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Farris, J. (2014). Max Weber’s Theory of Personality.

Individuation, Politics, and Orientalism in


the Sociology of Religion. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

1. Introduction

“As Gerth and Writght Mills suggest, what prompted Weber to adopt such a view was the fact that
he had envisaged a link ‘between voluntary association and the personality structure of the free
man. (…) He was convinced that the automatic selection of persons (…) is an infinitely deeper way
for ‘toughening’ man than the ordering and forbidding technique of authoritarian institutions’ (…)
[Protentastism or Puritanism] constitutted the model for Weber’s ideal type of personality; the fact
that autonomy from authoritarian institutions and capacity for self-direction are the fundamental
traits of such an ideal type” (1).

“Beginning with the existentialist reading of Weber by Karl Löwith in the authoritative essay Max
Weber and Karl Marx -originally publish in German in 1932- personality has been understood in
tandem with the notions of ethics of responsability and vocation [Beruf]” (2).

[Ver Mommsen, W. Filosofía de la historia de Weber]

“As well as Harvey Goldman’s inspire book on Weber’s concept of personality and the ‘self’ in the
context of the crisis of the traditional model of Bildung” (2).

2. Individuation

“[R]eveals the elaboration o f two main personality formations in Weber’s writings on religion. It
thus enables us to challenge the diffused idea according to which there is mainly one personality
structure to which Weber devoted most of his attention. The concept of personality that Weber
outlined in the methodological writings and in the writings on Protestantism functioned as an ideal
type to which he compared the different patterns of personality that he saw emerging in his studes
of the non-Christian and non-Western ‘civilisations’” (3).

“In this comparative journey, the concept of personality became an heuristic tool to ‘measure’ the
variations of the processes of individuation taking place in different cultural, socio-economic and
religious contexts and the different personality structures that Weber thought originated from those
processes” (4).

3. Politics

“In a recent study, Jacques Barbalet (2008) discusses how Weber sketched the outlines of the
Puritan personality in his writings on Protestantism in an attempt to fin answers for a question he
had already dealt with ten years earlier in the Freiburg Address: the problem of absence of political
Beruf in the German bourgeois class. Other scholars have noted how the features of the Puritan
personality and of the charismatic political leader overlap, and how they both embody Weber’s ideal
of humanity [Menschentum]” (5)

“On the one hand, Weber’s description of the qualities of the charismatic political leader, as
contained in ‘Politics as a Vocation’, coincides with the portrayal of the Puritan virtuoso he depicted
in his writings on Protestantism. (…) The Puritan personality was therefore the pedagogigacal-
political model for the German bourgeois class because it possessed the very psychological features
that Weber regarded as the epitome of the Occidental personality and the sine qua non for the
establishment of true political leadership” (5-6)
“In other words, I contend that not only the political charismatic leader but also the figure of the
civil servant is mirrored in one of the personality patterns Weber identified in his studies on world
religions” (6)

Chapter One: From the Historical Individuality to the Sociological Personality

“At this juncture, Windelband, Rickert and Lask, the most well-known representatives of that
school, became advocates of a Retunr to Kant. Their aim was to elabore the conditions of possibility
of historical knowledge as a science [Wissenchaft]” (20).

“Differently from the ontologically grounded principium divisionis of the sciences proposes in
particular by Dilthey, Windelband differentiated between the process of study inherent to the
Naturwissenchaften and that inherent to the Geisteswissenchaften on a logical plane. From this
standpoint, the disctintion was not drawn on the basis of the nature of the object of inquiry
(ontology) but rather on the basis of the cognitive object” (22).

“Therefore, for Windelband, the identification of the idiographic method and, thus, of history’s
proclivity for the individuality of events and for historical personalities, was founded on a
philosophy of values or, in other words, on an axiology. (…) The true innovation lay most of all in
the development of a philosophy of values according to which individuality, qua uniqueness and
non-iterability, became the sine qua non condition for the identification of subjects of historical
interest. What was unique and unrepeteable was established based upon ostensibly universal and
common values” (24).

