Saturday, September 22, 2012

Weber, the prophet

Western rationalism is constantly inventing newer and better means; it has, however, ever less to say about goals and ends. This is not the only reason that Weber looks upon [so-called] development with ambivalence. Advisedly, he invariably places the word "progress" in quotation marks. Part of Weber’s diagnosis of modernity is an unmistakable pessimism about the possibilities of individual freedom. The "fateful forces" of modern life, [scientism], bureaucratization and capitalism, seem more to threaten than to promote human freedom and autonomy. Weber’s somber words in his book The Protestant Ethic are famous:

"No one yet knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals; or, if neither of these, then mechanized petrifaction, embellished by a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the 'last men' of this final stage of cultural development, it might well be truly said: ‘Narrow specialists without minds, pleasure seekers without heart; in their conceit, these nullities imagine they have climbed to a level of humanity never before attained."

(Christian Schwaabe of the Goethe Institute; translation by Jonathan Uhlaner)

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