A note on the dating of Max Weber’s “Science as a Vocation”

 

2MaxWeber2.JPGHaving recently taught Max Weber’s “Science as a Vocation” (Wissenschaft als Beruf), I noticed that in their response essays many of my students were unsure about when he gave this famous lecture. Some of the students dated the lecture to 1918 and others to 1917. They aren’t alone in this perplexity as one sees both 1917 and 1918 in the English scholarship (especially among non-specialists). Plus on Facebook I’ve now seen two different discussions among colleagues as to the authoritative date. So I’d like to weigh in.

When I wrote The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences, I also worried about the exact dating as I was attempting to juxtapose occult Germany/Switzerland with Weber’s most famous account of disenchantment.

On the side of the 1918 date, Marianne Weber suggests that the lecture was delivered in 1918 and published in 1919.[i] Similarly, the most widely read translation of “Science as a Vocation” (Gerth and Mills) also gives the 1918 date.[ii] But this dating is incorrect.

The scholar Wolfgang Mommsen found an article in the Munich Neueste Nachrichten newpaper from 1917 that clearly dates the “Science as a Vocation” lecture to November 7, 1917.[iii] Similarly, we have on record a letter (to Marianne Weber) from Frithjof Noack who attended the lecture and dates it to early November 1917.

On the basis of this textual evidence the consensus seems to be that Max Weber delivered “Science as a Vocation” in 1917. It was then first published in printed form in 1919. Hence, the authoritative version of Max Weber’s works (Max-Weber-Gesamtausgabe) also gives 1917 as the date of delivery and 1919 as the date of publication. The November 7 date also appears in Joachim Radkau’s recent biography.[iv]

So consider the matter settled.

PS. On a personal note this is part of why I am thrilled to be able to give a lecture on “Science as a Vocation” and Weber’s notion of disenchantment in Munich this fall, as part of the centenary celebration of his famous lecture.

Click continue reading for the references.

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A Postmortem on Postmodernism

[Back in 2014, I organized a workshop here at Williams College on Theory After Postmodernism. Having gotten The Myth of Disenchantment off my desk, I’ve returned to my manuscript project (“Absolute Disruption: The Future of Theory after Postmodernism“) which directly focuses on that subject. Although my comments from the workshop probably won’t make it into the new manuscript, I thought my opening remarks were worth posting here for those interested. I’ve made just a few modest changes.]

In Die Krisis der europäischen Kultur (The crisis of European culture), the German philosopher Rudolf Pannwitz described what he saw as a catastrophe afflicting European intellectual and cultural life, and he argued that global capitalism, shallow materialism, and conflicting nationalisms had produced an ethical vacuum. Moreover, he faulted the European philosophical academy for its inability to produce a sufficiently robust moral philosophy to resist the relativizing onslaught. Strikingly, Pannwitz suggested that this collective zeitgeist had spawned a new type of person, stating: “The postmodern man is an encrusted mollusk, a happy medium of decadent and barbarian swarming out from the natal whirlpool of the grand decadence of the radical revolution of European nihilism.” While the prose is rather florid, Pannwitz might seem to be describing our contemporary epoch, especially by connecting the postmodern with nihilism and a pervasive ethical disaster, and it is not hard to find thinkers who use similar terms to describe the current era as being in a “postmodern crisis.”[i]

The problem is that Pannwitz wrote this account in 1917, not 1987, much less 2017. The appearance of this text and even its term postmodern a century ago allows us to see that the postmodern condition is far from new. Nor was Pannwitz the only one. The first English book with “Postmodernism” in its title came out in 1926. Indeed, like the almost imperceptible tremors that anticipate a major earthquake, tantalizing references to the “postmodern” or “postmodernists” (Sp. postmodernista) began appearing more than a half century before the term would attain common currency in the 1970s.[ii]

Criticizingpostmodernism” is far from novel. On strictly philological grounds, what these examples show is that the term “postmodern” became lexically available shortly after 1901 when variants on the term “pre-modern” appeared and came into common usage in a number of European linguistic repertoires.[iii] By becoming the quintessential periodization, “modernity” was read as a fundamental rupture from the past, but accordingly it became possible to imagine its future eclipse.

I have another project [“The Myth of Disenchantment”] that challenges notions of “modernity” as rupture,[iv] but what I’d like to do this morning is talk about the function of “postmodernism” in the contemporary Euro-American academy. So while you eat your bagels and drink your coffee, I want to warm up our workshop by sorting through a host of terminology—from deconstruction to poststructuralism to postmodernism and then gesturing toward a simple argument—that no matter how you consider it, the “postmodern” period is over and the central theoretical commitments we associate with “postmodernism” have collapsed. In this respect, I’d like to begin with an autopsy to figure out what postmodernism was, which should help us think about where we should be heading.

