Weber and Rationalization

In Weber's works, the overriding dynamic of the modern world is one of increasing rationalizations on all spheres of life. As bureaucratic organization is not limited to capitalist production, all facets of life become infused with a bureaucratic, rationalized system in which actions are systematic and the order is justified by recourse to legalistic rules rather than personal or traditional ties. This system was first pioneered by ascetic Protestants who placed moral value on a life of systematic hard work and who thus had justification to act in a way that was seen as sinful to the majority at the time. Their efforts, in conjunction with other factors such as technology, allowed for the capitalist system to develop, which, in turn, promoted the ever-increasing bureaucratization of the world outside of capitalism, including the state and the military. As the trend of bureaucratization intensifies, the ideological justification for bureaucratic activity is no longer necessary, because, once the system is in place, it can compel individuals to act within its terms without such an ideology. The resulting bureaucracy becomes a mechanism for pursuing maximum rationalization on an increasingly large scale. The depersonalization of the system allows for a great degree of stability and predictability, making it almost impossible to destroy. Ironically, bureaucracy discourages the individual participants to pursue rational goals; they are instead tied to the system and unable to exercise independent power or pursue rational action. The process of rationalization has many inherent dangers, as it can create a dearth of meaning and direction for individuals to guide their lives by, generating stagnation. This problem cannot be solved through the abolition of class differences, as in Marx, or through systems of democratic government, as in Tocqueville, since bureaucratic organization exists outside of the economic sphere would continue to retain control over democracy and the Socialist state. The loss of value that is an intrinsic problem of modernity can only be counteracted through the actions of charismatic individuals who are able to briefly infuse an irrational sense of meaning in their followers. However, the nature of charisma determines that its effects are limited, and it is necessary that such infusions of charisma continue to occur. The dynamic of rationalization in the modern world is central to Weber's analysis of modernity, as the rationalization of all spheres of life is the chief dynamic of modern Western society.

Modern capitalism that promotes the calculated maximization of the profit motive came into being through the trailblazing efforts of ascetic Protestants, who had a religious duty to accumulate and reinvest capital, an action that was largely condemned at the time. Because such action "had to fight its way to supremacy against a whole world of hostile forces" (Protestant Ethic 56), it was necessary that capitalism be pushed by a group with a strong moral justification to pursue capitalist activity. The doctrines of religious asceticism, while not directly promoting capitalism, led their followers to relentlessly pursue capitalist activity. As the God of Calvin and other ascetic Protestants was held to be omniscient and omnipotent, it was necessary that God had known the destinies of each individual from the beginning and one was unable to influence this decision. The religious ascetic was faced with a personal and unknowable God who was unreachable through magic rituals or intermediaries such as priests. Thus, the believer "was forced to follow his path alone to meet a destiny which had been decreed for him for eternity. No one could help him. No priest, for the chosen one can understand the word of God only in his own heart . . . the complete elimination of salvation through the Church and the sacraments . . . was what formed the absolutely decisive difference from Catholicism" (Protestant Ethic 104-105). This situation created a great deal of anxiety among ascetic Protestants, who frantically tried to convince themselves of their own sanctity in the only means their doctrines left available: the fulfillment of a calling in the temporal world. "The social activity of the Christian in the world is solely activity in majorem gloriam Dei. This character is hence shared by labor in a calling which serves the mundane life of the community" (Protestant Ethic 108). As labor is considered a sacred duty, the fruits of this labor must be maximized in order to glorify God as much as possible. In addition, the individual does not actually possess what is produced; because it is created to glorify God, it cannot be utilized for individual gain, but must be used in a way to increase divine glory. These irrational motivations created the capitalist system, in which economic production was rationalized and capital was reinvested to produce maximum gain.

The rationalization of economic activity by ascetic Protestants was not an isolated event, and had many results, including the decline of religious or irrational justifications for rationalized activity and the rationalization of the world outside of the economic sphere. A significant trend in the development of capitalism is the disappearance of religious justification for capitalist activity. The 'spirit' of rational capitalism persists as it loses its religious backing. Weber demonstrates the lack of religion in his description of the ethos of Ben Franklin, who promotes the ideals associated with ascetic Protestantism despite his Deist beliefs. While capitalism still retains a moral value, it is alienated from the religious beliefs that initially produced it, and "the isolated economic man who carries on missionary activities on the side thakes the place of the lonely spiritual search for the Kingdom of Heaven" (Protestant Ethic 176). Eventually, even this sort of justification is unnecessary, as the logic of the capitalist system forces the individual to rationally maximize and reinvest profit in order to avoid being 'driven out' by the more competitive rational capitalists.

"The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so . . . [ascetic Protestantism] did its part in building the tremendous cosmos of the modern economic order. This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force" (Protestant Ethic 181-182).

