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Max Weber and the moral idea of society

Journal of Classical Sociology 10(2) 123–136 © The Author(s) 2010 Reprints and permission: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1468795X10370416 http://jcs.sagepub.com

Liam Stone

Murdoch University, Western Australia

Abstract Methodological individualism has always been a focal point in the secondary literature on Max Weber. Some of the recent literature has endeavoured to extend this focus to individual autonomy and freedom in Weber’s political thought, and a part of this endeavour has attempted to portray his comparative studies of religion as evidence of his promotion of North American civil society at home in Germany. However, whilst this literature has provided us with a very high standard of research into the context of Weber’s work, little has been written about the conceptualizations of society that he made outside of his magnum opus, Economy and Society. This article concentrates on the scholarly approach to the social world and society that Weber adopted in his contributions to the social question, in his encounter with an organic concept of society, and in his rejection of holistic reifications of society. The focus is on a complex idea of morality in Weber’s work. Despite his contempt for organicism and what we might now term holism,Weber developed an ideal-type of morality that encompassed a role for ‘society’, as a symbol of consensus, to function at a sociological, psychological, and biological level to encourage people to believe in a unified moral world. Weber ultimately developed this ideal-type as an aid to his sociological assessment of the press.

Keywords moral idea, morality, the press, society, Weber

The establishment of the Second Reich in 1871 marked the development of significant nation-wide economic and political changes in Germany, including ‘the triumph of the constitutional nation-state’ (Mommsen, 1995: 58); the immigration of large numbers of Polish agricultural workers (Tribe, 1989: 92–93); a period of rapid industrialization during the 1880s (Mommsen, 1995: 57); and some major periods of economic downturn during the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s (Lestition, 2000: 289). In academic debates, especially within the discipline of political economy, these developments became expressed increasingly in terms of ‘social problems’ (Holborn, 1964: 289). The Verein für Sozialpolitik (Association for Social Policy), established in 1872, became the leading

Corresponding author: Liam Stone, Sociology Programme, Murdoch University, Murdoch, WA 6150,  Australia. Email: [email protected]

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forum for the discussion of and political lobbying for social issues (Demm, 1987: 88). ‘The social question’ became the bastion of the working classes, and scholarly interests moved towards the role of social legislation, social welfare, and social policy in ameliorating the poor living standards of agricultural and industrial workers (Demm, 1987: 88; Krüger, 1987: 71). Max Weber contributed to these public and academic debates on social problems through a number of scholarly writings, including: the published section of his dissertation on commercial law and medieval trading companies; his study of stock and commodity exchanges; and his two-part speech at the German Sociological Society (GSS). He also promoted the ongoing relevance of the social question when he established the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolitik (Archive of Social Science and Social Policy) with Edgar Jaffé (1866–1921) and Werner Sombart (1863– 1941) in 1904 (Factor, 1988: 1–9). It is not difficult to determine a general standpoint on the social question for Weber’s contemporaries. For instance, Ferdinand Tönnies (1855–1936) and Otto von Gierke (1841–1921) approached the social question as if it was the emergence of, or battle for, new sources of political authority. Tönnies argued that during the nineteenth century the era of traditional patriarchal life had transformed into an era of capitalist association, which would, in the future, progress into a more ideal period of community (Krüger, 1987: 76). Similarly, through a history of legal conceptions of societies and associations, Gierke argued that states and private associations must become equal in the eyes of the law to reflect the natural status of the German people (Runciman, 1997: 47). These two scholars were explicit about their theoretical ideology and they argued that giving greater political and legal authority to communities and associations would solve many of the social issues of the time. Weber, by contrast, was reluctant to discuss his standpoint.1 Weber seemed more comfortable researching empirical problems than tackling abstract issues under the umbrella term of ‘the social question’. For instance, in the early 1890s he joined a commission to research the stock exchange and determine the impact of trading speculation on the social problems of the working classes (Lestition, 2000: 290). In the same decade he also researched the problems of rural labour east of the Elbe (Swedberg, 1998: 181). During this period, Weber refused to adopt a theoretical stance on the social question. He took a very different approach than that of Tönnies or Gierke, who were more than willing to tackle the historical changes of the past fifty years from a teleological perspective. In many respects, Weber approached the social question without answering the question as such. Instead, he challenged the wisdom of asking such a question in the first place. However, as the 1890s gave way to the 1900s, and as populism increased and the social influence of the press became a powerful factor in the shaping of German culture, public opinion, and politics, Weber was in some ways forced to reassess his approach to society in order to account for its increasing causal reality. This article traces Weber’s approach to society in four separate sections. The first section traces the development of Weber’s awareness of social factors in his contributions to the social question. It looks specifically at his study of legal history and his study of the stock exchange in terms of their different conceptualizations of communities. In tracing this development, this section suggests that there is a common theme of intentionality in Weber’s various conceptualizations of different types of communities. The second section of this article draws attention to one of Weber’s earliest written encounters with a