“Thus, the innovation introduced by Rickert consisted in the fact that such values were not to be
predicted subjetively, but were rather universal a priori and therefore binding and intersubjectively
recognisable. (…) Rickert’s establishment of the historical individual as both objective and object of
the historical sciences, therefore, rested on the aprioristic assumption of universal values, which
ended up coinciding with the values of nataionalist bourgeoisie and the ‘academic aristocracy’ of
Wilhelm Germany at the close of the nineteenth century” (25-26).

“Weber greatly appreciated two aspects of Lask’s thought in particular: his approach to the question
of the hiatus irrationalis between concepto and reality, and the distinction between analytic
reasoning (Kant) and emanatist logic (Hegel) as opposed approaches to concept formation. For
Lask, whereas analytic logic does not identify the concept with reality, but rather sees it as an empty
form, emanatist logic, on the other hand, identifies the concept with the real. Lask concluded that
analyitical reasoning was the only logic capable of providing useful indications on individuality as
the basis of historical knowledge” (26).

“[T]he Laskian historical-theoretical reconstruction of the distinctions between the Hegelian and
Kantian traditions with regard to the relationship between concept and reality provided Weber with
the philosophical basis for criticism of the organicistic viewpoints of the German historical school
of economics, viewpoints which Weber would criticse exactly on the grounds of their emanatism”
(27).

“On a political level, the concept of the historical individual within the framework given to it by the
Baden school was imbued ab origine with evident conservatism and, at least in Rickert’s thought,
was not politically innocent. In the words of Gebhardt: from Lotze to Windelband, Rickert and
Weber we encounter as Leitmotiv of thought the experience of the cultural man threatened by
Chaos, the reppresentative of the German cultural experience” (28).
“The anti-naturalist and anti-positivist roots of the idiographic frameworkk of history, which lies at
the base of the concept of the historical individual, had a strong anti-Marxist and anti-socialist
component. (…) [T]he notion of historical individuality, the idea of the unrepeatableness and
uniqueness of the event which was the object of history and hence the idea of the non-assimilability
of its method to that of the natural sciences, were in part the consequence of the conservative
reaction that was spreading rampantly throughout Germany following the French revolution. (…)
Nevertheless, the anti-Marxism undelying the anti-naturalism of the Baden historicists was born in
reaction to a vulgarised version of historical materialism, reduced to a research paradigm for laws of
development, which ended up negating the specifc natures of peoples and nations” (29).

“The teoretical premises of Weber’s position can be found in two areas: on the one hand, the
influence exerted over Weber by Carl Menger, founder of the Austrian marginalist school and
initiator of the economic Methodenstreit; and, on the other hand, the impression made on Weber by
the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose anti-historicists and anti-positivist criticism had made an
indelible mark on the historiographical Methodenstreit” (34).

“Weber was strongly influenced by the Mengerian paradigm. Joining Menger in his criticism of
the organicism and emanatism of the historical school, and distancing himself from Rickert’s
criteria of universal values, Weber recasted the problem of the selection of the object of
inquiry and of the process of scientific explanation in terms of subjective choice of values”
(36).

“Thus, if Weber used Menger’s theory of appropriate the scientific procedure of the historical
sciences from the organicism of the historical school and from the axiological absolutism of neo-
Kantianism, it was nonetheless Nietzsche who provided the philosophical foundation that prevented
the Weberian problem of subjective Wertbeziehung from falling into relativism and which revealed
its political orientation” (38).

“According to this position [the intrinsic ‘irrationality of human will’], the unpredictability of
human actions made it impossible to propose a causal explanation within the historical sciences, as
it was precisely the actions of those individuals for which they had to give an account. Weber
criticsed this position harshly (…) In particular, he maintained that the philosophical basis of that
which he defined as ‘the philosophical archetype of all metaphysical theories of culture and
personality’ was nothing other than the Kantian principle of ‘causality through liberty’” (39).

