Reading Guide to: Turner, B (1981) For Weber: Essays on the Sociology of Fate, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Chapter one

Turner sees Weber's sociology as indicating a contrast between the logic of development, and the contingent aspects of concrete societies. There is a general pessimism, and a note of irony about how subjective elements are likely to produce new determinations. This is certainly not a sociology of the subjective actor, but is about constraint: history offers a series of unique conjunctures to constrain us, however. Criticisms like those of Hindess are off the mark -- Weber has not been read symptomatically.

Further, the position of Hindess and Hirst on the contradiction between the logic and contingency of class relations ( Pre-Capitalist Modes of Production) is actually very close to Weber's own. The later work also sees the means of production as a 'capacity', while politics is a matter of calculation. There is no general knowledge of politics available, and therefore no need of historical accounts or political sciences, and this is just like Weber's view of politics as the exercise of power with no determinant outcome. There is even some convergence in terms of a selection of objects of analysis -- the State, politics, culture and so on.

So has Weber actually quietly been incorporated into modern marxism? Perhaps there is a common view of fate, originating in Hegel? Weber came to know marxism through the works of the Second International, rather than through more recent 'alienation' readings. There was certainly never a lifelong debate with Marx. Weber opposed institutionalised marxism, especially the positivism of Kautsky, and this leads to his neo-Kantian criticism.

There seem to be five major criticisms of this sort of marxism in Weber's work:

(a) it is monocausal

(b) it does not explore the possibility that the same base can produce different superstructures

(c) (State) socialism is not an effective alternative to market rationalism

(d) there are specific criticisms of Engels on marriage and property

(e) marxism is inadequate as both a science and an ethic of agency (24)

The irony is that these are common criticisms among neo-marxists today! The last criticism in particular has leads to the split between humanist and structuralist alternatives. Weber's work is in a position to influence both alternatives. There are lots of substantive overlaps between Weber and neo-marxism too (pages 25-6). For example, Weber's work on the inner rationalisation of law mirrors Pashukanis on a commodity form and the relative autonomy of law. There is some convergence in their views on 'late capitalism', although neo-marxists want to explain Weberian effects in terms of marxist causes! However, Weber's concrete analyses are much better.

His work on the logic of rationalisation is fully compatible with that of Marx on modes of production. Both are best thought of as reification theorists in work like that of Berger and Luckmann, but it is more accurate to think of them as both offering a discussion of determinism combined with accidental and contingent concrete developments.

Chapter 2 Weber and structural marxism

[This chapter starts with a good resume of the criticisms of Schutz and Runciman]. Marxist criticisms are directed at the contemplative character and the idealism of Weberian analysis: there is thus an inadequate break with both commonsense and German philosophy, a retention of the category of the subject, subjective motives, the universal need for theodicy [see below] ad so on. However, the Weberian legacy has a non-deterministic account of the relationship between economic and political structures too, as argued above.

Althusserian marxism employs a form of structural functionalism which could be criticised by both Weber and Marx. There are problems with the 'generalities' model too, which degenerates into an account of history as the empiricist connection of contingent facts. This leads to an appeal for different sorts of histories at different levels, and an approach that tackles specific disjunctures in terms of concepts such as 'uneven development', 'survivals', 'backwardness', or 'underdevelopment' (37). These and other complexities have led to a flourishing of, and have arisen from, Marxist theoretical practice rather than an attempt to grasp complex reality, and none of them can grasp indeterminacy or multi-causality. For neomarxism, history is often the result of actions of a collective subject, one which is always produced by class, or the relations of production

Weber is seen as an empiricist. His concept of the ideal type is seen as an abstraction from reality rather than a theoretical construction of a concept and as an articulation of instances, as in  Poulantzas (39). Weber is condemned as a humanist because of his focus on individual action, his anti-collectivism, his methodological individualism, or as offering decisionism. This allows Hindess to trace his work back to Christian theology. However, his main interest is indeterminacy, and developing more empirical richness, as in the Protestant Ethic.

Neo-marxism also employs agency -- human agents as the creators of capitalism appear in the work on primitive accumulation in Hindess and Hirst. Poulantzas in his work on political power suggests there is some unfolding inner essence, rather like rationalisation: '[power is] a only a concept indicating the effect of the ensemble of structures on the relations of the practices of the various classes in conflict' (43) [This is developed with a closer analysis of Poulantzas's Classes in Contemporary Capitalism -- some human or historical subject is needed, rather than a strict analysis of the ensemble of structures]. Class reductionism affects the work of Lukacs, agency haunts the work of Dahrendorf, or Wright Mills. Weber's insistence that social groups consist of individuals, beyond the effects of class relations, finds echoes in the debates between Poulantzas and Miliband on the nature of the capitalist state.

Weber deserves a symptomatic reading, for Weber as well as for Marx (45). Individuals are indeed determined by objective constraints in Weber's 'inner discourse'. This is not immediately apparent, but when it is uncovered, it does reveal 'individual intention and purpose... as determined by the fateful working out of objective constraints' (45), and this is a similar kind of structural determinism to neomarxism. The Protestant Ethic shows the ironies of history, especially the fate of ideas to turn into their opposites (46), the failure of Christian principles, an example of the 'negative heterogeneity of purposes' (how human intentions are negated by historical processes outside their control).

