Max Weber's work ethic and my student mistakes.

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To: Max Weber's 'value-neutral' or 'value-free' method.

My student mistakes.

There is no getting away from it. I was a bad student. That was because I didnt know how to study. In my time, you were provided with long reading lists on your course subject. The implication was that you were somehow expected to get thru them - before the next set of lists were put before you.

I had the wrong idea. I thought that making detailed notes of the key works would see me thru the exams, in the end. All I was doing was wasting my youthful reserves of eyesight.
J B Priestley's American tours took him round colleges. He said that he always came across the graduate, who had poured out his youth like dirty dish-water. I was worse, being so inept that I couldnt even aspire to a position to show for it.

Copious note-taking was my magic ritual to pass exams, themselves a rites de passage of dubious efficacy for society. Failing the wisdom to know one's calling and get oneself apprenticed to it, rather than examined, I should have done differently.
Supposing one knows the course one most wants to do. A great list of titles neednt give one readers block. Instead, one treats it as a choice. Try all the books ( electronic or traditional ) to find out which ones you can read, and leave, at least for the time being, those that are indigestible.

Students will have different tastes and may learn from each other. Discussion should help to fix subjects in one's mind. If ideas occur to one, noting them down may provide material for exams or theses. Even on a scientific course, where certain subjects must be learned, different books, students, teachers may be approached, if necessary.

When there are definite methods or formulae, to master, there is no substitute for practising with examples. As a student, that was the only thing I did well, and would have failed the whole course, otherwise.

The bulk of that course was empirical: the reading of endless 'monographs'. I tried to get to grips with a few and just stalled on them. What I should have done was chucked the books that made no impression on me. I should have wasted no time on them. If I had kept on searching thru the course lists, I would have picked-up scraps of intelligence, on the way. And, by the law of averages, I would assuredly have found enough books that I liked and found memorable.
( If not, then it's the wrong course, or one should do something else altogether. )

These favorite works, I could have written about, in glowing terms, for the set essays, and pleased my tutors! No mean consideration.

Max Weber's 'value-neutral' or 'value-free' method.

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Ive allowed ( a little ) for my grotesque deficiencies as a student. As is the way of things, I saw a fault in academic convention, when I couldnt see my own faults, let alone any remedy for them.

The idol of the sociologists was a scholar called Max Weber. He was a sprawling empiricist, who saw typical social patterns in history. He called these 'ideal types' but he really just meant types. He did not mean to imply that a type should be regarded as an ideal or utopia. He did call his ideal types, utopias, but only in the sense that they were discernible trends found in several societies and no-where perfectly realised.

Weber saw Western rationalisation as leading to a bureaucratic future, tho this was not his personal wish.
Nowadays, I would say that democracy is a type of society, studied, so it may be better realised in the fullest sense of the word, mental and moral.

But in the dim and distant past, the academic line was one of pure science. The sociologist's job was to study social facts, not espouse social values. The orthodox view was David Hume's declaration that you cannot derive an 'ought' from an 'is'.
Noam Chomsky remonstrated that he could hardly open his mouth in American academe, without someone asking: Was that a fact or a value? For Chomsky, a 'value-judgement' could be a fact.

Max Weber's The Methodology of the Social Sciences had not got beyond Hume to the answer of his great country-man, Immanuel Kant. There were six copies of this book in our little college library. This unheard-of extravagance had its appalling effect on young and impressionable minds.

I disagreed with the sophistry, as I saw it, of 'value-freedom' or value neutrality. Tho my lecturers disagreed or dismissed this 'non-issue', my ( rather persistent ) point of view was tolerated and probably redeemed my exam papers as one of the few passages of debatable interest.
After all, exams are about the last way one would seek to make good use of intelligent young minds.

There is a certain poetic justice in doing a social study on a sociologist, or at least running a scan on Max Weber's methodological motives. Weber traced an exceptional relation of protestant ascetism to capitalist labor. He, himself, was an ascetic in his self-denying ordinance of facts without values.

Robert Merton's researches, on religion and science, mainly confirmed the puritan's progress to pure science. Pure science could be called puritan science in its determinism, hostile to ethics and an ascetic animus against esthetics.
It can be contended that Weber's Humean dualism does not have a happy effect on much of his writings. His method is full of conventional distinctions, on the ground one cannot be too pedantic for clarity's sake. Whereas, his empirical writings are full of allusions only specialists can be expected to understand. He might have made clear what most students needed making clear, not what they didnt.

But his political writings leave behind the 'sober empirical analysis' he valued above the interesting values that, he believed, spoil a student's 'taste' for it. Weber is outraged by the bungling attempts of the young Kaiser's court to outdo Bismarck. He has ceased to be the barrel-bellied student, whose duel-scarred face, his mother slapped. Weber has a gut reaction to the follies of upstart rulers.

The roots of his changed values are in shallow soil. One feels that if a Bismarck were always available, he could do without constitutionalism. It took Weber's contemporary, H G Wells, in The Outline of History, to point out that Germany achieved unity, with the Frankfort Parliament, in 1848. The United States recognised the new government.

Bismarck couldnt tolerate democracy and sent the Prussian army in. The German states achieved unity, by peaceful agreement, nearly a quarter of a century before Bismarck imposed the Prussian monarchy. His realpolitik was the belief that force and fraud are the realities of politics.

Hitler launched the battle-ship Bismarck to its name-sake's faith in 'blood and iron' as the motive force in human affairs. Wells said that he was going thru his 'Hitler phase' when he was thirteen. He roamed about the country-side, directing phantom armies of conquest.

Around that age, in the aftermath of the second world war, I was just another such war-gamester. No doubt I remained a prey to all sorts of failings, and added some new ones. But I have given some thought to why parliament is the genuine approach, and militarism the false approach, to unity.

Weber's political writings appear at the end of the English edition, translated as Economy and Society. But they lack much sign that his new-found belief in the liberal democracy of a representative parliament has been informed by his scholarship.

Weber's studious neutrality was as close as his south German university was to the French border. He nods approvingly to Karl Marx's Das Kapital, as a monument of erudition, to assert his independence. His main life's work, the comparative studies of religions in relation to economies, was an idealist refutation of 'the materialist interpretation of history.'
( A Marx-Weber synthesis became a main current in sociological thought. )

'Highly undesirable', he judges, the appointment of 'professorial prophets', who do not touch conventional values. Of course, that is itself a value. Academic freedom goes beyond wishful thinking.
As we live in a commercial world, that holds life itself to ransom, so the Prussian army was the model for Imperial Germany. Treitschke was a highly successful pounder of the chauvinist pulpit.

In this social context, Weber's method amounted to a manifesto seeking a mandate from the government for academic freedom, as the privilege of being protected from militarist propaganda driving the masses.
This is fair enough. But later sociologists, in much freer countries, were not being sociological to treat Weber more like an academic messiah with a message, than a colleague in a compromise.

Richard Lung

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