“In his methodological writings, produced between 1903 and 1913, Weber thus shought to settle
accounts with his former neo-Kantian ‘philosophical conscience’, and distanced himself even
further from the German historicist paradigm. For Weber, it was a question of first and foremost
demosnstrating that human action, in its role as the driving force of history, was not in the least
unpredictable or irrational” (40)

“The marginalist paradigm offered Weber not only an opportunity to criticse the organicism of the
historical school of Economy and pose the question of choice criteria in subjective terms, but also to
identify more clearly his theoretical field of research in individual rational action, which would
allow him to espouse his staunchly anti-Marxist political position on a broader methodological and
substantive plane” (41).

“We can see, therefore, why in the sphere of interpretive sociology and, more broadly speaking,
within the Weberian methodological and theoretical framework, the idea of personality played a
central role. Indeed, once subtracted from the quicksand of historicist irrationalism, personality
showed itself to be the central element of a framework of study that attempted to unify the
idiographic and nomothetic perspectives, understanding and explanation” (44).
“It is in this light that we can understand the extent to which the study of religion became important
in Weber’s research programme. As religion was a crucial source of values and meaning of life, the
analysis of this subject promised to shed light on the motivations behind individuals’ actions and
their (unpredictable) results. Above all, such an analysis became central for Weber’s attempt to
understanding the motivations behind his most enduring object of inquiry, that is, the rise and
functioning of capitalism” (44).

“Weber brought a truly original perspective to the methodological statute of the historical social
sciences. Generally speaking, this originality can be traced back to two easily identifiable
theoretical movements. First and foremost, Weber continued to distinguish between sciences of
the spirit (historical, or cultural) and natural sciences on the basis of a logical-methodological
criterio; that is, on the basis of the idiographic aim of the former and the nomothetic aim of
the latter. Nevertheless, in order to be considered science, the historical sciences had to define
clearly the subjective-value criterion on which the choice of the object of inquiry was based
and to follow a wholly causal explicative process – something that constituted a decisive break
with Rickert’s universalist axiology. Secondly, Weber had identified the conception of history as a
realm of irrational individuality –a conception to which the Baden school was not immune– as the
principal obstacle to the introduction of causal explanation into the historical record” (45).

“Unlike history, sociology had the potential to be a more propoer terrain for the idea of history as
the sphere of action of individual rational agents, that is, of personalities which could be understood
through a procedure of empathetic understanding and whose actions could be causally explained
through a reconstrution of those ‘ultimate values and meanings of liife, values and meanings which
are forged into purposes and thereby translated into rational-teleological action” (46).

Chapter Two: A Lexicon of Individuation: Bildung, Religion, Personality

“Weber’s most complete formulation of the concept of personality can be found in his writings on
the sociology of religions. There he conducted an in-depth exploration of the origins of these
ultimate values, or religious beliefs, and analysed the ways in which, according to him, different
religions led to strikingly different types of rational actions. Weber’s ‘rationalist’ conception of
personality was his foundation for opposing methodological irrationalism’s conception of the role of
the individual in history. His innovation, howeber, ocurred within a specific historical, intellectual
and political context, in which the concepts of individuality, personality and Bildung played a
special role” (48).

“[Weber] therefore assigned to religion the role of a psychological ‘imprint’ [Prägung] capable of
conditioning behaviour, and especially economic behaviour, in profound and lasting ways. The
imprint made by religions on individuals and on the social relationships they created was therefore
translated into terms of economic ethics [Wirtschaftethik] and specific kinds of rationality” (51).

“The objective of this inquiry was thus to demonstrate by comparative means the specific role
played by ascetic Protestantism in the birth of the economic rationalism inherent to Western
capitalism, and how other religions instead hindered that same type of development” (52).

