Weber, Max (1864–1920) By Moore, Paul S.
Maximilian ‘Max’ Karl Emil Weber was born on April 21, 1864 in Erfurt, Prussia (present-day Germany), and is a prominent figure in the emergence of sociology as an academic discipline. He is best known for the concept of the ‘iron cage’ (or ‘steel-hard casing’: stahlhartes Gehäuse) of modernity, which he introduced in his essay ‘Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus’ (‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’), which was first published in two parts in 1904 and 1905 and then published again with some revisions at the end of his life in 1920. Weber’s studies range in topic from world religions, to Urbanism, to law and politics, to epistemologies of the social sciences, but they coalesce around the problem of the rational status of knowledge and authority in modern industrial economies; he notably observed charismatic authority alongside bureaucracy as equally constitutive of modern democracies. His comparative-historical sociology stands against the historical materialist critique of Marx and Marxism, but is equally distinct from the Positivism of earlier sociologists Auguste Comte (1798–1857) and Herbert Spencer (1820–1903). The interplay and oppositions among these interpretive, materialist and positivist approaches in method and epistemology came to shape the contours of modern social and political thought.