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Weber's Last Theory of Capitalism: A Systematization

Author(s): Randall Collins

Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 45, No. 6 (Dec., 1980), pp. 925-942
Published by: American Sociological Association
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AmericanSociologicalReview 1980, Vol. 45 (December):925-942

A systematicformulationis given of Weber's theory of the origins of large-scalecapitalism,

based upon the lectures given just before his death. This last theory is predominantly
institutional,unlikethe emphasisupon religiousideas and motivationsin his early Protestant
Ethic thesis, and unlike his analyses of the world religions. Weber's institutionaltheory
involves a sequence of causal conditions. The outcome of the sequence is capitalism
characterizedby the entrepreneurialorganizationof capital,rationalizedtechnology,free labor,
and unrestrainedmarkets. Intermediateconditions are a calculable legal system and an
economic ethic combininguniversalcommercializationwith the moderatepursuitof repetitive
gains. These conditionsarefosteredby the bureaucraticstate andby legalcitizenship,andmore
remotelyby a complex of administrative,military,and religiousfactors. The overallpatternis
one in which numerous elements must be balanced in continuous conflict if economic
developmentis to take place. Weberderivedmuchof this scheme in explicitconfrontationwith
Marxism.His conflict theory criticizes as well as deepens and extends a numberof Marxian
themes, includinga theory of internationalcapitalismwhich both criticizes and complements
Wallerstein'stheory of the world system.

Max Weberhad many intellectualinter- scholars have treated it as Weber's dis-

ests, and there has been considerablede- tinctive contribution,or Weber's distinc-
bate over the question of what constitutes tive fallacy, on the origins of capitalism
the centraltheme of his life work. Besides (e.g., Tawney, 1938; McClelland, 1961;
treating the origins of capitalism, Weber Samuelsson, 1961; Cohen, 1980). Debate
dealt extensively with the natureof mod- about the validity of this part of Weber's
ernity and of rationality(Tenbruck,1975; theory has tended to obscure the more
Kalberg, 1979; 1980;Seidman, 1980),and fundamental historical and institutional
with politics, methodology, and various theory which he presented in his later
substantive areas of sociology. Amid all works.
the attentionwhich has been paid to these The so-called "Weber thesis," as thus
concerns, one of Weber's most significant isolated, has been taken to be essentially
contributions has been largely ignored. idealist. Weber (1930:90)defines his pur-
This is his maturetheory of the develop- pose in The Protestant Ethic as "a contri-
ment of capitalism,found in his last work bution to the manner in which ideas be-
(1961), General Economic History. come effective forces in history." He
This is ironic because Weber's (1930) (1930:183)polemicallyremarksagainstthe
first major work, The Protestant Ethic and Marxiststhathe does not intendto replace
the Spirit of Capitalism, has long been the a one-sided materialismwith its opposite,
most famous of all. The argumentthat the but his correctingof the balance sheet in
Calvinist doctrine of predestinationgave this work concentrates largely on ideal
the psychological impetus for ration- factors. The germ of Weber's institutional
alized, entrepreneurialcapitalismis only a theory of capitalismcan also be found in
fragmentof Weber'sfull theory. But many The Protestant Ethic (1930:58, 76).1 But it
remained an undeveloped backdrop for
his main focus on the role of religious
* Direct all correspondence to: Randall Collins;
ideas. The same may be said about his
Department of Sociology; University of Virginia;
Charlottesville, VA 22903.
(1951; 1952;1958b)comparativestudies of
I am indebted to Vatro Murvar and other partici-
pants at the Max Weber Symposium at the Univer-
sity of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, March, 1978, and to The list of institutional characteristics given on
Samuel W. Kaplan, Stephen Kalberg, Guenther pp. 21-25 of the English-language edition of The
Roth, Walter Goldfrank, Norbert Wiley, and Whit- Protestant Ethic (1930), however, are not in the
ney Pope, for their suggestions on an earlier version 1904-5 original, but are from an introduction written
of this argument. in 1920 (1930:ix-x).

the world religions.These broadenedcon- One important change in the General
siderablythe amountof materialon social, Economic History is that Weber pays a
economic, and political conditions, but good deal more attention to Marxian
the main theme still stressed that diver- themes than previously. This is a signifi-
gent ideas made an autonomouscontribu- cant difference from the anti-Marxist
tion to the emergence of world- comments scattered through The Protes-
transformingcapitalism in the Christian tant Ethic (e.g., pp. 55-56, 61, 90-91,
West ratherthan elsewhere in the world.2 183). In the General Economic History,
Thus, Parsons (1963; 1967) treats these Weber reduces the ideal factor to a rela-
works as extendingthe early Weberthesis tively small place in his overall scheme.
from Protestantismto Christianityin gen- During this same period, to be sure,
eral, describing an evolution of religious Weber was preparinga new introduction
ideas and their accompanying motiva- and footnotes for the reissue of The Prot-
tional propensities from ancient Judaism estant Ethic among his collected religious
up through the secularized achievement writings,in which he defendedhis original
culture of the modern United States. thesis about Calvinism.But his claims for
From these works, and from (1968)Part its importance in the overall scheme of
II of Economy and Society, it is possible things were not large, and the well-
to pull out an extensive picture of institu- roundedmodel which he presents in Gen-
tional factors which Weber includes in his eral Economic History does not even
overalltheory of capitalism.ButEconomy mention the doctrine of predestination.
and Society is organized encyclopedi- Instead, what we find is a predominantly
cally, by analytically defined topics, and institutionaltheory, in which religiousor-
does not pull together the theory as a ganization plays a key role in the rise of
whole. There is only one place in Weber's modern capitalism but especially in con-
works where he brings together the full junction with particularforms of political
theory of capitalism as a historical organization.
dynamic. This is in the GeneralEconomic In what follows, I will attempt to state
History, and, especially, in the 70-page systematically Weber's mature theory of
section comprisingPart IV of that work. capitalism, as it appears in the General
These lectures, deliveredin the winterand Economic History, bolstered where ap-
spring of 1919-20, before Weber's death propriateby the buildingblocks presented
that summer,are Weber's last word on the in Economy and Society. This argument
subject of capitalism. They are also the involves a series of causes, which we will
most neglected of his works; General trace backward, from the most recent to
Economic History is the only one of the most remote. This model, I would
Weber's majorworks that remainsout of suggest, is the most comprehensive gen-
print today, both in English and in Ger- eral theory of the originsof capitalismthat
man. is yet available. It continues to stand up
well in comparison with recent theories,
2 Cf. the closing words of The Religion of China: including Wallerstein's (1974) historical
"To be sure the basic characteristics of the 'men- theory of the capitalist world-system.
tality,' in this case practical attitudes towards the Weber himself was primarilyconcerned
world, were deeply co-determined by political and
economic destinies. Yet, in view of their autono- with the sensitizing concepts necessary
mous laws, one can hardly fail to ascribe to these for an interpretationof the unique pattern
attitudes effects strongly counteractive to capitalist of history and, in his methodological
development" (1951:249), and of The Religion of writings, he disavowed statements in the
India: "However, for the plebeian strata no ethic of form of general causal principles (cf.
everyday life derived from its rationally formed mis-
sionary prophecy. The appearance of such in the Burger, 1976). Nevertheless, Weber's
Occident, however-above all, in the Near East- typologies contain implicitgeneralizations
with the extensive consequences borne with it, was about the effects of institutional ar-
conditioned by highly particular historical constella- rangements upon each other, and state-
tions without which, despite differences of natural
conditions, development there could easily have
ments of cause-and-effect abound in his
taken the course typical of Asia, particularly of substantive writings. There is nothing to
India" (1958b:343). prevent us from stating his historicalpic-
ture of changing institutionalforms in a within the realm of religious solutions to
more abstract and generalized manner the problem of suffering.
than Weber did himself. It is clear that Weber himself used the
Weber's model continues to offer a term "rationalism" in a number of dif-
more sophisticated basis for a theory of ferent senses.3 But for his institutional
capitalismthan any of the rival theories of theory of capitalistdevelopment, there is
today. I put forwardthis formalizationof only one sense that need concern us. The
Weber's maturetheory, not merely as an "rationalcapitalisticestablishment,"says
appreciationof one of the classic works of Weber(1961:207),"is one with capitalac-
the past, but to make clear the high-water counting, that is, an establishmentwhich
mark of sociological theory about determines its income yielding power by
capitalism.Weber's last theory is not the calculation according to the methods of
last word on the subject of the rise of modernbookkeepingand the strikingof a
capitalism,but if we are to surpassit, it is balance." The key term is calculability;it
the high point from which we ought to occurs over and over againin those pages.
build. What is distinctive about modern, large-
scale, "rational" capitalism-in contrast
to earlier, partial forms-is that it is
methodical and predictable, reducing all
areas of production and distribution as
Capitalism, says Weber (1961:207-8, much as possible to a routine. This is also
260) is the provision of human needs by Weber's criterionfor calling bureaucracy
the method of enterprise,which is to say, the most "rational"formof organization.4
by private businesses seeking profit. It is
exchange carried out for positive gain, I In Part I of Economy and Society (written
rather than forced contributions or 1918-20), Weber distinguishes formal and substan-
traditionallyfixed gifts or trades. Like all tive rationality of economic action (1968:85-6). In
of Weber'scategories, capitalismis an an- "The Social Psychology of the World Religions"
alytical concept; capitalismcan be found (written 1913), Weber (1946:293-4) defines three
different types of rationalism: (1) a systematic world
as part of many historical economies, as view based on precise, abstract concepts; (2) practi-
far back as ancientBabylon. It became the cal means-ends calculations; (3) a systematic
indispensable form for the provision of method, including that of magic or prayer. In The
everyday wants only in Western Europe Protestant Ethic (1904-5), Weber (1930:76-78) at-
aroundthe middle of the nineteenth cen- tacks the notion that the spirit of capitalism is "part
the development of rationalism as a whole," and
tury. For this large-scale and econom- of says he is interested in "the origin of precisely the
ically predominantcapitalism, the key is irrational element which lies in this, as in every con-
the "rationalpermanententerprise"char- ception of a calling." Kalberg (1980) points out that
acterized by "rational capital account- under one or another of Weber's types of rationality,
ing." every action, even the most superstitious, might be
called "rational." Kalberg argues that only one type
The concept of "rationality"which ap- of rationality is relevant for the methodical conduct
pears so often in Weber's works has been of affairs.
the subject of much debate. Marxistcrit- 4 It is plain that Weber (1968:85-6) is referring to