“Weber’s theoretical model therefore placed religions at a midway point between social conditions
and individual actions. The specific configuration of every religion reflected certain given social,
historical and political conditions. Nevertheless, religious beliefs, in turn,, act upon the social,
historical and political situations, imprinting believers with a distinctive modus vivendi and
approach to the world” (53).
“For Weber, the most important preliminary distinction at the root of the process of rationalisation –
understood as the intellectual systematisation of cognitive dominion over the world and the
disciplining of religious practices– was the separation between magic and religion. Magically
motivated action, in Weber’s interpretation, is characterised by its claim to manipulate the spirits in
order to obtain tangible and immediate results ‘in the world’. Magical thought shows us a world
populated by enchanted forces that can be bent to human being’s will through the use of specific
practices and through the invention of expert individuals” (54).

“As we have seen, in Weber’s mind only the ascetic attitudes fostered the potential for
transformation, due to the active aspecct inherent in every type of ascesis as a concept of action
entailing compromise with worldly possessions” (65).

“Protestantism appeared to Weber as the religious movement whose pursuit of salvation (or
confirmation of salvation) was most radical. It therefore encouraged a wholly rational form of
conduct, driving individuals from deep within to maintain self-discipline in order to be ready at all
times to receive a sign of their state of grace” (66).

“There is a tension inherent in ascetic action: between the ‘noble’ spiritual dimension that
humans aspire to attain, and the immanently ‘corrupt’ worldly dimension in which they must
participate with the sole aim of doing God’s will” (70).

Chapter Three: Puritan Personality and Political Leadership of Capital

“First and foremost, the personality forged by ascetic Protestantism coincided with an eminently
socio-political formation of the individual. Far from defining bourgeois individualism and its
corresponding personality structure (or, in other words, the fundamental values to which that
personality was bound) as an atomized condition, a Robinson Crusoe in a state of isolation, the
Puritan individuality that emerged from the pages of Weber’s essays on North America was more
akin to the Aristotelian zoon politikon” (83).

“The problem, however, is that The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is not strictly
speaking a scientific work –whether historiographical or sociological– but a primarily political
work. In other words, Weber’s study on Protestantism and the spirit of capitalism does not have the
rigour and scope of a purely scholarly intellectual endeavour because its aim was above all to make
a political intervention in the debates of the time over the role of ideas and material forces in
history, and over the historical site of genesis of capitalism. From this perspective it is the concept
of ‘personality’ that takes on a key role, a concept which, as we have seen in the previos chapters,
was the theoretical marker of Weber’s passage from history to sociology – from the irrationalistc
pitfalls of the Geisteswissenchaften to the more politically promising and scientifically germane
shores of the social sciences” (87).

“The study of the Protestant ethic, and of ascetic Protestantism in particular, as we will soon see,
served the purpose of showing the German bourgeois class of Weber’s time the virtues of a political
and economic leadership shaped by the ascetic personality, especially in the form it had taken in the
Anglo-Saxon countries” (87).

“Weber believed that the immaturity of the German bourgeoisie, its lack of a ‘political vocation’,
could be observed in its underestimation of the importance of colonial businesses for the increase of
the nation’s economic and political power, as well as in its still largely traditionalist view of the
economy. However, this immaturity in his view did not have economic causes: ‘the reason’, Weber
asserted, ‘is to be found in its unpolitical past, in the fact that it was not possible to catch up on a
century of missed political education in a single decade’. The fundamental issue therefore became
that of bringing about the ‘political education’ of the bourgeoisie, an education that would render
them able to acquire the vocation [Beruf] of leading the state” (92) [Ver nota de Ferraresi].

“Weber appears to be saying that the repressive legislation proposed against workers’ organisations
was a serious mistake that revelead the immaturity of the German political class, insofar as it did
not acknowledge the right of the working-class’s aristocracy to ‘demand the freedom to stand up for
its interests in the shape of the openly organised economic struggle for power’. (…) [T]o avoid a
socialist revolution, it was ‘necessary that the bourgeois revolution affirmed itself against ‘feudal
reaction’, putting itself in a condition to ‘integrate’ into the state the large stratum of the mass of
workers” (93).