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concept of society. It looks specifically at his opposition to Otto von Gierke’s organic theory of society. In drawing attention to this encounter, this section suggests that Weber saw society as a type of reified morality. The third section considers the manner in which Weber questioned holistic reifications of society in his proposal for a sociological study of the press and his speech to the German Sociological Society (GSS). It looks specifically at his concern with journalism’s influence on public opinion and populism. Through considering this approach, this section argues that Weber saw society as a handmaiden of morality. The fourth section discusses Weber’s idea of morality. It reconstructs an idealtype of morality from his proposal, his speeches, and his sociological writings in Economy and Society (1968). Through this reconstruction, this section reveals three themes of social, psychological, and biological functions in Weber’s approach to morality. The article ultimately reveals a complex idea of morality in Weber’s work – one that incorporates social, psychological, and biological functions. Weber’s idea of morality incorporates ‘society’ as a symbol of consensus that functions at a sociological, psychological, and biological level to encourage people to believe in a unified moral world.

Law, Economics and the Intentional Foundations of Communities In 1889, Weber published a section of his dissertation on legal history entitled The History of Commercial Partnerships in the Middle Ages (2003) (Kaelber, 2003: 1). The dissertation itself was written under the guidance of Levin Goldschmidt (1829–1897), the historian and ‘expert on commercial law’ (Kaelber, 2003: 6–7). In a short passage of the published section, Weber argued that whilst the ‘family household community’ appeared to be the same as the ‘community of labour’ or ‘commercial company’, the ‘foundation’ of the family household ‘existed a priori’, whereas the foundation of the ‘community of labour’ had ‘to be intended and created’ (Weber, 2003: 93). This passage marks the beginning of a line of thought that remained with Weber for the rest of his scholarly life. In this passage, Weber suggested that there was always an intentional foundation to associations that were larger than the family household community. The translator of Weber’s Stock and Commodity Exchanges (2000), Steven Lestition, offers an excellent introduction to the political and social context of this work. Lestition points to various debates between agrarian and capitalist interest groups on the social effects of Germany’s rapid industrialization and entrance into the world economy. During the period 1873–1879, following an initial economic boom, Germany suffered a major economic downturn (Lestition, 2000: 289). After two more major slumps – from 1882 to 1886 and from 1890 to 1894 – conservative and socialist voices began pointing the finger at Bismarck, the stock and commodity exchanges, and the developing world economy. In 1892, two years after Bismarck’s expulsion, the government commissioned a report into the operation of the stock market. This report concluded with the assessment that trading speculation was contributing to the social problems of the working classes (Lestition, 2000: 290). Between 1893 and 1894, the government implemented the recommendations of the commission through legislation to support and compensate the agrarian landowners against the economic effects of the stock and commodity exchanges (Lestition, 2000: 291). Weber was appointed to work on the ‘Exchange Commission’ in the 1890s, which had the express

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purpose of reporting directly to the chancellor. But Weber wrote his two articles on the stock and commodity markets for Friedrich Naumann’s ‘Worker’s Library’ with the secondary purpose of providing the wider public with an objective overview of the exchanges and a balanced introduction to the contemporary debate (Lestition, 2000: 292–295). For Stock and Commodity Exchanges, Weber began his analysis with an ‘initial orientation’ aimed at those readers with little prior knowledge of the markets (Weber, 2000: 305). He started his overview with a description of two major economic patterns in the history of economic endeavour: first, ‘the economy of the household’ – the form of social existence from the ‘earliest ages’ or ‘the oldest economic community’; and, second, the modern form of economic ‘trade’ that ‘seeks to expand to include the totality of all civilized peoples’ (Weber, 2000: 306–307). After this overview, Weber then described the shift from one economic pattern to another. He argued that the decisive shift occurred somewhere along the path of ‘historical development’ of the dissolution of the old forms of ‘communities’ and the emergence of the new forms of ‘cities’ (Weber, 2000: 307–308).2 According to Richard Swedberg, the point that Weber made in his overview of the stock exchanges, along with his other writings on economic history, is that old forms of exchange gave way to rational and calculable forms of economic trade, which was one of the distinguishing features of capitalism (Swedberg, 1998: 19). In other words, capitalism ushered in a high level of intentionality in all social organizations.