ics of capitalism, as well as critics of bu- what in Economy and Society he calls "formal" ra-
efficiency based on quantitative calculation
reaucracy,have attackedWeber's alleged tionality,
of means, rather than "substantive" rationality, the
glorification of these social forms (e.g., adequacy of actions for meeting ultimate values.
Hirst, 1976). On the other hand, Parsons Such values could be criteria of economic welfare,
(1947), in his long introductionto the defi- whether maximal production, quality of life, or a
nitional section of Economy and Society, socialist economic distribution, or they could be
ethical or religious values. Weber makes it clear that
gives "rationalization" both an idealist formal and substantive rationality can diverge
and an evolutionary bent, as the master widely, especially in his late political writings about
trend of world history, involving an inev- the dangers of bureaucracy (1946:77-128;
itable upgradingof human cognitive and 1968:1393-1415). Weber himself tended to defend
the formal rationality of modern capitalism as coin-
organizationalcapacities. Tenbruck(1975) ciding to a fair degree with substantive rationality in
claims the key to Weber's works is an meeting the value of maximizing the economic wel-
inner logic of rationaldevelopmentfound fare of the population at large (1968:108-9). It goes
For a capitalisteconomy to have a high say, noneconomic restrictions on the
degree of predictability,it must have cer- movement of goods or of any of the fac-
tain characteristics.The logic of Weber's tors of production.must be minimized.
argument is first to describe these char- Such restrictionsincludeclass monopolies
acteristics; then to show the obstacles to upon particular items of -consumption
them that were prevalent in virtually all (such as sumptuarylaws regulatingdress),
societies of world history until recent or upon ownershipor work (such as pro-
centuries in the West; and, finally, by the hibitions on townspeople owning land, or
method of comparativeanalysis, to show on knights or peasants carryingon trade;
the social conditions responsible for their more extensively, caste systems in gen-
emergence. eral). Other obstacles under this heading
According to his argument,the compo- include transportation difficulties, war-
nents of "rationalized"capitalism are as fare, and robbery-which make long-
follows: distancetradinghazardousand unreliable.
There must be private appropriation of Finally, there must be calculable law,
all the means of production, and their both in adjudication and in public admin-
concentrationunder the control of entre- istration. Laws must be couched in gen-
preneurs. Land, buildings, machinery, eral terms applicable to all persons, and
and materialsmust all be assembledunder administeredin such a way as to make the
a common management,so that decisions enforcement of economic contracts and
about their acquisitionand use can be cal- rights highly predictable. Such a legal
culated with maximalefficiency. All these system is implicatedin most of the above
factors must be subject to sale as private characteristicsof rational capitalism: the
goods on an open market. This develop- extension of private property rights over
ment reaches its maximal scope when all the factors of production;the subdivision
such property rights are represented by and easy transferability of such rights
commercialinstruments,especially shares throughfinancialinstrumentsand banking
in ownership which are themselves operations; formal freedom for laborers;
negotiable in a stock market. and legally protected markets.
Within this enterprise, capital account- The picture that Weber gives us, then,
ing is optimized by a technology which is is of the institutionalfoundations of the
"reduced to calculation to the largest market as viewed by neoclassical eco-
possible degree" (1961:208). It is in this nomics. He sees the market as providing
sense that mechanizationis most signifi- the maximal amount of calculability for
cant for the organization of large-scale the individualentrepreneur.Goods, labor,
capitalism. and capital flow continuouslyto the areas
Labor must be free to move about to of maximalreturn;at the same time, com-
any work in response to conditions of de- petition in all markets reduces costs to
mand. Weber notes that this is a formal their minimum. Thus, prices serve to
and legal freedom, and that it goes along summarize all the necessary information
with the economic compulsionof workers about the optimal allocation of resources
to sell their labor on the market. for maximizingprofit;on this basis, entre-
Capitalismis impossible without a prop- preneurscan most reliably make calcula-
ertyless stratum selling its services tions for long-term production of large
"under the compulsion of the whip of amounts of goods. "To sum up," says
hunger" (1961:209), for only this com- Weber (1961:209),"it must be possible to
pletes a mass market system for the fac- conduct the provision for needs exclu-
tors of productionwhich makes it possible sively on the basis of marketopportunities
to clearly calculate the costs of products and the calculation of net income.'
in advance. It is, of course, the model of the
Trading in the market must not be lim- laissez-faire capitalist economy that
ited by irrational restrictions. That is to Weber wishes to ground. At the extreme,
this is an unrealisticview of any economy
without saying that this is an empirical, not an ana- that has ever existed. Webertreats it as an
lytical judgment. ideal type and, hence, in a fuller exposi-
tion would doubtless have been prepared at a reasonablecost. Thus, mechanization
to see it as only partiallyrealized even in depends on the prioremergenceof all the
the great capitalist takeoff period of the institutionalfactors described above.
nineteenthcentury. But it is worth noting Weber does not elaborate a systematic
that a critique of Weber along these lines theory of technological innovation, but it
could certainlynot be a classical Marxian would be possible to construct one along
one. The central dynamicof capitalismin these lines. He does note that all the cru-
Marx'stheory, in fact, dependseven more cial inventions of the period of industrial
immediately than Weber's on the unre- takeoff were the result of deliberate ef-
stricted competitiveness of the open forts to cheapen the costs of production
market for all factors of production (cf. (1961:225-6, 231). These efforts took
Sweezy, 1942). And Weber and Marx place because previous conditions had
agree in claiming that the initial break- intensifiedthe capitalistpursuitof profits.
through to an industrial society had to The same argument could be made, al-
occur in the form of capitalism. Thus, al- thoughWeberdid not make it, in regardto
though Weber may have a personal bias the search for methods to improve ag-
toward the neoclassical marketeconomy, riculturalproductionthat took place in the
both as analytical model and as political seventeenthand eighteenthcenturies. The
preference,this would give no groundsfor "green revolution" which preceded (and
a critiqueof the adequacyof his explana- made possible) the industrial revolution
tion of this phase of world history. Even was not a process of mechanization(ag-
for a later period, Weber is hardly dog- riculturalmechanizationtook place only
matic. As we shall see, he recognizes the in the late nineteenth century) but was,
possibility of socialism emerging, once more simply, the applicationof capitalist
capitalismhas matured-although he does methods of cost accounting to hitherto
not admire the prospect-and he even traditionalagriculture.Thus, it is the shift
gives some indicationsof the forces that to the calculating practices of the
might produce it. Like Germanand Aus- capitalist market economy which makes
triannon-Marxisteconomistsof his gener- technological innovation itself predicta-
ation, Weberincludes socialismwithin his ble, rather than, as previously, an acci-
analytical scheme. dentalfactor in economic life (1961:231).5
Weber's model of the moderneconomy
is particularlystrikingwith regardto the THE CAUSAL CHAIN
concept of the "industrial revolution."
For it is not mechanizationper se that is What are the social preconditions for
the key to the economic transformation, the emergence of capitalism as thus de-
despite the far-reachingconsequences of scribed?
shifts from agrarianto inanimate-energy- Note, first of all, that economic life,
based technologies (cf. Lenski, 1966). In even in the most prosperous of agrarian
Weber's scheme, technology is essentially societies, generally lacked most of these
a dependent variable. The key economic traits. Property systems frequently tied
characteristicof mechanizationis that it is land ownership to aristocratic status,
feasible only with mass production while commercialoccupations were often
(Weber, 1961:129,247). The costs of even
simplermachines such as steam-powered 5 Weber does mention "rational science and in
looms would make them worthless with- connectionwith it a rationaltechnology"(1961:232)
out a large-scale consumers' market for as one of the features of the West importantfor
cloth, as well as a large-scale producers' moderncapitalism.On the otherhandhe says: "It is
marketin wool or cotton. Similarconsider- true that most of the inventionsof the 18thcentury
were not made in a scientific manner.... The con-
ations apply a fortiorito machineryon the nection of industrywith modernscience, especially
scale of a steel rollingmill. But large-scale the systematic work of the laboratories,beginning
production is impossible without a high with Justus von Liebig [i.e., Circa 1830], enabled
degree of predictabilitythat markets will industryto become what it is today and so brought
capitalismto its full development."On the balance,I
exist for the products, and that all the thinkscience comes out as a secondaryfactorin the
factors of productionwill be forthcoming model.
prohibited to certain groups and in the Stone Age. In ancient Babylon, for
monopolized by others. The labor force example, tradewas such as to disintegrate
was generally unfree-being either slaves "primitive economic.fixity" to a consid-
or tied to the land as serfs. Technologies erable degree (1961:232). On the other
of mass production hardly existed. The hand, politically determined agrarian
market was generally limited either to economies show how "specialization
local areas or to long-distance trade in takes place withoutexchange" (1961:103).
luxuries, due to numerous near- Nor is the pursuitof profit per se the cru-
confiscatory tax barriers, unreliable and cial motive for mass capitalism; the
varying coinage, warfare, robbery, and "ruthlessness" and "unscrupulousness"
poor transportation.And legal systems, of the traditionalforeign traderwas inca-
even in literate states, tended to be char- pable of transforming the economy at
acterized by patrimonial or magical- large (1961:232). Nor can population
religiousprocedures,by differentialappli- growth have been the cause of Western
cation to different social groups and by capitalism,for the same trend occurredin
differentlocalities, and by the practicesof China without the same result
officials seeking private gain. Reliable fi- (1961:258-9). Neither, finally, can the
nancial transactions,includingthe opera- price revolution of the sixteenth century,
tion of a banking system relatively free due to the influx of precious metals from
frompoliticalinterferenceand plundering, the Americas, have been decisive (see the
were particularlyhandicapped by these later discussion on Wallerstein).6
conditions. The featuresthat Weberfinds uniqueto
The social preconditionsfor large-scale the West constitute a causal chain.7I have
capitalism,then, involved the destruction representedthis schematicallyin Figure 1.
of the obstacles to the free movement or The characteristicsof rational capitalism
economic transfer of labor, land, and itself are the entrepreneurialorganization
goods. Other preconditionswere the cre- of capital, rationaltechnology, free labor,
ation of the institutional supports for unrestrictedmarkets, and calculable law.
large-scalemarkets, especially the appro- These makeup a complex: the marketsfor
priate systems of property, law, and fi- goods, labor, and capital all mesh around
nance. entrepreneurialproperty using mass pro-
These are not the only preconditionsof ductiontechnology;the operationof all of
capitalism, but, specifically, Weber is these factors together creates further
seeking the organizational forms that pressures to both rationalize technology
made capitalism a world-transforming and expandeach factor market-while yet
force in the West but not elsewhere. By a distributingwealth in such a way as to
series of comparisons,Weber shows that further the demand. The legal system is
a numberof other factors that have been both an ongoing prop for all of these fea-
advanced to account for the Western tures and a causal link backwardto their
takeoff cannot have been crucial. Against
Sombart, he points out that standardized
mass productionfor war cannothave been 6 Weber (1961:260) also mentions geographical

