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Max Weber and World-Denying Love: A Look at the Historical Sociology of Religion

Author(s): Robert N. Bellah

Source: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 67, No. 2 (Jun., 1999), pp. 277-304
Published by: Oxford University Press
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Journal of the AmericanAcademyof Religion67/2












RobertN. Bellah

THIS ARTICLEHAS ITS GERMin puzzlement and curiosity about a

term that appearsin a numberof differentplacesin MaxWeber'swritings
on the sociology of religion but nowhere more centrally than in his
famous essay "ReligiousRejectionsof the World and Their Directions"
a term generallytranslatedas "acosmistic
(1920, 1:536-573;1946:323-359),
love"or "theacosmism of love,"leavingnot only generationsof students
to whom I have taughtWeberutterlybaffledbut also myself-although I
understood the literalmeaning of the words-largely at a loss. The German word that lies behind these translationsis Liebesakosmismus,
and, in
the course of teaching a seminar on Weber'ssociology of religion in the
springof 1997,I decided at last to get to the bottom of this term and why
it was so importantto Weber.The closest EnglishequivalentI could come

RobertN. Bellahis Elliott Professorof Sociology,Emeritus,at the Universityof California,Berkeley,

CA 94720-1980.
11 wish to thankAnn Swidlerand the membersof the seminaron MaxWeber'ssociology of religion at Berkeleyin the spring of 1997,which she co-taught with me, for the stimulation that led to
many of the ideas in this paper.I would like to thank the following persons who readthe paper and
commented on it: MelanieBellah, S. N. Eisenstadt,MarcGarcelon,AndreasGlaeser,Philip Gorski,
Dirk Kaesler,RichardMadsen,Arvind Rajagopal,Eli Sagan,WolfgangSchluchter,JamesStockinger,
William Sullivan,StevenTipton, and RichardWood. I would also like to thank the LillyEndowment
for a grantin supportof my work on religiousevolution,of which this paperis an offshoot.



Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

love" is a more accesup with is "world-denyinglove.""World-denying2

sible English translation,but even that reversesthe German noun and
adjective. "World-denyinglove," as opposed to worldly love, which is
alwayslove for particularpersons, is love for all, without distinctionlove for whoevercomes, friends,strangers,enemies-which led Weberto
quote Baudelairein callingit "thesacredprostitutionof the soul"3 (1920,
1:546; 1946:333);but a fuller understandingof the term, as we will see,
must depend on the contexts in which he uses it. At any rate, Liebesakosmismus,what I am pointing to with the inadequateterm "world-denying
love,' was for Webera centralnotion. I will arguethat tracingthis idea in
Weber'sworkwill lead us to the core of his historicalsociology of religion
and to problemsthat are still very much on the agendatoday.
We maybegin by looking at this idea in the "IntermediateReflections"
in VolumeOne of his CollectedEssayson the So("Zwischenbetrachtung")
ciologyof Religion(1920, 1:536-573).'One can see why Gerthand Mills in
their FromMax Weber:Essaysin Sociologypreferredto call this essay"Religious Rejectionsof the World and their Directions"5(1946:323-359),a
title adaptedfromthe Germansubtitle"TheoriederStufenundRichtungen
which is literally"ATheory of the Stages and
Directions of Religious Rejectionsof the World.""IntermediateReflections" refersto the place of the essayin the CollectedEssays,between The
Religionof Chinaand TheReligionofIndia, and since it no longerhad that
place in the Gerthand Mills volume, they used the Germansubtitle. But
whetherin Germanor English,this title is both inadequateand inaccurate.
The title fundamentallymisleadsthe readeras to the content of the essay
2 Gr.kosmos=-world,
followingHegel'spointaboutSpinoza,thathe was
not an atheist,onewhodeniesGod,butan acosmist,onewhodeniestheworld,becauseGodis all
in personalcommunications.
ofloveforthefirsttimeduringtheconvenin 1910."
Ina discussionof mysticismfollowinga paper
tionof theGermanSociological
thecaseof Tolstoy.
to Schluchter
of Christianlovequalifiesas akosmism
as formless,opposedto
of love.It is regarded
anyformof life"(1997).Schluchter
theordersof theworld"(281).Schluchter
wasin generalusein theintelindicatedin his personalcommunication
in the famousGermanenlectuallifeof the time:forexample,the articleon "Typesof Religion"
und Gegenwart,
cyclopediaof religion,Die Religionin Geschichte
becomesa kos m i s t i s c h"(1415).Kaesler
mysticismis themoreits Weltanschauung
sortoutthesourcesof thetermin Spinoza,Fichte,andHegel,andhaspointedoutthatforFeuerbach
theacosmismof Christianity
wasa greatdefectandpointof criticism(Kaesler
4 RogersBrubaker
on the "Zwischenbetrachtung"
(1984)providesa usefulcommentary
in the GerthandMillstranslation.
5 1will frequently
Emphasisin all
is Weber's.

Bellah:Max Weberand World-Denying



and so may obscure the fact that this is a key text, perhaps thekey text in
Weber'sentirecorpus.Forthe subjectis not, or not simply,religiousrejections of the world but the differentiationof what Webercalls the value
and the increasinglyirreconcilableconflictbetween
them, a differentiationthat leadsto the "polytheism"of modernity,a "war
of the gods,"which is the result of the entire process of rationalization,
Weber'scentralpreoccupationduringhis last and most fruitfulperiod.
In order to understandthe place of world-denyinglove, Liebesakosmismus,in Weber'sthought,we must firstlook at the overallconceptionof
social developmentthat organizeshis entire sociologicalwork. Although
he rejectednineteenth-centuryevolutionism, Weber'sown comparative
historicalsociologyhas a stronglydevelopmentalframework,which could
still be called evolutionary if that word is properly construed.6In this
frameworkthe baselinefromwhich all laterdevelopmentbegins is characterizedby a social structurerooted almost entirelyin kinship and neighborhood. What is characteristicof such baseline societies, which we
might-though the term is not without ambiguities-call tribalsocieties,
is that all aspects of life are organized through kinship and local group
association.There is no differentiatedpolitical system or economic system. Hierarchyis not missingbut is organizedalmost exclusivelythrough
age and sex differences.Economic life is carriedon largelythrough kinship and neighborhood reciprocity.Religionis embeddedin the ongoing
social life of the people and is largelyorientedto immediateneeds, which
led Weberto characterizeit as magic.
In strongestcontrastto tribal societies, Webercharacterizedmodern
societiesas dividedinto a numberof competingspheres,eachwith its own
needs and values,and each increasinglyincompatiblewith other spheres.
I will illustrate extensivelywhat Weber means later in this article, but
for now let me give it a common sense interpretation.It is often said that
people today find themselves"fragmentedand exhausted."We rush from
work to family to school to recreation to church, if there is time for
church, shifting gearsand changingpersonalities,it would almost seem,
each time we move from one context to another.Lackinga close attachment to locality such as is characteristicof many tribal societies, where
6 See the discussion of this issue in Schluchter(1981) where he speaksof "Weber's
limited program in evolutionarytheory"(141). Schluchterprefersthe term "developmentalhistory,"but he takes
note of the same featuresof Weber'sthoughtto which I am callingattention.Fora qualifieduse of the
term evolution, see "ReligiousEvolution"(Bellah:20-50).RecentlySchluchter(1996) has expressed
strongerreservationsabout the relationof Weber'sdevelopmentalhistoryto neo-evolutionarytheory.


