Max Weber — “Specialists without spirit”

“The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so. For when asceticism was carried out of monastic cells into evervday life, and began to dominate worldly morality, it did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force. Perhaps it will so determine them until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt. In Baxter’s view tile care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment”. But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.

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. To-day 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, seems also 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. Where the fulfilment of the calling cannot directly be related to the highest spiritual and cultural values, or when, on the other hand, it need not be felt simply as economic compulsion, the individual generally abandons the attempt to justify it at all. 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.

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 fast stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said:’ “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, p123-124).

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3 Responses to Max Weber — “Specialists without spirit”

  1. Heather says:

    Looking for the source of “Specialists without spirit . . .” etc. Hunch it’s Goethe, but possibly Höaut;lderlin?

  2. Heather says:

    Looking for the source of “Specialists without spirit . . .” etc. Hunch it’s Goethe, but possibly Hölderlin?

  3. Heather says:

    OK, according to Stephen A. Kent, “Weber, Goethe, and the Nietzschean Allusion: Capturing the Source of the ‘Iron Cage’ Metaphor,” Sociological Analysis Vol. 44, No. 4 (winter, 1983) 297-319 (full text available on JSTOR), it’s really Weber, constructed as an allusion to “the last men,” from Zarathustra, “with the tenor of Zarathustra in mind.” But since Anthony Giddens thought it was from Goethe, and said so in the introduction to my (1976) edition of The Protestant Ethic, I claim extenuating circumstances for my earlier error.

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