decisive for, althougha good deal of this conditions as more favorable to capitalism in Europe
than in China or India, due to transportation advan-
existed in Europe in the seventeenth cen- tages in the former via the Mediterranean sea and the
tury, and thereafter,it also existed in the interconnecting rivers. But he goes on (p. 261) to
MogulEmpireand in Chinawithoutgiving discount this, in that no capitalism arose in Mediter-
an impetus to capitalism (1961:229). ranean antiquity, when civilization was predomi-
nantly coastal, whereas early modern capitalism in
Similarly,the enormous expendituresfor Europe was born in the cities of the interior.
court luxuryfound in both Orientand Oc- 7 Weber does not clearly describe a chain, and
cident were incapable of generating a sometimes he lumps characteristics of rational
mass market (1961:229-30). Against the capitalism with its preconditions. Although some of
simplerargumentsof Adam Smith, which these preconditions continue into the operation of
modern capitalism, a logical chain of explanation, I
attributethe industrialdivision of labor to believe, requires something like the separation I
the extension of trade, Weber points out have given. It should be understood that Weber gives
that trade can be found everywhere, even a highly condensed summary in these lectures.
components of
rationalized intermediate background ultimate
capitalism conditions conditions conditions

literate administrators

favorable transportation
and coaumunication
organization writing and record-keeping church law
of capital bureaucratic implements and bureaucracy

state coinage
rationalized calculable law centrally supplied
technology weapons
cte h
| > \ ~~~~~~citizenship
free labor disciplined army