Journalof theAmericanAcademyof Religion

everyrockandtreehas its specialmeaningandoften a storyconnected

to it, we jump into our carsand rushfromone impersonallocationto
another,alwayshopingwe canfinda littlesolaceat the end of the dayat
"home."Butat homemost of us spendseveralhoursin frontof a televisionsetwatchingthingsjumparoundfromdramato comedyto sports,
in a wayevenmorechaalwaysinterrupted
by incessantadvertisements,
oticthantherestof ourlives.
In this evolutionaryframework,'
which is the essentialcontextfor
understanding "Zwischenbetrachtung,"
patrimoniby patriarchalism,
alism,and traditionalbureaucracy-andrelateddevelopmentsin economics,law,andurbanism-all withgreatercapacityforrationalization
thankinshipsocietiesbut usuallywithvariousblockagesto continuous
In the sphereof religion,theseintermediate
the emergenceof salvationor propheticreligions,which,throughthe
rejectionof magic,have,in varyingdegrees,rationalizing
workin thesociologyof religionaround
thesalvationreligionsthatemergedlargelyin thefirstmillenniumB.C.E.,
the most importantof whichhe calledworldreligions.Theseinclude,
andTaofollowingtheorderof Weber's
ism, Hinduismand Buddhism,and Judaism,studieswhichwereto be
andIslam.Althoughhe never
completedby furtherworkon Christianity
treatedit extensively,
he alsoincludedZoroastrianism
amongthe world
religions.KarlJaspers,a closefriendandstudentof Weber's
theperiodof theemergenceof thesereligionstheAxialAge(1948).8S.N.
Eisenstadt,the leadingWeberiansociologisttoday,speaksof the world
religionsas axialreligionsand their relatedcivilizationsas axialcivilizations.9

potentialitiesexistin allthe axialcivilizations,but, acRationalizing

cordingto Weber,it was severaltendencieswithinWesternCivilization
7 One can detect such a frameworknot only in the CollectedEssayson the Sociologyof Religion
but in everychapterof Economyand
(1920-21) (and in everysection of the "Zwischenbetrachtung")
Society(1978) as well.
8 Weberhimself referredin passing to "the propheticage" (1978:447).In connection with the
developmentof prophecyin ancient Greecehe wrote: "Itis not necessaryto detail here these developments of the eighth and seventh centuries,.... some of which reachedinto the sixth and even the
fifth century.They were contemporarywith Jewish,Persian,and Hindu propheticmovements,and
probablyalso with the achievementsof Chineseethics in the pre-Confucianperiod,althoughwe have
only scant knowledge of the latter" (1978:442). Weber'sdating of the prophetic age to the earlymiddle firstmillennium B.C.E.fits with Jaspers'sdating of the axialage. The latterhas been criticized
for leaving out not only Islam but Christianity.But these and later developments can be seen as
"secondaryformations"from the originalbreakthroughs.Sucha datinghas a certainironyin view of
the fact that the term "axial"undoubtedlyderivesfrom the notion of Christ as the "axis"of history,
somethingvery clearin Hegel, for example.
9 Among many relevantworksone might mention especiallyS. N. Eisenstadt(1986).

Bellah:Max Weberand World-Denying



thatled to the decisivebreakthroughinto modernity,the thirdof his major

evolutionary stages, one characterizedby a high degree of rationalization in every sphereand the increasingdisjunctionbetween the spheres.
Although Weberused the term "capitalism"as his most frequentway of
referringto modernsociety,he by no meansconsideredeconomicsthe key
to the entire complex. He attributedto the ProtestantReformation,particularlyin its Calvinistand sectarianforms,a key role in the emergenceof
modernity, especially through its relentless criticism of magic and its
methodicalorganizationof ethicallife in an effortto transformthe world.
which is what I want
A close readingof the "Zwischenbetrachtung,"
to undertakein this article,leads to the centralproblem of Weber'ssociology of religion.The openingparagraphnotes that the essayprecedesthe
treatmentof the Indian case, which is, "in strongestcontrastto the case
of China, the cradle of those religious ethics which have abnegatedthe
world,"and Webergoes on to wonder whetherperhapsit was from India
that this idea "setout on its historicalway throughoutthe world at large"
(1920, 1:536;1946:323).After a brief excursuson the value of ideal types,
Weberdevelopsin swift overviewhis typologyof world-rejection,namely,
asceticism and mysticism, each in an other-worldly(ausserweltlich)and
inner-worldly (innerweltlich)form. I will assume familiaritywith this
basic Weberiantypology and only note that there is an ambiguityabout
whether all four types involve rejection of the world. The inner-worldly
types are not "world-fleeing"(weltfluchtig,a synonym for ausserweltlich),
since they requirethat believersstayin and workwith the world.They are,
however,world-rejecting,in that they do not take the world for granted
but either work in the world to change the world (inner-worldly asceticism) or act in the world without attachmentto the resultsof action
(inner-worldlymysticism). For Weber'ssociology of religion the critical
case is inner-worldlyasceticism, above all as expressed in Puritanism,
becauseof its role in the emergenceof capitalismand the other essential
featuresof modernity.
Weberthen turns to the centraltopic of the essay,"thetensions existing between religion and the world,"which involvesnot only the notion
of religiousrejectionsof the world but, at least equally,worldlyrejections
of religion. He begins with the emergence of salvation religions from
magic. "Themagicianhas been the historicalprecursorof the prophet,of
the exemplary[mystical]as well as of the emissary [ascetic]prophet and
savior"(1920, 1:540;1946:327).But the prophet or saviorwho is a bearer
of a true religion of salvation-that is, one that holds out deliverance
from sufferingto its adherents-will often lead to "not only an acute but


Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

a permanentstate of tension in relationto the world and its orders."The

tension has become greater"themore religion has been sublimatedfrom
ritualismand towards'religiousabsolutism'"(1920,1:541;1946:328).But
the rationalizationof salvationreligionis paralleledby the rationalization
and increasingautonomyof the othervalue spheres,thus heighteningthe
tension from both sides.
1. The Kinship Sphere
Weberopens his substantiveaccount of the relationof religion to the
other value-sphereswhere we might expect, given his evolutionarypropensities, namely,the conflict between religion and kinship.'0"Whensalvation prophecyhas createdcommunities (Gemeinschaften)on a purely
religiousbasis,"it has devaluedkinship and marriage.In the placeof "the
magical ties and exclusiveness"of kinship, "within the new community
the prophetic religion has developed a religious ethic of brotherliness"
(1920, 1:542;1946:329)."What is criticallyimportantis that in the rest of
the essayand in many other placesas well, salvationreligionand the ethic
of brotherlinessare synonymous for Weber,while the polarity of asceticism and mysticismis secondary.
The source of this ethic is extremelyinterestingin the context of an
evolutionaryview of religion.Accordingto Weber,"Thisethic [of brotherliness]has simplytakenoverthe originalprinciplesof social and ethical
conduct which 'the associationof neighbors'had offered,whetherit was
the community of villagers,membersof the sib, the guild, or of partners
in seafaring,hunting, and warringexpeditions.These communities have
known two elementalprinciples:first, the dualism of in-group and outgroup morality;second, for in-group morality,simplyreciprocity:'Asyou
do unto me I shall do unto you."'The idea was "yourwant of today may
be mine of tomorrow"(1920, 1:542;1956:329).Within the groupthose of
wealth and status have an obligation to help the needy. What Weberis
describingis very close to what MarshallSahlinsin StoneAge Economics

10 Much of the secondary literatureomits kinship as one of the value

spheres. This is partly
becauseWeber'sterminologyis variablehere. He often speaksof kinship by referringto the sib, what
in Americananthropologywould be calledthe clan, and neighborhoodis often treatedas part of this
complex. It may also be partlybecause Gerth and Mills do not give a title to the section discussing
The discussion of kinship has no section headingcalled "The
kinship in the "Zwischenbetrachtung."
KinshipSphere,"as thereis subsequently"TheEconomicSphere,"etc. It shouldbe noted that the German original of this essay is without section breaksand that all the section headings in the English
translationwere addedby the editors.
11It would be unfaithfulto Weber'stext to abandonthe term "brotherliness"
for the sakeof gender inclusiveness,but it goes without sayingthat "brotherliness"
in this sense includes"sisterliness"
well and is synonymous,in Weber'susage,with the gender-neutralterm "ethicof neighborliness."

