Max Weber: the State

As Giddens points out, to speak of "relative autonomy" is redundant since in society and politics all autonomy is "relative." If such is the case, why not approach state and politics first as "autonomous" realms and then focus on their relations with other spheres? The only theory of the state which explicitly postulates the autonomy of the state and politics is Max Weber's, as formulated in "Intermediate Reflections." (Bolsinger, 1996)

Like Marx, however, Weber did not develop a systematic theory of the state. Andreas Anter and Stefan Breuer seek to do so by departing from Weber's insights. Anter's Max Webers Theorie des Modernen Stoates provides a systematic account of what Weber had to say concerning the modern state and of related discussions at the turn of the century. For Weber, the core of every state is the monopoly of violence. For Anter, Weber's account is an expression of his times and reflects the official positions of Wilhelminian Germany.

Yet Weber's definition of the state has gained international acceptance and today it is hardly ever challenged. (Bolsinger, 1996) Anter develops Weber's notion of "politischer Anstaltsbetrieb," which Roth and Wittich render correctly (but not too elegantly) as "compulsory political organization with continuous operations." He stresses Weber's analysis of the state as a political organization of domination (Herrschaftsverband) and argues that there are three distinct concepts of politics in Weber.

The first relates politics to state control, the second refers to the distribution of power and, finally, politics is conceived as struggle. Despite this threefold qualification, Anter maintains that Weber ultimately defines "politics" in terms of the state. The state as a structure of command and obedience can only achieve stability if its subjects and, more important for Weber, the administrative staff, believe in its legitimacy.

Anter shows that Weber cannot be associated in any way with a normative theory of legitimacy. Although Weber never defines the concept of legitimacy, there is no doubt he is only interested in the de facto belief in the validity and efficacy of domination. (Bolsinger, 1996) Furthermore, Weber's types of legitimacy are constructed from a ruler-centered perspective; legitimacy is but another means to maintain domination, in addition to violence and administration. Anter emphasizes that, for Weber, democracy is also a relation of domination and not its elimination.

Thus, in modern mass democracy, democracy takes the form of bureaucratic domination. One virtue of Anter's book is that it stresses the connection between Weber's sociology of law and the theory of the modern state. Although the monopoly of violence is the decisive feature, law is equally relevant for exercising state power: the modern state cannot be conceived without law; modern law, not without the state. State formation is a process of juridification of the state. In turn, the genesis of rational law is a process of nationalization (Verstoatlichung) of all legal norms. The state is the actual basis of modern law; law provides the form within which the modern state works.

Anter outlines Weber's account of the complex relation between the standardization of law and state centralization, between the codification of law and the juridification of the state, and also of how the modern state entered into an alliance with lawyers to advance its claims to power. In contrast to Habermas' and Schluchter's interpretations, Anter emphasizes that Weber's theory of the state and law is incompatible with legal positivism: Weber analyzes the state and law within the context of history, domination, economy, and society, whereas legal positivism must exclude such factors as irrelevant.

Also convincing is Anter's claim that Weber's theory of bureaucracy is to be read as part of his theory of the state and that state formation coincides with the formation of the modern rational bureaucracy. (Bolsinger, 1996) Anter argues that, for Weber, only the modern, Western, rational, bureaucratic "Anstaltsstaat" can be called a state. A "state" is a historically specific formation and cannot be confused with other political organizations belonging to different cultures and epochs. A "rational" state was only possible in the West, because such a formation is historically and geographically specific. Indeed, only after the achievement of the monopoly of violence does it make sense to speak of a "state."

First, Anter seeks to justify Weber's attempt to explain the state in terms of individual agency. Such an account underestimates Weber's own "structural" concept of the state, according to which the state has an internal logic and autonomy. Weber's agent-orientated interpretation, in which the state comes in and remains in existence because certain actors base their actions on the assumption that the state exists or should exist, contradicts his notion of the state as an organization of domination based, in the last instance, on physical violence and following its own laws (Eigengesetzlichkeiten). (Norkus, 2004) Rather, as a social macro-structure the state must be analyzed through categories independent of agents. A similar problem occurs when Anter claims that, for Weber, a sociologist can see the state only as a conceptual construct. This seems to forget his other view, that the material bases of the state are violence and domination. Second, it is doubtful whether Weber really defined politics as so closely tied to the state. In Weber's political writings, the state and the nation are emphasized. Yet the central concept in Economy and Society is domination, and the modern state represents only one historical form of political domination.