(a) Greek civic cults

unrestricted methodical,< I (b) Judaic prophecy
markets non-dualistic _ Ae,
economic ethic (c) Christian proselytization

d) Reformation sects

Figure 1. The Weberian Causal Chain

social preconditions. At this intermediate ethic because it prevented the commer-

causal level there is a second crucial fac- cialization of economic life, the external
tor which, like the law, is essentially cul- ethic because it made tradingrelationstoo
tural, althoughnot in the sense of disem- episodic and distrustful.The liftingof this
bodied ideas, but, rather, in the sense of barrierand the overcoming of this ethical
beliefs expressed in institutionalizedbe- dualismwere crucial for the development
havior. This is the "lifting of the barrier of any extensive capitalism. Only this
. .. between internal and external ethics" could make loans available regularlyand
(1961:232). promote the buying and selling of all ser-
In virtually all premodern societies vices and commoditiesfor moderategain.
there are two sharply divergent sets of Through innumerable daily repetitions,
ethical beliefs and practices. Withina so- such small (but regular)profits could add
cial group, economic transactions are up to much more massive economic
strictly controlled by rules of fairness, transactions than could either the
status, and tradition: in tribal societies, custom-boundor the predatoryeconomic
by ritualized exchanges with prescribed ethics of traditionalsocieties.
kin; in India, by rules of caste; in medieval What, then, produced the calculable
Europe, by requiredcontributionson the legal system of saleable private property
manor or to the great church properties. and free labor and the universal ethic of
The prohibition on usury reflected this the pursuit of moderateeconomic profit?
internalethic, requiringan ethic of charity The next links in the causal chain are
and the avoidance of calculation of gain political and religious. The bureaucratic
from loans within the community(cf. Nel- state is a crucial backgrounddeterminant
son, 1949).8 In regard to outsiders, how- for all legal and institutional underpin-
ever, economic ethics were at the oppo- nings of capitalism. Moreover, its legal
site extreme: cheating, price gouging, and system must be based on a concept of
loans at exorbitantinterest were the rule. universal citizenship, which requires yet
Both forms of ethic were obstacles to ra- further political preconditions. The reli-
tional, large-scale capitalism:the internal gious factor operates both as a direct in-
fluence on the creation of an economic
8 Hence the role of "guest peoples" such
as the ethic and as a final level of causalityimpli-
Jews and the Caursinesin ChristianEurope, or the cated in the rise of the rational-legalstate
Christiansin Islamic societies, or the Parsees in and of legal citizenship.
India, as groups of tolerated outsiders who were
availablefor makingloans, which otherwise would The state is the factor most often over-
not be forthcomingwithin the controlled internal looked in Weber's theory of capitalism.
economy (1961:267). Yet it is the factor to which he gave the
most attention; in Economy and Society, The sources of the bureaucratic state
he devoted eight chapters of 519 pages to are, to a degree, quite familiar. In the
it, as opposed to one chapter of 236 pages widely reprinted section on bureaucracy
to religion, with yet another chapter-the from Economy and Society (1968:956-
neglected but very important chap. XIV of 1005), Weber outlines the prerequisites:
Part II-to the relations between politics literate administrators, a technology of
and religion. In the General Economic long-distance transportation and com-
History, he gives the state the two penul- munication, writing and record-keeping
timate chapters, religion the final chapter. materials, monetary coinage. The extent
For Weber, this political material was not to which these could be put into effect,
an extraneous interest but, instead, the however, depended on a number of other
key to all of the institutional structures of factors. Geographical conditions such as
rational capitalism. Only the West devel- easy transportation in river valleys, or fa-
oped the highly bureaucratized state, vorable situations for state-controlled irri-
based on specialized professional admin- gation (1961:237), fostered bureaucratic
istrators and on a law made and applied by centralization, as did intense military
full-time professional jurists for a competition among adjacant heartlands.
populace characterized by rights of Types of weapons which are centrally
citizenship. It is this bureaucratic-legal (rather than individually supplied) also
state that broke down feudalism and pat- favor bureaucratization. If such condi-
rimonialism, freeing land and labor for the tions make central control easy, however,
capitalist market. It is this state that bureaucratization need not proceed very
pacified large territories, eliminated inter- deeply, and the society may be ruled by a
nal market barriers, standardized taxation thin stratum of officials above a local
and currencies. It is this state that structure which remains patrimonial. In
provided the basis for a reliable system of China, for example, this superficial bu-
banking, investment, property, and con- reaucratization constituted a long-term
tracts, through a rationally calculable and obstacle to capitalism, as it froze the
universally applied system of law courts. economy under the patrimonial control of
One may even argue that the bureaucratic local clans.
state was the proximate cause of the im- The most thorough bureaucratization,
pulse to rationalization, generally-above as well as that uniquely favorable to
all, via the late seventeenth- and capitalism, is that which incorporates a
eighteenth-century spirit of enlightened formalistic legal code based on citizen-
absolutism, which set the stage for the ship. Citizenship meant, first of all, mem-
industrial revolution. bership in a city; by extension, member-
There are three causal questions about ship in a state and hence holder of political
the rational/legal state. Why did it rise to rights within it. This was an alien concept
predominance? Where did its structural throughout most of history. In the pat-
characteristics come from? How did its rimonial state, political office was a form
legal system take the special form of con- of private property or personal delegation,
ceiving of its subjects as holding the rights and even in most premodern quasi-
of citizenship? bureaucratic states the populace at large
The first question is easily answered. was only subject to the state, not holders
The bureaucratic state rose to predomi- of rights within it. The latter condition
nance because it is the most efficient arose only in the West. In both Mediterra-
means of pacifying a large territory. It is nean antiquity and the European Middle
effective externally in that it can supply a Ages, cities came under the control of
larger military, with better weapons, than brotherhoods of warriors banded together
can nonbureaucratic states; and it is ef- for mutual protection. Such cities had
fective, internally, as it tends to be rela- their own laws and courts, administered
tively safe against disintegration by civil
wuar I-N 'elii -lnzl n 9
foreign wars. But historical instances of these have
9 The main exception is that revolutions can occur occurred mainly in states which have been only par-
after the military breakdown of the state itself due to tially bureaucratized. (See Skocpol, 1979.)
by the citizens themselves, all of whom East, the traditional priests held
stood under it in relation of formal monopolies over communion with the
equality. Such citizenshiprightsremained gods, whereas in Westernantiquityit was
historically significant after the original the officials of the city who themselves
civic forms changed or disappeared.The performedthe rites (1961:238).In the one
formal rights and legal procedures origi- case, the boundaries of religious com-
nally applied only to a local elite, but munion reinforced preexisting group di-
when cities were incorporatedinto large- visions; in the other, religious boundaries
scale bureaucraticstates, they provided were an explicit political tool by which
the basis for a much morewidely inclusive civic alliances could be established and
system of adjudication.This was the case enlarged. It is at this point that the two
when Rome, originally one of these main lines of Weber's chain of causality
military-fraternitycities, became an em- converge.
pire and, again, in the MiddleAges, when We have been tracing the causal links
cities in alliancewith kings lost their inde- behind the emergenceof the rational/legal
pendence but contributed their legal state, which is one of the two great inter-
structuresto the larger states.10 mediateconditionsof the emergenceof an
Nearing the end of our chain of open market economy. The other great
causality, we ask: What factors enabled intermediatecondition(noted earlier)is an
this distinctive type of city to arise in the economic ethic which breaks the barrier
