

Protestantism and mysticism as examples) overcome the tension
with the orders of this world, much of the history of the Christian
Church's relation with the social world is beset by 'compromises
and relativities' (IR: 338). A conservative, God-ordained social world
is imagined and instantiated wherein 'a conception of vocational
work' (IR: 338), which contains the organic social ethics, is set out
on the assumption of the social inequality between humans, but not
the inequality of suffering. Such an order holds reality to be relatively
rational despite its wickedness, since there are at least traces of the
divine plan in the world. Herein lies its cosmic, that is, world-affirm
ing, orientation (IR: 338-39). The most important sociological reason
for this lies in the fact that the 'democratic' impulses (IEEWR: 288) of
a church are starkly opposed to the exclusiveness of a virtuosi sect.
In his analyses of various religious sects, Weber constantly refers to
the restricted concept of 'brotherhood' used within them (see PE:
106-10,121-22; PS: 308, 318; India: 201-202).
The contrast between the cosmic brotherliness of organic ethics
and the other religious forms, is borne out in the following:
The organic pragmatism of salvation must consider the redemptory
aristocracy of inner-worldly asceticism [as seen in Protestantism], with
its rational depersonalisation of life orders, as the hardest form of love
lessness and lack of brotherliness. It must consider the redemptory
pragmatism of mysticism as a sublimated and, in truth, unbrotherly
indulgence of the mystic's own charisma. The mystic's unmethodical
and planless acosmism of love is viewed as a mere selfish means in
the search for the mystic's own salvation. Both inner-worldly asceti
cism and mysticism ultimately condemn the social world to absolute
meaninglessness, or at least they hold that God's aims concerning the
social world are utterly incomprehensible. The rationalism of organic
doctrines of society cannot stand up under this idea; for it seeks to
comprehend the world as an at least relatively rational cosmos in spite
of all its wickedness... (IR: 338-39).

This statement, in the context of IR, seems to be implying that, in the

medieval stage of Western social development, economic and politi
cal structures had not reached such a state of rationalized imperson
ality that personal, ethical relations were publicly marginalized, as
they were to become in modernity. A traditional vocational structure
allows this possibility:

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72 Max Weber Studies

The medieval and Lutheran traditionalistic e

rested on a general presupposition, one that i
both share with the Confucian ethic:10 that po
the economic and political spheres have a
ter... these relationships of domination had
may apply ethical requirements in the same w
to every other purely personal relationship (

Thus, Weber suggests, prior to mode

tions were possible in vocational life,
was highly unequal. Furthermore, th
sible in such a social order is logically
spective of Calvinist and mystical consis
is preserved the ethic of the persona
organic social ethic existed in a fragile
tension with the world as Weber st
soon be overwhelmed by the forces of
well as by the pull of religious rationa
especially) (ES: 601). In outlining this
offers an important, if also very partia
western, Christian ethics.

10. Confucianism also contained social/politi

but these were exclusively tied to the family, a
ethic which went beyond the ties of the sib (see n
11. Weber thus linked Lutheran vocationalism
as both were open to the ethics of the personal.
cifically justified through brotherly love by Lu
forces every individual to work for others' (PE:
as 'highly nave' (PE: 81), and suggests that the c
justified by Luther as the only way to live acce
conservative, traditionalist: outlook is evident i
individual should remain once and for all in t
had placed him, and should restrain his worldly
by his established station in life. While his econ
the result of Paulinian indifference, it later bec
belief in divine providence, which identified ab
absolute acceptance of things as they were (PE:
conceived of vocational labour in terms of broth
this position to a traditionalist acceptance of on
this way, akin to the medieval organic form of
standing of the calling, even though the explicit e
justification, has the ethical possibilities of the
traditionalist structure. And here, in the personal
the ethic of brotherliness can be pursued.

