The Early Academic Career

As a student atBerlin, Weber developed a strong antipathy for Treitschke's patrioticblustering and ranting but grew to appreciate men of sober scholarship,like his thesis advisor Jakob Goldschmidt and the historian Mommsen,with whom he studied Roman law. Weber had so close a relation with thisteacher that at the defense of his Ph.D. thesis on the History ofCommercial Societies in the Middle Ages, in 1889, Mommsen said tohim: "When I come to die, there is no one better to whom I should liketo say this: Son, the spear is too heavy for my hand, carry it on."

In the Berlin years Weber was enormously productive. His frantic workpace was perhaps a means for diverting his increasingly antagonisticfeelings toward a father on whom he was still wholly dependent. HisPh.D. thesis, rated summa cum laude, was followed in 1891 by animportant work on Roman Agrarian History, which served as hisHabilitationsschrift, a post-doctoral thesis necessary for auniversity teaching position. There followed several studies on thecondition of East-Elbian agricultural workers for the Verein fuerSozialpolitik and for the Evangelisch-sozial Verein. Themajor one of these East-Elbian studies ran to almost nine hundred pagesand was written in about a year, during which time Weber was replacinghis former teacher Goldschmidt as a lecturer at the University of Berlinand also holding a full-time job at the bar. In these years Webersubmitted himself to a rigid and ascetic discipline, regulating his lifeby the clock and dividing his daily routine into component parts withmonkish rigidity.

Release from this psychic ordeal finally seemedto come in 1893, when he married Marianne Schnitger, thetwenty-two-year-old daughter of a physician (a cousin on his father'sside), and was appointed to a chair in economics at the University ofFreiburg. From then on, Marianne and Max Weber enjoyed a very intenseintellectual and moral companionship--theirs was, as the Germans say, aMusterehe--yet, it appears that the marriage was neverconsummated. Sexual fulfillment came to Weber only in his late forties,shortly before World War I, in an extramarital affair.

Weber'sinaugural address of 1895 on The National State and Economic Policy,which combined intense nationalism and superb scholarship, brought himto the attention of a wider scholarly and political world than he hadbeen able to reach with his previous specialized studies. His newrenown led to his being called to Heidelberg in 1896 to succeed hisformer teacher Knies as professor of economics. In Heidelberg, Webernot only reestablished contacts with his other former teachers, Bekker,Erdmannsdoerffer and Kuno Fischer, but found new friends and colleagues,such as the legal scholar Georg Jellinek and the theologian ErnstTroeltsch. The Weber home soon became a gathering ground for the flowerof Heidelberg's academic intellectuals, and Weber, though still quiteyoung, came to be seen as the central figure in an extended network ofcolleagues and like-minded scholars.

In addition to his scholarlyconcerns, Weber also pursued his political interests, playing anincreasing role in Christian-Social political circles and publishing avariety of papers and memoranda on issues of the day. He was settlingdown to an active and creative participation in the worlds of bothscholarship and politics, and he seemed destined to become a majorfigure in German intellectual life.

All at once, this promisingcareer seemed to come to an end. In July 1897, his parents visitedHeidelberg. His father had insisted upon accompanying his wife, whowould have preferred to spend a few weeks with her children without him. On that occasion, father and son clashed violently: the son accusedhis father of treating his mother tyrannically and brutally, and endedby telling the old man to leave his house. The father died only about amonth later. Shortly thereafter Max Weber suffered a complete breakdownand did not recover for more than five years.

Weber's unresolveddifficulties of identification, his inner conflicts regarding the valuesof father and mother, aunt and uncle, may partly account for thebreakdown. Additional sources of tension and guilt may have arisenfrom his broken engagement with a mentally burdened cousin and hismarriage to yet another cousin, who had previously been courted by aclose friend of Weber's from whom he had snatched her away. Chronicoverwork, in itself probably a means of escaping inner tensions, mayhave played its part, as may his impotence with his new wife (which inturn may have been related to his other conflicts). A detailed self-analysis, which Weber prepared for an attending physician, has beenlost, so it is unlikely that the concrete causes for Weber's breakdownwill ever be fully clarified.

During the next few years, Weberfound himself unable to work. Often he could not even concentrate longenough to read. He traveled a great deal, especially to Switzerland andItaly. At times he seemed to be recovering, but another relapse wouldsoon follow. When it seemed unlikely that he would ever again be ableto lecture to students, he resigned from his chair at Heidelberg. Hespent some time in a sanitarium and was treated by a number ofspecialists, but all seemed to no avail. Then almost unexpectedly, in1903, his intellectual forces were gradually restored. He managed inthat year to join with Werner Sombart and Edgar Jaffe in the editorshipof the Archiv fuer Socialwissenschaft, which became the leadingGerman social science journal; his editorial duties allowed him toreestablish the contacts with friends and academic colleagues he hadlost during the years of his illness.

In 1904, his formercolleague from Goettingen, Hugo Muensterberg, now at Harvard, invitedhim to read a paper before a Congress of Arts and Sciences in St. Louis. The lecture he delivered there, on the social structure of Germany, wasthe first he had given in six and a half years. Weber subsequentlytraveled through America for over three months and was deeply impressedwith the characteristics of American civilization. The roots of manylater conceptions on the part played by the Protestant sects in theemergence of capitalism, on the organization of political machines, onbureaucracy, and even on the role of the Presidency in the Americanpolitical structure can be traced to his stay in America.

From Coser, 1977:237-239.


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