West? Weber gives two conditions: one between internaland external economies.
military, the other religious. Now we see that the religiousfactors that
The military condition is that in the produced the citizenship revolution and
West the city consisted of "an organiza- those that produced the economic ethic
tion of those economically competent to are essentially the same.
bear arms, to equip and trainthemselves" Our last question, then, is: What
(1961:237).This was the case in the for- brought about this religious transforma-
mative period of the ancient Greek and tion? Weber gives a series of reasons,
Italian cities and, again, in the medieval each intensifying the effects of the last
cities with their disciplined infantries (1961:238). Ethical prophecy within an-
fielded by the guilds. In both cases, the cient Judaismwas important,even though
money power of the cities bolstered their it did not break down ritual barriersbe-
military power and, hence, democratiza- tween Jews and Gentiles, because it es-
tion and concomitantlegal citizenship. In tablished a traditionof hostility to magic,
the Orient and in ancient Egypt, on the the main ethos within which barriers
contrary, the military princes with their flourished. The transformationof Christi-
armies were older than the cities and, anity from a Jewish sect into a proselytiz-
hence, legally independent cities did not ing universal religion gave this tradition
arise; Weber attributedthis patternto the widespread currency, while the pen-
impetus to early centralizationgiven by tacostal spirit of Christianproselytization
irrigation. set aside the ritual barriersamong clans
The second conditionis that in the East, and tribes, which still characterizedthe
magicaltaboos preventedthe organization ancient Hellenistic cities to some degree.
of militaryalliances among strangersand, The Judeo-Christianinnovations are not
hence, did not allow formation of inde- the whole story, however; the earlier de-
pendent cities. In India, for example, the velopment of Greekreligioninto the civic
ritual exclusion of castes had this effect. cults had alreadydone much to make uni-
More generally, in Asia and the Middle versalistic legal membershippossible.
The religious factors, as we have seen,
10 Contractual
formsof feudalismalso contributed entwine with political ones, and their in-
somewhatto legal citizenship.Weberneglectedthis fluence in the directionof legal citizenship
in the General Economic History, but considered it and upon an economic ethic have fluc-
in Economy and Society (1968:1101). The earlier
preconditions(militaryand religious)for contractual
tuated historically.There is no steady nor
feudalismand for independentcities, however, are inevitable trend toward increasing ra-
essentially the same. tionalizationof these spheres, but West-
ern history does contain a series of abolished the monasteries. The most ad-
episodes which happen to have built up vanced section of the economy would,
these effects at particularpoints in time so henceforth, be secular. Moreover, the
that, eventually, a whole new economic highest ethics of a religious life could no
dynamic was unleashed. On the political longer be confined to monks but had to
side, the Christian cities of the Middle apply to ordinary citizens living in the
Ages, drawing upon the institutional world. Calvinism and the other voluntary
legacies of the ancientworld, were able to sects were the most intense version of this
establish religiouslysworn confraternities motivation, not because of the idea of
which reestablisheda legal system based Predestination (which no longer receives
on citizenship. A second political factor any mention in Weber's last text) but only
was fostered by religion: the Christian because they required a specific religious
church provided the literate adminis- calling for admission into their ranks,
trators, the educational system, and the rather than automatic and compulsory
example of its own bureaucraticorganiza- membership in the politically more con-
tion as bases upon which the bureaucratic servative churches. Weber's (1961:
states of the West could emerge. And, on 269-70) last word on the subject of
the strictly motivational side, the devel- Protestantism was simply this:
opment of European Christianitygave a The developmentof the concept of the call-
decisive ethical push toward rationalized ing quicklygave to the modernentrepreneur
capitalism. a fabulously clear conscience-and also in-
Here, at last, we seem to touch base dustriousworkers;he gave to his employees
with Weber's original Protestant Ethic as the wages of their ascetic devotion to the
thesis. But in the matureWeber, the thesis calling and of co-operation in his ruthless
is greatly transformed. Protestantism is exploitationof them throughcapitalismthe
only the last intensificationof one of the prospectof eternalsalvation,which in an age
when ecclesiasticaldisciplinetook controlof
chains of factors leading to rational the whole of life to an extent inconceivable
capitalism. Moreover, its effect now is to us now, represented a reality quite dif-
conceived to be largely negative, in the ferent from any it has today. The Catholic
sense that it removes one of the last in- and Lutheranchurches also recognized and
stitutionalobstacles divertingthe motiva- practicedecclesiasticaldiscipline. But in the
tional impetus of Christianityaway from Protestantascetic communitiesadmissionto
economic rationalization. For, in the Lord's Supperwas conditionedon ethi-
medieval Christianity, the methodical, cal fitness, which again was identifiedwith
disciplined organization of life was business honor, while into the content of
epitomized by the monastic com- one's faithno one inquired.Such a powerful,
munities.11 Although the monasteries unconsciously refined organizationfor the
production of capitalistic individuals has
contributedto economic development by never existed in any otherchurchor religion.
rationalizing agriculture and promoting
their own industries,Webergenerallysaw WEBER'S GENERAL THEORY OF HISTORY
them as obstacles to the full capitalistde-
velopment of the secular economy. As Is there an overall pattern in Weber' s
long as the strongest religious motivation argument? It is not a picture of a linear
was siphoned off for essentially other- trend toward ever-increasing rationality.
worldly ends, capitalismin general could Nor is it an evolutionary model of natural
not take off (1961:267-9). Hence, the Re- selection, in the sense of random selection
formationwas most significantbecause it of the more advanced forms, accumulat-
"Weber did not live to write his plannedvolume
ing through a series of stages. For
on medieval Christianity.If he had, I believe he Weber's constant theme is that the pattern
would have found that the High Middle Ages were of relations among the various factors is
the most significantinstitutionalturningpoint of all crucial in determining their effect upon
on the roadto the capitalisttakeoff.His commitment economic rationalization. Any one factor
to the vestiges of his Protestantismargumentmay tends to have opposite
have kept him from recognizingthis earlier. I will occurring by itself
deal with this point in a subsequentarticle, "The effects, overall, to those which it has in
WeberianRevolutionof the High Middle Ages." combination with the other factors.
For example, self-suppliedmilitaryco- Weber saw the rise of large-scale
alitions produce civic organizations and capitalism,then, as the result of a series of
legal systems which are favorable to combinationsof conditions which had to
capitalism. But if the self-armed civic occur together. This makes world history
groupsare too strong,the result is a series look like the result of configurationsof
of guildmonopolieswhich stifle capitalism events so rare as to appear accidental.
by overcontrollingmarkets.Cities, on the Weber's position might well be charac-
other hand, have to be balanced by the terized as historicist,in the sense of seeing
bureaucraticstate. But when the state is history as a concatenation of unique
too strong by itself, it, too, tends to stifle events and unrepeatable complexities.
capitalism.This can happenby bolstering Once a crucial conjunctureoccurs, its re-
the immobilityof labor (as in the case of sults transformeverything else-and not
"the second serfdom"producedin Russia just locally but also in the largerworld of
and eastern Europe as absolutist states competing states. This was true of the
developed in the seventeenth and great charismaticrevelations of the world
eighteenth centuries); or by directly con- religions, which shut off China, India, or
trolling the division of labor by forced the West from alternativelines of devel-
contributionsinstead of allowinga market opment as well as determined the ways
to develop. In the areas of the world that states upon these territories would
where bureaucratization was relatively interact with the rest of the world. Simi-
easy, as in ancient Egypt or China, or the larly, the full-scalecapitalistbreakthrough
Byzantine Empire, the unrestrained itself was a once-only event, radiating