Defining Society as a Moral Idea Polemical writing was one of Weber’s stylistic trademarks. When he noticed an inaccuracy or an ambiguity in another author’s work, he would often write an article or pamphlet to put forward an alternative perspective. Kari Palonen identifies this as a ‘parliamentary theory of knowledge’ (Palonen, 2004: 277). Taking Nietzsche’s pluralistic view of knowledge and applying it to the social sciences, Weber argued that knowledge is gained through ‘competition between perspectives’ (Palonen, 2004: 278). Even the footnotes in Weber’s works contribute to his parliamentary approach to knowledge with remarks and references to ambiguities and weaknesses in the arguments of others. One of these remarks, contained in a footnote in Roscher and Knies (1975), is of particular value to those of us who wish to understand Weber’s conceptualization of society. In the note, Weber criticised Otto von Gierke’s metaphysical idea of society. In doing so, he denounced a wider understanding of morality that was popular amongst contemporary academics. The context, as well as the footnote, helps us to understand Weber’s aversion to the term ‘society’. The context is the period when Weber broadened his scientific scope beyond legal history and economics. Wilhelm Hennis and Martin Riesebrodt each argue that Weber’s move away from legal concepts towards economic and social concepts was mainly due to the influence of the economists Karl Knies (1821–1898) and Gustav Schmoller (1838–1917) (Hennis, 2000: 118–119; Riesebrodt, 1989: 143–144). According to Hennis, Knies encouraged Weber to move away from the abstract ‘cosmopolitcal’ theories of Smith and Ricardo, because they were far too metaphysical for a proper historical science of economics. Following Hennis, Swedberg suggests that Weber widened his conceptual outlook under the influence of Karl Knies, because Knies always

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encouraged economists to look beyond the economy in order to understand economics (Swedberg, 1998: 175). In Riesebrodt’s view, Schmoller encouraged Weber to focus on the ‘psychical and ethical motives for conduct’ (Riesebrodt, 1989: 143). Riesebrodt is adamant that sociology and the sociological literature of the time, such as Tönnies’ Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (originally published in 1887), played no part in Weber’s shift towards economic and social concerns (Riesebrodt, 1989: 151). We know that Weber was well acquainted with the work of Tönnies; the pair shared accommodation during the International Congress of Philosophers in 1908, and Tönnies was leader of the German Sociological Society (GSS) from 1909 to 1933 – an institution partly founded by Weber (Weber, 1988: 393, 420; Zohn, 1988: 393). Nevertheless, the parallels between the work of Tönnies and that of Weber are limited to their respective conceptualizations of the long-term historical development from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft, or from patriarchalism to capitalism. Tönnies argued, for example, that ‘Gemeinschaft is old; Gesellschaft is new as a name as well as a phenomenon’ (Tönnies, 1963: 34). Also, where Weber talked of a historical development from patriarchalism to capitalism, and from community of labour to community of exchange, Tönnies suggested a ‘development from Gemeinschaft toward Gesellschaft’ (Tönnies, 1963: 162). Beyond this superficial level there was only one similarity: both thinkers constructed concepts as true representations of reality and as fictional characterizations at the same time. Tönnies, for instance, argued that the existence of a Gesellschaft … is real at a given time. It is something in the process of becoming, something which should be perceived here as personality of the general will or the general reason, and at the same time (as we know) it is fictitious and nominal. (Tönnies, 1963: 76, my emphasis)

Weber also stressed that ‘Genetic ideal-types have the logical form of objective possibilityadequate cause accounts, and can be assessed for their intelligibility and factual adequacy accordingly’, but at the same time, ‘Genetic ideal-types are also ideal-types stricto sensu – consciously constructed idealizations to which nothing may actually correspond’ (Turner, 1986: 200). So both thinkers used concepts to accentuate particular aspects of reality for the purpose of historical-sociological scholarship. However, they drew quite different conclusions about the meaning of their concepts and histories. For instance, Weber did not share Tönnies’ ontological enthusiasm that society was the ‘personality of the general will of the people’ (Tönnies, 1963: 76; see also Krüger, 1987: 76). This is not to say that Weber disagreed with moral conceptions of society; he did in fact construct his own preliminary concept of society as a moral idea in a direct polemical engagement with the legal and social theory of Otto von Gierke. In the footnote mentioned earlier, Weber, in characteristically fierce mood, attacked Gierke for suggesting that ‘society’ (‘Gesellschaft’) is a ‘supraindividual’ entity with universal moral value (Weber, 1924b: 35, n; 1975: 231, n. 83). The note is lengthy, but it is worth quoting in full because it gives us a number of important indicators of Weber’s thoughts on society and it retains the theme of intentionality that he developed earlier in his dissertation on medieval trading companies:

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Consider the claim that in the domain of the social sciences we are in the fortunate position of being able to penetrate the inner structure of the ‘smallest elements’ that constitute society, elements which must run through every thread of social relations. … Gierke …claims that the essence of the total personality of the state is a ‘mystery’. From the point of view of science, he thinks, it must remain ‘concealed’. … It is susceptible to an exclusively metaphysical interpretation (through ‘imagination’ and ‘belief’, as Gierke puts it). The fact that Gierke retains the notion of the ‘supraindividual unity of the life’ of the community is not surprising. From a heuristic point of view, the idea has served him – and also science – very well indeed. However, when Gierke is forced to see the content of a moral idea or even … the content of patriotic feelings as entities in order to give credence to the power and importance of these feelings then this is curious indeed. … Neither (1) the universe of norms which regulate a community, nor (2) the (objectively viewed) totality of the relations between the individual members that are regulated by these norms, nor (3) the influences upon the conduct (conceived as a complex of events) of the individuals guided by these norms and relations constitute, in Gierke’s sense, a total essence. … However, there is nothing at all mysterious about this relation. No mysterious essence stands behind that universe of norms and relations, but rather a moral idea which dominates the desires and feelings of men. (Weber, 1975: 231–2-32, n. 83)

Firstly, the note suggests that, for Weber, there was nothing to prevent science from explaining the causal development of society, because society was simply ‘a moral idea which dominates the desires and feelings of men’ (Weber, 1975: 232, n. 83). Secondly, it suggests that Weber acknowledged a degree of causal reality in Gierke’s idea of society. In fact, in this respect, the note is not just a reference to Gierke, it is also a statement of disappointment with a widely held belief in collective entities such as society and morality. Many of Weber’s contemporaries, including academics and members of the public, reified society as a collective entity and they believed it to be an authoritative source of moral commands (Turner and Factor, 1994: 79).

A Subscription to Society and Populist Morality In 1910, Weber delivered a two-part speech to the German Sociological Society (GSS) outlining what he saw as its most immediate tasks. The tasks were twofold: first, it should begin a sociological study of the German press; and, second, it should make this study a part of a more general research project into the nature of the ‘German public sphere’ of life (Kim, 2002: 199). The speech was fragmentarily translated into English: the first half was translated by Hanno Hardt as ‘Speech to German Sociological Association’ (1979) and the second half was translated by Sung Ho Kim as ‘Voluntary Associational Life’ (2002). Prior to the speech, in a written proposal to the GSS dated April 1909, Weber presented his ideas for a sociological investigation of the press (Hennis, 1998: 109). In the written proposal – ‘Preliminary Report on a Proposed Survey for a Sociology of the Press’ – Weber argued that a sociological study of the press, beginning with a survey of the newspaper business, would provide an insight into ‘the great cultural problems of the present’ (Weber, 1998: 111). These great cultural problems included ‘the mode of constitution of the psychic means of suggestion through which modern society

