The Centenary of Max Weber’s Death

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Giovanni Cucci, SJ

 Giovanni Cucci, SJ / Church Thought / 29 September 2020


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This year marks the centenary of Max Weber’s death.[1] His work is as prolific as it is fragmentary. Most of his writings were, in fact, published posthumously, in particular the monumental works, Economy and Society and Sociology of Religions. Only in 1984 did the Mohr publishing house start bringing out a critical edition of his works. This makes the reconstruction and evaluation of his thought particularly complex. Nevertheless, the extremely complex debate that has arisen around his theses confirms, a century later, the profound originality and fecundity of his thought and  some of his insights into Western modernity.

Taking into account the vastness of the field, this essay limits itself to two of Weber’s ideas that have greatly influenced the study of the sociology of religion: disenchantment of the world, and the Protestant ethic as the driving force behind capitalism. 

Disenchantment of the world

It is a statement that has made Weber famous. The process of rationalization, which characterizes the modern mentality along with science, leads people to interpret the world in technical-rational terms without any reference to the transcendent: “Growing intellectualization and rationalization do not mean a growing general knowledge of the conditions of life, but something very different, the awareness, or faith, that if you want to, you can always know, that is, in principle there are no mysterious or irrational forces at stake, but on the contrary, all things can – in principle – be dominated by reason.

This is nothing other than the disenchantment of the world. It is no longer necessary to resort, as the savages (for whom those forces existed) did to the instruments of magic to dominate or ingratiate spirits. Reason and technical mechanisms replace them. This is the primary meaning of intellectualization as such.”[2] This approach has made Western society markedly different from all the others that have existed so far.

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