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 73

Brotherliness and the 'Vocation' Lectures

With the above analysis of Weber's empirical works as a guide, a

sufficient understanding of 'brotherliness' can be pieced together to
enable a discussion of Weber's prescriptions for the ethic of broth
erliness outlined in PV and SV. In essence, these empirical works
indicate that an ethic of brotherliness can only prosper in personal
relations where the suffering of the other can be directly appreci
ated. Whereas it once did have a tenuous and tension-filled existence
in the medieval traditionalistic ethics of vocation, Weber's vocation
lectures suggest that this is now impossible in the vocational life of
modernity because of the unyielding domination of impersonality.
We turn now to the details of this argument.

Politics as a Vocation

PV includes quite a lengthy excursion on the religious attempts to

meet the problem of a supposedly omnipotent God's creation of 'an
irrational world of undeserved suffering...' (PV: 122); that is, the
problem of theodicy. How Christianity tried to deal with politics,
a contract 'with diabolical powers', is given in a series of examples
which all recall Weber's religious writings summarized above.
Hence the list includes the uneasy compromises of the Church (PV:
124), the Protestant legitimation of the violence of the state (PV: 124)
and the acosmic form of universal love (PV: 126). Weber's aim here
is to stress the tension and conflict between politics and religion,
especially when love is still the central ethic in any religious answer
given to the problem of theodicy: 'The genius or demon of politics
lives in an inner tension with the God of love' (PV: 126). For Weber,
the ultimate ends of religion cannot be pursued responsibly in the
modern vocation of politics, chiefly because the tasks of politics 'can
only be solved by violence' (PV: 126).
Undoubtedly, Weber's purpose in this lecture is to illustrate the
qualities necessary for entering the vocation of politics, and this
cannot include the caritative religious solutions to the problem of
suffering. The point for the present argument is that this religious
problem, which can be fully understood by reference back to Weber's
religious works, is once again introduced in contrast to the political
sphere. Of course, the implications for the vocation of politics is what
is emphasized most strongly; however, the love/suffering theme is
brought back at the very end of the lecture, within two pages of the

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74 Max Weber Studies

religion/ politics discussion. But it is

had not previously used in this partic
appear that this late, brief reference is
immediately preceding summary of t
acquaintance with how the ethic of su
elsewhere by Weber shows otherwise.
who thought of themselves as politician
to the world as it really is...' (PV: 128)
Objectively and actually, they have not expe
politics in its deepest meaning, which they
would have done better in simply cultivating plai
relations. And for the restthey should hav
daily work (PV: 128, emphasis added).12

Importantly, Weber's reference to br

tions here is prescriptive. We have see
in the foregoing discussion. It is in pers
erly ethic of care, of concern with the
maintained, although there is continu
impersonality. Brotherliness is advocat
as part of the Christian origins of West
tions' have always been the site of th
contrasted to the sphere of politics, w
dominated by the impersonal.13 It is t
personal means here as the private,14 as
politics. This would be a mistake, we b
Firstly, Weber does not talk in terms
in his writings, or only to a minor ex
have seen, his understanding encompa
spheres of modernity, as opposed to t
orders of the world (like the economy
past have been structured and legitima
important sense, refers back to how the
societies like Confucian China, constitu
throughout society. The personal was pa

12. '...sie haben den Beruf zur Politik, den si

tiv und tatschlich im innerlichsten Sinn nicht
Brderlichkeit schlicht und einfach von Men
brigen rein sachlich an ihres Tages Arbeit zu w
13. Again, there are extra dimensions to PV, w
as opposed to the bureaucracy, must and should
14. As, for example, Bellah (1999) does.