power of the state stereotyped economic outward to transform all other institu-
life and did not allow the dynamics of tions and societies. Hence, the original
capitalismto unfold. conditionsnecessary for the emergenceof
The same is true of the religious vari- capitalismwere not necessary for its con-
ables. The creationof the greatworld reli- tinuation. The original religious ethic
gions, with their universalism and their could fade, once the calculabilityof mas-
specialized priesthoods, was crucial for sive economic transactionshad become a
the possibility of breakingthe ritual bar- matter of routine. Hence, late-
riers among localized groups, with all the industrializingstates need not follow the
consequences this might have for sub- route of classic capitalism. In the ad-
sequent developments. But, in the ab- vanced societies, the skeleton of the eco-
sence of other factors, this could actually nomic structuremighteven be taken over
bolster the obstacles to capitalism. This by socialism.
happened in India, where the develop- Weber's account of the rise of
ment of Hinduismfostered the caste sys- capitalism,then, is in a sense not a theory
tem; the universalisticreligion set an ex- at all, in that it is not a set of universal
ternal seal upon the lineup of particularis- generalizations about economic change.
tic groups that happened to exist at the Nevertheless, on a more abstract level,
time. Even in Christianity,where moral Weberis at least implicitlyproposingsucha
prophecy had a much more barrier- theory. On one level, he may be read as a
breaking and world-transformingeffect, collection of separate hypotheses about
the Church (in the period when it was specific processes and their effects.13The
predominant) created another obstacle foregoingcaveat about the necessary bal-
against its capitalist implications. This ance among factors may be incorporated
was the periodof the High MiddleAges in by specifying that the causal variables
Europe, when monasticism proliferated must operate at a given strength-that is,
and, thus, channeledall the energy of reli- by turning them into quantitativegener-
gious motivation into a specialized role alizations specified to a given range of
and away from the economic concerns of variation.
ordinarylife.12 13 One clearly formulatedproposition,for exam-
12This was also the time whenthe churchtook the ple, is thatarmiesbasedon coalitionsof self-supplied
offensive againstincipientcapitalism,in the form of individualsproducecitizenshiprights. (For a series
pronouncementsagainstusury(Weber,1968:584-6). of such propositions,see Collins, 1975:356-64.)
On a second level, one may say that the tion implicit in Weber's theory applicable
fundamental generalizations in Weber' s to economic history after the initial rise of
theory of capitalism concern the crucial capitalism, it is this: The possibility for the
role of balances and tensions between op- follower-societies of the non-Western
posing elements. "All in all," says Weber world to acquire the dynamism of indus-
in a little-known passage (1968:1192-3), trial capitalism depends on there being a
"the specific roots of Occidental culture balance among class forces, and among
must be sought in the tension and peculiar competing political forces and cultural
balance, on the one hand, between office forces as well. In the highly industrialized
charisma and monasticism, and on the societies also, the continuation of
other between the contractual character of capitalism depends on continuation of the
the feudal state and the autonomous bu- same conflicts. The victory of any one
reaucratic hierarchy. ''14 No one element side would spell the doom of the system.
must predominate if rationalization is to In this respect, as in others, Weber's
increase. More concretely, since each theory is a conflict theory indeed.
"element" is composed of real people
struggling for precedence, the creation of AN ASSESSMENT: WEBER' S
a calculable, open-market economy de- CONFRONTATION WITH MARXISM
pends upon a continuous balance of power
among differently organized groups. The How valid is Weber's theory? To fully
formal egalitarianism of the law depends answer this question would require exten-
upon balances among competing citizens sive comparative analyses and a good
and among competing jurisdictions. The deal of explication of principles on dif-
nondualistic economic ethic of moderated ferent levels of abstraction. These tasks
avarice depends upon a compromise be- are beyond the scope of any one paper.
tween the claims of in-group charity and What I can present is a confrontation be-
the vicious circle of out-group rapacious- tween Weber's theory and the one rival
ness. theory of capitalism which claims a com-
The capitalist economy depends on this parable degree of historical and theoreti-
balance. The open-market system is a cal comprehensiveness, Marxism. This is
situation of institutionalized strife. Its es- especially appropriate because Weber
sence is struggle, in an expanded version himself devoted a great deal of attention in
of the Marxian sense, but with the qualifi- the General Economic History to the
cation that this could go on continuously, points at which his analysis impinges on
and indeed must, if the system is to sur- Marxist theories.
vive.15 Hence, if there is any generaliza- The book begins and ends on Marxian
themes. The first chapter deals with the
14 In other words, the main features of the West question of primitive agrariancommunism.
depend on a tension between the routinization of Characteristically, Weber finds it to be
religious charisma in the church and the participa- only one variant of primitive agriculture;
tory communities of monks, and on a tension be- where it does exist, it is usually the result
tween the democratizing tendencies of self-supplied
armies and the centralized bureaucratic state. These of fiscal organization imposed from above
give us Weber's two great intermediate factors, a (1961:21-36). The closing words of the
nondualistic religious ethic and calculable law, re- book speak of the threat of working class
spectively. revolution which appears once capitalism
.... the formal rationality of money calculation is matures and work discipline loses its reli-
dependent on certain quite specific substantive gious legitimation (1961:270). In between,
conditions. Those which are of a particular
sociological importance for present purposes are
there are numerous references to Marx-
the following: (1) Market struggle of economic
units which are at least relatively autonomous.
Money prices are the product of conflicts of inter- of man against man. "Money" is, rather, primarily
est and of compromises; they thus result from a weapon in this struggle, and prices are ex-
power constellations. Money is not a mere pressions of the struggle; they are instruments of
"voucher for unspecified utilities," which could calculation only as estimated quantifications of
be altered at will without any fundamental effect relative chances in this struggle of interests
on the character of the price system as a struggle (Weber, 1968:107-8).
ism, far more than in any other of Weber's was concerned to meet the Marxianchal-
works. His attitudeis criticallyrespectful, lenge on its own grounds, leaving out
as in his comment on the Engels-Bebel nothing that must be conceded, but also
theory of the origins of the family: "al- turningup whatever factors the Marxists
though it is untenable in detail it forms, left out. Moreover, the GermanMarxists
taken as a whole, a valuable contribution had suddenly become stronger with the
to the solutionof the problem.Here again end of the WorldWar and the downfallof
is the old truthexemplifiedthat an ingeni- the German monarchy. Weber deliv-
ous erroris more fruitfulfor science than ered his lectures in Munichjust after the
stupid accuracy." (1961:40)16 short-livedCommunistcommuneof 1919,
Weber's intellectual maturitycoincides and his lecture room containedmany radi-
with a period of high-leveldebate in Ger- cal students. It is not surprising that
many and Austria between Marxianand Weber was so much more explicitly con-
non-Marxian economists. In the years cerned with Marxismin his last work than
between 1885 and 1920 appearedEngels's in the religious studies he publishedwhile
editions of the later volumes of Capital, the war was going on.
as well as the principalworks of Kautsky, Weberhad one greatadvantageover the
Hilferding,and Luxemburg.On the other Marxists. The discipline of historical
side, Sombart, Bortkiewitz, and Tugan- scholarship reached its maturity around
Baranowski provided what they consid- the end of the nineteenth century. Not
ered to be revisions in the spiritof Marx- only had political and military history
ian economics, while B6hm-Bawerk reached a high degree of comprehensive-
(1898) and Schumpeter (1954) launched ness and accuracy, but so had the history
explicit efforts to shore up the weaknesses of law, religion, and economic institu-
of neoclassical economics vis-h-vis tions not only for Europe and the
Marxism, and attacked the technical ancient Mediterraneanbut for the Orient
