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Max Weber’s Conception of "Rationalization" and the 21st Century

Lookup NU author(s): Emeritus Professor William Outhwaite



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Weber's concept of "rationalization" is rightly seen as the core of his mature thought. At the same time, there has been increasing attention to his “ambivalence” towards the rationalization of economic, administrative and political processes, and of the conduct of life altogether. The themes of his nationalism and the irrational tendencies of his complex personality have also become increasingly prominent. While nationalism may not be per se irrational, any nationalist is logically compelled (at least in principle) to recognize the legitimacy of other — possibly opposed — nationalisms. Weber attempted to avoid this paradox of nationalism by stressing the particular responsibility of larger states, albeit with the problematic concept of the “Herrenvolk.” This article explores Weber’s nationalism and current nationalist and populist tendencies, in the light of his conception of sovereignty, democracy and plebiscitary leadership (Führerdemokratie). “Sovereignty,” I suggest, has become a shibboleth in the twenty-first century, notably in the US, Russia, Turkey, Hungary and Poland, and in the current debacle in the UK. Although Weber uses the word “sovereignty” very rarely, the concept is at the centre of his sociology of the state and also, I suggest, of his conception or rationalization. There is a parallel with his use of the term “nation.”

Publication metadata

Author(s): Outhwaite W

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Russian Sociological Review

Year: 2019

Volume: 18

Issue: 2

Pages: 16-27

Print publication date: 26/06/2019

Acceptance date: 12/06/2019

Date deposited: 16/07/2019

ISSN (print): 1728-192Х

ISSN (electronic): 1728-1938

Publisher: National Research University - Higher School of Economics


DOI: 10.17323/1728-192x-2019-2-16-27


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