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 75

societies, but has been overtaken by the impersonal structures of the

more modern forms of the social.
Secondly, the ethic of brotherliness, as demonstrated above, aimed
at universality and came from neighbourly community care and the
great problem of theodicy. It is not based in natural family bonds.
On the contrary, brotherliness arose in direct opposition to 'natural
relations and to the matrimonial community' (IR: 329). The essen
tial constitution of brotherliness is what Weber had indirectly been
discussing in his excursion on religious ethics in PV just before he
actually used the term itself at the end of the lecture. This brotherly
universal love is obviously not the usual stuff of the private. It is not
family love, if this has maternal particularity as the main model; and
it is certainly not erotic or romantic love. It is a religiously formed
universal love of all engendered by the brutal fact of suffering.15
'Cultivating plain brotherliness in personal relations' means trying
to maintain this traditional Christian ethic outside religion; and pur
suing this value in human relations that have not been consumed
into the necessary but unethical realms of impersonal modernity; or
are not dominated by other, 'private' values or loves. Weber does not
specify what this might mean, so some speculative projections might
be allowed here. We suggest that Weber is advocating a manner of
treating people whenever the demands of the vocational sphere will
allow it. The 'personal' as the site of this universal ethics should be
cultivated when possible. This means always being aware of the
limits of impersonality; or, knowing when the ethics of the personal
can begin. Perhaps this would be with strangers, or neighbours of
course, but also with others within the vocational sphere when the
values of that sphere allow (which might indeed be rare). Again, it
has to be stressed, the overwhelming emphasis in PV is on the heroic
strength needed for the vocation of politics, but it would be odd for
Weber to have abandoned the ethic which he had discussed so much
in other important works, even when these works have shown the
essential antagonism between the impersonal spheres of the modern
and brotherliness.
If this is the nature of 'plain brotherliness in personal relations'
the quotation is still unclear because it is not certain who is sup

15. Of course, there are personal relationships that are ethical and loving but
are not examples of brotherliness. Weber mentions the case of married life, where, if
there is a great deal of luck, the couple can grow old together in love (IR: 350). This
might be labelled the 'private', but this aside in IR does not mention brotherliness
and does not fit into his previous descriptions of the nature of brotherly love.

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76 Max Weber Studies

posed to follow this imperative. Webe

better in simply cultivating../ with 'the
to those would-be politicians who did
as it really is.16 Weber then says someth
('und im brigen'). This would seem t
not apply to the vast majority, who did
tional race. Further, it is unclear wheth
go on to measure up to the vocational
stands could entail that because the wo
they might as well take up something w
which the vast majority are excluded); o
cessful and would-be politicians could an
but that the would-be politicians wou
dropped the politics and concentrated on
That is, undertaking this ethic, which
private love, is part of measuring up to t
and has to stand beside the 'passion a
vocational duty. The best will be able to
ability is found to be wanting, then per
been retrieved if brotherliness had bee
there is no guarantee that this will be a
We tend to support the last interpr
with the real and almost-real vocational
makes more sense when SV is considered
is something valuable for Weber, as it
only able to be enacted by the few, why
cian not be enjoined to follow it as well?
The paradox of this ethic's universal
cultivating the brotherly ethic is now f
universal, ancient and fundamental part
that all should follow its teachings. Ther
sive injunction when Weber's comments
his other writings are recalled. Brotherl
fronts by the impersonality of modernit
most esteemed and sought-after values a
the aesthetic, the cultivation of the inte

16. There is further ambiguity here, as well, in

referring back to the last of the three possibilities
reactions to the hardness of the then political c
flight in a twofold sense of 'those who are gifte
fashion' (PV: 128). The German here does not res

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 77

of the erotic to the power and money of politics and the economy;
and it is endangered by its own logic of universality and impersonal
ity. Further, it has only historically existed with any social strength in
the pre-modern world, and only then in modes of tense compromise.
Of course, if one has chosen the religious, Christian path, this ethic
might be maintained with some, if small, degree of ease. But if the
Christian worldview is stripped away and there is no 'sacrifice of
the intellect', then the task of following brotherliness, without its
religious legitimation, becomes very hard indeed. The whole nature
of Modernity, as well as internal forces of rationalization, stand
against it.
'Cultivating plain brotherliness in personal relations' means trying
to maintain this traditional Christian ethic outside religion. To face
squarely 'the polar night of icy darkness and hardness' (PV: 128),
and still prove your vocational and ethical worth, is indeed heroic. It
is only for the few, and it takes some considerable understanding of
the forces ranged against the ongoing existence of brotherliness.

