Max Weber Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: A German social scientist and theorist widely acclaimed as the “father of sociology,” Weber is best known for his thesis of the Protestant ethic, which links the psychological effects of Calvinism with the development of modern capitalism.

Early Life

Max Weber was the first child of Max and Helen Fallenstein Weber. His father was a prominent lawyer and aspiring politician whose family had attained considerable wealth in the German linen industry. An ardent monarchist and Bismarckian within the German Reichstag, the elder Weber was to his son the epitome of a patriarchal, amoral creature-of-pleasure who knew real politics and the art of compromise. His mother, on the other hand, was a highly educated, moralistic woman, intensely preoccupied with religious and social concerns, particularly with charity work for the poor. The hedonistic father and humanitarian mother shared little in common, and Weber grew to maturity in a household charged with open tension and hostility.

Weber received an excellent early education in select German private schools. In addition, because of the political prominence of his father, a considerable circle of famous personalities—such as Wilhem Dilthey, Heinrich von Treitschke, Levin Goldschmidt, and Theodor Mommsen—frequented the Weber household. Meeting and engaging in political discussion with such men of prestige not only stimulated young Weber’s intellectual curiosity but also provided him with contacts who would help promote his career in later life.

Weber began his university studies in 1882 at Heidelberg—his mother’s home during her youth—taking courses in law, history, and theology. At his father’s suggestion (and against his mother’s wishes), he also joined the student fraternity, an activity which consumed much of his time in drinking bouts and duels. In 1883, Weber moved to Strasbourg to fulfill his one-year military obligation in the National Service. There, Weber visited and developed a close attachment to his aunt and uncle: Ida Baumgarten, an intensely devout woman much like his mother, and Hermann Baumgarten, a professor of history who, unlike his father, was highly critical of the Bismarckian empire.

Hoping to extricate young Weber from the influence of the Baumgartens, the elder Weber encouraged his son to resume his studies back home at the University of Berlin. Weber returned to Berlin, and, except for one semester in school at Göttingen and several months away on military exercises, Weber spent the next eight years at home. In 1889, Weber was graduated magna cum laude and then began preparing for his Habilitation (a higher doctorate required to teach in German universities), which he received in 1891. While pursuing his advanced studies, Weber worked intermittently as a lawyer’s assistant and a university assistant—two unremunerative apprenticeships. Hence at age twenty-nine, Weber was still residing in his parents’ home, financially dependent on their income and continually subject to their conflicting claims on his loyalty.

In 1893, Weber married his second cousin, Marianne Schnitger, an intelligent woman who later achieved some prominence in the German feminist movement. The marriage lasted until Weber’s death but never was consummated. Although their marriage was without affection, Weber and Marianne were intellectually compatible. Following Weber’s death, Marianne published a seven-hundred-page biography of her late husband that contained not a negative word regarding their union.

Life’s Work

A workaholic with strong academic credentials and political contacts, Weber rose rapidly in the teaching profession. After a brief appointment in Berlin, Weber in 1894 became a full professor in economics at the University of Freiburg. Two years later, he was called to the University of Heidelberg to succeed the preeminent professor of political economy, Karl Knies. As a professor, Weber advocated what he called “freedom from value-judgment” in lecturing. This doctrine demanded that teachers present to their students the established empirical facts without expressing their evaluations as to whether the facts were satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Weber also was an avid researcher and writer. During these years, however, his research interests focused on rather mundane economic issues of immediate application.

Weber’s academic career, however, was cut short in 1898 when he suffered a severe mental and physical breakdown that virtually incapacitated him for four years and prevented him from returning to the classroom until 1918. The symptoms of the illness included insomnia, inner tension, exhaustion, bouts of anxiety, and continual restlessness. Biographers have speculated that familial problems triggered this neurosis. In 1897, Weber had a violent dispute with his father over the authoritarian way his father treated his mother. Following the argument, his father stormed away from Weber’s Heidelberg home, promising never to return. Shortly thereafter, the...