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continually strives to assimilate and adapt individuals’ and the ‘conditions created by public opinion … for the development, maintenance, undermining, and reforming of artistic, scientific, ethical, religious, political, social and economic cultural components’ (Weber, 1998: 111). Weber used the term ‘mode of constitution of the psychic means of suggestion’ to refer to the organization, influence on, and distribution of the press, including factors such as the selection of newsworthy stories, and the distribution of news from ‘telegraphic services’ to newspapers and from newspapers to news agencies (Weber, 1998: 113). All of these factors, in Weber’s account, contributed to the ‘production of public opinion by the press’ (Weber, 1998: 118). For Weber, the press contributed to the ‘urbanization of the countryside’ by displacing traditional forms of communication. At the linguistic level, the press changed ‘forms of thought and expression’ by encouraging particular ‘reading matter’, and contributing, ultimately, to the shaping of ‘written and literary language’. Ultimately, according to Weber, the press had an influence on ‘the state of feelings and accustomed ways of thinking of modern individual, on political, literary and artistic activity, [and] on the constitution and displacement of mass judgments and mass beliefs’ (Weber, 1998: 119). The preliminary report offers some insights into Weber’s approach to society. Earlier, we saw how Weber spoke of society as nothing more than a moral idea guiding the conduct of life. In between writing the Roscher and Knies essay in 1903 and the GSS speech in 1910, Weber decided that the moral idea of society deserved more attention. In the preliminary report, Weber was very clear to point out that society was a moral idea moulded by the media. From the shaping of language to the displacement of ideas and determination of newsworthiness, the press was one of the major driving forces behind public opinion. Thus, in many ways, Weber began to see the press as a major constituent of modern society. In his own words, Weber saw ‘the Press as a component of the objective individuality of modern culture’ (Weber, 1998: 111). In the first part of his speech to the GSS, reiterating the preliminary report, Weber argued the need for an investigation of the sociology of the press. He used the term ‘sociology’ in reference to the ‘sociological position of the press’ – its ability to influence ‘public opinion’ and shape the conduct of modern individual (Weber, 1979: 178). For the investigation, he outlined a research programme with a number of key questions: what did contemporary publicity look like?; what world views determined the censorship of news?; how did the development of the press as a modern capitalist enterprise determine its influence on public opinion?; did the press use journalistic anonymity to present an institutional, supra-individual, objective news, or did it present new as a representation of the views of particular journalists?; what were the demographics of the average journalist, where did they come from, what education did they have, and what outside prospects did they have, especially in politics?; what effect did the condensed presentation of life, as news, have on modern individual and the manner in which they perceived the modern world?; and, finally, how did the press contribute to cultural values and the desires and viewpoints of modern individual? For Weber, an investigation of the sociological role of the press would have revealed its role in regulating social life. More than this, it would have also revealed the particular principles guiding the press. According to Weber, there were two principles controlling the press: the first was a rejection of the reporting of ‘private affairs’ in favour of public events;

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and the second was the emphasis on the role of the press as a ‘censor’ and summarizer of social issues that were deemed to be outside the reach of the law (Weber, 1979: 176). The influence of the press was a key issue for Weber. Through an investigation of both the character and the extra-journalistic endeavours of the contemporary journalist – including his or her ability to permeate politics and influence the direction of the state (Weber, 1979: 180) – Weber hoped to ascertain whether the press was perceived by the German people as a metaphysical all-knowing force from which all reality was presented in its truthful form, and he hoped to determine how this perception had changed the values of the average contemporary German individual. In short, he hoped to identify the moral capacities of the German press. Weber did not have the opportunity to develop his proposal into a substantive study because he could not get the support of the newspapers required to carry out the study comprehensively. And so, unfortunately, in the work of Weber there is no fully formed ideal type of the media’s vision of modern society in Germany during the 1910s. Nevertheless, in the proposal and the speech to the GSS, Weber provided clues as to what this ideal-type might look like, and we can use these clues to sketch an outline of a Weberian concept of society and morality. ‘Voluntary Associational Life’ (2002) constituted the second half of Weber’s speech to the GSS in 1910. In this half, he proposed an extension of the research project that he developed in his study of ‘“Churches” and “Sects” in North America’ (1985) and ‘Preliminary Report on a Proposed Survey for a Sociology of the Press’ (1998). He suggested that the overall task of the GSS should have been ‘a sociology of voluntary associational life’ in Germany (Weber, 2002: 200). In Weber’s speech, a voluntary association, such as ‘the bowling club’ or ‘the political party’, had two ideal-typical traits reminiscent of ‘the sect’: first, it was ‘a combination (Einigung) of specifically qualified people and not an “institution” (Anstalt)’; and, second, ‘its socio-structural principle involve[d] a rejection of those sanctions typical of an authoritarian organization (Zwangverbände) such as the state or the church’ (Weber, 2002: 200–201). The second task of the GSS, according to Weber’s speech, was to investigate the manner in which an individual’s participation in a voluntary association influenced his or her general life conduct (Weber, 2002: 202). Weber’s interest, here, was with the manner in which an individual might alter his or her ‘personality’ through adopting the sense of ideals and dignity of a particular association in order that he or she might be accepted by the other members of that association. In his speech, Weber went on to explain why the study of voluntary associations might have also been relevant to the process of leadership selection and the formation of public opinion. He stated that all voluntary associations had a hierarchy of ‘domination by the minority (Minoritätsherrschaft)’. An investigation of the process by which this minority was selected, according to Weber, would shed light on the general social process of leadership selection and the types of personality that came to dominate (Weber, 2002: 203– 204). The process of leadership selection was, for Weber, a factor that directly influenced public opinion. In expressing this view, Weber made some salient points about the formation of cultural values. He stated that the dominant personalities of voluntary associations inevitably sought to ‘secure loyalty’ through ‘propagandistically’ promoting ‘grand ideas about the nature of the world (Weltanschauungsideen)’ (Weber, 2002: 204). However, because of ‘a universal “Tragedy” … that doom[ed] every attempt to realize

