Arguably the foremost social theorist of the twentieth century, Max Weber is known as a principal architect of modern social science along with Karl Marx and Emil Durkheim.
Weber’s wide-ranging contributions gave critical impetus to the birth of new academic disciplines such as sociology as well as to the significant reorientation in law, economics, political science, and religious studies.
The questions that he poses remain the central subject matter not only of modern sociology, but also more widely of contemporary social and political thought.
This prominence is reflected in the sustained treatment of Weberian sociology that occurs in contemporary sociology and social theory from widely divergent positions.
Weber and his wife Marianne, an intellectual in her own right and early women’s rights activist, soon found themselves at the center of the vibrant intellectual and cultural life of Heidelberg; the so-called “Weber Circle” attracted such intellectual luminaries as Georg Jellinek, Ernst Troeltsch, and Werner Sombart and later a number of younger scholars including Marc Bloch, Robert Michels, and György Lukács.
Weber was also active in public life as he continued to play an important role as a Young Turk in the (especially with the leader of its younger generation, Friedrich Naumann).Also, his parents represented two, often conflicting, poles of identity between which their eldest son would struggle throughout his life — worldly statesmanship and ascetic scholarship.Educated mainly at the universities of Heidelberg and Berlin, Weber was trained in law, eventually writing his on Roman law and agrarian history under August Meitzen, a prominent political economist of the time.Together, these two theses helped launch his reputation as one of the founding theorists of modernity.In addition, his avid interest and participation in politics led to a unique strand of political realism comparable to that of Machiavelli and Hobbes.He was invited to join the draft board of the Weimar Constitution as well as the German delegation to Versaille; albeit in vain, he even ran for a parliamentary seat on the liberal Democratic Party ticket.In those capacities, however, he opposed the German Revolution (all too sensibly) and the Versaille Treaty (all too quixotically) alike, putting himself in an unsustainable position that defied the partisan alignments of the day.Max Weber occupies a central position in the development of sociology.His significance is not merely historical; he remains an ever-present force in contemporary sociology and in this respect he is to be differentiated from Durkheim whose historical importance is widely recognised but is less and less a point of reference in current discussions.After some flirtation with legal practice and public service, he received an important research commission from the (the leading social science association under Gustav Schmoller’s leadership) and produced the so-called East Elbian Report on the displacement of the German agrarian workers in East Prussia by Polish migrant labours.Greeted upon publication with high acclaim and political controversy, this early success led to his first university appointment at Freiburg in 1894 to be followed by a prestigious professorship in political economy at Heidelberg two years later.