In his own words:

On sociology:

"Sociology . . . is a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and consequences.  We shall speak of 'action' insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to his behavior--be it overt or covert, omission or acquiescence.  Action is 'social' insofar as its subjective meaning takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course" (1921/1968, p.4).

"Within the realm of social conduct one finds factual regularities, that is, courses of action which, with a typically identical meaning, are repeated by the actors or simultaneously occur among numerous actors.  It is with such types of conduct that sociology is concerned, in contrast to history, which is interested in the causal connections of important, i.e., fateful, single events (1921/1968).

"An ideal type is formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and occasionally absent concrete individual phenomena, which are arranged according to those one-sidedly emphasized viewpoints into a unified analytical construct. . . . In its conceptual purity, this mental construct . . . cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality" (1903-1917/1949, p. 90).

"The primary task of a useful teacher is to teach his students to recognize 'inconvenient' facts--I mean facts that are inconvenient for their party [political] opinions. And for every party opinion there are facts that are extremely inconvenient, for my own opinion no less than for others. I believe the teacher accomplishes more than a mere intellectual task if he compels his audience to accustom itself to the existence of such facts. I would be so immodest as even to apply the expression 'moral achievement,' though perhaps this may sound too grandiose for something that should go without saying" (1919/1948, p. 147).

On materialism and idealism:

"We have no intention whatever of maintaining such a foolish and doctrinaire thesis as that the spirit of capitalism . . . could only have arisen as the result of certain effects of the Reformation, or even that capitalism as an economic system is a creation of the Reformation. . . . On the contrary, we only wish to ascertain whether and to what extent religious forces have taken part in the qualitative formation and the quantitative expansion of that spirit over the world" (1904/1930, p. 91).

"In view of the tremendous confusion of interdependent influences between the material basis, the forms of social and political organization, and the ideas current in the time of the Reformation, we can only proceed by investigating whether and at what points certain correlations between forms of religious belief and practical ethics can be worked out"  (1904/1930, p. 91).

"Not ideas, but material and ideal interests, directly govern men's conduct.  Yet very frequently the 'world images' that have been created by 'ideas' have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest"  (1946/1958, p. 280).

On the protestant ethic:

"A man does not 'by nature' wish to earn more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose.  Wherever modern capitalism has begun its work of increasing the productivity of human labour by increasing its intensity, it has encountered the immensely stubborn resistance of this leading trait of pre-capitalistic labour"  (1904/1930, p. 60).

[For the Calvinist] "The world exists to serve the glorification of God and for that purpose alone. The elected Christian is in the world only to increase this glory of god by fulfilling His commandments to the best of his ability.  But God requires social achievement of the Christian because He will that social life shall be organized according to His commandments, in accordance with that purpose" (1904/1930, p. 108).

"Waste of time is thus the first and in principle the deadliest of sins.  The span of human life is infinitely short and precious to make sure of one's own election.  Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health. . . .is worthy of absolute moral condemnation. . . .[Time] is infinitely valuable because every hour lost is lost to labour for the glory of God.  Thus inactive contemplation is also valueless, or even directly reprehensible if it is at the expense of one's daily work. For it is less pleasing to God than the active performance of His will in a calling"  (1904/1930, pp. 157-158).

"The religious valuation of restless, continuous, systematic work in a worldly calling, as the highest means of asceticism, and at the same time the surest and most evident proof of rebirth and genuine faith, must have been the most powerful conceivable lever for the expansion of . . . the spirit of capitalism" (1946/1958: p. 172).

"Capitalism is today an immense cosmos into which the individual is born, and which presents itself to him, at least as an individual, in so far as he is involved in the system of market relationships, to conform to capitalist rules of action" (1904/1930, p. 54).

On rationalization:

"The great historic process in the development of religions, the elimination of magic from the world which had begun with the old Hebrew prophets and, in conjunction with Hellenistic scientific thought, had repudiated all magical means to salvation as superstition and sin, came here to its logical conclusion. The genuine Puritan even rejected all signs of religious ceremony at the grave and buried his nearest and dearest without song or ritual in order that no superstition, no trust in the effects of magical and sacramental forces on salvation, should creep in" (1904/1930, p. 105).

"The increasing intellectualization and rationalization does not, therefore, indicate an increased and general knowledge of the conditions under which one lives. it means something else, namely, the knowledge or belief that if one but wished one could learn it at any time. hence, it means that there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation. this means that the world is disenchanted. One need no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore the spirits, as did the savage, for whom such mysterious powers existed. Technical means and calculations perform the service. This above all is what intellectualization means" (1946/1958: p. 139)

This whole process of rationalization in the factory and elsewhere, and especially in the bureaucratic state machine, parallels the centralization of the material implements of organization in the hands of the master.  Thus, discipline inexorably takes over ever larger areas as the satisfaction of political and economic needs is increasingly rationalized.  This universal phenomenon more and more restricts the importance of charisma and of individually differentiated conduct"  (1921/1968, p. 1156).

It seems to me that to-day we are in danger of giving just such applause to mechanization in the sphere of government and politics. For what else have we heard from them? Imagine the consequences of that comprehensive bureaucratization and rationalization which already to-day we see approaching. Already now, throughout private enterprise in wholesale manufacture, as well as in all other economic enterprises run on modern lines, Rechenhaftigkeit, rational calculation, is manifest at every stage. By it, the performance of each individual worker is mathematically measured, each man becomes a little cog in the machine, and, aware of this, his one preoccupation is to become a bigger cog (1909/1944, p. 126).