Bellah:Max Weberand World-DenyingLove


describesas "generalizedreciprocity,"which may involve kinship obligations or the redistributionalobligationsof chiefs:

amongnearkinsmen-or for
its logicalvalue,one mightthinkof the sucklingof childrenin thiscontext-the expectationof a directmaterialreturnis unseemly.
Atbestit is
implicit.Thematerialsideof the transactionis repressedby the social:
reckoningof debtsoutstandingcannotbe overtandis typicallyleft out
of account.Thisis notto saythathandingoverthingsin suchform,even
to "lovedones,"generated
no counter-obligation.
Butthe counteris not
stipulatedby time,quantity,or quality:the expectationof reciprocity
indefinite.... Receivinggoodslayson a diffuseobligationto reciprocate
when necessaryto the donor and/orpossiblefor the recipient.The
requitalmaybeverysoonor it maybe never.Therearepeoplewhoeven
in thefullnessof timeareincapableof helpingthemselvesor others....
doesnot causethe giverof stuffto stopgiving:the
Failureto reciprocate
goodsmoveone way,in favorof the have-not,for a verylong period.
Accordingto Weber,"the religiosityof the congregationtransferred
this ancient ethic of neighborlinessto the relations among brethren of
the faith"(1920, 1:543; 1946:329).This could lead to a "brotherlylovecommunism"and to an inner attitude of "caritas,love for the suffereras
such, for one'sneighbor,for man, and finallyfor the enemy."The euphoria
producedby salvationreligion, relatedto a "directfeeling of communion
with God,"can incline the believerstoward"anobjectlessworld-denying
love" (einen objektlosenLiebesakosmismus).
And while the psychological
tone of the ethic of world-denyingbenevolencecan varywidely,it moves
"inthe directionof a universalistbrotherliness,which goes beyondallbarriers of social association,often including that of one's own faith"(1920,
1:543;1946:330).12Whathas happenedto the two principlesof the ancient
ethic of neighborlinessis that the principle of the contrast between ingroup and out-grouphas been abandonedand the principleof reciprocity
has been absolutized.
Before turning to the conflict between religion and the economic,
political, aesthetic,erotic, and intellectualspheres,Webersums up what
has happenedwhen the brotherlinessof kinship is transformedby salva12 Thereis a passage
in the"Sociology
of Religion"
sectionof Economy
to Jesus:"Jesus
leadsto unbrotherliness,
butthisnotionis attheheartof thematter.Fortheprescribed
of neighborhood
ethicof mutualhelpwhichis characteristic
is thatin Jesus's
ciationsof poorerpeople.Thechiefdifference
messageactsof mutualhelphavebeen
[ethicof convictionorethicof ultimateends]involvinga fraternalsynthesized
isticsentimentof love.Theinjunctionof mutualhelpwasalsoconstrueduniversalistically,
to everyone"


Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

tion religion:"Religiousbrotherlinesshas alwaysclashedwith the orders

and values of this world, and the more its consequenceshave been realized, the sharperthe clashhas been"(1920, 1:544;1946:330).But the clash
between religion and kinship differsfrom that with all the other spheres:
kinship is not simply rejected; it is transformed and universalizedso
that it becomes the very principle of religion itself in the form of worlddenyinglove.
2. World-Denying Love
We must stop and ask for the empiricalreferencefor world-denying
love, or religiousbrotherliness,which becomesthe very definition of religion in the rest of the essay,that is, of that religion which most severely
clasheswith the othervalue spheres.In the context of Weber'stypology of
religious world-rejections,this definition would seem to be ratheronesided. The very notion of world-denial(Akosmismus)would seem to rule
out the inner-worldly alternatives.Further,world-denial seems much
closer to mysticism than to asceticism, to saviors than to prophets. We
might rememberWeber'spointing to India at the beginning of the essay.
And yet there is anotherrecurrentclue that suggestshe is not only pointing to India. At certain points, often rhetoricallycritical points, such as
once late in the "Zwischenbetrachtung"
(1921, 1:571;1946:357)and again
twice in "Politicsas a Vocation"(1946:126),'3 Webercites the three figures
of the Buddha, Jesusand Francisas archetypallyreligious;so there is a
clear Christian referenceas well. And yet in other contexts it is ascetic
Protestantismthat is the religiousarchetyperelativeto which everything
else is compared. But ascetic Protestantismcannot be characterizedby
world-denying love representedby the Buddha, Jesus,and Francis.We
will haveto returnlaterto this apparentcontradiction.
Giventhe religiousconflictsthat areso obvious in the worldtoday,we
can hardlyarguethat religion,often seen as inevitablydivisivein the eyes
of secularintellectuals,can usuallybe characterizedby universalbrotherliness: even Christianityand Buddhism often fall short of the mark. If
religionhas overcomethe ancientin-group,out-groupboundariesof kinship, it has often given rise to new boundariesof at least equal strength.
And yet the frequencywith which religionsof quite differenthistoricorigins have verged on universalbrotherlinessor even world-denyinglove
cannot be underestimatedeither.
13 "Politicsas a Vocation"was a lecturedeliveredon
January28, 1919,whereasthe "Zwischenbewas essentiallywritten in 1915,althoughrevisedfor publicationat the very end of Weber's
life. The similarityof concernsand even phraseologybetweenthe two pieces suggestthe continuityof
his thinking in the last five yearsof his life.

Bellah:Max Weberand World-DenyingLove


figureswe can
(Mk.10:21),it is clearthathe meantthosewordsto applyto himself,asis
evidentwhen elsewherehe says,"Foxeshaveholes and birdsof the air
havenests;buttheSonof Manhasnowhereto layhishead"(Mt.8:20).In
The momentin the life of the Buddhato whichI wantto point is,
of course,the momentwhenthis shelteredheirto the throneof a small
kingdomsaw,in spiteof his parent'seffortsto shieldhim,old
mother,wifeandchild,riches,powerandpleasure,to livealoneas a begAndthe similarmomentin the
garin the forestseekingenlightenment.
life of SaintFrancisis when,in the midstof a quarrelwith his wealthy,
merchantfatherin the centralpiazzaof Assisi,he takesoff allhis clothes,
throwsthematthefeetof hisfather,andsays"nowI oweyounothing,"as
he intendshenceforthto reenactthelifeandteachingof Jesus.
Wemayconsiderin somewhatmoredetailtheexampleof theBuddha,
whois notonlyoneof Weber's
India,whichWebersaysproducedthe most consistentworld-denying
Formen)of religiousethics(1920,1:536;1946:
523).In TheReligionof IndiaWeberrepeatedlyappliesthe termLiebesaksosmismus
to Buddhism(1921,2:223,248,274;1958:208-209,
367). The Buddha,as a resultof his enlightenmentexperience,saw
throughtheillusorynatureof the"house"of thisworld:
Thepeakof theroofis ruined,
Themindis freedfromitsaccumulations,
of desires.'4
G. C. Pandespeaksof "thesuperhumancompassionthat bridgesthe
vastgulf betweenthe eternalsilenceof transcendental
alonewouldhaveled to totalsilence.It is compassionthatmadethehistoricministryof theBuddhapossible"(9).
EdwardConze,however,arguesfor the intrinsicrelationbetween
welivein aworldof falseappearances,
whereI myselfseemto
InactualtruthI haveno self,norhave
14Dhammapada11.9,as quoted in Pande(9).