Weber was affected by religion and yet he was intellectually cut off from it: this led to his obsession with the tragic fate of ideas. The 'vocation' essays show this too: science is increasingly about means attached to irrational ends. So Weber has an overt faith in the active individual, but a covert belief in the logic of fate, producing a recognition of the sad limits of individualism, just like Althusser (53). The fate of charismatic movements, the tracing of the path of Protestantism into science, and from science into the re-release of irrational values, all indicate this [and make Weber sound like Adorno and Horkheimer on the tragedy of Enlightenment].

Structuralist Marxism itself borrows ideas from philosophical idealism and subjectivism. In Althusser, we find a support for science as an autonomous activity, and praise for the historical individual, Karl Marx, who initiates or discovers 'the dark continent' [a metaphor for Marx's discovery of scientific materialism]. Both Marx and Weber see empirical reality as inevitably constructed. This led Weber to construct ideal types after considerable theoretical labour [not just an abstraction from empirical reality]

Poulantzas especially borrows from Weber, and incorporates a lot of his sociology. The three level model of the social formation borrows from existing sociological categories [compare it with Weber on class, status, and power, for example]. The slippery notion of relative autonomy plays a major role as well. Finally, Poulantzas has a teleological view of history as driven by the development of modes of production, which really leaves no constructive role at all for social classes and the conflict between them.

[and now, as an example of some of the more 'applied' argument...]

Chapter 5 Theodicy

It is the Christian heritage of sociology which has produced concepts like alienation, charisma, and theodicy, and the theological implications are retained, despite their new technical meanings. This can be seen by the history of the concept of alienation (143f), through Hegel and the Young Hegelians, to Feuerbach, to Marx, and then to people like Lukacs. This is an inevitably theological critique in the absence of explicit attributes of the nonalienated. The same point applies to the notion of charisma (146).

The central concern of theodicy is 'the problem of justifying the presence of physical pain and moral sin' (148), and this leads Weber to specify some pure type options:

(a) a hope in future salvation

(b) a dualist world, as in Manicheanism

(c) the notion of karma and the transmigration of souls, where the individual forges his own destiny.

There are therefore two major salvation or pathways: flight from or mastery of this world. These beliefs have an impact on social arrangements. However, Weber is also close to seeing  theodicy as ideology, as an expression of class interest (149). Theodicy does address a constant problem, since God must be both just and omnipotent, but there can never be a completely rational solution to the problem of suffering, and a supplement is always required. This is one reason for the development of mass and elite versions of religions.

[Nietzsche's views on the origins of Christian morality as the ressentiment of the powerless is summarised, page 150f]. Weber develops this Nietzschean legacy to see theodicy as connected with class interests, and this also lies behind his work on splits between churches and sects, between prophets and congregations.

It makes it possible to analyse Judaism: Weber suggests that the diaspora of Jews devalued the original notion of Yahweh as the State God, and produced an 'apotheosis of sufferance, misery, poverty' (161). Consolation was sought in the promise of a better life in the future, and this transferred into the Christian elevation of humility. Thus a religious community emerged from a State or political one. Weber establishes the connection between Nietzschean resentment and the need for religious dignity through this belief in a glorious future [and there are links with Mannheim on utopian versus ideological forms of thought]. [Weber denies that resentment was the basis of Buddhist and Hindu theodicy, however].

The notion of collective redemption eventually led to an idea of individual redemption via submission to Yahweh. In this way, privileged groups develop a theology which represents their present lack of privilege, leading to feelings of resentment and desires for redemption. However, religious intellectuals are autonomous, including isolated prophets and leaders of rebellious sectors [Weber's idealisation of himself, says Turner, page 165].

[Turning to a rival conception}, Berger suggests that theodicy arises from some biological need to socially construct society, to stave off the threat of anomie by reaching some public agreement (hence the the idea of a 'sacred canopy'). Thus 'evil' stands for any anomic forces. In A Rumour of Angels, evil crimes are seen as so far beyond the norm that special religious categories are needed to grasp them.

Variations take place at different levels, so that at the individual level, religious belief can serve as a life project or organising narrative, to provide meaning rather than solutions as such. There can be social class divisions here, but these also increase the dangers of resentment, and thus can become dysfunctional. Is this sociological reductionism?

Berger tends to see all the problems of social order as a problem of collective meaning: there can be no anomic or chaotic societies. This lets in conservatism, and omits Weber's emphasis on theodicy as a matter of power, an important dimension in the 'politics of exclusion and social closure' (170). Further, theodicy is a social matter -- for example, it is implicit in any attempt to discuss inequality. Berger tries to evade this dimension with a technical discussion of the different dimensions of inequality (factual, statistical and so on) (171). He does finally get to consider power, via Lukes' model, but, above all, his work is an attempt to go beyond evaluative discussions of theodicy, to establish general interests and to see where they might be blocked.

The problem of establishing general interests is essentially the same as the problem of theodicy. The question of whether if God is just and omnipotent there should be suffering leads either to a view of this world as the best of all possible worlds, or a call to political action.

There are identical problems with the issue of value neutrality for social sciences. Weber argued for both sides, for both value neutrality and for a criticism of the social system. There are, however, many ways to understand value neutrality, and they include one based on the specific context of German universities, and an alternative one based on the need to rediscover values. Weber was entering a plea for honesty, says Turner, a plea for vocation, for intellectual integrity towards values.

Does moral relativism end the problem of theodicy? Weber's own stance involved stoic resignation rather than engagement: 'One is appalled but resigned' (176).