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Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society
“Discipline and Charisma” underpins Weber’s understanding of the rationalization of modern life. As such, it sets the stage for his essay “Bureaucracy,” and also, more generally, “Politics as Vocation” and The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. In “Discipline and Charisma,” Weber explicitly asks how it is that large groups of humans simultaneously restrain their psychobiological impulses to fit the demands of the industrial age. This is because the point of such rational discipline is that rationalized orders are executed when received in a predictable fashion. This happens because the execution of any received command emerges from tactical responses that are conditioned reactions to precise drills. In the context of such drills, all personal critique is unconditionally deferred, and personal convictions are constantly adjusted towards the pre-determined goal reflected in how the received order is executed. This is of course a condition that Weber marveled at in both The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism and “Bureaucracy.” From Weber’s view, it is the very basis for why humans habitually and precisely obey states, militaries, bosses, and business corporations without moral reflection.
“Bureaucracy” is the essay where Weber develops his ideas about rationalization to the greatest extent. In doing this, he builds on his earlier writings about social stratification and discipline. What he describes is a world that becomes mechanistic—both in the private or public sector. Weber’s point is that the purely technical advantages of the bureaucratic machine takes on a life beyond its creator, whether the creator was the charismatic Napoleon Bonaparte or Otto von Bismarck. The slow accretion of power reflects the “dilettantism” of generations of gentry, nobles, and other types of faceless Honoratioren.
This essay is about the roles honor, prestige, and Stand play in the organization of society. Weber wrote that prestige and the accompanying justification of Stand underpins how people organize themselves using the visible markers of rank. In the modern world, though, this can be understood only in the context of the social stratification of social class, as spread by the anonymous actions of the marketplaces. This results in an irony in the modern world, which is that while Stand is based on economic acquisition, it is also based on the pretension that naked economic power does not matter. Rather, honor, privilege, and subordination are based on ideologies about merit rooted in values emerging from within the Gemeinschaft, not the naked power of the market from which privilege actually emerges. This essay is about how this has worked throughout history, and points out bluntly that The market does not know “honor” or “prestige” [it only knows cash], but the reverse is true for the Stand. Stratification and privileges in terms of honor and lifestyles are inherent to each Stand. Therefore, the privileged Stände are threatened at their very roots by the market and its emphasis on mere economic acquisition and naked economic power—which still bears a stigma as emerging from outside the Stand.
This is our translation of Max Weber's classic essay "Charisma and Discipline." The final version is in our book Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society. Your library should buy the whole book! It is truly one of Weber's greater essays.
Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society rediscovers Max Weber for the twenty-first century. Tony and Dagmar Waters' translation of Weber's works highlights his contributions to the social sciences and politics, credited with highlighting concepts such as "iron cage," "bureaucracy," "bureaucratization," "rationalization," "charisma," and the role of the "work ethic" in ordering modern labor markets. Outlining the relationship between community (Gemeinschaft), and market society (Gesellschaft), the issues of social stratification, power, politics, and modernity resonate just as loudly today as they did for Weber during the early twentieth century.