Journal of the AmericanAcademyof Religion

they;all that existsis an incessantflow of impersonaldharmas.True,

spiritual,selflesslovethereforemustoperateon theplaneof truereality,
of a selfin
and,selflesswithin,musttranscendalsothe falseappearance
others,andbe directedtowardthatwhichis reallythere,i.e. the dharmas.Sincewisdomis theabilityto contemplate
is dependenton wisdom.(Conze:85)
worldHere indeed we get very close to Weber's Liebesakosmismus,
the Akosmismus(world-denial)and the Liebe(love)."
There is a problem about applyingthe term "world-denial"to Jesus.
In a biblicalperspective,since God createdthe world, it must be good. Yet
to the God-obsessed the world falls away,loses its claim, or rather,its
claim is wholly derivativefrom its creator.Thus, we can understandthe
ambivalenceof the New Testamenttowardthe world. On the one hand,
"Godso loved the world, that he sent his only begottenson.. ."(Jn. 3.16).
On the otherhand, "theworld knew him not" (Jn. 1.10).The connotation
of "thisworld"is negativewhen the world denies God. For Jesus,whose
attitude Webercharacterizesas "an absolute indifferenceto the world"
(1978:633),love of neighboris inextricablylinkedwith love of God. What
Jesuscalls "the greatestand first commandment"is the love of God, and
the second is the love of neighbor (Mt. 22.37-40). And Jesusdrastically
extends the notion of neighbor,as Webernoted, to the strangerand the
alien, as in the Parableof the Good Samaritan(Lk. 10.25-37),and even to
the enemy as in the Sermonon the Mount: "Loveyour enemies and pray
for those who persecuteyou" (Mt. 5.44). EdwardConze attemptsto link
the Buddhistand Christianteaching:
The Christiandoctrineis quiteanalogousto the Buddhistand might
perhapsbe describedas follows:spirituallove for peopleis entirely
dependenton theloveforGod,andsecondaryto it. Sincewe arebidden
to loveall peopleequally,we can do so onlyby lovingthemin the one
respectin whichtheyareequal,andthatis theirrelationto God,whose
childrentheyare.Theloveof Godis thereforethenecessaryantecedent
to theloveof others.... (Conze:85)
15 It is an interestingquestion whether one can have the Akosmismuswithout the Liebe.Parmenides is as close to Akosmismusas one can get in earlyGreekthought:the changelessrealmof reason is utterlydifferentfrom the changingworld of appearance.(I am indebtedto Schluchter[1997]
for the referenceto Parmenides.)Wehaveonly fragmentsof the writingsof Parmenides,but from the
fragmentsand later accounts of his thought there is no indication of an ethic of love. Spinoza, on
the other hand, seems to have a somewhatpallidbut not insubstantialdoctrineof love. PartIV of the
Ethicsis famouslyentitled "Of Human Bondage."It is the "intellectuallove of God" (remembering
that in SpinozaGod and Naturearethe same:Deussive natura)that freesus from emotionalbondage
in a way not entirelydissimilarto the enlightenmentof the Buddha and leads Spinoza to conclude:
"he who lives under the guidance of reason will endeavourto repayhatred with love, that is with
kindness"(Pt. IV,Prop.XLVI).

Bellah:Max Weberand World-DenyingLove


Francis,who attemptsto reenactthe life and teachingof Jesus,extends

the love commandment to the whole of the cosmos, to "brothersun
and sister moon,"etc., as in his Canticodellecreature.In all three, worlddenying love has the furthercorrelateof absolutenon-violence. The first
of the Buddha'srules for his followersis to refrainfrom injury to all living things (Pande:16).Jesusintensifies the commandment not to kill by
saying also that one should not be angry (Mt. 5.21-22), and rejects "An
eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" in commanding "Resistnot evil"
(Mt. 5.39). Not only the early church but later monastic orders, such as
that foundedby Francis,followed Jesusin this regard.
All three of our paradigmaticcharacterscould be called, following
Louis Dumont, "renouncers"(1980; see especially,Appendix B, "World
Renunciationin Indian Religions."),that is, persons who stand outside
everydayexistence and question many of its most basic assumptions. It
would be hardto see how a sincerebelieverin world-denyinglove could be
other than a renouncer,althoughwe shall find that a numberof compromise positions are possible. Fromthe point of view of Weber'sinterestin
the conflict between the value spheres,it is clearthat the most consistent
renouncerswill producethe greatesttension with the othervalue spheres.
This is not the placeto conducta generalsurveyof renouncersin the various traditions, but it might be helpful to suggest that the three paradigmatic figures are far from alone. India, as we might expect, has produced many renouncers:besides the Buddhists there are the Jainas,as
well as manyfigureswithin the Hindu tradition.Weberspecificallyapplies
to the bhaktitradition in India (1921, 2:344;
the term Liebesakosmismus
1958:313).In Chinathe Mohistsbelievedin "universallove,"althoughthey
do not appearto havebeen world-denying.Theywereopposed to war,yet
were activein defendingsmall statesagainstlargeones. The Taoistsmight
seem to be better candidates,although their world-denial,which might
better be called partial world-withdrawal,was far from radical; and
although they were opposed to aggressiveaction, they cannot be said to
believein universallove. On the otherhand,the Confucians,who mightbe
seen as quintessentialworld-affirmers,believed in a graded love (jen),
which, while it should be felt more stronglytowardclose kin, should ultimatelybe extendedto all, even barbarians;and governmentshould be by
moral example, not through compulsion or punishment. In the ancient
Mediterraneanworld, the Cynics were clearlyrenouncers.They appear
to have believed in non-violence, indeed in non-participationin society
generally,but not in universallove. The Stoics, who owed a considerable
debt to the Cynics, did believe in universalbenevolence, the abolition
of distinctions of genderand servitude,and universalpeace,but it would
be hardto arguethat they wereworld-denying.


Journal of the AmericanAcademyof Religion

If we move to the immediate background of Christianity,we find

Weberhimself in AncientJudaismidentifyingworld-denyinglove among
the Essenes(the community about which we would laterlearnmuch from
the Dead SeaScrolls).He saysthatthe Essenes"pushedthe old socialcommandment of brotherlinessto the length of a full economic world-deny(1921,3:424;1952:407),
ing love (vollen6konomischenLiebesakosmismus)"
and a few pageslaterhe characterizesthem as having"world-denyinglovecommunism (akosmistischenLiebeskommunismus)"
(1921, 3:428; 1952:
surprisingly, argues
and Essenismwas fluid, "at least with regardto the way of life,"'and he
indicates that the first of the featureswhich suggest a similar mentality
that is to be found among the Pharisees (1921,
is the Liebesakosmismus
We maywell aska questionthatWeber,surprisingly,almostneverasks:
how can we account for the emergenceof the salvation religions in the
axial age?What was there about the social and culturalconditions of the
firstmillennium B.C.E.that could have given rise to these unprecedented
developments?'6In the major cultural centers of the old world it was a
period of rapideconomic and politicaldevelopmentwith unsettlingconsequencesfor older kinship and tribalsolidaritiesand the potentialityfor
serious social conflict. Yetthese processeswere only accelerationsof conditions that had been developingsince the emergenceof centralizedstate
structuresin Mesopotamiaearlyin the fourth millennium, in Egyptfrom
the end of the fourthmillennium,in North Chinaandthe IndusRiverValley from the late third and early second millennia. With the uncertain
exception of Akhenaten"7in fourteenth century B.C.E. Egypt, and the
16 S. N. Eisenstadthas consideredthis question in his
generalintroductionand the introduction
to the severalpartsof TheOriginsand DiversityofAxialAge Civilizations.Weberdid suggestin one of
his brilliantthrow-awaylines which he never,to my knowledge,followed up but which would be well
worth pursuing,the beginnings of an answer:"Perhapsprophecyin all its forms arose, especiallyin
the Near East, in connection with the reconstitution of the great world empires in Asia, and the
resumptionand intensificationof internationalcommerceafter a long interruption"(1978:441).
JiurgenHabermasgives an interesting"materialist"backgroundfor the emergenceof salvation
religionsthat assertin a new and more radicalway the "generalizedreciprocity"of the earlykinship
and tribalethic:"Socialintegrationaccomplishedvia kinshiprelationsand securedin casesof conflict
by preconventionallegal institutionsbelongs, from a developmental-logicalpoint of view, to a lower
stagethan socialintegrationaccomplishedvia relationsof dominationand securedin casesof conflict
by conventionallegal institutions. Despite this progress,the exploitationand oppression necessarily
practicedin politicalclasssocietieshas to be consideredretrogressivein comparisonwith the less significantsocial inequalitiespermittedby the kinship system.Becauseof this, class societies are unable
to satisfythe need for legitimationthat they themselvesgenerate"(1979:163).
17Akhenaten'sreligious "revolution"is endlesslyfascinating.Although it comes out of a background of intense mythicalspeculationabout solar deities, speculationthat does not appearto transcend the limits of archaicreligiosity,Akhenaten'smonistic conception of light as the fundamental
realitydoes seem to approachan almost Spinozistacosmism:Deus sive lux. (Aftermaking this con-

