The Years of Mastery

Upon his return toHeidelberg, Weber resumed a full writing career, but he returned toteaching only in the last few years of his life. His intellectualoutput was now again astonishing. His methodological writings, the mostimportant of which are translated in Max Weber on the Methodology ofthe Social Sciences, date from these years. The ProtestantEthic was published in 1905. There followed in 1906 severalimportant studies on the political developments in Russia after therevolution of 1905. In 1908 and 1909 he did a major empirical study inthe social psychology of industrial work and of factory workers. Inthese years he also participated actively in academic conventions andspoke at political meetings. In 1910 he became the co-founder, withToennies and Simmel, of the German Sociological Society. He remainedits secretary for several years and decisively influenced its initialprogram of study.

Before World War I, Weber's home in Heidelbergbecame the center for richly stimulating and varied intellectualgatherings. The Webers for a time shared their home with ErnstTroeltsch. Sociologists Simmel, Michels, and Sombart, and among theyounger generation, Paul Honigsheim and Kurt Loewenstein, were frequentvisitors, as were the philosophers Emil Lask, Wilhelm Windelband, andHeinrich Rickert, the literary critic and historian Friedrich Gundolf,and the psychiatrist-philosopher Karl Jaspers. Young radicalphilosophers like Ernst Bloch and Georg Lukacs were to join the circleshortly before the war.

When the World War broke out, Weber, inaccord with his nationalist convictions, volunteered for service. As areserve officer, he was commissioned to establish and run nine militaryhospitals in the Heidelberg area. He retired from this position in thefall of 1915.

After having said initially that, "In spite of all,this is a great and wonderful war," Weber lost his illusions. He nowdevoted much of his time to writing memoranda and to seeking toinfluence government officials, as a kind of self-appointed prophet ofdoom. He attacked the conduct of the war and the ineptitudes ofGermany's leadership. He was particularly enraged by the increasingreliance on submarine warfare, which, he prophesied, would bring Americainto the war and lead to eventual defeat. He was not a principled enemyof the war, yet he urged limited war aims and restraints on theindustrialists and the Junker forces of the Right, whose imperialistambitions were wide ranging. He advocated the extension of peacefeelers, especially in the direction of the English.

Theestablished powers never availed themselves of Weber's advice and he wasdriven to a paroxysm of loathing and despair about the current Germanleadership. Articles urging a change in the whole political structureof Germany, the development of responsible parliamentary government,restrictions on the powers of the Kaiser and the Chancellor led thegovernment to consider prosecuting him for the crime of lese majeste. The reliable nationalist of yesterday seemed to come perilously closeto the Vaterlandslosen Gesellen, the enemies of the fatherland,on the pacifist and "defeatist" Left.

When the sailors mutiniedat Kiel on November 3, 1918, and gave the signal for the Germanrevolution, Weber's first reaction was negative. He called therevolution a bloody carnival. But he soon rallied to it and attemptedto develop the basis for a liberal German polity.

Earlier in 1918Weber had for the first time in many years lectured for a full semesterat the University of Vienna; a year later he accepted a call to theUniversity of Munich where he began to lecture in the middle of theyear. His well-known lectures, Science as a Vocation and Politicsas a Vocation, were first delivered to an audience of students atMunich in 1919, and bear all the marks of his attempt to define hismajor political and intellectual orientation in a time of revolutionaryupheaval.

In the last three years of his life, 1918-20, Weberdeveloped an astounding political activity. He wrote a number of majornewspaper articles, memoranda, and papers on the politics of the hour. He was a founding member of and active campaigner for the newlyorganized Deutsche Demokratische Partei; he served as an adviser to theGerman delegation to the Versailles peace conference; he had an activehand in the preliminary work of writing a new German constitution; headdressed student assemblies and academic groups alike and endeavored,in the revolutionary turmoil of these days, to define arational-democratic orientation, opposed alike to the right-wingexcesses of the enemies of the Republic and the revolutionary chiliasmof some of his young friends of the Left. He attempted to establishclose contacts with the Social Democratic movement, but the man who hadcommitted the sacrilege of calling the revolution a bloody carnivalnever managed to overcome the opposition of most left-wing politicians. As a result, proposals to have him join the government or to make him acandidate for the Presidency of the Republic came to naught. Partybureaucrats could only be suspicious of a man who, though he had shiftedfrom monarchist to republican loyalties, continued to be highly criticalof party machines and openly hankered for some decisive charismaticbreakthrough that would put an end to the reign of mediocrities.

Duringthe war years, Weber put the finishing touches to his work on thesociology of religion. The Religion of China and TheReligion of India were published in 1916, and Ancient Judaismappeared a year later. During this period, and in the immediate postwaryears, Weber also worked on his magnum opus, Wirtschaft undGesellschaft (Economy and Society). Although he was not able tocomplete this work, what he finished was published posthumously, as werehis last series of lectures at Munich, entitled General EconomicHistory.

From Coser, 1977:240-242.


Forward to "An Exemplary Moralist"
Back to "The Early Academic Career"
Back to the Index