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Weber, Max

Page history last edited by A.J. 15 years, 4 months ago

Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German political economist and sociologist who is considered one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century and is one of the founders of modern sociology.  Some of his major works deal with rationalisation in sociology of religion and government. His most famous work is his essay The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, which began his work in the sociology of religion. 



Weber: Political Bureacracy = Iron Cage


The development of modern society, especially the introduction of capitalism, shifted society to a more rational, rule-based form of authority (bureaucracy). As the cult of the individual progressed and society became increasingly complex with the division of labor, etc., a need for a more structured form of legal authority became paramount. This legal, rational form of authority came to replace the unstable "charismatic" and "traditional" authority structures of the past. While meant to protect human freedom and democracy in society, this bureaucratic system acts to undermine it in the long run. So, Weber, like Marx, feels that Capitalism will eventually be the force that screws everyone over.


He argues that the increasing rationalization of human life traps individuals in an "iron cage" of rule-based, rational control (bureaucracy). This rule-based society came about when the motivations of individual behaviors shifted due to the introduction of capitalism. Rather than being based on tradition, such as kinship and religion, social actions became centered around efficiency. So, an individual's behavior became dominated by goal-oriented rationality (have to get a good job and make good money to support my family and live the best life possible) and less by tradition and values (competition and success became more important than family dinners and being kind to others). This shift from old society rules, which relied mostly on personal values based on family and religion to maintain respect and order, to a stricter set of rules, came as a direct result of the growth of bureaucracy and capitalism.


Why do people agree to such authority? Weber talks about how every state is founded on force. If a state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority, which is why force is necessary for the survival of the state. This force must, therefore, be legitimated for people to feel the need or desire to follow the rules set in place by the state. In fact, the obedience of the people to the dominance of the state is motivated by fear and hope. Under the state's rule, people fear the vengeance of the power-holders if they don't obey, and they also have hope that by obeying they will be rewarded in this world (perhaps by material/economic success) or beyond. Perhaps in the view of religious individuals, people in positions of power may have be fulfilling a role selected by God, they were born as "chosen" leaders. So, in following the rules of the state, people were living the way God wanted them to, by obeying the people he chose to be in authoritative positions. So, some obey the state for religious reasons, it is their "calling".


By adhering to the authority of the state (bureaucracy) , individuals become locked in an "iron cage" in which everyone must obey one set of rules and laws. This Iron Cage limits individual freedom and potential by over-regulating and limiting individual agency. So, while political bureaucracies are established with the intention of protecting our civil liberties, they in fact violate them with their imposing, over-bearing rules. They undermine human freedom (individuals experience loss of individuality and autonomy) and democracy (loss freedom=loss of power in state).  The Iron Cage is a way for those in power to stay in power; social norms form boundaries that contain advancement.  The protection of our civil liberties is essential but when societies seem as though they might be passing those in power they will find out that there are limits to their actions.  One example of modern day Iron Cage containment is Barack Obama and his Black Berry.  He is not going to be able use this new technology to further his presidency because it does not allow the government to keep tabs on his actions.  This can be seen as protection for the people but it can also be seen as the cage closing around a new way for the president to keep in touch with the people.  There is fear that he might use it for something that does not benefit America and it is this fear that fuels the Iron Cage.

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