Science as a Vocation

'Science as a Vocation' reiterates and partially clarifies this account,

but again only within a few brief remarks at the end. There are many
themes running through this lecture, which has been the subject of
an enormous interpretative literature. Suffering, however, is not
directly mentioned. Although suffering, its meaning and attendant
ethical/religious history are absent in the words of the text, they still
have a presence. They occur, famously, on two occasions in the last
two pages of the lecture.
Firstly, after stressing how religious belief and science are now
irreconcilable, in terms of the 'sacrifice of the intellect' (SV: 154), and
his dismissal as 'humbug' the activities of some modern intellectuals
who dabble and play with 'sacred images from all over the world' to
produce a surrogate mysticism, he then states:
It is, however, no humbug but rather something very sincere and
genuine if some of the youth groups who during recent years have
quietly grown together give their community the interpretation of a
religious, cosmic or mystical relation, although occasionally perhaps
such an interpretation rests on a misunderstanding of the self. True
as it is that every act of genuine brotherliness may be linked with the
awareness that it contributes something imperishable to the super
personal realm, it seems to me dubious whether the dignity of purely
human and communal relations is enhanced by these religious inter
pretations. But this is no longer our theme.

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78 Max Weber Studies

The fate of our times is characterised by rat

alisation and, above all, by the 'disenchantmen
the ultimate and most sublime values have r
either into the transcendental realm of the my
erliness of direct and human relations. It is n
only within the smallest and intimate circle
ations, in pianissimo, that something is puls
the prophetic pneuma which in former time
communities like a firebrand, welding them

Secondly, at the very end of the lectur

We will set to work and meet the 'demands o
tions as well as in our vocation (SV: 156).18

Within these passages we find rare p

communalism, where brotherliness s
However, it is still for Weber based on m
enhance the morality of suffering. If
on this area are again employed, this w
historical conditions cannot allow rel
ethics, as, of course, they once did. But t
enacted, however mistakenly, draws a ra
He then says that this is not 'our them
back to the problem, as he then moves o

17. 'Durchaus kein Schwindel, sondern etwas

aber vielleicht zuweilen sich selbst in seinem
wenn manche jener Jugendgemeinschaften, die
gewachsen sind, ihrer eigenen menschlichen Ge
einer religisen, kosmischen oder mystischen B
jeder Akt echter Brderlichkeit sich mit dem W
da dadurch einem berpersnlichen Reich etw
erbar bleibt, so zweifelhaft scheint mir, ob di
schaftsbeziehungen durch jene religisen Deut
das gehrt nicht mehr hierher. -
Es ist das Schicksal unserer Zeit, mit der i
Intellektualisierung, vor allem: Entzauberun
und sublimsten Werte zurckgetreten sind aus
hinterweltliche Reich mystischen Lebens oder i
Beziehungen der einzelnen zueinander. Es ist w
innerhalb der kleinsten Gemeinschaftskreise, vo
jenes Etwas pulsiert, das dem entspricht, was
strmischem Feuer durch die groen Gemeinde
(WB: 109-10).
18. '.. .an unsere Arbeit gehen und der "Forder
menschlich sowohl wie beruflich' (WB: 111).