Bellah: Max Weber and World-Denying Love


hard-to-date figures of Moses and Zoroasterlate in the second millennium, all the significantdevelopments,including the largerimplications
of the teachingsof Moses and Zoroaster,appearedonly in the firstmillennium B.C.E.
A social conflict or social criticism model has been developed in
severalcases. The notion that the covenant, which is the foundation of
ancientIsrael,formeda revolutionaryconfederationof marginalpeoplein
conflictwith Canaanitecity stateshas gainedconsiderablecurrency(Gottwald).'"Argumentsfor Christianityas a proto-socialistprotestmovement
go back at least to KarlKautskyin 1908,but recentlya considerablebody
of work has suggesteda linkagebetween the multiplelevelsof oppression
sufferedby JewishpeasantsunderRomanoccupationand the Jesusmovement (Kautsky;Theissen;Horsley;Oakman)."9
The Cynicsand especially
the earlyStoicshavebeen portrayedas offeringa fundamentalcriticismof
HellenisticSociety(Erskine;Dawson).ChadHansonhas suggesteda social
criticalrole and a social context in the artisanclass for the Mohist movement in WarringStatesChina.Althoughthereareproblemsof datingand
ambiguitiesin the evidence,therearea numberof recenteffortsto clarify
the social context, including elementsof social conflict and protest,from
which Buddhism and other developments in first-millennium B.C.E.
India arose. (On earlyBuddhismsee Wagle;Chakravarti.On the general
Indianbackgroundin the firstmillennium B.C.E.,see Thapar1975,1979;
If a context of social unrest only partiallyaccountsfor the emergence
of the axial religions, can we consider the possibility that some of these
new conceptions of reality arose primarilyout of cultural reinterpretations? One possibilitymight be that the spreadof literacyin the firstmillennium B.C.E.might have made possible more systematicand abstract
reflection.Writingis olderthan the firstmillennium,and eventhen was in
most placesquite limited to priestlyor scribalgroups,but it was certainly
more widespreadthan earlier.Unfortunately,however,writing does not
appearto be decisive in many cases. Much of the speculation that led to
nection betweenSpinozaand Akhenaten,I learnedfromJanAssmann'snew book, MosestheEgyptian
(1997:143),that eighteenthand earlynineteenth-centurySpinozistswere making a connection with
Egyptianreligioneven beforethe discoveryof Akhenaten'sreligiousrevolution,a connectionthat can
be expressedas Deus sive naturasiveIsis.)But the fact that the truth of the one God, Aten, is available
only throughthe divine king, Akhenaten,is thoroughlyarchaic(Assmann 1992a, 1992b;Allen).
18Fora less scholarlybut most interestingdiscussionthat showsthe indelibleconnection of relitheory
gion and politics in earlyIsrael,see Walzer.It is remarkablehow much of this "revolutionary"
of earlyIsraelitehistoryis foreshadowedin Weber'sAncientJudaism.
19Again,it is remarkableto what degreeWeber'streatmentof Jesus,for exampletowardthe end
of the "Sociologyof Religion"section of Economyand Society(1978:632-633)foreshadowsthis contemporaryview.


Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

axialbreakthroughsoccurredin purelyoraltraditions.Zoroaster'sGathas
and the BrahmanicUpanishadswere not written down for centuries,nor
were the earlyteachingsof Buddhism.20
The teachingsof Confucius,Socwere
orally,althoughprobablywritten down
within a generationof their deaths. Plato, although a superbwriter,was
famouslyskepticalof writing (SeventhLetter)and may have transmitted
his most importantteachingsorally.2'The traditionof an "inner"teaching
to be transmittedorallyappearsto surviveeven todayamongthe followers
of Leo Strauss.
But if writing is not the key factor,groups of intellectuals,clericalor
lay, with a sufficient degree of autonomy from the establishedorder to
question its assumptions,would seem to be an essentialcondition for the
axialbreakthroughs(Weber1920-21, 1978;Eisenstadt).And the capacity
to transmit, interpret, and apply complex texts, oral or written, would
be a definingtraitof such groups.The transmittersof the IranianAvestas
and the Indian Vedas,out of which came the Zoroastrianand Brahmanic
breakthroughs,and perhaps the status group to which Confucius belonged, seem to be priesthoodsof typicallyarchaictype, whose teachings
becametransformedundernew conditions. Greekphilosophyand Israelite prophecy,as well as Mohism in ancient China, appearto have derived
from groups of lay intellectuals,though some of the Hebrew prophets
may have had priestly connections. In most cases, although we have
enough evidenceto feel that a combinationof disturbedsocial conditions
and partially autonomous groups of intellectuals help account for the
emergenceof axial religions,the exact connections remainto be worked
out. In many of the cases (including India) the survivingdata will probably neverallow more than probablehypotheses.
Fromthe beginning, the heroes of world-denyinglove, the renouncers-to use Dumont'sterm-exerted intensepressureagainstthe familial,
economic, political, aesthetic,erotic, and intellectualvalue spheres.Not
surprisingly,renouncerswere alwaysproblematicfrom the point of view
of political, military,and intellectualelites, as Weber'sentire sociology of
religion repeatedlypoints out. Yet in almost all traditionalsocieties the
radicalimplications of the axial religions were moderatedby a compromise formationwhich Webercalled"theorganicsocial ethic."
The organicsocial ethic met the needs of both elites and masses.Such
a compromiseformationmade it possiblefor elitesto use religionfor "the
20 StanleyJ.Tambiah
capacityof theBuddhistandHindutraditions,the lattervirtuallyto this day,to transmitanddevelopteachingsof greatcomplexitypurely
21Plato'sanxietyaboutthedangerof committing
thingsto writingmaynot
to theanxietiesof someof us abouttheconsequences
of televisionandcomputers,
in bothcasestheanxietymayhavesomejustification.

Bellah:Max Weberand World-Denying



taming of the masses,"and for the reinforcementof their own legitimacy.

On the other hand, when salvation religions developed large popular
followings, among whom thorough-goingrenouncers,usuallyorganized
in some form of monasticism,would inevitablybe a minority,it became
necessary to recognize what Weber called "the inequality of religious
charisma."The fact of unequalcharismaticqualificationscould be linked
to "secularstratificationby status, into a cosmos of God-ordained services which are specialized in function. . ... As a rule, these tasks stand

in the serviceof the realizationof a condition which, in spite of its compromise nature, is pleasing to God" (1920, 1:553; 1946:338).2 That is, the

organic social ethic made it possible to include in the religious community those who, for reasons of temperamentor occupation, could not
fulfill the radicaldemandsof world-denyinglove.
Weber'stwo most frequentlycited examplesof the organicsocial ethic
are Hinduism and Catholic Christianity.Alreadyin the Brahmanismof
ancient India, although the renouncer ideal had emerged in the Upanishadsin the firsthalf of the first millennium B.C.E.,it was seen as only
one possible role, or one stage in the life cycle, of the elite classes. This
view reachedits classicalformulation for Hinduism, as Webernoted, in
the BhagavadGita,where the renouncerideal is fully articulatedwith its
accompanyingworld-denying love. Krishna tells Arjuna that the man
who is dear to him "is the same with regardto enemies and friends."He
is "withouthatredfor any creature,friendlyand compassionate,freefrom
possessivenessand egoism, indifferentto pleasure and pain, enduring"
(12.13, 18; 1994:56).YetKrishnaenjoinsArjunato fulfillhis role as a warrior,even though it meanskillinghis own relatives.As long as Arjunaacts
without attachmentto the resultsof his action, he is fulfillinghis religious
is reconciled with an organic
obligation. In this way Liebesakosmismus
ethic (Weber1921,2:200-202,367; 1958:189-191,333).
Catholicsacramentalismin a quite differentreligious context, nonethelessalso succeededin legitimatingthe renunciatoryrole of the religious
life together with the necessarilycompromised obligations of the laity,

22 Weberdescribesthe transformationof the originalcharismatic"communismof love"into the

organic social ethic: "Oncethe eschatologicalexpectationsfade, charismaticcommunism in all its
forms declines and retreatsinto monastic circles,where it becomes the specialconcern of the exem... The maintenanceof the indigent and unemployed
plary followers of God (Gottesgefolgschaft).
brothersbecomes the task of a regularofficer,the deacon. Some ecclesiasticrevenuesare set aside for
them (in Islamas well as Christianity).Forthe rest,poor reliefbecomesthe concern of the monks. As
a remnantof the charismaticcommunismof love, Islam,Buddhismand Christianityequallyconsider
the giving of alms as pleasingto God, despite their greatlydifferentorigins. .... For caritas,brotherhood, and ethicallyimbued personalrelationsbetween masterand servantremainthe foundationof
everyecclesiasticethic, from Islam and Judaismto Buddhismand Christianity;they are the residues
of the old ethos of love of the charismaticbrotherhood"(1978:1187-1188).


Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

includingthe military.Weberdescribeswhat he callsthe organicethics of

vocation as follows:
The variouscallingsor casteshavebeen providentially
eachof themhas been assignedsomespecific,indispensable
desiredby God or determinedby the impersonalworldorder,so that
differentethicalobligationsdevolveon each.The diverseoccupations
andcastesarecomparedto the constituentportionsof an organismin
thistypeof theory.... Thevirtuosiof religion,be theyof an asceticor
suchan organicorder,justas specificfunctionshavebeenallocatedto
princes,warriors,judges,artisansandpeasants.Thisallocationof responsibilitiesto religiousvirtuosiis intendedto producea treasureof
good workswhichthe institutionof gracemaytheresupernumerary
upon distribute.Bysubjectinghimselfto the revealedtruthandto the
correctsentimentof love,theindividualwillachieve,andthatwithinthe
institutionsof theworld,happinessin thisworldandreward
in thelifeto come.(1978:598-599)
If traditionalaxial religions have been able to compromise, however
uneasily-and with occasionalrebellionsand breakdowns-with the realitiesof an organicethic, such compromises,accordingto Weber,are no
longer possible in the modern world. In order to see why, it will be necessaryto look more closely at each of the value spheresdescribedin the
As we have seen, Weberbegins with the sphereof
to be the exceptionamongvaluespheresbecause,
tension between salvationreligion and kinship,
that tension is in a way overcomeby the incorporationof the "generalized
reciprocity"ethic of kinshipin an absoluteform in salvationreligionitself.
In treatingthe other spheres-economic, political, aesthetic, erotic,
and intellectual-Weber follows the same basic pattern: he invariably
begins by indicatingthat in the earliest,magical, phase of development,
there is no tension between religion and the other spheres;they are effectively fused. Magical religion operates to bring economic well-beingrain, good harvests, successful fishing, etc.-as well as success in war;
magicalritualoften has an erotic aspectand is the primarysphereof aesthetic expressionin simple societies;mythology providesthe sole forum
for intellectualspeculation.The religion of brotherliness,however,finds
itself at odds with each sphere,and increasinglyso as each sphereis rationalized. In the economic sphere it is the "intereststruggles of men in
the market"(1920, 1:544;1946:331)that it finds offensive.In the political
sphereit is coercion,and aboveall the violence of war,that it findswholly
incompatiblewith its teachings.Butin the politicalsphere,as well as in the
aestheticand eroticspheres,thereis anothersourceof tension. Not only is

Bellah:Max Weberand World-Denying



therean intrinsicincompatibilityof value:in each of these spheresa competing form of salvationactuallyemerges.

3. The PoliticalSphere
In the political sphere it is salvation through death in war. What
Webersays is particularlypoignant since the essaywas probablywritten
duringWorldWarI and revisedshortlythereafter:
Thecommunityof thearmystandingin thefieldtodayfeelsitself-as in
the timesof the warlord'sfollowing-to be a communityunto death,
andthegreatestof itskind.Deathon thefieldof battlediffersfromdeath
thatis only man'scommonlot. ... Deathon the fieldof battlediffers
dyingin thatin war,andin thisenormity
believethathe knowshe is dying"for"
something.Thewhyandthewhereforeof his facingdeathcan,asa rule,
of death
be so indubitableto him thatthe problemof the "meaning"
doesnot evenoccurto him. (1920,1:548;1946:335)
What is implicit here and becomes explicit in the treatment of the aesthetic and eroticspheresis that not only does deathin battlecompetewith
brotherlyreligion in solving the meaning of death, it is one of the few
points in our modern disenchantedworld where any meaning at all can
be found.
4. The Aesthetic Sphere
The aestheticsphereis a dangerto the religion of brotherlinessonce
form becomesan objectof cultivationindependentof content, for formal
elaboration without ethical content can only seem self-indulgent and
unbrotherlyto salvation religion. But the tension is greatlyheightened
with the developmentof "intellectualismand the rationalizationof life":
"Forunder these conditions, art becomes a cosmos of more and more
consciously graspedindependentvalues which exist in their own rights.
Art takesoverthe function of a this-worldlysalvation,no matterhow this
may be interpreted.It providesa salvationfrom the routines of everyday
life, and especiallyfrom the increasingpressuresof theoreticaland practical rationalism"(1920, 1:555;1946:342).
Weberpoints out that the tension between salvationreligion and the
aestheticand erotic spheres (as well, by the way,as warfare)is that these
spheres,while participatingin the generalprocessof intellectualiztionand
rationalization,are basicallynon-rationalor even anti-rational,and thus
servenot only as alternativesto religionbut as refugesfrom the increasing
compulsion of a market economy and a bureaucraticstate ("the iron
cage")as well as from a hypertrophiedintellectualsphere.

Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion


5. The Erotic Sphere

Weber'sdiscussion of the erotic sphere is one of the most remarkable passagesin all of his writings and the second longest section of the
One need not find in it a specificautobiographical
reference,as ArthurMitzman (1969) does, to feel that it comes "fromthe
heart,"so to speak,as much as anythingWebereverwrote. This is not the
placefor a full commentaryon this extraordinarypassage.The main point
appearsin the firstparagraphof the section: "Thebrotherlyidea of salvation religionis in profoundtension with the greatestirrationalforceof life:
sexuallove. The moresublimatedsexualityis, andthe moreprincipledand
relentlesslyconsistentthe salvationethic of brotherlinessis, the sharperis
the tension between sex and religion"(1920, 1:556;1946:343).
As in the aesthetic sphere, the elaboration of eroticism in modern
life-Weber makes it clearthat he is speakingof "specificallyextramarital sexual life, which has been removed from the everyday"-gives it the
quality of a full-scale alternativeform of salvation,one particularlyappealingin the faceof modern disenchantment:
Undertheseconditions,theeroticrelationseemsto offertheunsurof therequestforlovein thedirectfusion
passablepeakof thefulfillment
of thesoulsof oneto theother.Theboundlessgivingof oneselfis asradicalaspossiblein itsoppositionto allfunctionality,
asa sacraoverpowering
ment.Theloverrealizeshimselfto be rootedin the kernelof the truly
to anyrationalendeavor.
living,whichis eternallyinaccessible
himselfto befreedfromthecoldskeletonhandsof rationalorders,justas
completelyas fromthebanalityof everydayroutine.(1920,1:560;1946:
Yet for Weber, brotherly love's critique of this kind of ecstatic experience, which he so eloquently describes, is nonetheless overwhelming:
From the point of view of any religious ethic of brotherhood, the
erotic relationmust remainattached,in a certainsophisticatedmeasure,
to brutality.The more sublimatedit is, the more brutal.Unavoidably,it is
consideredto be a relation of conflict. This conflict is not only, or even
predominantly,jealousyand the will to possession,excludingthird ones.
It is far more the most intimate coercion of the soul of the less brutal
partner.This coercion exists because it is never noticed by the partners
themselves.Pretendingto be the most humane devotion, it is a sophisticated enjoymentof oneself in the other.23(1920, 1:561-562;1946:348)
23 In starkestcontrastto this
passageis the paean to marriedlove at the very end of the section
on the erotic sphere:"Froma purely inner-worldlypoint of view, only the linkageof marriagewith
the thought of ethical responsibilityfor one another-hence a categoryheterogeneousto the purely
erotic sphere-can carrythe sentiment that something unique and suprememight be embodied in

Bellah:Max Weberand World-Denying



It is worth rememberingthat once earlierin the essayWeberused the

word "brutality,"
when he said that "thebrotherlinessof a group of men
bound togetherin war must appeardevaluedin brotherlyreligions... as
a merereflectionof the technicallysophisticatedbrutalityof the struggle"
(1920, 1:549;1946:336).
6. The Intellectual Sphere
Weber'sfinal section on the intellectualsphereis the longest and most
somber passagein an essaythat is somber enough already.It requiresfar
more careful analysisthan I can give it here. One point worth noting is
that the intellectualsphere,like the economic sphere,but unlike the political, aesthetic,and erotic spheres,offers no alternativeform of secular
salvation.The wisdom (sophia)that we encounterin Plato or in Book 10
of the NicomacheanEthics,as the way humans can approachmost closely
to transcendence,is for Webernot an option:
comesto theforewherever
of theworldanditstransformaworkedthroughto thedisenchantment
tion intoa causalmechanism.Forthenscienceencounterstheclaimsof
andhencesomethe ethicalpostulatethattheworldis a God-ordained,
how meaningfully
andethicallyoriented,cosmos.In principle,the emorientedviewof theworlddevelops
refutationof everyintellectualapproachwhichin anyway asksfor a
of inner-worldly
... [C]ulture's
everystepforwardseemscondemnedto leadto anevermoredevastating
(1920, 1:564,570; 1946:350-351,357)

