Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Max Weber’s Enchantment

In a review of Max Weber’s Collected Methodological Writings in the TLS (“The English Weber," 9/28/12. W.C. Runciman makes the following statement about the brilliant German sociologist and author of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, “to Weber, a physicist and a philologist are engaged in the same common enterprise…He would be totally dismissive of C.P. Snow’s ignorant and prejudiced version of ‘two cultures.’ The contrast that he draws is between wissenschaftlich work (Arbeit), which is harnessed…to the cause of progress (Fortschritt) and artistic (Kunstlich) achievement which is timeless.”  Besides writing about the relation between religion and economics, Weber was also interested in the concept of “disenchantment,” whereby both science and humanities had to bear the weight of scientism on their shoulders. While C.P. Snow inveighed against the separations of the two cultures, Runciman’s understanding makes it clear that both were overshadowed by the dominance of materialistic thinking. Despite the advent of sociometrics, concerns with the broader issues were what has continued to make Weber a cynosure in the field of sociology and thinking in general. Weber coined the term “routinization of charisma” to describe the difference between a sect and a church. He inspired a larger movement in sociology championed also by Ferdinand Tonnies in Community and Society and George Simmel in such works as  The Metropolis and Mental Life and The Philosophy of Money-- early giants who didn’t depend on statistics to make their points and who weren’t afraid to take on larger and sometimes unverifiable issues of cosmopolitanism, human character, isolation and ultimately the ways in which individuals create meaning.

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