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Symonds arid Pudsey Heroic Love 79

ment about rationalization and disenchantment. The point for him

on this occasion, however, concerns 'ultimate and sublime values'
which cannot exist in the public spheres but only in mystical life or in
the 'brotherliness of direct and human relations' ('in die Brderlich
keit unmittelbarer Beziehungen der einzelnen zueinander'). Again,
IR and elsewhere have made clear the meaning here. The public life
of previous eras, as witnessed in the organic social ethics of Medi
eval Christianity, could contain the religious ethic, albeit in strained
circumstances; the increasing forces of impersonality of modernity,
however, have denied a public place for these values. Now, all that is
possible is brotherliness being extended out into its mystical form; or
(and this is new and associated with PV), brotherliness can survive in
modernity in direct, human relations. Here is a place for the ultimate
values, and, although Weber does not qualify this, they would seem
to be one of his ultimate values. They can only refer back to the Chris
tian tradition of sufferingbrotherliness is expressly made the point
of reference. Weber then expands on this briefly, by emphasizing
how it is in 'personal, human relations', 'Mensch zu Mensch', that a
remnant of the old religious ethos and cosmological understanding is
still present. In this last sentence, there is certainly the possible inter
pretation that the modern -pianissimo content of the personal might be
greater than the brotherly ethic. However, the context is one where it
has just been stated that the 'most sublime and ultimate values' are
now reduced to brotherly personal relations; and, in this case, the
standard English translation can lead the reader slightly astray. The
introduction of the term 'intimate' to make sense of 'innerhalb der
kleinsten Gemeinschaftskreise', is suggestive of a more romantic, pri
vate love than brotherliness and is doubtfully present in the original.
Further, the translation of 'Mensch zu Mensch', as 'personal human
relations' loses some of the punch of the direct, unmediated feeling
apparent in the German. This phrase, 'Mensch zu Mensch', is also
the one used in ES to describe the personal relationships which may
manifest the 'virtue of charity' (even in the case of complete enslave
ment), as opposed to the depersonalization of the capitalist economy
(ES: 585, WG: 378); and these are the words used in PV to indicate
the site of the advocated brotherliness at the end of the lecture, as
discussed above ('die Brderlichkeit...von Mensch zu Mensch'). So
we might assume that this is also the meaning of the phrase in SV.
In sum, these short sentences indicate what Weber regards as the
most valuable ethics historically available and where they can still
be sought.

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80 Max Weber Studies

In the second part of the quotation, th

ened, when Weber states that the de
met in human (menschlich) relations,
of the lecture (as in PV) had been dev
task entailed, but what is this 'huma
gest that its meaning had, in fact, jus
ultimate, sublime values of brotherli
relations; and this must also refer
brotherliness' in personal relations. W
of meeting the human demands of the
lecture on the political vocation. And
as opposed to the ambiguities of PV,
vocational demands to be met; that is
includes a place for human relations b
part of the demanding task for the
vocational choice. If we bring the conc
SV together, each lecture can help exp
Thus, SV and PV, in some highly abb
an extraordinary moral prescription. Th
and suffering are advocated by Weber
now uprooted from its religious setting
personal relations outside the value-s
gered and difficult to cultivate, only
such maxims in these circumstances. A
include the heroic personalities who can
task. To enact this ethic of love takes he
paradoxical this might sound, but on
rather than that of the spheres and
demands of the day in both of these wa
an understanding of what constitutes
to comprehend what this fate means for
relations, entails tracing the relevant
vast empirical works.
For Weber to advocate such an ethics
into a state of contradiction. In SV in pa

19. There might well be more to extra-vocatio

erliness but this is the ethic Weber refers to an
Mensch' relations that he sees as both at risk an
to enact. Hence it may not be the exclusive con
it is all-important for Weber and his understan

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 81

idea that there can be rational arguments for the advocacy of such
a value position in an intellectual setting (e.g. SV: 147). The very
last line of SV, 'This, however, is plain and simple, if each finds and
obeys the demon who holds the fibers of his very life' (SV: 156)20 is
usually taken to indicate an individualist, decisionist view that does
not easily square with Weber specifying what the moral content of
the human should be. But this is what he seems to have done, if
somewhat obliquely.
Although primarily concentrating on his empirical works in
this paper, two reported, personal comments might also aid in our
understanding the importance of the Christian tradition for Weber.
In Hans Staudinger's memoirs, Weber was asked the question 'What
is your supreme value?' Weber replied that he does not have one
and saw how he lived thus:

Imagine that hanging from the ceiling of my study there are violins,
pipes, and drums, clarinets and harps. Now this instrument plays,
now that. The violin plays, that is my religious value. Then I hear
harps and clarinets and I sense my artistic value. Then it is the turn of
the trumpets and that is my value of freedom. With the sound of pipes
and drums I feel the value of the fatherland. The trombone stirs the
values of community, solidarity. There are sometimes dissonances...
(Hennis 1988:166).

And Marianne Weber wrote of her husband:

He never lost his profound reverence for the gospel of brotherhood,

and he accepted its demands relating to personal life. (But) for him,
the God of the Gospels did not have any claim to exclusive dominion
over the soul. He had to share them with other 'gods', particularly
the demands of the fatherland and of scientific truth (Marianne Weber

These ad hominem reflections at least give a measure of concurrence

between Weber's own personal beliefs and his writings as recounted
above. They perhaps help to direct attention to the way his reli
giously derived, ethical position is worked into his writings.

Intellectual Rationalization and Weber's Moral Vision

Yet how does such an interpretation sit with the dominant secondary
accounts of Weber's views on morality? Although there are numer
ous secondary studies which do try to provide an insight into Weber's

20. 'Die aber ist schlicht und einfach, wenn jeder den Dmon findet und ihm
gehorcht, der seines Lebens Fden hlt' (WB: 111).

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82 Max Weber Studies

moral vision of modernity, most will i

usually concentrating on the ethics o
debate (originating particularly in PV
the heroic personality (Brubaker 198
Schluchter 1996; Turner and Factor 1
strategy here is to place Weber's texts
either of the time or soon after (La
msen and Osterhammel 1987; Schluc
1984); or within a wider, contempora
ethics (C. Turner 1992). A further over
of Weber's position through another
(Lwith 1982; Turner and Factor 1984
1990; B. Turner 1996), Freud (Bologh
(Brubaker 1984; Hennis 1988; Stauth
1994). All of these interpretations offe
they also lead away from a concentrati
value of the ethic of brotherliness, pre
would have predicted brotherliness
the irrational by an intellectual unbr
longer sees the problem of theodicy,
ing, as the question.
It has to be said that the intellectualist
contributed to this process is the Nie
way contesting the effect that Nietz
views. One of the clearest and often mentioned influences is via the
notion of 'Personality'. This concept goes to the very heart of the
vocation lectures, as these lectures suggest that only the strongest
can really take up the demands of the day in this regard. Important
as this Nietzschean aspect might be, an over-emphasis upon it tends
to lead away from what is an essentially anti-Nietzschean ethic at the
end of PV and SV and mentioned throughout the empirical works.
To place Weber within some sort of Nietzschean intellectualist set
ting is to begin from a position which is unlikely to consider the
importance of something like an ethic of brotherliness.21

21. For example, Hennis (1988) understands PV and SV in terms of 'Personal

ity' and Lebenshrung (1988: 71,100). He makes the impersonal/personal theme
explicit (1988: 96) but a Nietzschean perspective is dominant. Hence he says that
Weber took over an understanding of Christianity from Nietzsche so that 'For
Weber there is no human relationship, no "life order" that could not be defined
by struggle' (1988: 159). Part of the task for Hennis is to show how Weber was
not a liberal, and a Nietzschean influence is seen to be conclusive on this issue.

