A Historian Reads Max Weber
Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic is undoubtedly the most widely-read text in Western social theory of the last century. But is it really known? The proposition of this book is that it is not. Innumerable readers will “know” it for their own pedagogic and theoretical purposes, but properly historical grasp of the work’s full range of meanings, of its place within the fertile culture of the German states before 1914, and within Max Weber’s intellectual biography remains slight. The essays in this volume derive from the author’s work in translating and commenting on the Protestant Ethic. They seek (first) to cast light on the range and extent of Weber’s intellectual concerns when he was writing in 1904–05: not just English Puritanism, German theology, and capitalism, but also Herrschaft, Judaism, and the shape of Occidental history. This then serves to recapture the continuity and unity of Weber’s intellectual development, so that once more we may see the Protestant Ethic at the centre of his oeuvre, the indispensable prelude to all his later work, rather than setting it apart in splendid but curiously lifeless isolation.