The individual, trapped in the "iron cage" of the system, ceases all attempts to justify participation in the system with a set of values, and a morally vacant compulsion takes the place of a meaningful ethic.

The advent of capitalism also requires and supports an increasing degree of rationalization and bureaucratization of the outside world, as the capitalist's rational action requires that rules and laws are in place and a money economy is necessary for mature bureaucracies to exist. The increasing degree of predictability that an increasingly industrialized capitalist economy requires that forms of domination which entail individual decision-making and interpersonal ties be eliminated in favor of a bureaucracy, in which domination and the decision-making process are impersonal, and, as a result, predictable. The state, army, or technological lab cannot be erratic or make decisions on a case-by-case basis; rather, it must be counted upon to produce the anticipated results. This predictability allows for the greater efficiency that is a requirement of capitalist production. "It is primarily the capitalist market which demands that the official business of public administration be discharged precisely, unambiguously, continuously, and with as much speed as possible . . . buisiness management throughout rests on increasing precision, steadiness, and, above all, speed of operations" (Bureaucracy 975). This necessitates the existence and predominance of a legally justified order, in which strict rules exist and are sanctified by the state.

"The 'progress' toward the bureaucratic state, adjundicating and administering according to rationally established law and regulation, is nowadays very closely related to the modern capitalist development. The modern capitalist enterprise rests primarily on calculation and presupposes a legal and administrative system . . . [It] cannot accept . . . adjundication according to the judge's sense of equity in a given case or according to the other irrational means of law-finding that existed everywhere in the past" (Bureaucracy and Political Leadership 1394-1395).

However, the bureaucratic superstructure requires a capitalist economy as much as the capitalist economy relies on a bureaucratic framework, as the superstructure must be guaranteed a certain amount of taxes in order to keep impersonal, objective, and dependable salaried officials rather than lords with independent power who can exert an unpredictable influence on the system. "A certain measure of a developed money economy is the normal precondition at least for the unchanged survival, if not for the establishment, of pure bureaucratic administrations . . . Without a money economy the bureaucratic structure can hardly avoid undergoing substantial internal changes, or indeed transformation into another structure" (Bureaucracy 964). The more sophisticated this bureaucracy becomes, the more it relies on the assurance large quantities of money that can only exist with developed capitalism. Thus modern capitalism and the external bureaucratic structures grow up together, and mutually create a system that can achieve its goals in a systematic and rational manner.

The resulting rationalized bureaucratic structure is able to rationalize social activity to a previously unprecedented degree, as individuals are coordinated to create a huge 'machine' in which they function as interchangeable parts. The creation of such a system results in a dehumanized rationality, in which individual differences are unimportant and are overshadowed by the objective modern bureaucracy. "Bureaucracy develops the more perfectly, the more it is 'dehumanized,' the more completely it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all purely personal, irrational, and emotional elements which escape calculation" (Bureaucracy 975). This requires the advent of the bureaucratic office, in which the individual is important not for any independent station, but for the role he or she is employed to fulfill. Thus, it is important that the material means ultimately rest in the bureaucratic structure, rather than in its employees. "The bureauctatic structure goes hand in hand with the concentration of the material means of management in the hands of the master" (Bureaucracy 980). Like in Marx's factory, the 'raw materials' are brought together to create a maximum efficiency; however, this occurs not only in the capitalist enterprise but in every realm of activity, from the political arena to the research institution. The end result is the creation of officials who make decisions based not on personal intuition or rational decision-making, but instead are ultimately guided by the established rules.

"An official who receives a directive which he considers wrong can and is supposed to object, [but] if his superior insists on its execution, it is his duty and even his honor to carry it out as if it corresponded to his innermost conviction, and to demonstrate in this fashion that his sense of duty stands above his personal preference . . . This is the ethos of office" (Bureaucracy and Political Leadership 1404).

In the end, the bureaucrat must answer to the bureaucratic corporate structure rather than personal conscience or rationality, maintaining the stability of the system.

A key factor in the creation of a bureaucracy is the specialization of knowledge. As manual labor is divided to increase efficiency, intellectual labor must become increasingly specialized to improve efficiency. "Limitation to specialized work, with a renunciation of the Faustian universality of man which it invokes, is a condition of any valuable work in the modern world" (Protestant Ethic 180). The official, specially trained to fulfill a specific role in the bureaucratic mechanism and increasingly dependent on the system to apply this knowledge, cannot leave this system. "The professional bureaucrat is chained to his activity in his entire economical and ideological existence . . . the individual bureaucrat is, above all, forged to the common interest of all the functionaries in the perpetuation of the apparatus" (Bureaucracy 988). This dependence creates a system that is incredibly difficult to destroy, as the destruction of the bureaucracy would result in chaos and there is thus a great deal of interest in its maintenance. "Increasingly, all order in public and private organizations is dependent on the system of files and the discipline of officialdom, that means, its habit of painstaking obedience within its wonted sphere of action" (Bureaucracy 988).