[To read more, follow me over the fold]

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The Myth of Disenchantment Errata

Jason-Storm-Myth-of-Disenchantment

The proud author with his advance copy!

The new book–The Myth of Disenchantment–is hot off the press and it looks awesome! Order your copy here (or here in the UK). I’m totally enthralled with the cover image by the excellent Alex Gross and have wonderful things to say about the whole process of publishing with the University of Chicago Press. But there was a small miscommunication during the copyediting phase and some of my corrections never got input. Plus I missed some things (mea culpa).  I’m going to use this page to track errata and typos. I haven’t caught all of them yet. So I plan to amend the list periodically.

UPDATEIn September 2017, the press contacted me to say that a second print run was upcoming and that these typos will be corrected! I’m delighted these errors will be fixed (and I’m extra thrilled at the book’s sales so far). But I’m sure the list I sent the press of typos wasn’t exhaustive. So do please let me know if you catch other errors.

Masterlist after the jump

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Positivism and Magical Realism

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Otto Dix “The Seven Deadly Sins” 1933- crop

[Opening Parenthetical: There were no entries on this blog in 2016 and readers may imagine that I’ve gone into hibernation. But 2016 was a crazy year both professionally and personally. Much of my time was spent finishing my new book, The Myth of Disenchantment, forthcoming May 2017 (order on Amazon here). The energy I usually reserve for blogging was mostly spent on Facebook posting about the shit-show that was the 2016 US election. On a personal note there were a few too many deaths and political disasters last year, but the shining ray of light in the dark-cloud of 2016 was my marriage to the ever-delightful Dalena Storm.

In the process of finalizing the book, I had to do a lot of trimming and one of the things left on the cutting room floor was a short section about the connection between the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivism (or Logical Empiricism) and the artistic movement known as “magical realism.” The connection is interesting, but much less robust than the link between famous Positivists, magic, and paranormal research that takes up the chapter. Still I figured some readers might find it interesting as an oddity in the history of philosophy. So it is reproduced here as a small research note.]

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The Stubborn Persistence of Post-Capitalist Utopia: Introduction- Post-Apocalyptic Capitalism

One reoccurring charge against postmodernism and poststructuralism alike is that they are unable to think utopia.

At first Capitalist Realismpass, this certainly seems plausible, after all postmodernism in Lyotard’s famous formulation was defined as “incredulity towards metanarratives.” For another example, in all of Derrida’s work on deconstruction, did he not (perhaps admirably) refuse to offer an alternative to logocentrism? To be sure, he privileged writing over speech and praised grammatology. But by and large Derrida resisted utopia’s allure. Plus, aren’t classic postmodern works like Naked Lunch, The Crying of Lot 49, or Blade Runner deeply pessimistic?

Indeed it is easy to paint that entire period of philosophy and art as the culmination of skepticism or cynical reason—or in other words as the withering of modernist utopianism or perhaps as nothing less than pure crystalized dystopia. As one of the characters in Woody Allen’s 1997 Deconstructing Harry, charged the protagonist

You have no values. Your whole life, it’s nihilism, it’s cynicism, it’s sarcasm and orgasm.” To which he replied: “You know in France, I could run on that slogan and win.”

But of course, even in France he couldn’t. As it would seem at least a hundred political theorist have observed—it is hard to organize a politics around cynicism and nihilism, people need something to believe in and work toward, and hence the inability to think utopia is supposed to be precisely why postmodern and poststructuralist theory have failed to transform into easily recognizable political projects. As Žižek has argued, totalitarian regimes maintain their hold by encouraging cynicism. All they need to forestall revolution is to convince the masses that every politician is a bastard and all politic is corrupt. The people think why bother? and they continue supporting, with ironic distance, the mechanisms of a state in which they no longer believe. The promotion of postmodern skepticism would therefore seem to disable politics and prevent its ability to mobilize against the exploitations of global capitalism.

This critique of utopias absence has be sharpened recently by the British philosopher and blogger Mark Fisher. Fisher’s Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative? (2009) was inspired by the insight (attributed to Slavoj Žižek and Frederic Jameson) that

it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.”

This too certainly seems plausible and if you’ll follow me over the fold, I’ll layout both Fisher’s case AND in the next blog-post I’ll argue against this thesis by looking at a few seeds of anti-capitalist utopia

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Neuronal Politics: A Review of Malabou

Catherine Malabou in Blue

Malabou, Catherine. 2008. What should we do with our brain? Trans

by Sebastian Rand. New York: Fordham University Press.

Original: Malabou, Catherine. 2004. Que faire de notre cerveau? Paris: Bayard.

