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Max Weber: A Biography



Max Weber: A Biography

Joachim Radkau

ISBN: 978-0-745-68342-3 October 2013 Polity 700 Pages

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Max Weber (1864-1920) is recognized throughout the world as the most important classic thinker in the social sciences – there is simply no one in the history of the social sciences who has been more influential. The affinity between capitalism and protestantism, the religious origins of the Western world, the force of charisma in religion as well as in politics, the all-embracing process of rationalization and the bureaucratic price of progress, the role of legitimacy and of violence as offsprings of leadership, the ‘disenchantment’ of the modern world together with the never-ending power of religion, the antagonistic relation between intellectualism and eroticism: all these are key concepts which attest to the enduring fascination of Weber’s thinking.

The tremendous influence exerted by Max Weber was due not only to the power of his ideas but also to the fact that behind his theories one perceived a man with a marked character and a tragic destiny. However, for nearly 80 years, our understanding of the life of Max Weber was dominated by the biography published in 1926 by his widow, Marianne Weber. The lack of a great Weber biography was one of the strangest and most glaring gaps in the literature of the social sciences. For various reasons the task was difficult; time and again, attempts to write a new biography of Max Weber ended in failure.

When Joachim Radkau’s biography appeared in Germany in 2005 it caused a sensation. Based on an abundance of previously unknown sources and richly embedded in the German history of the time, this is the first fully comprehensive biography of Max Weber ever to appear. Radkau brings out, in a way that no one has ever done before, the intimate interrelations between Weber’s thought and his life experience. He presents detailed revelations about the great enigmas of Weber’s life: his suffering and erotic experiences, his fears and his desires, his creative power and his methods of work as well as his religious experience and his relation to nature and to death. By understanding the great drama of his life, we discover a new Max Weber, until now unknown in many respects, and, at the same time, we gain a new appreciation of his work.

Joachim Radkau, born in 1943, is Professor of Modern History at the Bielefeld University, Germany. His interest in Max Weber dates back nearly forty years when he worked together with the German-American historian George W. F. Hallgarten (Washington), a refugee who left Germany in 1933 and who, as a student, listened to Weber’s last lecture in summer 1920. Radkau’s main works include Die deutsche Emigration in den USA (1971); Deutsche Industrie und Politik (together with G. W. F. Hallgarten, 1974), Aufstieg und Krise der deutschen Atomwirtschaft (1983), Technik in Deutschland (1989), Das Zeitalter der Nervosität (1998), Natur und Macht: Eine Weltgeschichte der Umwelt (2000).

Acknowledgements xii

Preface to the English Edition xiii

Abbreviations xviii

At the Den of the Sick Lion 1

Part I The Violation of Nature

1 Great Mother and Harsh Nature: A Precocious Youth on the Margins of Berlin 7

2 Max and Minimax: Blood Brothers and Drinking Companions – Surly Fraternity as a Primary Social Experience 25

3 From Father’s Boy to Mother’s Boy: A Comradely Marriage and the Day of Judgement for the Father 39

4 Antaeus, Antiquity and Agrarians: The Unshackling of Creativity through the Earthing of Culture 70

5 Eruptions from the Ice: Creativity as Natural Catastrophe 96

6 A ‘Gospel of Struggle’ and Old German Corpulence: From Lifestyle Crisis through Creativity Crisis to Existential Crisis 117

Part II Nature’s Revenge

7 The Demons: The Wildness of Nature and the Riddle of Sexuality 145

8 ‘A Sort of Spiritualistic Construction of the Modern Economy’: The Protestant Ethic and the Vain Quest for Redemption through the Spirit 179

9 South – North – West – East: Changing Attempts at Spiritual Conquest of the World 208

10 From the ‘Essay of Sighs’ to ‘Psychophysics’: the Seven-Year Fight with Naturalism against Naturalism 250

11 From the Eranos Circle to the ‘Erotic Movement’: New Roots and New Milieux 275

12 Max Weber’s Love–Hate for the Germans 316

Part III Salvation and Illumination

13 Value-Free Science, Love and Music 345

14 Charisma 390

15 The Naturalness of Community – The Disguised Naturalism in Economy and Society 405

16 From Deborah’s Song of Triumph to the ‘Titans of the Holy Curse’: Pacifist Herdsmen, Prophets and Pariahs – the Israelites 427

17 World War and Flight from the World 450

18 Great Speeches, the Great Love and Death 481

19 Epilogue: Powerplay and the Wrangling over Max Weber’s Spirit 551

Notes 572

Index 667

"Max Weber: A Biography is studded with sparkling observations on topics ranging from German academia to zoology, and the references to primary and secondary literature are truly encyclopedic."
The Journal of The Review of Politics

"No serious sociologist can be without a copy of this heavy tome. Artfully translated by Patrick Camiller, the study is hypnotic reading, beautifully written, lively, stimulating, and wonderfully well organized. No review could do justice to the plethora of new insights into Weber that emerge in this study, which will keep specialists happy in controversy for years to come."
Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Radkau has provided a comprehensive, authoritative, balanced and nuanced view of the man we have come to know as the conflicted, driven, enigmatic genius of 10th-century modernity."

"This absorbing and meticulously researched biography ... recounts a complex, moving story."
Book of the week in the Times Higher Education

"Radkau's exceptional book brings out the relations between Weber's thought and his life experience. There are sensational revelations about Weber's suffering and eroticism, his fears and desires, and his great creative power."
Lancashire Evening Post

"The reader is in for an exciting time, but also an agreeable one, since Radkau has an easy, relaxed style, and has been fluently and serviceably translated."
Times Literary Supplement

"Radkau's biography takes great advantage of the archive documentation and of the family correspondence made available by Guenther Roth's enormous 2001 effort."
The Philosophers' Magazine

"Joachim Radkau is the first biographer to bring the great social thinker Max Weber to life. He reveals what others tried to conceal: the emotional turmoil suffered by the champion of rationality."
Lord Dahrendorf

"In this remarkable and engaging study, Joachim Radkau investigates the life, loves, and intellectual passions of one of the early twentieth century’s most engaging thinkers. Capturing both the tumultuous times and the singular accomplishments of Max Weber, the author has written a spirited and penetrating account of the creative life that is perhaps unrivaled in its provocative originality. Based on impeccable documentation, the result is a striking portrait of the eros of the intellect, of scientific work in relation to personality. Radkau's impressive achievement is certain to provoke a passionate response of its own."
Lawrence A. Scaff, Wayne State University

"A minor social-scientific scoop ... By any standards, this is an important work."
Peter Thomas, New Left Review

"Despite the immense Weber industry, until now we had no biographical account of this quality."
Hans Joas, Merkur

"An amazing, breath-taking book."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"A brilliant achievement."
Süddeutsche Zeitung

"I read every sentence of Radkau’s Weber ... A must-read."
Michael Greven, Neue Politische Literatur

  • This is the first major biography of Max Weber to appear in more than 80 years.
  • Radkau was able to make use of previously unavailable source material, including the extensive correspondence of Max Weber and that of his wife, Marianne Weber.
  • Drawing on this new source material, Radkau is able to paint a picture of Max Weber the man, and of his tortured personal and private life, which had previously been completely hidden from view.
  • This book has been a huge success in Germany, where it was on the bestseller list. It will quickly establish itself as the most thorough and authoritative account of the life of Max Weber – probably the most important and influential figure in the history of the social sciences.