Disenchantment, the Iron Cage and Law

I hate writing essays. In fact I hate doing most assessments. I am sitting in front of my computer trying to construct an offbeat introduction to my Law and Social Theory essay to maintain the interest of the reader (yes, you) which will hopefully translate into a few more marks later. Those all important marks. The ones which will ensure that you pass the course, or even do well, so you can eventually graduate with a academic record that will stand out to potential employers.

And I need to get employed to earn a wage to support myself, but will be taken back by the government to allow them to run a well functioning economy for the benefit of society. So by writing this essay I am in some way assisting everybody else out there. It sure doesn't make me feel particularly overjoyed. What would really make me happy is to sit outside in the sunshine, perhaps kick a ball around, or go out with a few of my mates. But I can't – I have to do this essay. Well, actually I don't have to. I could pack up my things, walk out the door, and do all of the things that I was dreaming about earlier.

I am a 'free' person – free to choose what I want to do. Yet here I am, writing this essay, despite the more appealing opportunities. Am I trapped by the "Iron Cage"? Why do I feel so "Disenchanted" with what I am doing? Max Weber doesn't provide any specific solutions to my questions. What he has done though is provide a theoretical insight into modern society, by constructing his theories of Disenchantment and the Iron Cage around his general theory of Rationalization. All of these will be explored, as well as the role that law plays within the context of these theories.

Disenchantment "The great historic process in the development of religions, the elimination of magic from the world which had begun with the old Hebrew prophets and, in conjunction with Hellenistic scientific thought, had repudiated all magical means to salvation as superstition and sin, came here to its logical conclusion. The genuine Puritan even rejected all signs of religious ceremony at the grave and buried his nearest and dearest without song or ritual in order that no superstition, no trust in the effects of magical and sacramental forces on salvation, should creep in"

– Weber, Max. 1904/1930. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parson. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons1. Magic, mysticism and the supernatural were all characteristics of ancient and pre-modern civilizations. These beliefs were integrated into the fabric of their societies. Take for example medieval kings, who ruled their subjects by their 'divine right of kings'. This power to rule was granted by the only greater power than them – God. Ancient Egyptians didn't believe that their pharaohs ruled by right of any god, but that their pharaohs were gods.

There are also countless references to the existence of magic in eras long gone. Jesus Christ turning water into wine, alchemists turning metals into gold, the Rainbow Serpent turning outback desert into fertile lands. To particular cultures the existence of these seemingly magical events is still believed today. However, magic and magical events are now confined in modern society to religion, myth and legend. Weber studied many different cultures and societies to get a better understanding of modern society.

Amongst these was a study into Asian societies. He found that in China, people in the Confucian period tolerated magic, and respected them to the extent that they would not wage war on magicians or dispel their magical powers2. Magicians these days are not afforded the same amount of respect at all. They do not hold offices of power, but are found in showrooms in Las Vegas. King Arthur had Merlin as a close advisor, but I doubt that Colin Powell or Condeleeza Rice have the same mystical qualities. Magic doesn't hold the same power as it used to.

It was a method that people employed to divulge and fulfil their wishes for wealth, happiness, revenge, by wishing upon a star, praying to the gods, or sticking pins in a voodoo doll. It was a technology for the enactment of desire3. In stark contrast, money, not magic, now seems to be the major vehicle used in modern society to fulfil desires. If you want something, you pay for it, not seek out the nearest fortune teller. Rationalization The reason for this development is explained extensively by Weber.

He sees that modern societies have become much more "rationalized" than the societies that preceded them. Rationalization is a, "practical application of knowledge to achieve a desired end"4. It "opts for the precise, regular, constant, and reliable over the wild, spectacular, idiosyncratic, and surprising"5. It employs many scientific notions, such as ideas that everything can potentially be calculated and examined, so that eventually the subject matter can be controlled and manipulated to allow greater efficiency. Weber identifies and classifies different types of rationality.

In particular, he identifies two types of rationality of interest. The first is "value rational" action. This type of rationality justifies actions on particular values, after critical reflection. In contrast, the other, called "purposive rational" action, is concerned with actions based upon achieving goals in the most efficient manner. It employs methods which make the most logical sense, and is removed from emotions or values.

Capitalism is associated with this form of rationality, since it seeks to maximise profit by increasing income and decreasing costs, i. e. in the most efficient manner possible. It is argued by Weber that this type of rationality, purposive rational conduct, prevails largely in modern society to the extent that it dominates almost all aspects of life. As a result, society now operates on the basis that, "there are no longer any 'mysterious incalculable forces that come into play, but rather that one can, in principle, master all things by calculation'"6. In a rationalized society, everything has the potential to be tested, studied, and justified.

In early civilizations, magic was accepted as a part of life. It provided meaning to things which were seemingly unexplainable. By creating a society which questions, criticises, doubts every aspect of life, these unexplainable things are now explainable, dispelling magic as an invalid justification, and thus removing the meaning associated with that magic. This is Weber's idea of Disenchantment. He believes that this process of demagnification is a product of modern, rationalized society, and will become more and more predominant as rationalization progresses.

The effects of disenchantment are often treated negatively. The robbing of gods. That the world has become cold and uninspiring, devoid of spiritual meaning7. Take for example the concept of love. It forms the subject of a litany of artistic works. It is enshrined by religions through marriage. It is treated as something beautiful, something to be sought after, something that is just 'found'. However, love has also been demystified by scientists, taking love off its highly regarded pedestal and reducing it to a series of chemical reactions that occurs inside the brain.

Such an explanation is made without human emotion. Although such an explanation is meant to apply universally to all humans, it lacks humanity. Individuals cannot identify themselves with such an explanation, since it has no personal characteristics that they can relate to. The impersonal nature of this answer is unappealing, yet at the same time destroys the previous notion which was much more appealing. This example shows how disenchantment can cause a "psychology of disappointment"8.

Yet I would argue that disenchantment isn't necessarily a negative thing. Indeed, it might be impossible to provide a concrete answer either way. The reason for this is that any such argument to say that something is negative relies on emotions or values. Weber differentiates between three types of rationality complexes. These are cognitive instrumental, moral practical and expressive aesthetic. The first has scientific elements to it: it seeks logical truths. The second is based on morals: it seeks what is 'right', and perhaps even 'good'.

Each (theoretically anyway) is distinct from the other. Thus, while something can be negative when applying a moral practical rationality complex, it can still be positive when viewed in a cognitive instrumental rationality complex. Weber argues that modern societies have the ability to distinguish between each type of rationality complex, to the extent that something can be positive in one but not the others. Disenchantment may be negative from a moral practical perspective, but still positive from a cognitive instrumental perspective.

Another way to approach disenchantment is that magic is a hindrance to progress, where progress is a positive thing. The Big bang theory is said to counter the arguments presented by Christianity that the universe was created by God. Despite removing these magical notions, the possibility that such a theory can be proved to be true creates a goal for people to strive towards. On the way to that ultimate end other discoveries are made. These achievements can provide satisfaction to those involved, especially if they have a wider effect on others.

Additionally, magic itself isn't always positive. Taking a more pragmatic view of the world can remove many of the 'monsters' created by unproven assumptions. Explorers of the Old and New Worlds dispelled notions that may seas were unassailable due to the monstrous creatures that inhabited them. By managing to sail to other continents they helped shape the way the world is today. I don't think that the world would have more 'meaning' if those sailors had chosen to stay on dry land.