The Rise of the New Ontologists

Recently, political theory has moved away from epistemology and toward ontology; in effect, swapping the obsessions of post-structuralism (the limits of knowledge and language) with a renewed emphasis on the ground of being as such. If the post-structuralists reduced everything to discourse, the “new ontologists” (as they are coming to be called) reduce everything to an issue of existence. In so doing, they privilege things over concepts, or, we might say, supplant idealism with materialism. Yet the new ontologists also double down on postmodernist anti-humanism by displacing the human as the center of political theory. In effect, they describe being in new ways in order to suggest the possibilities of reading agency into the non-human world.

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Faith of the Faithless

Faith of the FaithlessCritchley, Simon. 2012. The Faith of the Faithless: experiments in political theology. London: Verso Books.

Under the encouragement of a friend, I’ve spent the last six months reading a lot of Žižek. This has been simultaneously pleasurable and infuriating because while I love Žižek’s style (and even agree with him on many issues), I find the politics implied by his more recent turn to Lenin and praise of “divine violence” to be profoundly troubling. (I also radically disagree with Žižek’s analysis of religion, but I’ll save that for a later blog post). My interest was piqued when Žižek condemned the British born, New School-based, political philosopher Simon Critchley, stating that Critchley’s work was “an almost perfect embodiment of the position to which my work is absolutely opposed.” When I then heard that Critchley had made a recent foray into Religious Studies that was getting a lot of attention, I knew that I had to add Faith of the Faithless to my reading list. Having done so, and having cajoled friends and colleagues to read and discuss it with me, I am now in a position to report back some observations.

At the most basic level, Faith of the Faithless is premised on Carl Schmitt’s claim that all significant modern political concepts are really secularized theological concepts (103). In Schmitt’s day an older theory of secularization held sway and many scholars likely imagined that even these theological remainders would be purged over the course of modernity. But in today’s so-called “post-secular age” it appears that instead of increased differentiation, politics and religion are becoming even more deeply intertwined. As Critchley puts it:

“Somehow we seem to have passed from a secular age, which we were ceaselessly told was post-metaphysical, to a new situation in which political action seems to flow directly from metaphysical conflict.” (8)

In effect, Critchley considers all politics to be religious. He suggests that theological concepts are so heavily intertwined with political concepts that in order to have a functioning politics, politics must escape itself by articulating a relation to the transcendent. As a committed atheist, this puts Critchley in a bit of a bind, which he tries to solve by constructing a kind of atheistic political theology. Basically, Faith of the Faithless is an attempt to think about how to organize a new Left politics in the face of the Death of God (or the confrontation with relativistic nihilism). Interestingly Critchley tries to conjure this new political community not by drawing attention to society’s injustices (classic liberal guilt), but through appropriating an explicitly theological language.

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Why Hegel -1

Hegel in Blue

The title of this blog (which is also the title of my book in progress) is meant to evoke a quote from Hegel “[Spirit] obtains its truth only when, in its absolute disruption (absoluten Zerrissenheit), it finds itself.” This may inspire the questions:

.

Why Hegel? Why now? Žižek has proclaimed this the “age of Hegel,” but then Žižek is also known for milking provocative claims for all they are worth. So that alone doesn’t get us very far.

Evoking Hegel at this moment might seem particularly anachronistic; indeed many would describe him as the ultimate dead white male. If that weren’t enough, Hegel has the potential to represent everything that Postmodernists criticize about modernity—Western triumphalism, a totalizing system, the rationalizations of colonialism and Orientalism. On top of which, the Phänomenologie des Geistes is a baffling text about which there is much disagreement. This would all seem to make a Hegelian revival even less plausible. So why is such a revival currently ongoing?

                                                                        ALL ROADS LEAD TO HEGEL:

Part of the renewed interest in Hegel has to do with the end of Marx. When Soviet Communism collapsed, Marx became less threatening. In the 1990s, he was spoken of as dead and it was in this same period that class seemingly vanished as a popular category in the U.S. and elsewhere. The 2000s have led to a limited resurgence of Marx in a kind of declawed, less political, less empirical, and less economic guise. Once class and economic specifics are stripped from Marx he starts to look more and more like Hegel. What is more,  with capital run rampant today beyond the worst fears of Das Kapital, Marx runs the risk of seeming dated. While I am not alone in thinking that some version of Marx is still relevant to the current economy, the case now has to be made; and for many, the Marx that seems most appealing is the philosophical Marx of Die Deutsche Ideologie and the Theses on Feuerbach, etc. This is a Marx vigorously engaged with Hegel. For these reasons, a whole crowd of scholars who otherwise define themselves as various kinds of Marxists (Žižek, Jameson, etc) have spent the last decade reaching back behind Marx to recover the Left-Hegel.

Although I think the status of Marx is the biggest reason for the Hegel resurgence, it isn’t the only one.

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