Weberuses this final discussion of the intellectualsphereto sum up

the consequencesof the whole process of rationalizationand intellectualization in every sphere.These consequencesare overwhelminglynegative in two critical aspects: 1) they remove individuals from any sense
of embeddednessin an organiccycle of life, and 2) they deny the ethic of
brotherlinessat the core of salvation religions. In making these points
Webershows the rhetoricalpower characteristicof his last writings. On
our alienationfrom organiclife he writes:
coulddie "satiated
landlordandthewarriorherocoulddo likewise.Forbothfulfilleda cycle
marriage;that it might be the transformationof the feeling of a love which is conscious of responsibility throughoutall the nuances of the organic life process, 'up to the pianissimo of old age,'and a
mutual grantingof oneself to anotherand the becoming indebtedto each other (in Goethe'ssense).
Rarelydoes life grant such a value in pure form. He to whom it is given may speak of fate'sfortune
and grace-not of his own 'merit"'(1921:563;1946:350).It is worth rememberingthat Weberdedicatedthe volume to Mariannewith the words "1893[theyearof theirmarriage]'bisins Pianissimodes


Journalof the AmericanAcademyof Religion

of existencebeyondwhichthey did not reach.Eachin his waycould

perfectionasa resultof thenaiveunambiguity
manwho strivesfor selfthe substanceof his life. Butthe "cultivated"
perfection,in thesenseof acquiringor creating"cultural
do this.He canbecome"wearyof life"but he cannotbecome"satiated
withlife"in the senseof completinga cycle... It thusbecomeslessand
andthe strivingforculturecanhaveanyinnerlesslikelythat"culture"
The denialof love in everydifferentiatedsphereof life is equallydevastating:"absenceof love is attachedfrom the very root"to "theroutinized
economic cosmos";"theexternalorder"of the state "couldbe maintained
only by brutalforce,which was concernedwith justiceonly nominallyand
occasionally";"thebarriersof education and of aestheticcultivation are
the most intimate and the most insuperableof all status differences";
"veiledand sublimatedbrutality"as well as "idiosyncrasyhostile to brotherliness ... have inevitably accompanied sexual love";and finally "the
aristocracyof intellect"is an "unbrotherlyaristocracy"(1920, 1:568-569;
1946:354-355).It is the final irony that even "mysticalattempts at salvation ... succumb in the end to the universaldomination of unbrotherliness." Because they are "not accessible to everybody . . . it [such an
attempt] is an aristocraticreligiosityof redemption."But it is not just the
religiousvirtuosity that it requiresthat isolates radicalsalvationreligion
today:it is also its externalconditions:"And,in the midst of a culturethat
is rationallyorganizedfor a vocationalworkadaylife, there is hardlyany
room for the cultivation of world-denyingbrotherliness.... Under the
technicaland social conditions of rationalculture,an imitation of the life
of Buddha,Jesus,or Francisseems condemnedto failurefor purelyexternal reasons"(1920, 1:571;1946:357).
7. World-Denying Love in the Modern World
Thus an ethic of universalbrotherliness,which first came into being
through the idea of world-denyinglove in the salvationreligions,has no
place in the world today.This appallingconclusion has not failedto raise
objections even among Weber'sgreatestadmirers.For JtirgenHabermas,
for example,the universalisticethic of human rights,which derivesfrom
the Enlightenment,and especially from Immanuel Kant, and which is
highly relevantfor today'sworld, is itself a developmentout of the religious ethic of brotherliness,which therefore lives on, in altered form,
today. (1984:Ch.2) Nor have the salvationreligions acceptedthe irrelevance to which Weberconsignedthem.
Before we ask further about the continued viability of an ethic of
brotherlinesstoday we must consider more carefullyWeber'sreasonsfor

Bellah:Max Weberand World-Denying



denyingit. (Wewill see that Weberdid, after all, reserveone placefor this
ethic today:the sphereof intimatelife.) His reasonsare implicit in what I
have said about the various spheresalready.We need not discuss further
the aestheticor the erotic spheres,or even the intellectualsphere,once we
realizethat for Webersalvationreligion inevitablyrequires"the sacrifice
of the intellect"(1920, 1:566;1946:352).'24But Weber'sargumentsfor the
incompatibilityof the modern economy and statewith an ethic of brotherlinesshaveto be takenwith the utmost seriousness.
Since Weberspent many yearsstudying economic history in relation
to religiousethics, it is not lightlythat he arguesfor their incompatibility:
elementthat existsin
Moneyis the most abstractand "impersonal"
humanlife.Themorethe worldof the moderncapitalisteconomyfollows its own immanentlaws,the less accessibleit is to anyimaginable
relationshipwith a religiousethicof brotherliness.
becomes,themorethisis thecase.Inthe
pastit waspossibleto regulateethicallythe personalrelationsbetween
masterandslavepreciselybecausetheywerepersonalrelations.Butit is
not possibleto regulate-atleastnot in the samesenseorwiththe same
success-the relationsbetweentheshiftingholdersof mortgages
forin thiscase,
shiftingdebtorsof thebanksthatissuethesemortgages:
no personalbondsof anysortexist.25(1920, 1:544;1946:331)
Weberfearsany effortto impose ethicalregulationon the marketbecause
of the dangerthat it would underminethe formal rationalityof the market mechanism itself. Elsewherehe writes that "in [the world of capitalism] the claimsof religiouscharityarevitiated not merelybecauseof the
refractorinessand weaknessof particularindividuals,as it happenseverywhere,but becausethey lose their meaning altogether.Religiousethics is
confrontedby a world of depersonalizedrelationshipswhich for fundamental reasonscannot submit to its primevalnorms"(1978:585).26
See the parallelassertionin "Scienceas a Vocation"(1946:155).
25In Economyand SocietyWeberspeaksof "the 'masterlessslavery'of the modern proletariat"
26In Chapter7, Part2, of Economyand Society,"TheMarket,"Weberwrites:"Wherethe market
is allowedto follow its own autonomoustendencies,its participantsdo not look towardthe personsof
eachotherbut towardthe commodity;thereareno obligationsof brotherlinessor reverence,and none
of those spontaneous human relations that are sustained by personal unions. They would all just
obstructthe free developmentof the baremarketrelationship,and its specificinterestsserve,in their
turn, to weaken the sentiments on which these obstructions rest.... Such absolute depersonalizaThe "free"market,that is,
tion is contraryto all the elementaryforms of human relationship.
....of constellationsof interests
the marketwhich is not bound by ethical norms, with its exploitation
and monopoly positions and its dickering,is an abomination to every system of fraternalethics. In
sharp contrastto all other groupswhich alwayspresupposesome measureof personalfraternization
or even blood kinship, the market is fundamentallyalien to any type of fraternalrelation"(1978:


Journal of the AmericanAcademyof Religion

Weber seems remarkablycontemporary in viewing any effort to

"interferewith"the marketeconomy as destructiveof the viabilityof such
an economy,as his lifelong hostility to socialismalso suggests.But Weber
is no simple apologist for laissez-fairecapitalism-he sees its human
destructivenessas clearlyas its harshestcritics. Rather,he is giving us his
own bleak picture of the irreconcilableconflict of the value spheres.He
closes his discussion of the economic sphere in the "Zwishchenbetrachtung"by pointing out the two "consistentavenuesfor escaping the tension between religion and the economic world":1) the "benevolence"of
the mystic who gives whateveris asked with no thought of return;and
2) the paradoxof the Puritanethic of "vocation":
of love,andrationally
all workin thisworldinto servingGod'swill andtestingone'sstateof
grace.... Puritanismacceptedthe routinizationof the economiccosanddepraved.
mos,which,withthewholeworld,it devaluedascreatural
Thisstateof affairsappearedas God-willed,andas materialgivenfor
fulfillingone'sduty.Inthelastresort,thismeantin principleto renounce
salvationas a goalattainableby man,thatis by everybody.
It meantto
renouncesalvationin favorof thegroundless
andalwaysonlyparticularizedgrace.In truth,this standpointof unbrotherliness
wasno longera
genuine "religionof salvation."(1920, 1:545-546;1946:332-333)

