Max Weber: The Years of Mastery
The Years of Mastery
Upon his return to Heidelberg, Weber resumed a full writing career, but he returned to teaching only in the last few years of his life. His intellectual output was now again astonishing. His methodological writings, the most important of which are translated in Max Weber on the Methodology of the Social Sciences, date from these years. The Protestant Ethic was published in 1905. There followed in 1906 several important studies on the political developments in Russia after the revolution of 1905. In 1908 and 1909 he did a major empirical study in the social psychology of industrial work and of factory workers. In these years he also participated actively in academic conventions and spoke at political meetings. In 1910 he became the co-founder, with Toennies and Simmel, of the German Sociological Society. He remained its secretary for several years and decisively influenced its initial program of study.
Before World War I, Weber's home in Heidelberg became the center for richly stimulating and varied intellectual gatherings. The Webers for a time shared their home with Ernst Troeltsch. Sociologists Simmel, Michels, and Sombart, and among the younger generation, Paul Honigsheim and Kurt Loewenstein, were frequent visitors, as were the philosophers Emil Lask, Wilhelm Windelband, and Heinrich Rickert, the literary critic and historian Friedrich Gundolf, and the psychiatrist-philosopher Karl Jaspers. Young radical philosophers like Ernst Bloch and Georg Lukacs were to join the circle shortly before the war.
When the World War broke out, Weber, in accord with his nationalist convictions, volunteered for service. As a reserve officer, he was commissioned to establish and run nine military hospitals in the Heidelberg area. He retired from this position in the fall of 1915.
After having said initially that, "In spite of all, this is a great and wonderful war," Weber lost his illusions. He now devoted much of his time to writing memoranda and to seeking to influence government officials, as a kind of self-appointed prophet of doom. He attacked the conduct of the war and the ineptitudes of Germany's leadership. He was particularly enraged by the increasing reliance on submarine warfare, which, he prophesied, would bring America into the war and lead to eventual defeat. He was not a principled enemy of the war, yet he urged limited war aims and restraints on the industrialists and the Junker forces of the Right, whose imperialist ambitions were wide ranging. He advocated the extension of peace feelers, especially in the direction of the English.
The established powers never availed themselves of Weber's advice and he was driven to a paroxysm of loathing and despair about the current German leadership. Articles urging a change in the whole political structure of Germany, the development of responsible parliamentary government, restrictions on the powers of the Kaiser and the Chancellor led the government to consider prosecuting him for the crime of lese majeste. The reliable nationalist of yesterday seemed to come perilously close to the Vaterlandslosen Gesellen, the enemies of the fatherland, on the pacifist and "defeatist" Left.
When the sailors mutinied at Kiel on November 3, 1918, and gave the signal for the German revolution, Weber's first reaction was negative. He called the revolution a bloody carnival. But he soon rallied to it and attempted to develop the basis for a liberal German polity.
Earlier in 1918 Weber had for the first time in many years lectured for a full semester at the University of Vienna; a year later he accepted a call to the University of Munich where he began to lecture in the middle of the year. His well-known lectures, Science as a Vocation and Politics as a Vocation, were first delivered to an audience of students at Munich in 1919, and bear all the marks of his attempt to define his major political and intellectual orientation in a time of revolutionary upheaval.
In the last three years of his life, 1918-20, Weber developed an astounding political activity. He wrote a number of major newspaper articles, memoranda, and papers on the politics of the hour. He was a founding member of and active campaigner for the newly organized Deutsche Demokratische Partei; he served as an adviser to the German delegation to the Versailles peace conference; he had an active hand in the preliminary work of writing a new German constitution; he addressed student assemblies and academic groups alike and endeavored, in the revolutionary turmoil of these days, to define a rational-democratic orientation, opposed alike to the right-wing excesses of the enemies of the Republic and the revolutionary chiliasm of some of his young friends of the Left. He attempted to establish close contacts with the Social Democratic movement, but the man who had committed the sacrilege of calling the revolution a bloody carnival never managed to overcome the opposition of most left-wing politicians. As a result, proposals to have him join the government or to make him a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic came to naught. Party bureaucrats could only be suspicious of a man who, though he had shifted from monarchist to republican loyalties, continued to be highly critical of party machines and openly hankered for some decisive charismatic breakthrough that would put an end to the reign of mediocrities.
During the war years, Weber put the finishing touches to his work on the sociology of religion. The Religion of China and The Religion of India were published in 1916, and Ancient Judaism appeared a year later. During this period, and in the immediate postwar years, Weber also worked on his magnum opus, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Economy and Society). Although he was not able to complete this work, what he finished was published posthumously, as were his last series of lectures at Munich, entitled General Economic History.
From Coser, 1977:240-242.