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Max Weber – Part 2

In this part Weber explores-

  1. What discipline , division of labour and bureaucracy means. What is their psychological construct and underpinning.
  2. The Rationalization of Economy, Honor, and Politics

For Weber, there is a central question about why workers slip seamlessly into the demands of bureaucratic production, whether it is in a factory or government institution. Weber does not view such discipline as natural; in his sociology, he very much views the emergence of “discipline” to be the source of a habitus (i.e., a construction of modern human society).

Discipline & Division of Labour

Discipline in Weber’s construction is a process in which the psychobiological nature of a human being is totally adjusted to the demands of production specifications, which are what the tools and machines of the outer world require.

In short the human being is adjusted to the functions demanded from him. The human being is stripped of his personal biological rhythm, and then is reprogrammed into the new rhythm according to the prerequisites of the task. This is done by the systematic deconstruction of the functions of every muscle, and then reconstructed into an optimal economic form of “manpower,” which is put into a new rhythm and shaped to the requirements of the work ally, even when orders have not been given.

Thus, the modern worker habitually knows what the bureaucracy, factory, or Boss wants and does it—such habitus is what makes modern society possible.

Thus, in “Discipline and Charisma,” Weber describes how changing weaponry and military organization have given birth to even higher levels of such discipline, and the capacity of society to undertake an even finer division of labor.

In this sense, Weber is anticipating the writings of later philosophers and sociologists like Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu.

Discipline and the division of human labor are central to Weber’s description of rationalization, and rationalization’s child, bureaucracy.

Labor works its magic only if everyone on an assembly line or in an army is habitually conditioned to undertake a specialized task on command, despite whatever the preexisting psychobiological predisposition of a particular human may be or might have been.

In the process, service to self and one’s fellows becomes an act coordinated by an inhuman institution like an army, royal court, factory, government office, or a bureaucracy.

Weber’s central point is that in subordinating oneself to such externally generated discipline, humanity and soul are compromised as the individual becomes what Nietszche called the “Last Man,” and whom Weber (while referring to Nietzsche) called narrow specialists without mind, pleasure-seekers without heart; in its conceit this nothingness imagines it has climbed to a level of humanity never before achieved.

On this point, Weber’s reasoning is closer to Nietzsche who saw the world as an endless struggle rather than a continuum of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as Tönnies did.

In his masterwork Economy and Society, Weber’s description of society is known in English as the “three-fold system of stratification,” which emphasizes economy, status, and power. This division is found in several shorter essays in Economy and Society.

Most significantly, as Weber emphasizes in “Classes, Stände, Parties,” these three structures of society from the hierarchies of economic, social, and political power found in societies, both ancient and modern.

Issues of honor are distributed within the assumptions of the Gemeinschaft and lead to the formation of status groups, or what in German is more precisely called Stände, which Weber points out emerges from the “House of Honor.”

In developing this point, Weber is separating himself from Karl Marx’s society, which traced all social differentiation back to the “House of the Marketplace” where transactions are anonymously undertaken at the cash nexus and a class-based solidarity emerges.

For Marx, social differentiation, including those involving feudal categories, ethnicity, race, and religion, emerges out of the struggle between the two classes of “oppressor” and “oppressed” over the means of production.

Weber asserts that this is only part of the story. Weber writes that it is in the house of honor that visible indicators of prestige (positive and negative) are distributed on the basis of how well people know each other.

In this way, there is interaction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft on the one hand and the three-fold system of stratification on the other.

In societies with a well-developed anonymous marketplace (i.e., the modern capitalist societies Weber observed), classes form from relative positions in the labor, commodity, or credit markets that are in the “House of the Marketplace.”

People do this without reference to social rank (e.g., Stand); rather, they respond to market incentives the same way others do when presented with such incentives. To Weber, this is a type of social organization or social class that emerges out of the “House of the Marketplace.”

The third type of social stratification that Weber described is the “House of Power” that is dominated by politics. This house is created when Stand and class interests come together to seek power over “the use of coercive legitimated force in a particular territory,” in order to compel others to do what they would not do otherwise.

According to Weber, power is about using the levers of hope and coercion to discipline a society via government. But hopes and fears are not the only things at the root of Weber’s thoughts about politics;ultimately, more central is the conditioned habitus that comes from sacrificing “biophysical impulses” to the demands of an abstract rationalized institution.

How power is wielded, the role of charisma, and the nature of political ethics will be discussed further.

July 22, 2017

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