In thinking about the meaning of these words of Weber'sin contemporaryAmerica,it would be well to rememberthatAmericanProtestantism,
and to some degreeAmericanreligion generally,is the lineal descendent
of that Puritanismthat Weberdescribesas havingso abandonedthe ethic
of brotherlinessthat it is no longer a religion of salvation. Only in this
way can religionand the capitalisteconomy be reconciled.
Weber'sdiscussionof politics and ethics is complex,and it would take
us too far from the topic of this paper to go into it in detail. But as far
as an ethic of brotherlylove is concerned,Weberhas little doubt that it is
as inapplicableto the modern state as to the modern economy.The state
is based on power and serves the interests of power,not the commands
of an ethic of conviction. Any effort to justify the coerciveactions of the
statewith ethicalor certainlywith religiouslanguageseems purelyhypocriticalto Weber."Inthe faceof this, the cleanerand only honest way may
appearto be the completeeliminationof ethics from politicalreasoning,"
he writes (1920, 1:548;1946:334).
If Weberdenies the applicabilityof the radicalethic of brotherliness
to the modern economy and state, we may be sure that he would similarlydeny the possibilitythat the organicsocial ethic could be resurrected
to meet our current need. One can imagine the skepticismwith which
he would greet the present effort in the United Statesto offer so-called
private-sectorvolunteerism, family values, and a renewal of local com-

Bellah:Max Weberand World-Denying



munity as ways of providing the safety net, such as it was, that is no

longer publiclyprovided.The gated,guarded"communities,"which have
in recent years been springing up in Americansuburbs, nowhere more
frequentlythan in California,would surelyseem to Weberto be the complete antithesisof genuine organiccommunity.
Yet,howeversomberWeber'sview of the iron cage of modern society,
he did not entirelydespairof an ethic of brotherliness.He was fascinated
by the writings of Tolstoyand Dostoevski, those modern representatives
of a radicalethic of world-denyinglove, and enjoyed conversationswith
young Russiansconcerningthesewriters.His wife, Marianne,in herbiographyof him, tells us that "fora long time he had been planningto write a
book about Tolstoythatwas to containthe resultsof his inner-mostexperiences"(466).27She also saysthat "He never lost his profound reverence
for the gospelof brotherhood,andhe acceptedits demandsrelatingto personal life" (90). In the late address,"Scienceas a Vocation,"Weber,while
raising doubts about the religious self-understandingof "some of the
youth groups [of] recent years,"neverthelesssays, "everyact of genuine
brotherlinessmay be linked with the awarenessthat it contributessomething imperishableto a super-personalrealm"(1946:155).28And his characterizationof marriage(whichhe saysis "acategoryheterogeneousto the
as "amutualgranting
purelyeroticsphere")in the "Zwischenbetrachtung"
of oneself to another,"is surelyan exampleof the significanceof the loveethic in personal life. To underscore,however,the limits of the claims
of world-denyinglove on Weber,Mariannesaysthat "forhim, the God of
the Gospels did not have any claim to exclusivedominion over the soul.
He had to share them with other 'gods, particularlythe demands of
the fatherlandand of scientifictruth"(90).
At the end of this effort to place the radicalethic of brotherlylove in
the contextof Weber'shistoricalsociologyof religionwe must askwhether
27 There is a passage in Warand Peace that illustrateswhat Weberfound in
Andrei, when facing the possibility of death, grasps "the principle of eternallove":"Tolove everyone and everything,alwaysto sacrificeoneself for love, meant not to love one person,and not to love
this earthlylife. And the more he becameimbued with this principleof love, the more he renounced
life..." (Tolstoy:1173).
28On the same page just a few lines down Weberwrites:"Preciselythe ultimate and most sublime values have retreatedfrom public life either into the transcendentalrealmof mystic life or into
the brotherlinessof direct and personalhuman relations.It is not accidentalthat our greatestart is
intimate and not monumental,nor is it accidentalthat today only within the smallestand most intimate circles, in personal human situations, in pianissimo,that something is pulsating that corresponds to the propheticpneuma,which in formertimes swept throughthe greatcommunities like a
firebrand,welding them together."


Journal of the AmericanAcademyof Religion

he was rightto confine that ethic to the purelypersonalrealmin the modern world,whetherin the public world we must acceptthe sole dominion
of the "gods"of money and power unrestrainedby brotherliness,and of
science which cannot give us any answersto questions of meaning, even
the meaningof its own endeavor.To attemptan answerto the latterquestion would requireat leastanotherarticle.Tothe formerI will offera brief
We might begin by askingwhetherthe subsequentcourseof historyin
the twentieth centurywould haveprovidedanybasis for Weberto change
his mind. We can imagine that much of the last eighty years of history
would only have confirmedWeberin his darkestpredictions:"Not summer'sbloom lies aheadof us, but rathera polar night of icy darknessand
hardness . . ." (1946:128). Yet we can also point to things that perhaps
Weberdid not imagine. At least in the figuresof MohandasGandhi and
Martin LutherKing, Jr.,we have seen leaders exemplifyingthe ethic of
Jesus,the Buddha,and Francison the public stageand with significant,if
not unambiguous,politicalachievements.Equallyif not more significant,
we have seen in the yearsafterWorldWarII an effort in WesternEurope,
usually under some sort of combined effort of ChristianDemocratsand
SocialDemocrats,to createwhat has come to be calleda welfarestate,one
that would embodyin impersonallegaland bureaucraticstructuressomething of the ethic of brotherlylove. Evenin the United Statestherewas a
half-heartedand inadequateeffort in this direction during the middle
yearsof this century.The impersonalityof these effortsmight makethem
appearfar from the ethic of brotherliness,but it is worth remembering
Weber'semphasis on the fact that world-denying love is alwaysimpersonal, open to all who come, "no respecterof persons."
Now, of course,that effort is everywhereunder attackon the grounds
that we can no longer "afford"the welfarestateunderthe pressureof "the
globaleconomy"-the "worlddominion of unbrotherliness"if everthere
was one. Of course it remainsto be seen whetherwe will all succumb to
this pressureand sink back into a world where only the few at the top
reallyprosperand whereeveryoneelse eitherworksto providethem with
their luxuriesor exists undercarceralconditionsprovidedfor surplusand
unneeded labor. JtirgenHabermashas argued for the "reanchoring"of
the economic and stateadministrativestructuresin the "lifeworld,"
an ethic of solidarityand normativestandardsof socialjusticewould take
priority over the pure incentives of profit- and power-maximization
(1987:153-197).This would requirerethinkingthe ChristianDemocratic
and Social Democratic projects under twenty-first century conditions,
a difficult but perhaps not wholly impossible project. The problems of
global political order are even more intimidating. If there is some slight



moderationof the purelyHobbesianplay of powerinterestson the international stage in recent years, it is even harderto see where there might
emerge an ethic of solidaritybetween rich and poor nations than it is to
see how we might revive such an ethic for all citizens within developed
Livingin a very differentculturalcontext from that of Weber,Americans, even those of us who feel that the United Statesis giving the worst
possible exampleof unbrotherlinessin its economic and politicalpolicies
today,have an inveteratehopefulnessthat leadsus to believethat an ethic
of universallove, is, after all, not irrelevantto our most urgent economic
and politicalproblems.But beyond hopefulnessthereis the realisticconsiderationthat a society in which money and powerare radicallydetached
from ethical life may undermine the conditions of its own survival.Nor
should we forget,as Weberremindedus, that the God of Jesusis not only
a God of love but also a God of judgment:"Itmust not be overlooked,as
it so often has been,"he wrote, "thatJesuscombinedworld-denyinglove
with the Jewishnotion of retribution. God alone will one day compensate, avenge, and reward"(1978:633).As the evolutionarybiologists are
warning us, if our proclivities toward uncontrolled exploitation of our
environment and of each other go on unchecked,they could lead to the
destructionof the speciesor even of life on our planet.In short, no one in
today'sworld can be surethatWeber'sfearof "thepolarnight of icy darkness and hardness"was entirelymisplaced.

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