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Max Weber was born 150 years ago on the 21st of April, 1864. To mark his upcoming anniversary, the Max Weber Programme is posting this page to celebrate Weber’s intellectual legacy. Later in 2014 a special Max Weber Lecture on 15 October by Peter Ghosh of the University of Oxford, and the author of a recent definitive study of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, will provide an opportunity to discuss his work as a social scientist and  theorist of  capitalism and liberal democracy.

The Max Weber Programme initiated its series of conferences on “The Classics Revisited” [Hyperlink] in 2006 with a tribute to Max Weber that highlighted his importance for all the disciplines and many of the research themes represented at the EUI. Weber made seminal contributions to the study of law, economics, history, politics and sociology, combining these disciplines to explore such issues as the interaction between social and political structures and social and political behaviour; the contrasting nature and role of religion in East and West; the impact of migration on labour markets and citizenship; the character of the modern state; and the social and cultural basis of democracy and the economy. As such, he truly epitomises the multidisciplinary approach promoted by the Max Weber Programme.

Weber focused on both explaining and understanding human action, distinguishing between different types of rationality to do so. He carried out detailed historical-comparative work on world religions as part of an empirical investigation into the social and cultural preconditions of the Western concept of modernity. Weber argued that the natural sciences, capitalism and the bureaucratic state formed part of a process of ‘rationalization’ that was leading to the ‘disenchantment’ of the world. He saw the liberal democratic arrangements that emerged in western societies as historically contingent and potentially incapable of being transferred to other societies or even of surviving in those where they had taken root. Yet, as Richard Bellamy, director of the MWP, remarked “Weber’s philosophical and sociological arguments concerning the basis of liberalism can be employed to rethink liberal democracy even more thoroughly than he thought possible […]. In place of a doctrine of rights or justice, he reconceived liberalism in realist terms as a set of procedures and institutions, which via the redistribution of power became capable of giving expression to a plurality of competing values in society, and of securing an accommodation between them. This reconceptualization of the liberal project provides the foundations for a pluralistic political liberalism based on the democratization of the ethic of responsibility and suited to the needs of a disenchanted and bureaucratic world suffocated by corporate power”  (Liberalism and Modern Society, Polity Press, 1992, p.216).

Further reading on Max Weber by Richard Bellamy here