Pietro Rossi is right when he stresses that Weber breaks with the German state tradition equating politics with the state. Thus the theory of politics in Economy and Society is based on domination and not on the state. Political relations are no longer defined exclusively as state structures. The state presupposes the political organization of domination. It is a specific organizational form of domination--a political structure among others. According to Hennis, Weber's sociology must be read as a theory of the "complexes of domination." In this sense, Weber did not write a sociology of the state, not because of his early death but because a theory of the state was already part of the sociology of domination.

Finally, it is surprising that, although Anter places Weber in the context of the debate concerning the state at the time, he does not even mention the impact of Marx's and Engels' accounts of the state. It is hard to believe that Weber remained untouched by the Marxist view of the state as an organization of violence and domination embodied in the bureaucracy, the army, the police, prisons, the judicial system, etc. At any rate, despite these objections, Anter's reconstruction of Weber's theory of the modern state remains an important contribution. (Norkus, 2004)

In Burokratie und Charisma, Breuer also analyzes Weber's sociology of the state. He rejects the view that for Weber "politics" and "the state" are to be defined in terms of the modern state. Rather, these concepts are also applicable to premodern states. He shows this by arguing that there are two different sociologies of the state in Weber. According to this version, Weber sees the state as an "Anstaltsstaat" -- a state characterized by a rationally imposed order. Breuer shows how Weber relies on Tonnies to show how the state is only possible within certain kinds of socializations embodying particular types of rationality. According to this version, the state is an exclusively modern phenomenon: a product of Western rationalism.

To call "states" structures of domination of past cultures would be historically anachronistic. According to Breuer, there is a second concept of the state transcending particular cultural limitations. (Peukert, 2004) This version can be found in Weber's "basic sociological concepts" and his "sociology of domination." Furthermore, Weber himself uses this concept of the state in his material studies with no restriction to the modern rational type.

The defining criterion of this second version is the monopoly of domination and violence. For Breuer, it is possible to speak of states on the basis of charisma or traditional authority and not just rational legal authority. This second concept is characterized by Jellinek's approach to the monism of state domination. Weber's last and decisive theory of the state is predicated on the monopoly of violence and legitimacy. Thus, according to Breuer, there can be states without a rationally imposed order, lacking "Anstalt" or "Betrieb." (Norkus, 2004) Breuer criticizes Weber for suggesting that political rationalism was a product of the 15th and 16th centuries.

Instead, he argues that the state at that time cannot be described as a formal political organization, neither in terms of law and administration in general nor in terms of financial and economic administration in particular. Material rationality had not yet been replaced by formal rationality. According to Breuer, the formal rational state can be seen as the result of two processes. The second, the rational state, characterized by the monopolization, centralization, professionalization and bureaucratization of political power, is a product of the French Revolution. (Peukert, 2004)

Breuer pays special attention to the relation between political rationalization and charisma to show the link between the charisma of reason in the French Revolution and the rationalism of political, administrative and legal institutions. He pursues the development of the charisma of reason from canon law to the absolutist state's "reason of state" and the French Revolution's "general will" to show the singularity of the rationalist state and its features as a centralized, hierarchical and depersonalized political power. Breuer provides detailed accounts of the charisma of the French Revolution.

In his other book, Mat Webers Herrschaftssoziologie, Breuer provides more than merely an interpretation of Weber's political sociology. He also seeks to update Weber's account in light of recent research. (Peukert, 2004) Although he demonstrates the usefulness of Weberian concepts in analyzing political structures, he questions whether domination and hierarchy are still the main structures of modern societies. Therefore, Breuer reads Weber's sociology of domination as a "farewell to a bygone world" exhibiting serious shortcomings.

Accordingly, Weber subscribes to an idealistic theory of legitimacy positing the primacy of ideas as well as their autonomy. But Weber's differentiation of types of domination with respect to legitimacy is always counterbalanced in his concrete studies by a differentiation according to the particular structures of the administrative staff. Although Weber includes external phenomena in his sociology of domination, he has no way of relating the structural mode of domination with structural features of the social environment. According to Breuer, the analysis of society from a ruler perspective must also examine socio-economic modes of domination. Breuer includes not only the theory of bureaucracy, but also the sociology of law and other matters in Weber's theory of rational domination. (Abraham, 1991)

Rational domination cannot be explained in terms of conscious agency; rather, its structures should be viewed as structures sui generic. Here "rational" refers to two main features in Weber's sociology of domination. Second, rational domination means that the positive order is systematized and standardized. Against critics of Weber's theory of legitimacy qua legality, Breuer shows how rational bureaucratic domination is made possible by this form of domination. The domination of an impersonal, legal order functioning like a rational machine presupposes already organized people.