Maximilian Karl Emil Weber (/ˈveɪbər/; German: [ˈveːbɐ]; 21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) was a German sociologist, historian, jurist, and political economist regarded as among the most important theorists of the development of modern Western society. His ideas profoundly influence social theory and research. While Weber did not see himself as a sociologist, he is recognized as one of the fathers of sociology along with Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, and Émile Durkheim.
Unlike Durkheim, Weber did not believe in monocausal explanations, proposing instead that for any outcome there can be multiple causes. Also unlike Durkheim, Weber was a key proponent of methodological anti-positivism, arguing for the study of social action through interpretive rather than purely empiricist methods, based on a subjective understanding of the meanings that individuals attach to their own actions. Weber’s main intellectual concern was in understanding the processes of rationalisation, secularisation, and the ensuing sense of “disenchantment“. He formulated a thesis arguing that such processes are associated with the rise of capitalism and modernity.
Weber is also known for his thesis combining economic sociology and the sociology of religion, emphasising the importance of cultural influences embedded in religion as driving factors of capitalism. This is in contrast to Marx’s historical materialism, which considers religion as derivative of capitalism.[i] Weber would first elaborate his theory in his seminal work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), where he attributed ascetic Protestantism as one of the major “elective affinities” leading to the rise of market-driven capitalism and the rational-legal systems of practice in the Western world. Protestant Ethic would form the earliest part in Weber’s broader investigations into world religions, as he later examined the religions of China and India, as well as ancient Judaism, with particular regard to their differing economic consequences and conditions of social stratification. In another major work, “Politics as a Vocation“, Weber defined “the state” as an entity that successfully claims a “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”. He would also be the first to categorise social authority into distinct forms: charismatic, traditional, and rational-legal. Weber’s analysis of bureaucracy emphasized that modern institutions are increasingly based on rational-legal authority. Weber made a variety of other contributions in economic history, theory, and methodology. His analysis of modernity and rationalisation would significantly influence the critical theory associated with the Frankfurt School.
After the First World War, Weber was among the founders of the liberal German Democratic Party. He also ran unsuccessfully for a seat in parliament and served as advisor to the committee that drafted the ill-fated democratic Weimar Constitution of 1919. After contracting Spanish flu, he died of pneumonia in 1920, aged 56. (Source)