weaknesses of Marxiantheory.'7 This pe- as well. The historical researches of the
riod was in many ways the high-water twentieth century have not brought to
mark in political economy for an atmos- lightany greatbody of facts aboutthe past
phere of balanced debate is beneficial for that has radically changed our view of
intellectual advance. Weber in particular world history since Weber's day. Weber
was perhaps the first great master of the
majorinstitutionalfacts of world history.
Webergoes on to say, "A criticismof the theory By contrast, Marx,pursuinghis assiduous
leads to considerationfirst of the evolutionof pros-
titution,in whichconnection,it goes withoutsaying, researchesin the 1840sand 50s, had much
no ethical evaluation is involved." There follows narrower materials at his disposal
(1961:40-53) a brilliantoutline of a theory of the (Hobsbawm 1964:20-7). The histories of
organizationof the family as one set of variantson India, China,Japan,or Islam had scarcely
sexual property relations, in which material begun to be available; the permeationof
transactionsand appropriationsare fundamentally
involved. Later versions of this line of theory are the ancient Greco-Romanworld by reli-
found in Levi-Strauss (1968), and in Collins gious institutionswas only beginningto be
(1975:228-59). analyzed; and the complex civilization of
17 Thus, Bbhm-Bawerk(1898) and Schumpeter
the EuropeanHigh Middle Ages was hid-
(1954) developed a previously missing link in den beneath what Marx considered the
classical and neoclassical economics, a theory of
capitalistprofits.This they based on time-lagsin the "feudalrubbish"of the Ancien Regime of
competitive process and resulting time-preference the eighteenthcentury. Marxwrote before
among investment returns, displacingthe Marxian the great coming-of-age of historical
theory of profit based on the exploitationof labor. scholarship;Weber, just as it reached its
Bdhm-Bawerkalso made an analysis of socialist
economies. He regardedthese as possiblepolitically peak. Weber thus represents for us the
(as did Schumpeterand Weber),but deniedthat pro- first and in many ways still the only effort
duction would be organized differently than in to make a truly informed comparative
capitalism.Socialismcould affect only the distribu- analysisof majorhistoricaldevelopments.
tion of capitalistprofitsamongthe populace.For the
economic thought of this period, see Schumpeter It should be borne in mind that Marx
(1954:800-20, 843-55, 877-85) and Sweezy and most of his followers have devoted
(1942:190-213). their attention primarilyto showing the
dynamics of capitalism, not to the precon- The uniqueness of Marx's discussion is
ditions for its emergence. Weber's con- in two factors: primitive accumulation,
cerns were almost entirely the reverse. and revolution. About the latter, Marx
Hence, it is possible that the two analyses had surprisingly little to say beyond the
could be complementary, Marx's taking dramatic imagery of revolution breaking
up where Weber's leaves off. Only in the the bonds imposed by the property system
1970s have there been efforts comparable upon the growing engines of production
to Weber's from within the Marxian tradi- (Marx, 1959: 43-4). Primitive accumula-
tion, notably that of Wallerstein (1974). tion takes up nearly the whole of his his-
Interestingly enough, Weber anticipated torical discussion. It means the accumu-
Wallerstein's major points in the General lation of enough raw materials, tools, and
Economic History. On the other side, food for laborers to live on before sub-
Wallerstein's revision of Marxism is in sequent production was completed;
many ways a movement toward a more hence, it is the quantitative prerequisite
Weberian mode of analysis, stressing the for any takeoff into expanded economic
importance of external relations among production. Such accumulation took place
states. historically in two ways. One was by the
The classical Marxian model of the pre- expropriation of peasants from their land,
conditions for capitalism covers only a which simultaneously concentrated
few points (Marx, 1967: I, 336-70, wealth in the hands of the capitalists who
713-64; II, 323-37, 593-613; 1973: 459- received the lands and required the ex-
514). Some of these are a subset of propriated masses to sell their labor on the
Weber's model, while two of them are market. The other means of primitive ac-
distinctive to Marx. Weber and Marx both cumulation was by usury and merchants'
stressed that capitalism requires a pool of capital. Marx downplayed the importance
formally free but economically property- of monetary factors by themselves, as
less labor; the sale of all factors of pro- they operated only in the realm of circula-
duction on the market; and the concentra- tion and did nothing to productive rela-
tion of all factors in the hands of capitalist tions; but he did assert that the growth of
entrepreneurs. Marx did not see the im- money capital furthered the dissolution of
portance of the calculable aspect of the feudal economy once it was already
technology; at times, he seemed to make under way (1967:111, 596-7).
the sheer productive power of technology Of these two factors, Weber says al-
the central moving force in economic most nothing explicitly about primitive
changes, while at others, he downplayed accumulation. However, the entire earlier
this as part of a larger economic sections of the General Economic History
system-much in the way Weber did. Un- (1961:21-203) deal with the various forms
like Weber, Marx gave no causal im- of appropriation of material and financial
portance at all to calculable law, nor did means, which have made up, among other
he see the earlier links in Weber's causal things, the capitalism that has been om-
chain: economic ethics, citizenship, bu- nipresent throughout history, although not
reaucratization, and their antecedents.18 in a rationalized form. The idea that there
18 Marx
must be a specific accumulation of surplus
(1973:459-514) gave a very general outline for the purpose of a capitalist takeoff, I
of early forms of property as based on family and
tribal membership, and he recognized that the an- suspect, is one that Weber would reject.
cient cities were military coalitions. He missed the The assumption ought to be subjected to
central organizing role of religion in these devel- proof. After all, agrarian societies already
opments, and failed to see the crucial effect of the have the most extreme concentration of
revolutions within the ancient cities upon the
uniquely Western legal tradition. For Marx, the rise wealth at the top of the social hierarchy of
of cities simply meant the growing separation of any type of society in world history
town and country, an instance of dialectical antithe- (Lenski, 1966); the industrial takeoff need
sis, and of the progress of the division of labor only have been fueled by a shift in the use
(1967:1, 352). For the period immediately preceding
the capitalist takeoff, Marx noted that the state had
hastened the transition from feudalism to capitalism markets. These effects Marx subsumed under his
by creating public finance and conquering foreign concept of "primitive accumulation."
of this wealth, not by a furtherextraction of the 16th century. During this period,
process. As Weber understood, and as wages remained approximately constant.
subsequent research has shown, The gap between prices and wages con-
capitalists do not have to rise "from stituted a vast extraction of surplus which
below," having amassed their own could be invested in expanding capitalist
wealth;it has been far more typicalfor the enterprises (Wallerstein, 1974:77-84).21
aristocracy themselves to go into This is Wallerstein's version of the primi-
capitalistproduction(Stone, 1965;Moore, tive accumulation factor.
1966). 19 Wallerstein's (1974:348) second condi-
Weber is somewhat more sympathetic tion also emerges from the international
to the importanceof revolutions. Perhaps situation. "[C]apitalism as an economic
the final conditions for the capitalist system is based on the fact that economic
takeoff in Englandwere the revolutionsof factors operate within an arena larger than
1640 and 1688. These put the state under that which any political entity can totally
the control of politicalgroupsfavorableto control. This gives capitalists a freedom of
capitalism, thus fulfillingthe condition of maneuver that is structurally based." He
keeping marketsand finances free of "ir- (1974:355) goes on to say that the different
rational" and predatorystate policies. Of states must be of different strengths, so
more fundamental institutional conse- that not all states "would be in the posi-
quence were the revolutions within the tion of blocking the effective operation of
cities of ancient Greece and of medieval transnational economic entities whose
Italy. The latter, Weber lists among "the locus were in another state." Capitalists
five great revolutions that decided the in effect must have opportunities to shift
destiny of the occident" (1951:62).20 For it their grounds among varied political cli-
was the uprisingof the plebeianswhich re- mates to wherever the situation is most
