Theories of Max Weber Made Simple

Max Weber's writings will make many fall asleep. Yes, they are extremely boring. Even people of his time pointed this out. But the reason why he keeps popping up in public policy classes is because he was not only one of the founders of the modern sociology, but also researched organizations keenly.

Despite the fact that his own work was often seen with suspicion, he criticized the idea of depending on abstract theories and suggested tangible research work based on history, realistic observation, facts and patterns. He gave us many theories. But among them, the one which still is extremely important is his ideal type of bureaucracy.He certainly did not coin the main term. But the ideal type was verified by research studies conducted by other researchers. Hence, it remains one of the most important elements. Government sector is run based on bureaucracy. Some experts claim that public administrations today are suffering because they are not holding onto Weber's ideal type of bureaucracy. That said, the man was not religiously devoted to the claim that such a system has perfection. He did list some problems regarding it. Much of what he gave us has connection to other elements of western society. He made sure to explain them in the form of theories. How do they go? Let's take a look.


Note that the meaning of rationality is creating opinion or excuse to justify something based on evaluation of evidence.  According to Max Weber, depending on supernatural power (magic and prayer) is not part of rationalization. In fact, it is irrational because there is no way to tell if the magic or payer is working and whether it will yield to solid result. Rationalization is more about finding solid explanations. Say a town ends up having smallpox epidemic. If a scholar of religion is asked why this happened he will probably say that it is because God is angry with the town people. If same question is asked to a medical doctor she will say that probably someone among these town people brought it along from another town where it is epidemic. She may also go one step farther to explain that the patients were not vaccinated. Her explanations are based on facts gathered through scientific research and discovery. Meanwhile, the scholar of the religion used his holy book or lessons he gathered from his theology class to explain the cause. There is a possibility that the scholar is also correct, but to rationalize it, he must show solid evidence of God's anger.
Difference between being rational and irrational
From Weber, we also come to know that are 2 kinds of broad rationality. Both are based on personal feelings, tastes and opinions.

Value rationality: Value rationality is connected to a person's feeling about the task he is to perform without giving much thought to its consequences. In behavioral science and philosophy, it is called intrinsic value or demand of the mind.
This is value rationality: The cat is more interested in
the fun aspect. She does not care if the end result of the butterfly is death
Purpose rationality: This one is more about what will happen if a certain job is done. In brief, the end result here is more important for the person.
This is purpose rationality. The cat wants to kill the mice to
turn it into a meal.
Weber also notes that economic actions have two different kinds of rationality and they are:

Formal economic rationality: An economic system or action that depends on formal rationality takes help from quantitative or logical analysis. Accounting, approved systematic research methods, logical rules and regulations are all examples of formal rationality. According to Weber, bureaucratic organizations are part of formal rationality.

Substantive economic rationality: An economic action performed to honor broader values separate from the laws of the modern society is considered substantive rationality.

Now formal rationality is not compatible with substantive rationality. This is what Weber pointed out. The reason is quite simple. Say, a scientist starts researching on cure for cancer with the aim to help the humanity. This helping the humanity part is based on substantive rationality. Now he finally has come up with a tonic. Unfortunately, the scientist does not get approval from Food and Drug administration to market it because he failed to show them enough clinical study results. The approval and guidelines are parts of formal rationality. They are hindering the substantive rationality of doing something good for the humanity.

The idea of rationality is included in his other theories also. We will look into them next, But before that here are some other points Weber made about the features of rationality.
1. It is the basic factor behind the structure of modern western society.
2. The amount of domination  put on a society decides how rational its people will be.
3. Highest amount of rationality is found within capitalism, the type of economy that demands us to change the way we do business to fit into the trends and earn continues profit.

Theory of Capitalism

Capitalism took birth from a mixture of  Protestant work ethics , ideas of economics and politics. Why is religion mentioned here? According to Max Weber, Protestantism tells its followers to not just sit with whatever they have earned from work.
Instead they should learn to make their savings more useful by reinvesting them in a way that they bring in prosperity. Weber called this Protestant work ethic and noted that this is what gave rise to spirit of capitalism.When reform was put into practice, protestants did not drop that value. Religion was no more the dominant force in their lives, yet they were using its ethics to fit into the secular world.

Max Weber listed some of the main features of capitalism. They are as follows:
1. All businesses are based on money and all their dealings are matter of capital activity.
2. There are opportunities for financial gains. Businessmen who fail to understand it will fail in capitalistic economy.
3. This economy system is nonviolent. In other words, no one can forcefully take over a business. It must be bought.
4. This economy system is based on formal rationality.
5. Capitalism has no place for traditional and custom rationality.
6. It has caused people to think that meaning of life is found in achievement of financial prosperity.
7. Capitalism depends largely on technical methods (formal rationality.

