Max Weber was one of the world s greatest sociologists and wrote a lot about the capitalist world he lived in. He had a different conception of capitalist society than most of his contemporaries. He looked at capitalism from all the different aspects that the philosophy was made of. Some of these aspects are state power, authority, class inequality, imperialism, and bureaucracy. To understand how Weber thought one must look at each area separately then put them all together in a global package.
Weber describes history in terms of the constant struggle for power. He bases all significant historical changes on the power struggle that caused them. Weber describes power as a zero sum game. That means for one person to gain power, someone else has to loose the same amount of power. A fundamental aspect of the power struggle is the state, and its power. Weber states that the state is the monopoly of legitimate force. The state is a compulsory of power, and the laws within it are its powers to enforce its power. The main struggle for power is that of force verses authority. Force is power that can be used to get one s way, and authority is the legitimate use of power to rule.
Within the struggle for power, Weber defines three forms of authority: rational-legal authority, traditional authority, and charismatic authority. Rational-legal authority is anchored in impersonal rules that have been legally established. This type of has come to characterize social relations in modern societies. Traditional authority often dominates pre-modern societies. It is based on the belief in the sanctity of tradition, of the past. Unlike rational-legal authority, traditional authority is not codified in impersonal rules but is usually invested in a hereditary line or invested in a particular office by a higher power. Finally, charismatic authority rests on the appeal of leaders who claim allegiance because of the force of their extraordinary personalities.
Weber does not feel that the power of a class is a very important issue. Weber feels that classes are only important, within the struggle for power, when they state they are part of their class in their actions. Classes, along with status groups, are just passive members in society. Only if a political party solely represents the class, then it becomes active. This unimportance of classes shows Weber s feelings that the economic issues within capitalism do not effect authority or the struggle for power.
Imperialism, in Weber s mind, is not a matter of economics. He states that imperialism more of a political tool. It is used as a tool of prestige for the elites and way to promote nationalism among the masses. The idea of imperialism was around before capitalism, so it is natural to Weber to say that it could not have been created by capitalism. Imperialism did, however, appeal to all members of the ruling classes. It appeals to the prestige of the old elites and it is the source of money for the new elites; but the appeal of prestige is the more important factor to Weber. Weber s view of imperialism is a continuation of the struggle for power. This opens him up to criticism, for not allowing for the impact the economic aspects of imperialism on this power struggle.
Weber stated the dysfunction of bureaucracy in terms of the impact that it had on individuals. Its major advantage, efficiency in attaining goals, makes it unwieldy in dealing with individual cases. The impersonality, so important in attaining efficiency of the organization, is dehumanizing. But the concern over bureaucracy’s threat to the members of a particular organization has served to overshadow its effects on the larger society. Weber was very concerned about the impact that rationalization and bureaucratization had on sociocultural systems. By its very nature bureaucracy generates an enormous degree of unregulated and often unperceived social power. Because of bureaucracy’s superiority over other forms of organization, they have proliferated and now dominate modern societies. Those who control these organizations, Weber warned, control the quality of our life, and they are largely self-appointed leaders. Bureaucracy tends to result in oligarchy, or rule by the few officials at the top of the organization. In a society dominated by large formal organizations, there is a danger that social, political and economic power will become concentrated in the hands of the few who hold high positions in the most influential of these organizations.
Weber s end goal for society was the creation of a plebiscatory democracy capable of transforming capitalism. This change in society will change personal power into a power for the greater good of the society. Weber dislikes the Junkers in Germany because of their egoist actions. Set tariffs and follow the rules that will help themselves, not Germany as a whole. Although it is individualistic, Weber is interested in democracy not for the idea that the masses can share the power to rule, but for the reason that it allows new leaders, charismatic leaders, to come into power. In Weber s ideal democracy is one where leaders are spotted by the masses, but then the masses stay out of government and let the leaders rule