An Exemplary Moralist

Early in June 1920,Weber developed a high fever, and at first it was thought that hesuffered from the flu. The illness was later diagnosed as pneumonia,but it was too late. He died on June 14th.

The last feveredwords of the man whose physical appearance was once compared by acontemporary to that of Albrecht Durer's gaunt knights, were: "TheTruth is the Truth." Weber indeed had much in common with thoseGermanic cultural heroes who battled for what they considered justiceand truth, unconcerned with what lesser souls might consider the demandsof expediency. He was a man in the tradition of Luther's "Here I stand,I can do no other," even though at times it would almost appear to hiscontemporaries that he had more in common with Don Quixote.

Inall circumstances Weber remained fiercely independent in his politicalstand, refusing to bend to any ideological line. He was the man whoadvocated after the lost war that the first Polish official to set footin the city of Danzig should be shot, thus appearing to support thepolitics of the right; he was also the man who pressed for the executionof the right-wing assassin of Kurt Eisner, the socialist leader ofBavaria's revolutionary government. He was the man who hatedLudendorff, the detested head of the general staff, yet toyed with theidea of defending him after the war against what he considered unjustaccusations and even attempted to convert him to his version ofplebiscitarian democracy.

Wherever he perceived an injustice,Weber entered the arena like a wrathful prophet castigating his fellowsfor their moral sloth, their lack of conviction, their sluggish sense ofjustice. When the academic powers refused to recognize the merit of aSombart or a Simmel or a Michels, Weber rose passionately to theirdefense, even risking old friendships, when he felt that certain of hiscolleagues were moved by expediency in refusing professorships to Jewsor political radicals. When Russians, Poles, and Eastern Jewishstudents were shunned by respectable German professors, Weber gatheredthem around himself and invited them to him home. When, during the war,pacifists and political radicals like the poet Ernst Toller were beingpersecuted, he asked them to his famous Sunday open house. Later, whenToller was arrested, Weber testified for him in a military court andsucceeded in having him releases. When anti-Semitic, right-wingstudents in Munich insulted a Jewish student, Weber got hold of theirleader and insisted that he apologize immediately. When a friend ofhis, Frieda Gross, had a love affair with a Swiss anarchist and wasthreatened with losing the custody of her children, Weber fought in thecourts for over a year to defend her maternal rights. When ErnstTroeltsch refused during the war, in his capacity as administrator of amilitary hospital, to permit French prisoners to be visited by Germans,Weber denounced this as a "wretched case of chauvinism" and broke offrelations with his old friend.

Always and everywhere, Weberfollowed only the call of his own demon, refusing to be bridled bypolitical expediency. He was first and foremost his own man. Althoughhe repeatedly entered the political arena, he was not truly a politicalman--if we define such a man (as Weber himself did) as one who is ableto make compromises in the pursuit of his aims. Weber has written thatthe true politician feels "passionate devotion to a 'cause,' to the godor demon who is overlord." This passion he possessed in full measure;but the concomitant sense of "distant to things and men" did notcharacterize his political actions, although it is very much in evidencein his scholarly work. As a result, Weber found himself isolated in hispolitical activities. He never qualified as "a good party man." Hisopen nationalism of the Freiburg days antagonized his old-fashionedliberal friends, while his attacks on the Prussian Junkers made him thebete noire of the conservatives. His dire prophecy thatsocialism would hasten the trend toward bureaucratization, rather thanbring the promised freedom from necessity, alienated him from the SocialDemocrats despite his sympathy for the labor unions and his admirationfor the sober virtues of skilled German workmen. His passionate attacksagainst Kaiser Wilhelm and his entourage, his violent outbursts againstthe leadership in the war effort, endeared him to the pacifist andradical left, whose trust he yet failed to gain after he characterizedthe revolution as a bloody carnival.

How could Weber, theexponent of "disenchantment" and "the ethic of responsibility," theGerman patriot and life-long admirer of the innerworldly asceticism ofthe Protestant Ethic feel himself drawn to rebels and outcasts? Whycould the dispassionate and disciplined author of Science as aVocation not hide his sympathies for passionate bohemians orTolsotyan mystics? These questions become clearer after examining thecontext of his Germany and considering more fully his involvement in itspolitics.

From Coser, 1977:242-243.


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