The development of rationalization has many inherent problems that are in need of checking. The central problems of this order are the collapse of meaning and value and the stagnation of the system itself. The process of rationalization tends to dry up potential sources of meaning, as it eliminates mystical explanations. While the individual might not know the specific details of how the world works, there is an understanding that it functions in rational, scientific ways rather than irrational ones. "Principally there are no mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation. This means that the world is disenchanted. One need no longer have recourse to magical means in order to master or implore the spirits" (Science as a Vocation 139). As pure rationality does not lend itself to a set of values, explaining the universe solely in terms of the rational creates a void of meaning. In addition, the process of continual progress eliminates the idea of a meaningful death, and by extension, the idea of a meaningful life. The individual "catches only the most minute part of what the life of the spirit calls forth ever anew, and what he seizes is always something provisional and not definitive, and therefore death for him is a meaningless occurrence. And because death is meaningless, civilized life is meaningless; by its very 'progressiveness' it gives death the imprint of meaninglessness" (Science as a Vocation 140). This sense of meaninglessness pervades the bureaucratic system as well, as the dominance of trained officials results in a lack of direction for the bureaucratic corporation. "The 'directing mind,' the 'moving spirit,' differs in substance from the civil service mentality of the official" (Bureaucracy and Political Leadership 1403). As rationalization progresses and the 'directing mind' is less important to the running of an enterprise, the bureaucracy can get stuck in a rut without the ability to change direction.

For Weber, the earlier solutions offered by Marx and Tocqueville are not viable, as bureaucracy is not limited to the economic sphere but pervades all institutions, including democracy and the state. Modern democracy is not a legitimate counterweight to bureaucracy, as modern politics is inescapably bureaucratic in nature. Far from empowering its participants, democracy often serves to elect a candidate who was already bureaucratically chosen. "A formally free election may hide an appointment - in politics especially by party bosses . . . the parties can turn a formally free election into the mere acclamation of a candidate designated by the party chief, or at least into a contest, conducted according to certain rules, for the election of one of two designated candidates" (Bureaucracy 960). The bureaucratic party system is what actually controls the democratic process; thus, democracy cannot possibly offset bureaucratic rationalism. Marx's solution is equally implausible, as eliminating capitalist enterprises and placing economic production in the hands of the state would only serve to create a more oppressive state bureaucracy. "The abolition of private capitalism would simply mean that also the top management of the nationalized or socialized enterprises would become bureaucratic . . . State bureaucracy would rule alone if private capitalism were eliminated" (Bureaucracy and Political Leadership 1402). Thus, neither Marx nor Tocqueville can provide a solution to the dilemma of rationalized bureaucracy.

The only way to alleviate the meaninglessness and stagnation of rationalization is through infusions of charisma by a certain individual. With "the authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma), the absolutely personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership" (Politics as a Vocation 79), the charismatic alone has the independent power to redirect the system and give individuals something to believe in. Unlike legalistic or bureaucratic domination, charismatic domination is irrational and based on the unique prophetic qualities of the charismatic leader. "The leader is personally recognized as the innerly 'called' leader of men. Men do not obey him by virtue of tradition or a statute, but because they believe in him" (Politics as a Vocation 79). This belief in the charismatic individual helps to fill the void of meaning left in a completely rationalized system. Additionally, only the charismatic has the ability to redirect the bureaucracy once it has become stagnant. In his discussion of the problems of the contemporary bureaucratic German state, Weber expresses the opinion that "what was lacking was the direction of the state by a politician - not by a political genius . . . but simply by a politician" (Bureaucracy and Political Leadership 1405). It is therefore necessary that a leader occasionally appears to revitalize a wayward bureaucratic apparatus. However, this solution is only temporary and can only last within the lifetime of the charismatic individual, as the charismatic's interventions will eventually harden into routine.

The process of rationalization that has defined the modern world poses significant questions and problems. Begun by a group of religiously motivated pioneers, the process of rationalization soon became an 'iron cage' which individuals could not escape from. Ironically, the bureaucracy that is the manifestation of a collective rationalization forces individuals to eschew individual rational action. Another paradox is the fact that the movement towards rationalization that was begun for irrational religious reasons eventually led to the retreat of religious and other irrational justifications. The rationalized social structure that is produced cannot be remedied through either Tocquevillean democratic measures or the Marxist redistribution of wealth; both 'solutions' transfer power from one bureaucracy to another instead of doing anything to prevent increasing bureaucratic domination. Thus, the only way to alleviate the meaninglessness and stagnation of bureaucracy is through the intervention of a charismatic, who provides both direction and a sense of meaning through their leadership. However, this situation also creates its own problems. As the process of rationalization continues to develop, there is less opportunity for the potential charismatic to develop leadership qualities and gain independent power. This dilemma becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile as time passes.

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