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Max Weber Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207249-Weber.jpgMax Weber Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Max Weber (VAY-bur) was one of the founding fathers of modern social science. He was born in 1864 to a solidly established middle-class Prussian family. His father was a successful lawyer and parliamentarian, his mother a woman of culture and piety. Weber spent most of his first twenty-nine years in his parents’ household, first in Erfurt, then in Berlin, where it became a meeting place for prominent politicians and celebrated scholars. In 1882 Weber began his studies in law at the University of Heidelberg, continuing at the universities of Berlin and Göttingen. He became a lecturer in law at the University of Berlin, where he was an enormously productive scholar. From 1894 to 1897, Weber taught economics at the universities of Freiburg and Heidelberg.

In 1893, at age twenty-nine, Weber married and moved out of his parents’ home. In 1897 his father died, only a few weeks after he and Max had quarreled violently. Believing that he had contributed to his father’s death, Weber suffered a nervous breakdown. Chronically overburdened by his work and now suffering from exhaustion, remorse, and depression, Weber was forced to suspend his academic work over the next four years. From 1901 on, Weber began to recover and gradually resumed his scholarly work. He accepted a position as an associate editor of the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik (archives for social science and social welfare), which he helped build into the leading social science journal in Germany. Later in the decade, he cofounded, with Ferdinand Tönnies and Georg Simmel, the German Sociological Society.

It was in Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik in 1904 that Weber published probably the best known of all of his works, The...

(The entire section is 722 words.)

Max Weber Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Albrow, Martin. Max Weber’s Construction of Social Theory. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Excellent extended introduction to most of the elements of Weber’s social theory, including his personal, historical, and intellectual background. Carefully organizes and clarifies the many complicated thematic strands of Weber’s work.

Brubaker, Rogers. The Limits of Rationality: An Essay on the Social and Moral Thought of Max Weber. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1984. Careful and persuasive presentation of Weber’s profoundly influential concept of “rationalization” in its various forms. Presents Weber as an ethicist and analyst of modernity and its crises.

Collins, Randall. Max Weber: A Skeleton Key. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1986. Superb brief introduction to Weber’s life and thought as well as to some of the critical issues in Weber scholarship. Excellent starting point for further study.

Diggins, John Patrick. Max Weber: Politics and the Spirit of Tragedy. New York: Basic Books, 1996. A passionately and clearly written account of Weber’s life as well as of his ethical and political perspective. Uses Weber’s lifelong interest in the United States as a vehicle to explore his relevance to late twentieth century American thought and history.

Lehmann, Hartmut, and Guenther Roth, eds. Weber’s Protestant Ethic: Origins, Evidence, Contexts. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Excellent collection of scholarly essays covering a wide range of late twentieth century assessments of Weber’s famous Protestant ethic thesis.

Morrison, Ken. Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1995. Provides an accessible and careful survey of Weber’s key works in sociology and methodology. Includes a helpful glossary of Weberian terminology.

Ritzer, George. The McDonaldization of Society. Rev. ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 1996. A stimulating, troubling, and highly readable application of the Weberian concept of rationalization in an analysis of the “iron cages” of late twentieth century life.

Weber, Marianne. Max Weber: A Biography. Translated by Harry Zohn. New York: Wiley, 1975. An account of Weber’s life and times, amounting to an intellectual portrait of Weber and post-World War I Germany by an intimate participant.

Max Weber Biography (Survey of World Philosophers)

Article abstract: A German social scientist and theorist widely acclaimed as the “father of sociology,” Weber is best known for his thesis of the Protestant ethic, which links the psychological effects of Calvinism with the development of modern capitalism.

Early Life

Max Weber was the first child of Max and Helen Fallenstein Weber. His father was a prominent lawyer and aspiring politician whose family had attained considerable wealth in the German linen industry. An ardent monarchist and Bismarckian within the German Reichstag, the elder Weber was to his son the epitome of a patriarchal, amoral creature of pleasure who knew real politics and the art of compromise. His mother, on...

(The entire section is 2153 words.)

Max Weber Biography (Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Author Profile

Weber is considered to be one of the founders of modern social science. His intellectual achievement reflected extraordinary breadth, including original studies of economy and law, social structure, comparative civilizations, and methods of the social sciences. He is best known for The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, in which he analyzed human motives—that is, beliefs and values determining action—in the development of capitalism and concluded that certain religious beliefs could be linked to economic trends. The Calvinist doctrine of predestination held that God had singled out humans before their births either to be saved by grace or to be damned. The uncertainty of...

(The entire section is 647 words.)