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ideas in reality’, these associations became ‘objectified and occupied by careerists’ (Weber, 2002: 204). The result, according to Weber, was an ‘unconscious influence’ of ideas on the conduct of life; when careerists appropriated voluntary associations, they transformed the ideals of those associations into ‘public values (überindividuellen Kulturgüter)’, without acknowledging their original intentions (Weber, 2002: 205, 207). This is the primary problem that Weber found in the press. Journalists and editors were promoting grand ideas about the nature of the world, and presenting them as if they were the basis of the morality of modern society. Their readers were compelled to follow this morality because they believed that these ideas represented public opinion. But how, from Weber’s perspective, did these ideas and this type of morality function as an influence on the behaviour of individuals? How did the press shape the conduct of its readers? There are no direct answers to this question in Weber’s proposal and there are also no direct answers in either his ‘Logos’ essay of 1913 (1981) or the so-called magnum opus’ of his sociology, Economy and Society (E&S) (1968). Swedberg’s most valuable dictionary of Weber’s terminology states that society ‘plays no role in his [Weber’s] general sociology, and it is not part of his “Basic Sociological Terms” as outlined in Ch. I’ (of E&S) (Swedberg, 2005: 254). Swedberg claims that ‘One reason for Weber’s decision not to use “society” as a sociological concept has probably to do with his firm stance in favor of methodological individualism and his strong aversion to holism.’ According to Stephen Kalberg, Weber always ‘sees the clearly formed society with delineated boundaries as a hypothetical case only’ (Kalberg, 2005: 19). These are both sound conclusions for the ‘Logos’ essay and E&S because Weber did maintain a non-causal line on ‘society’ throughout these writings. However, in the proposal and the speeches, he was forced to accord a degree of causal reality to ‘society’ when he admitted that there was a ‘mode of constitution of the psychic means of suggestion through which modern society continually strives to assimilate and adapt individuals’ (Weber, 1998: 111). This could be easily passed off as a lazy use of the word ‘society’ if Weber simply used the term as a general reference to different associations. However, he was never lazy in his use of words. And, in this instance, he used the word ‘society’ to refer deliberately to the myth of society in the press. Weber chose not to discuss the behavioural causality of modern society in E&S or in the ‘Logos’ essay of 1913. In the ‘Logos’ essay, he wrote about the perception of socially homogeneous behaviour, but, again, this was not the same as the causality that he encountered in society. The passage in ‘Logos’ reads: … there is no doubt that the simultaneously acting mass, even though geographically separated but still related to each other (for example, through the press), can influence the behaviour of all individuals in a way we shall not explore here, for that analysis is the subject of an inquiry in ‘mass-psychology’. (Weber, 1981: 167)

We can therefore suppose that mass-conditioned behaviour in this sense is not what Weber had in mind when he spoke of ‘the mode of constitution of the psychic means of suggestion’. Mass conditioning was an important part of the process, but there was also a sociological element that Weber chose not to discuss in the ‘Logos’ essay.