Ideal type of Bureaucracy

As mentioned earlier, Max Weber was the first person to list the ideal type of bureaucracy and it has been proven to be true by research. Here is what he said:
1. The organization follows a hierarchical order for all the offices. In brief, power flows from top to bottom.
2. The finance to run the businesses (work) in the organization comes from another source and not from the main authority figure. The example of this is the budget decided by the federal government to be given to federal agencies which they then use to pay their workers and work towards their projects.
3. Employees are not working to make the authority figure happy. They are there to just do the day to day work. Think about all the federal departments we have in the country. They don't do their tasks to make the president happy. They are doing their tasks because it is required by law.
4. The organization is approved officially through writing. In other words, there is formal basis for its existence. For instance, after 9/11, it was decided that defense department was not powerful enough to prevent false flag terrorist attacks. It was necessary to have a department focused mainly on terrorism. Approved by government officials, then Homeland Security department was formed.
5. Functions within the organization are divided into categories and approved as necessary.
6. Authority figure does not have the right to sell the organization or give it to his child.
7. There are guidelines for the organization. They are all impersonal.

Bureaucracy Problems

Despite giving the ideal type, Weber considered few problems that bureaucracy brings in.
1. Once set, no one in the society can get rid of bureaucracy. 
2. Those who are in bureaucracy will not allow it to die.
3. Leaders within this system have a tendency to convert their power into high positions and that gives birth to inequality.
4. It does not consider the feelings of public servants. They are thought to be robots who must work without asking any questions. He calls it dehumanization of the organization. 

Three Types of Leaders

Ever wonder why people accept domination from a third party? Broadly speaking, the reason can be either subjective or objective. Weber explains that people accept three kinds of leaders and they are:

Charismatic: As the title suggests, this form of authority is based on the leader’s personality or talent. People have a tendency to obey those who are bold and have the natural power to control. Think about that loud organized kid in your middle school class. You followed him simply because you thought he was right or because you saw some kind of reliability and hope in him. In a way, he is the revolutionary hero. People are also attracted to those who claim to specialize in working with super natural powers. One example is shaman. People follow him because he can show miracles. Weber states that approving a charismatic leader is psychological and not rational. In other words, we obey him because our mind tells us to do so, but most often we we are compelled by some kind of unstable situation or eagerness. However, our decision is rather temporary. When we find out that the leader no more has the power to do what attracted us we drop him. Weber warns that charismatic authority is prone to causing problems because he is driven by his wishes and power. He has no time for thinking rationally. Hence, in the long run, people under him suffer. In an organization, charismatic leader gets power through his high class or money. This is unhealthy for the employees, for he is neither experienced in the field nor he obeys official rules. If you have not understood what this means think about someone who has the money to open a business. When he does it he becomes its leader. But does he have the skill to look after the business and employees? Not really. Yet he is there to be the official leader. 

Traditional: You have heard of societies that do not wish to progress. They have their own leaders who make rules connected to what has been happening for centuries and not what brings progress. Weber calls this traditional authority. Under it, the leader is converted into a ruler and his followers are seen as subjects. Rules of traditional authority are obeyed simply because the subjects consider them fool proof honorable traditions. The leader is all about doing what is right despite the fact that he has no time for thinking rationally. Consequently, verdict of justice is based on latitude of choice within certain traditional bounds. Weber reveals that traditional leader sometimes may practice partiality by asserting positive verdict for those who are close to him. A good example of traditional authority is Wahabbism. Here the ruler is not a single person, but the kingdom of Saudia Arabia which wishes to set rules for follower Muslim countries in the form of sharia laws. Do note that in Wahabbasim the idea of subjects does not exist. The human followers are simply titled as Wahabbis.
Legal: When authority style is driven from formal paperwork and codes it is called legal authority. When it comes to making rules, the legal leader does not have the power to use his personal judgement and wishes. He is instead required to abide by existing laws to make new laws. Thus, his verdict tends to be neutral and more leaned towards fairness and rationality. People here do not truly obey him. Instead they obey his office. The organization that uses legal authority tends to be bureaucratic and formed out of requirements. The best example of this, of course, is a president elected through popular votes. Some people probably voted against him. But once he is in power, they have no choice but to abide by his rules. That said, the legal leader does not make the rules on his own. Instead he takes the help of his subordinates. Secondly, his power is obeyed only when the people find it legal. In a place of legal authority, people are neither followers nor subjects. They are simply known as citizens or residents. As for the leader, he is known as the superior. His terms are limited just like his power.

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