On bureaucracy:

"From a purely technical point of view, a bureaucracy is capable of attaining the highest degree of efficiency, and is in this sense formally the most rational known means of exercising authority over human beings.  It is superior to any other form in precision, in stability, in the stringency of its discipline, and in its reliability.  It thus makes possible a particularly high degree of calculability of results for the heads of the organization and for those acting in relation to it.  It is finally superior both in intensive efficiency and in the scope of its operations and is formally capable of application to all kinds of administrative tasks (1921/1968, p. 223).

"The principles of office hierarchy and of levels of graded authority mean a firmly ordered system of super- and subordination in which there is a supervision of the lower offices by the higher ones" (1946/1958, p. 197)

"No machinery in the world functions so precisely as this apparatus of men and, moreover, so cheaply. . .. Rational calculation . . . reduces every worker to a cog in this bureaucratic machine and, seeing himself in this light, he will merely ask how to transform himself into a somewhat bigger cog. . . . The passion for bureaucratization drives us to despair" (1921/1968: p. IV).

"The needs of mass administration make it today completely indispensable.  The choice is only between bureaucracy and dilettantism in the field of administration" (1921/1968, p. 224).

"When those subject to bureaucratic control seek to escape the influence of existing bureaucratic apparatus, this is normally possible only by creating an organization of their own which is equally subject to the process of bureaucratization" (1921/1968, p. 224).

[Socialism] "would mean a tremendous increase in the importance of professional bureaucrats" (1921/1968, p. 224).

"Not summer's bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness, no matter which group may triumph externally now" (1946/1958, p. 128).

"To this extent increasing bureaucratization is a function of the increasing possession of goods used for consumption, and of an increasingly sophisticated technique for fashioning external life--a technique which corresponds to the opportunities provided by such wealth" (1946/1958, p. 212).

" is still more horrible to think that the world could one day be filled with nothing but those little cogs, little men clinging to little jobs and striving toward bigger ones--a state of affairs which is to be seen once more, as in the Egyptian records, playing an ever-increasing part in the spirit of our present administrative systems, and especially of its offspring, the students. This passion for enough to drive one to despair. It is as if in politics. . . we were to deliberately to become men who need "order" and nothing but order, who become nervous and cowardly if for one moment this order wavers, and helpless if they are torn away from their total incorporation in it. That the world should know no men but these: it is in such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is therefore not how we can promote and hasten it, but what can we oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parceling-out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life." (1909/1944, pp. 127-128).

"The state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of force within a given territory"(1946/1958, p. 78).

"When fully developed, bureaucracy stands . . . under the principle of sine ira ac studio (without scorn and bias).  Its specific nature which is welcomed by capitalism develops the more perfectly the more bureaucracy is 'dehumanized,' the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational and emotional elements which escape calculation.  This is the specific nature of bureaucracy and it is appraised as its special virtue" (1946/1958, pp. 215-16).

"The decisive reason for the advance of bureaucratic organization has always been its purely technical superiority over any other kind of organization.  The fully developed bureaucratic mechanism compares with other organizations exactly as does the machine with the nonmechanical modes of organization" (1946/1958, p. 214).

"Precision, speed, unambiguity, knowledge of the files, continuity, discretion, unity, strict subordination, reduction of friction and of material and personal costs--these are raised tothe optimum point in the strictly bureaucratic organization" (1946/1958, p. 214).

"The apparatus (bureaucracy), with its peculiar impersonal character. . . is easily made to work for anybody who knows how to gain control over it.  A rationally ordered system of officials continues to function smoothly after the enemy has occupied the area: he merely needs to change the top officials" (1946/1958, p. 229)

On social evolution:

"To this day there has never existed a bureaucracy which could compare with that of Egypt. This is known to everyone who knows the social history of ancient times; and it is equally apparent that to-day we are proceeding towards an evolution which resembles that system in every detail, except that it is built on other foundations, on technically more perfect, more rationalized, and therefore much more mechanized foundations. The problem which besets us now is not:  how can this evolution be changed?--for that is impossible, but: what will come of it?" (1909/1944, p. 127).

"Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. Today the spirit of religious asceticism--whether finally, who knows?--has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer. The rosy blush of its laughing heir, the Enlightenment, also seems to be irretrievably fading, and the idea of duty in one's calling prowls about in our lives like the ghost of dead religious beliefs (1904/1930, pp.181-182).

"In the field of its highest development, in the United States, the pursuit of wealth, stripped of its religious and ethical meaning, tends to become associated with purely mundane passions, which often actually give it the character of sport (1904/1930, p. 182).

"No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals or, if neither, mechanized petrification embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: 'Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has obtained a level of civilization never before achieved'"  (1904/1930, p. 182).

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth--that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible (1946/1958, p. 128).


"Max Weber on Bureaucratization in 1909," in J.P. Mayer,  1909/1944, Max Weber and German Politics, London: Faber & Faber.

Weber, M. (1962). Basic Concepts in Sociology by Max Weber. (H. Secher, Ed., & H. Secher, Trans.) New York: The Citadel Press.

Weber, M. (1921/1968). Economy and Society. (G. Roth, C. Wittich, Eds., G. Roth, & C. Wittich, Trans.) New York: Bedminster Press.

Weber, M. (1946/1958). Essays in Sociology. In M. Weber, H. Gerth, & C. W. Mills (Eds.), From Max Weber. New York: Oxford University Press.

Weber, M. (1925/1954). Max Weber on Law in Economy and Society. (E. Shils, & M. Rheinstein, Trans.) New York: Simon and Schuster.

Weber, M. (1903-1917/1949). The Methodology of the Social Sciences. (E. Shils, H. Finch, Eds., E. Shills, & H. Finch, Trans.) New York: Free Press.

Weber, M. (1904/1930). The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. (T. Parsons, Trans.) New York: The Citadel Press.