How did Max Weber’s illness influence his work on the Protestant Ethics? – Essay Sample

Max Weber, the German sociologist and political economist is renowned as one of the main founders of modern sociology. He was a literary genius, who had a tremendous influence on the social science of the twentieth century, especially in America, and one of the proponents to organize and reveal a systematic and methodical approach to the study of human behavior. Weber was the son of a rich liberal politician and a Calvinist mother. The extreme socio-political influence in the family influenced Weber, and he turned into an adherent scholar with strong notions of religion, sociology, economy and political espionage. However his work and notions suffered in the hands of strong criticism regarding his mental illness and strong circumstantial depression. To judge the work and craftsmanship of such a literary genius and accusing his mental illness to inflict his creation of “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) would be prejudicial. However, Radkau who wrote a detailed biography on Max Weber finds out the inherent underlying truth and physical illness as reason to the stipulated perspective of the great hero.

We would analyze the affects of illness on the scholarly creativity and the direction of his thinking which paved the way for the ideology. There is a famous saying that ‘how you feel is how you think”, so it was calculated by Radkau on the basis of empirical evidence, that the condition and status of mind of Max Weber helped him evolve the theory of Protestant ethic. It would also be our structure for analysis.

Weber was first acclaimed for his noted work ‘the Protestant Ethic’ where he described ‘worldly asceticism’. It was not conventional but a belief, a psychological momentum stemmed from his imagination; it was a religion, a discovery of his eternal senses and realization. The most important part of his work evolved after his partial recovery from illness. This also suggests that the trauma and the torment of his physical and mental stature helped him develop the intricate insights of Calvinist morality and compulsive labor. It also developed his approach on the relationship between diverse religious ethics, social and economic processes. Indeed, in the seventeen years of his literary journey, Weber produced the best quality of his work during his illness and just before his death. During this time he evolved his political sociology that makes the important demarcation between charismatic, traditional and legal forms of authority. Charismatic authority as developed by Weber conforms to the spiritual inspiration and the superannuation of the prophets and the great political leaders. His interest in mysticism, aesthetic and spiritual affixation calls is attributed to his erotic feelings.

The illness of Max Weber had been a synopsis of factors and a trail of incidents that had finally led to his partial collapse. The main reasons for acute depression and such mental trauma can be attributed to the following:

His family and marital relations: His faced the estranged relationship of his parents; after his marriage his wife had an affair with his brother; the extra-marital relationship with his piano teacher. In 1893 Weber had dumped his first love, the mentally ill Fräulein Baumgarten and married his second cousin, Marianne Schnitger. There was an unequal love and incomplete emotional investment within the duo accentuated with the husband’s impotence in the wedding bed. Radkau observes, that the physical incompetency and his sexual discrepancies were the main contributors his later nervous crisis; they form ‘the fundamental fact of Weber’s passion story’. It was during the early years of his marriage, Weber was busy and his demanding work kept him away from his family which was also one of the causes of his breakdown. However, the most dramatic catalyst has been the accusation of his father and the estranged relationship with senior Max. He did not get a chance of reconciliation with his father and it was one of the major causes of his depression and the following summer, Max suffered the mental crisis.


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