“The defense of national interests and the German bourgeoisie’s lack of a vocation for political
leadership were the two central themes of Weber’s political, and even scholarly, agenda at the turn
of the centruy. Thus, the concept of Beruf -vocation and profession- alredy played a pivotal role
here. The German bourgeoisie had to acquire the Beruf of political leadership. Howeber, it
had to be instilled in it through a process of education. This, therefore, was the task that
awaited those intellectuals who cared about the fate of the nation” (93).

“It was instead Calvinism -and, more generally speaking, the ascetic Protestantism of the
denominations of Calvinist derivation- that represented the religious and political ideal that the
German bourgeois class needed to adopt as their inspiration. (…) This study, etched into his
political and scientific agenda ten years earlier in Freiburg and encouraged by his journey to the
United States, was essential to understanding the Puritan Beruf –the element that seemed to Weber
to lie at the foundation of the economic success and vocation to political leadership that existed in
the nations in which it had taken root–” (96-97).

“In Weber’s opinion, the reason that worldly asceticism was able to unleash the power of bourgeois
subjectivity and give form to the ‘modern Western’ personality lay, above all, in the unprecedented
relationship that it had established between the individual, God and the world. This relationship was
based on a conception of the individual as an instrument in the service of divine will, within which
detachment from the world and disdain for worldly goods was directly proportional to the desire to
be an active participant in it. In the words of D’Andrea, it was ‘starting from this redefinition of the
relationship between God, man and the world’ that there emerged ‘a type of subjectivity that
exhibits the traits propoer of the modern individual and that will contribute in a decisive manner to
reshape institutions, order of life and social forms towards an individualist-modern direction” (97).

“[Cita de Weber] ‘being a personality is something that cannot be deliberately striven for and that
there is only one way by which it can (perhaps!) be achieved: namely, the whole-hearted devotion
to a task whatever it (and its derivative ‘demands of the hour’) may be” [Fin de cita de Weber].
Ascetic Protestantism, because of the force with hich it imposed adherence to a profession as
vocation, had allowed the development of the personality ‘as such’ or, in other words had permitted
the development of the model of specialistic individuality that according to Weber was both origin
and result of capitalist rationalisation. For this reason, the definition of the vocational personality
had to constitute the presupposition for the role of leadership, a role that the bourgeois class was
called upon to play” (102).

“Indeed, in his Address, he had already laid out the key themes which he would later take up and
explore in greater depth in his Protestant ethic: the use of religious factors to explain the different
economic behaviours of Protestand and Catholics, the criticism of historical materialism and the
link between political and economic leadership and the concept of Beruf. Political and economic
leadership demanded a vocation. This was already clear to Weber when, at the close of the
nineteenth century, ha praised its plenitude in Bismarck’s character, while lamenting the lack
of it in his own class. But what constituted this Beruf? (…) [I]t was in the varieties of
Protestantism that had developed and spread in those lands (in other words, as Weber
understood it, in Puritanism) that Weber thought to find the key to understanding Western
modernity. Beruf as vocation and profession, as absolute devotion to a purpose –this alone
could allow a process of individuation built upon the basis of a sole ethical core–. (…) The
type of political man who ‘is to be alowed to put his hand on the wheel of history’, as he wrote
in his Politik als Beruf in 1919, is a man who has, first and foremost, ‘passion in the sense of
matter-of-factness [Sachlichkeit], of passionate devotion to a ‘cause’, to the god or demon who
is its overlord’. For the authentic political leader, a sense of responsibility to this cause must
be ‘the guiding star of action’. Thus, the true political man, insofar as his actions reflect a
single core of values, a one and only cause, is a ‘personality’ in the fullest sense of the word. It
was to just such a political personality, capable or harnessing and putting to use those ascetic
qualities, which Weber had discovered growing most abundantly in the lands of Anglo-Saxon
Puritanism, and whom Weber hoped to see entrusted with the future of Germany at the dawn
of the twentieth century” (106-107).