placed the charismatic law of the older favorable.
patricianclass with the universalisticand Weber (1961:259) was generally aware
"rationallyinstituted"law upon which so of both conditions. Regarding the effects
much of the institutionaldevelopment of of gold and silver influx, however, he was
capitalism was to depend (Weber, largely unfavorable.
1968:1312-3, 1325). In effect, this was a It is certainlytruethat in a given situationan
revolutionin a system of property,but not increase in the supply of precious metals
in the gross sense of a replacementof one may give rise to price revolutions, such as
form of appropriationwith another. For that which took place after 1530in Europe,
Weber, a system of propertyis a complex and when otherfavorableconditionsare pres-
of daily actions-above all, the makingof ent, as when a certain form of labor organ-
transfers and contracts and the adjudica- ization is in the process of development,the
tion of disputes. Hence, political revo- progress may be stimulatedby the fact that
lutions are most crucialwhere they set the large stocks of cash come into the hands of
pattern for ongoing legal actions in a certaingroups. But the case of India proves
that such an importationof metal will not
highly calculableform, with all the conse- alone bringabout capitalism.In India in the
quences noted above. period of the Roman power, an enormous
Wallerstein's (1974) theory, as devel- mass of precious metal-some twenty-five
oped in volume I, emphasizes two condi- millionsestertii annually-came in exchange
tions in the origins of capitalism. One is for domestic goods, but this inflow gave rise
the influx of bullion from the European to commercialcapitalismonly to a slight ex-
colonies, which caused the price inflation tent. The greaterpartof this precious metal
disappearedinto the hoardsof the rajahsin-
19Weber also anticipated Barrington Moore's
(1966) theory of the political consequences of dif- 21 To this, Wallersteinadds the argument that
ferent propertymodes in the commercializationof surplusis furtherextractedby coerced laboron the
agriculture(1961:81-94). periphery,to be consumedin the core, where how-
20 The others were "the Netherlandrevolutionof ever (somewhatcontraryto the point aboutthe price
the sixteenthcentury, the Englishrevolutionof the revolution)laboris well enough paidto constitute a
seventeenthcentury, and the Americanand French potential consumers' marketfor capitalist produc-
revolutionsof the eighteenthcentury." tion.
stead of being converted into cash and the bourgeoisie in the modern sense of the
appliedin the establishmentof enterprisesof word. Hence it is the closed national state
a rational capitalistic character. This fact which afforded to capitalismits chance for
proves that it depends entirely upon the na- development-and as long as the national
ture of the labor system what tendency will state does not give place to a world empire
result from an inflow of precious metal. capitalismwill also endure.
In another passage, Weber (1961:231) Here the coincidence with Wallerstein
does say that the price revolution of the is remarkable. Weber does not emphasize
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the contours of Wallerstein's world sys-
"provided a powerful lever for the speci- tem, with its tiers of core, semiperiphery,
fically capitalistic tendencies of seeking and periphery, but Weber does show the
profit through cheapening production and central importance of mobile capital
lowering the price." This came about for among militarily competing states, and he
industrial (but not agricultural) products, gives a more specific analysis than Wal-
because the quickened economic tempo lerstein of the mechanism by which this is
put on pressures toward further ration- transformed into an advantage for
alizing economic relations and inventing capitalism.
cheaper technologies of production. In general, there is considerable con-
Weber thus gives the influx of precious vergence, as well as complementarity,
metals a place as a contributory factor, between Weber's last theory of the origins
though apparently not an indispensable of capitalism, and the mature Marxian
one, within the framework of economic theory which is only now emerging.
institutions which had already appeared in Weber largely rejects Marxian theories of
Europe at the time.22 primitive accumulation, or at least rele-
Weber (1961:249) largely agrees, how- gates them to minor factors. On the other
ever, with Wallerstein's argument about side, Wallerstein, as well as modern
the international character of capitalism. Marxism in general, has moved the state
Modern cities, he points out, into the center of the analysis. Weber had
came underthe power of competingnational already gone much further in that direc-
states in a conditionof perpetualstrugglefor tion, so that the main Weberian criticism
power in peace or war. This competitive of the Marxian tradition, even in its pres-
strugglecreatedthe largestopportunitiesfor ent form, is that it does not yet recognize
modern Western capitalism. The separate the set of institutional forms, especially as
states had to compete for mobile capital, grounded in the legal system, upon which
which dictatedto them the conditionsunder capitalism has rested.
which it would assist them to power. Out of For Weber, the state and the legal sys-
this allianceof the state with capital,dictated
by necessity, arose the nationalcitizen class, tem are by no means a superstructure of
ideas determining the material organiza-
22 Weber's (1961:223)
comment on the economic
tion of society. Rather, his theory of the
benefits of the colonies is even more negative. development of the state is to a consider-
This accumulation of wealth brought about able extent an analogy to the Marxian
through colonial trade has been of little theory of the economy. The key factor is
significance for the development of modern the form of appropriation of the material
capitalism-a fact which must be emphasized in
opposition to WernerSombart.It is true that the conditions of domination. We have seen
colonial trade made possible the accumulationof the significance of the organization of
wealth to an enormous extent, but this did not weapons for Weber's chain of causes of
furtherthe specificallyoccidentalform of the or- capitalism. In this connection, Weber
ganization of labor, since colonial trade itself (1961:237) remarks:
restedon the principleof exploitationandnot thatof
securing an income through market operations. Whether the military organizationis based
Furthermore,we knowthat in Bengalfor example, on the principleof self-equipmentor on that
the Englishgarrisoncost five times as muchas the
money value of all goods carriedthither.It follows of military equipment by an overlord who
that the marketsfor domestic industryfurnished furnishes horses, arms and provisions, is a
by the colonies under the conditions of the time distinction quite as fundamentalfor social
were relatively unimportant,and that the main history as the questionwhetherthe means of
profit was derived from the transportbusiness. economic productionare the propertyof the
worker or of a capitalisticentrepreneur. . . sumers')goods (1961:217).To decide who
[T]he army equipped by the war lord, and is right on these points requires further
the separation of the soldier from the considerationthan can be given here.
paraphernaliaof war, [is] in a way analogous
to the separation of the worker from the
means of production...." CONCLUSION

Similarly, state bureaucracy depends Weber's last theory is still today the
upon a set of material conditions, and only comprehensivetheory of the origins
upon the separation of the administrator of capitalism. It is virtually alone in ac-
from treatingthe office and its incomes as counting for the emergence of the full
private property (1968:980-3). Weber di- range of institutional and motivational
verges from the Marxiananalogyby being conditions for large-scale, world-
a more thoroughgoingconflict theorist. As transformingcapitalism. Even so, it is in-
we have seen, and as the quotationgiven complete. It needs to be supplementedby
above on the international basis of a theory of the operation of mature
capitalism bears out, for Weber the con- capitalism, and of its possible demise.
ditions of rationalized organization, in And even on the home territory of
political and economic spheres alike, de- Weber's theory, there remain to be car-
pend upon a continuous open struggle.23 ried out the comprehensive tests that
The main disagreementsbetween Marx would provide adequate proof. But
and Weberhave less to do with the origins sociological science, like any other, ad-
of capitalism than with its future. Weber vances by successive approximations.
thought that capitalism could endure in- The theory expressed in Weber'sGeneral
definitely as an economic system, al- Economic History constitutes a base line
though political factors could bring it from which subsequent investigations
down. As we have seen, he thought that should depart.
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