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In E&S, Weber portrayed social action in terms of ‘social relationships’, and he always referred to these relationships as modes of action. For instance, he used the terms Vergemeinschaftung and Vergesellschaftung to mean ‘communal’ and ‘associative’ social relationships, respectively (Weber, 1968: 40–41). The closest he came to a collective concept of society in E&S was his concept of an ‘organization (Verband)’, which he defined as ‘A social relationship which is either closed or limits the admission of outsiders’, and that ‘has its regulations ... enforced by specific individuals’ (Weber, 1968: 48). The idea of society that Weber discusses in the proposal contains none of the characteristics of this type of organization. There is nothing closed about the idea of society portrayed in the press. There are no explicit organizational regulations and no (identified) individuals to enforce them. It could be argued that the press’s idea of society contains an element of communal social relations, as defined in E&S, because the readers of the press probably share ‘a subjective feeling ... that they belong together’ (Weber, 1968: 40). But this does not account for the perception or illusion of the existence of a collective entity, especially one that has causal reality. Whilst Weber did not treat the journalistic idea of society as a separate type of social relationship in his methodological work, an interpretation of his proposal can provide some insights into his method of conceptualizing society and it can provide a reasonable appreciation of his idea of morality. We know that, in E&S, instead of arguing that behaviour was caused by a collective moral code and obligation to that code, Weber argued that individuals always make a choice to act according to a moral code (Turner and Factor, 1994: 79). Most of the time, for Weber, the choice was made out of convenience or even laziness, but it was nevertheless always made out of choice. The only instances of non-voluntary behaviour occurred when sanctions came into play. Ethical systems that appeared to operate as causal factors did not oblige people to behave in certain ways with the ideas or moral weight of their customs, but through the use of sanctions against those who did not follow those customs (Turner and Factor, 1994: 84). In their assessment of Weber’s approach to morality, Turner and Factor ask: what made sanction so compelling? They argue that Weber was forced to turn to a non-sociological element for an answer to this question. Their conclusion is: sanction was so compelling for Weber because he believed that ‘it acts on the psyche of the average individual like the disturbance of an organic function’ (Weber in Turner and Factor, 1994: 88). For Weber, individuals had an inbuilt biological ‘inhibition against innovation’, which functioned as a survival mechanism.

Society as an Aid to Morality Turner and Factor draw our attention to an important biological element in Weber’s approach to morality, but their explanation does not account for all of the elements of morality and society contained in Weber’s proposal for a sociological study of the press. We are still left with the question: how do you create a norm in the first place that makes innovation so biologically difficult? The answer to this question is also the answer to the puzzle of the causal reality of society. The answer lies somewhere in the fact that Weber approached morality as a sociological, psychological, and biological phenomenon.3 For Weber, the seed of morality was sown sociologically when the illusion of a collective entity was created by the press (in Weber’s proposal, this collective entity was society).

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The seed then began to grow when individuals began to believe that a collective entity was a real entity that other people belonged to. The seedling grew to its full fruit-bearing capacity when the psychological acceptance of the legitimacy of society developed into a biological compulsion to comply with the norms of this collective entity as a means of survival. In this sense, society was an aid to morality in the press. And, ultimately, society provided an objectification of grand ideas and moral codes in the form of a collective entity that people could believe in. In adhering to his principle of value freedom, Weber was adamant that sociologists should not praise, condemn, or offer any judgment on the sociological position of the press or any other voluntary association. So what purpose did his study of the media and voluntary associations serve? In the absence of any substantial evidence, a safe road to follow when reading Weber’s proposal is to locate his comments in the wider debate of politics and populism in the press during the post-Bismarckian and Wilhelmine periods.4 From the 1890s onwards, mass forms of communication allowed journalists, politicians, and interest groups to reach and influence much wider audiences. Geoff Eley defines this period as one of ‘exotic mystic ideologies and racial doctrines’ that ‘brought many individuals into the right’ because they had widespread ‘appeal to urban craftsmen, small businessmen and white-collar employees’ (Eley, 1991: 188). It was a period when political parties on the right and the left, including the Social Democratic Party, fought their political battles, as they still do today, through converting mass audiences to party ideologies. As Eley notes, this process involved creating, consolidating and disseminating an appealing ideology (Eley, 1991: 187). Weber’s interest in studying the press fits somewhere into the above context. He was aware of the ability of the press to shape public opinion and he was acutely aware of the populism of contemporary politics. However, we must not give in to the temptation to construct a political or moral philosophy from his political thought using his assessment of ‘society’ as a framework. Weber’s concern with ‘society’ most likely came from his interest in establishing clarity and knowledge in the public sphere. Notes I would like to thank Jodie Hine, Gary Wickham, Gavin Kendall and the reviewers at JCS for their comments on and help with earlier versions of this article. 1. Much of the older literature places an emphasis on Weber’s individualist method of studying social action (see, for instance, Gerth and Mills, 1948: 18, 33, 40; Shils, 1987: 549). These authors draw connections between Weber’s methodological individualism and his political views to support the thesis that he was a progressive liberal, and to argue that he always placed the modern state in a position subordinate to society. More recently, the Max Weber Studies journal has published a number of articles promoting Weber as a champion of ‘individual autonomy’. In ‘Disenchantment, Enchantment and Re-Enchantment: Max Weber at the Millennium’, Richard Jenkins stresses that ‘When Max Weber borrowed the expression “the disenchantment of the world” from Schiller, he was offering a sociological – perhaps even an ethical or moral – provocation’ to preserve the ‘expressive dimensions of human social life’ (Jenkins, 2000: 11–13). In ‘On the Foundations of Athenian Democracy: Marx’s Paradox and Weber’s Solution’, Mohammad Nafissi stresses that Weber’s ideal interest referred ‘to individual autonomy and creativity which he feared was caged by bureaucratic rationalization’ (Nafissi, 2000: 57). Nafissi argues that Weber studied ancient civilizations to learn something