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 83

If this is the general pattern in the secondary literature, let us

see how it is played out in more detail when the last moments of
the texts are included. When the final prescriptions do come to be
examined, the interpretations usually choose simply to ignore the
extra-vocational words, even to the extent of editing quotations to
overlook this aspect to Weber's ideas. Hence, Turner and Factor,
who had carefully placed Weber within the political and intellectual
context of the early- to mid-twentieth century, discuss the exhorta
tions of SV thus: 'The final nonillusory choices for the intellectual
turn out to be limited to three: to return to the old churches, to "tarry
for new prophets", or to meet the "demands of the day" in a vocation'
(Turner and Factor 1984:156, emphasis added). The full expression
of the last and decisive possibility, to meet the demands of the day
in human as well as vocational terms is simply, and without explana
tion, truncated to exclude the human dimension.
When, on those rare occasions, the specific ethical terms at the
end of SV are actually engaged (the 'brotherliness' reference in PV
is almost never discussed) the interpretations are varied. Brubaker,
with a clear emphasis on the Nietzschean heroic 'Personality', does
mention 'the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations',
but considers that the adoption of such an ethic would be part of a
return to the ever-open arms of tire church and the consequent rejec
tion of the rigours of the vocation of science (Brubaker 1984: 106).
Like Factor and Turner, the human aspect of meeting the demands
of the day is ignored. Mitzman does consider this human dimen
sion and says that it consists of 'the private cultivation in personal
relationships of a quasi-mystical "pneuma" ' (Mitzman 1971: 230).
A religious content is to be called upon by the scientist alongside
his/her vocation (as against going back to the Church) but the ethic
of brotherliness (previously given in quotation by Mitzman) is
ignored. On the other hand, Bologh assumes Weber had followed
Freud in believing that the world was loveless (Bologh 1990: 193)
and that Weber had completely rejected brotherly love as stifling.
Bologh cites the SV quotation that the 'ultimate and most sublime

Further, Hennis adds the ad hominem point that despite Weber's deeply imbued
sense of Christian dignity he was a great hater full of heartfelt contempt (1988:
177). All these points add up to the ignoring or, in fact, denial of a possible place
for brotherliness in the life-conduct appropriate for modernity. From our position,
it is the placing of Weber in the intellectual debate over liberalism versus Nietzsche
that leads such interpretation, undoubtedly valuable in many ways, away from
some of Weber's ethical understanding.

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84 Max Weber Studies

values have retreated from public life...'

as those that achieve 'greatness for the
military exploits and decisive heroic a
values have retreated because of the German defeat in World War I
and, in consequence, the men were forced back to the inferior level
of everyday vocations and the human as substitute for the lost great
ness of public life. 'Human' here is taken to be the home, as in 'doing
one's duty at home and at work'. This is the meaning of meeting the
demands of the day (Bologh 1990:194). The religious context is not
included at all by Bologh.
Of these interpretations, Mitzman (1971) comes closest to the
mark in our view; Weber, we believe, is arguing that something from
the religious past ought to fill the human or personal dimension in
modernity. And one reason Mitzman is more correct, we believe,
is the relatively slight intellectualist agenda in his study of Weber.
At the very least, however, these various secondary interpretations
indicate that there is a problem in the understanding of these aspects
of Weber's work.


In order to understand Weber's notion of brotherliness, and its

place in Weber's ethical vision, we have had to follow a trail of
terms throughout his writings. Although this ethical theme is not a
dominant topic in any of the major works beyond IR, a remarkably
consistent account can be pieced together. Our analysis suggests
that Weber will return to this theme of brotherliness at important
moments throughout his works, including his vocation lectures,
wherein he seems to offer an ethical prescription for this kind of
love. This paper indicates that, for Weber, one of the great costs of
modernity was the increasing marginalization and impracticality
of living a life according to a particular, Christian doctrine of love
and suffering within the modern world. The paradoxical fate of this
brotherliness is another example for Weber of the uncertainties and
unintentional outcomes of human action and belief that he identifies
throughout the history of Western rationalization. Yet in his final
articulations of his moral vision, the vocation lectures, he suggests
that the truly modern heroic personality struggles to love regardless.
In this sense, one can describe Weber's ethical stance as a realistic
advocacy of 'heroic love'.

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Symonds and Pudsey Heroic Love 85


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