Chapter V
Outlines for an ‘Intellectual Biography’ of Max Weber
pages 179-181 (without footnotes)

Weber read Lange when he was eighteen, in 1882, having just begun his studies in Heidelberg. The attention of the gifted young law student was drawn to the question that not only would become his own scholarly theme, but which was also the question of the epoch, pure and simple.

Max Weber’s generation, discounting those either too dim or too blasé to notice, grew up in the consciousness that they were witness to a unique transformation in human history, a transformation which has to be seen as the most fundamental that had ever occurred: a radical change in the manner in which men subsisted themselves, in other words – of the mode of economic life upon which they all depended. Sombart had dubbed modern capitalism ‘the sensation of human culture’; Karl Polanyi called it ‘The Great Transformation’.2 It was only in the nineteenth century that the real breakthrough for industrialisation occurred, and its signs emerge first in England in the form of the ‘social question’. Engels’ Condition of the Working Class in England draws upon official reports concerning the entirely unanticipated consequences of the ‘industrial system’, which is another name for capitalism employing ‘free’ labour. Political Economy therefore became the central science of the nineteenth century, the science of the bourgeois century.3 But just as Adam Smith still regarded political economy as subordinate to the science of legislation – he was concerned with the promotion of the ‘wealth of a nation’ free of state interference – so the practical and scientific argument over the consequences were not the concern of one discipline, it concerned the ‘state sciences’ as a whole. This was still the case in 1904; and it was confirmed by the revised title introduced by the new editors of the journal taken over from Heinrich Braun: the Archive of Social Legislation and Social Policy became the Archive of Social Science and Social Policy, emphasising the fact that social science and social policy were concerned with the same material issues. The ‘special interest’ that the older journal had pursued, the ‘workers’ question’, was, in its broadest sense, preserved in the new journal.4

There is no history of Braun’s Archiv, although we know plenty about Braun himself from monographs published by his first and second wives.5 We are only interested in Braun here as the publishing heir of Friedrich Albert Lange, his great exemplar. Before joining the new editors Weber had published very little in Braun’s Archiv.6 Sombart was top dog in the Archiv. Weber joined on the urging of Paul Siebeck – the Archiv had changed publishers from Duncker und Humblot to J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), with whom Weber had already edited his series ‘Economic Treatises from Baden Universities’.

Weber had read Marx at an early age, probably encouraged by Knies, in whose work Marx played a leading role, as with any other economist of the epoch. Nonetheless, it can safely be assumed that the moral and religiously-grounded student would find the problems thrown up by the modern organisation of economic life more accessible in Lange’s History of Materialism.7 After he had tired of Lotze’s ‘rubbish’ Lange was for months the favoured subject of discussion with Max’s cousin Otto, who retained an interest for decades in practical publishing activity related to the social question. Weber found in Lange – who has recently been rediscovered as the original father of ‘Marburg’ neo-Kantianism8 – not only that the ethical problematic of capitalism is unravelled in a way that one can barely follow in Capital (Marx’s early philosophical writings were little known at the time), Lange also offered Weber a Collegium logicum. In the second book of the History of Materialism he discovered the ideal type in the sense of ‘extremely exaggerated conceptualisation’ serving as a justification for the employment of a natural scientific viewpoint based on a ‘hypothetical’ materialism, while in the fourth section of the second part, in the long chapter on ‘Ethical Materialism and Religion’, he discovered an introduction to the modern economic mode of production structured likewise in terms of a ‘hypothetical egoism’.9 Everything which Weber later wrote on the ‘homo oeconomicus’, as thought construct, as fiction, can be found most clearly expressed in Lange.