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about maintaining individual autonomy in the face of increasing bureaucratization (Nafissi, 2000: 57). In ‘Weber, Pynchon and the American Prospect’, Ralph Schroeder argues that American democracy, for Weber, provided a political solution to the social problem of the ‘atomization’ of individuals because ‘American “civil society” ordered political interests by means of its associationalism’ (Schroeder, 2001: 165). Elsewhere, in Max Weber’s ‘Reconceptualization of Freedom’, Kari Palonen argues that Weber was a promoter of a ‘modern concept of liberty’ (Palonen, 1999: 523). According to Palonen, instead of opposing individual freedom and politics, Weber upheld an intimate relationship between them. Weber’s analysis of the ‘operative of contingency’ was, Palonen stresses, an analysis of chance and freedom (Palonen, 1999: 524). Perhaps the most compelling of these emancipative readings of Weber is Sung Ho Kim’s Max Weber’s Politics of Civil Society (2004). In this book, Kim argues that the ethics of conviction and responsibility, which Weber set forth in his speech on the vocation of politics, promoted the North American voluntary types of sect-like associations as vessels for a ‘soulcraft’ for modern times in Germany and the rest of the world (Kim, 2004: 189). Kim suggests that the ethics presented a ‘total personality’ that had the ability to ‘(re)empower our agency’ – our freedom of conscience – in the face of the increasing rationalization and calculability of the modern Western world (Kim, 2004: 176–178). Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much by way of objection to the ‘individual autonomy thesis’ in recent Weber scholarship. For a compelling objection, we have to cast our sights back to Wolfgang Mommsen’s Max Weber and German Politics, 1890–1920, which argues that Weber always placed society in a position subordinate to national politics (Mommsen, 1984: 63). 2. In the German version, Die Börse, Weber uses the terms Gemeinschaft, alten Gemeinschaften, and Austauschgemeinschaft to alternate between these two major economic patterns (Weber, 1924a: 261–262). Lestition translates Gemeinschaft as ‘society’, alten Gemeinschaft as ‘old community’, and Austauschgemeinschaft as ‘community of exchange’ (in Weber, 2000: 306–307). It seems odd that Weber would use a term like Gemeinschaft to mean ‘society’ whilst simultaneously using the term alten Gemeinschaft to refer to primitive old-community forms of economic association. If we adhere to Martin Riesebrodt’s (1989) approach to the work of Weber, and restrict ourselves to the individual textual level, we run into trouble trying to explain Weber’s preference for the term Gemeinschaft. For instance, we might contextualize Weber’s preference using the history of Germany’s late industrialization. In this history, we find that there were ongoing debates surrounding agrarian protectionism and capitalism, which lent a degree of contention to the term Gesellschaft. Locating Weber’s preference in this context (following Riesebrodt), we might conclude that he was careful to use the more specific set of historical-social ideal types because he wanted to distance his work from the domestic political and social interests surrounding Bismarck and his opposition. But, in order to appreciate Weber’s position towards society, we must consider some of his other writings that contain an explicit statement on his position. These writings shed light on his conceptual preference for the term Gemeinschaft. 3. Weber already had in mind a disciplinary alliance between various social sciences when he assumed editorial duties with Werner Sombart and Edgar Jaffé at the Archiv für Sozialwissenschaft und Sozialpolizei in 1904: ‘We want to make our contribution to overcoming, in the future, the dilettantish way in which the treatment of these borderline questions between biology and social science have previously been marked’ (Weber et al., 1904: v). The idea of a disciplinary alliance in the work of Weber is something that I believe deserves more attention in the secondary literature. Richard Swedberg’s superb study of Weber’s Idea of Economic Sociology (1998) contributes extensively to this project by revealing the merger of economics and sociology in Economy and Society (1968). 4. Thank you to one of the journal reviewers for kindly pointing out this example.

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Author Biography Liam Stone is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia. His primary area of academic interest is the history of sociology. He also works as a communications consultant on major urban development projects in Australia.

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