Rationalization according to Max Weber

21 January, 2021

The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies has published Rationalization according to Max Weber, wherein author Abdelmonaaim Chouqari affirms that rationalization is not a procedural prescription from the West that can be acquired and applied; rather it represents an existential, cognitive world view rooted in Protestant religious reform and an accompanying new vision of the world that rationalizes duty, as represented in labour, and in response to an inner call. In parallel, this vision is sculpted in practical realizations that are aided by structural economic, political or legal factors in life’s trajectories.

The book’s ten chapters are divided into four sections. The first section provides a theoretical and methodological introduction in three chapters to Weber’s concept of rationalization. In the first chapter, the author suggests that understanding Weberian thought in general and the issue of rationalization “demands an analysis of the nature of the epistemic conditions that matured and crystalised his concepts relating to the notion of rationalization – in other words, consideration of the epistemic horizon that Weber could not help but take into account when conceiving of this concept.” The author then expounds on the Kantian and neo-Kantian heritages that form the philosophical background to the concepts of rationalization and Weberian rationalization, tracing their development along evolutionary historical and multi-dimensional lines, then from narrow materialistic-economic Weberian rationalization to rationalization’s vast theoretical horizons.

Rationalizing Method

In the second chapter, “From Rationalization of Method to the Methodology of Rationalization” the author discusses Weber’s concepts of causal understanding, value relation, cultural significance and ideal type within a chapter dedicated to methodology – one that he deems necessary “because the methodological angle is critical as an entry point for understanding the details of Weber's huge encyclopedic production... If de Saussure said, ‘point of view creates the subject,' then our hypothesis in this introduction is that Weberian methodology contributed to the framing of his key problems and intellectual issues”.

In the third chapter the author takes up Weberian action theory, the impact of individualist-economist methodology on Weberian action theory, Weberian action theory as a narrow rational concept, and Weberian action theory as a unitary theory. As he sees it, Weberian action theory proceeds from the basic premise of denying the existence of society and social systems as independent entities. With this independence, an important question arises: If society is unable to exist in an independent manner, then how did rigorously typical, successive and systematic social relations enabling the identification of visible social entities ever come to exist? Answering this question, the author suggests the Weberian thesis rejects the distinction between idea and practice, as they manifest the unity of social action.

Rationalization and Unity of Meaning

Section Two, “Rationalization and the Unity of Meaning,” includes two chapters. Chapter Four examines several thematic areas: the rationalization of a world vision between magic and religion; prophetic religion and the rationalization of the world vision; prophetic religion and the theological problematic; the relationship of a world vision to material and moral interests; Protestantism and religious rationalism; salvation and religious rationalization, religious rationalization and the strengthening of the individualistic self. The author poses various questions to explore the chapter’s thematic focus: What is the rationalization known and defined by Western religious thought and practice? What are the characteristics of this religious rationalization? What concepts were associated with it? Then, how can we consider, by means of this rationalization, the true history of the Western mind? How can religious rationalization and the emergence of Western modernity be linked? What would the vision of the world become, with religious rationalization? What logic would govern this vision?

The fifth chapter deals with each of ethical origins of rationalization; the moral world view; labor between Calvinism and Lutheranism; rationalization and the individual’s behavior; rationalization between individual and society; the spirit of capitalism or rationalization; the spirit of capitalism’s destiny; and the evaluation of the moral principles of rationalization. Rather than searching for the linkages of Protestant ethics with the spirit of capitalism, the author then seeks to discover how morality relates to the process of rationalization and explore the implications of a world view for individual behavior that can be characterized as rationalization, itself constituting a kind of ethical behavior.

Verifications of Rationalization

The third section, “Verifications of Rationalization,” contain three chapters. Chapter Six examines the teleological dimension of economic rationalization, the definition of economic action, characteristics of economic rationalization, and standards and criteria of rational economic activity. In discussing economic rationalization through the model of capitalism and the characteristics of modern rational capitalism, the author posits that rationalization is not a unified whole, but rather a general context that differs with differing domains; economic rationalization differs in nature from political rationalization, and degrees and levels of rationalization vary. Economics may have a higher degree and rank of rationalization as opposed to disciplines in the legal domain or cultural domains.

Chapter Seven discusses the characteristics of political behavior and practice, types of legitimacy under political hegemony, political rationalization through the modern state model, rationalization of the modern state through the model of bureaucracy, and Weber’s elite political vision. According to the author, economic practice is “peaceable” but “sometimes requires vigorous engagement, especially when undertaken by the state – hence the sweeping capitalism that has invaded world markets by means of power and hegemony. Consequently, the two interconnected practices are inseparable, each needing the other". Political practice retains its own specificities, as does economic activity. These specificities included those of the rationalization advanced by Weber. What then are the standards and criteria for rational political practice? And what are the constituent elements and concepts of this political rationalization? To what extent can bureaucracy be considered one of the rationalizing aspects, par excellence, of the modern state? What is the specificity of the modern rational state?

The author then discusses legal behavior or practice, external elements contributing to the rationalization of the law, internal elements contributing to the rationalization of the law, the transition from formal irrationality to formal rationality, concepts of modern rational law, paradoxes of the legal verification of rationalization, and the impact of rationalizing the law on the emergence of bureaucracy.

Rationalization and Loss of Meaning

The fourth section, “Rationalization and Loss of Meaning” contains two chapters. In the ninth chapter the author studies each of the independence and contention of value circles; the independence and contention of the fraternity circle; the two rational economic and political circles; the two irrational aesthetic circles of the aesthetic and sexual – erotic; the independence and contention of the epistemic circle; the orientations of values and their contention; and rationalization as a vision of the world in terms of forfeiture of meaning; rationalization as practice (the forfeiture of freedom); the relationship of rationalization to secularization; and cultural crisis between the chaotic approach and rational explanation/interpretation. The author believes that the rationalization process is no longer a mere cultural and psychological process following a change in perspective. The mandatory and functional requirements of state and the economy led the process of rationalization into a dark tunnel condemning all spiritual and moral values to “extinction”. On this basis, Weber considered that this process served to fragment the ethical and religious foundations of cultural incentives, dissolving them into purely utilitarian molds; this other face of the rationalization process has two characteristics: Rationalization in the first appears as a loss of meaning, and in the second as a loss of freedom.

The tenth chapter deals with subjective and objective limits of rationalization, and rationalization’s devouring of the mind in the sense that rationalization is an economic, social and political process, a scientific tendency of unravelling the world’s magic. The chapter ends by noting contemporary epistemology’s visualization of social relations, and asking: What is meant by the rationalization that has characterized the modern Western world? It can only be a new spirit, outwardly entailing technical means comprised of the accurate calculations and abstract principles used to pursue and achieve goals, while on the inside being a vision of the world based on extirpating all mysterious hidden forces, replacing them with investigative scientific research and the inspiration of the rules of the intellect; for the positive results of the application of reason, whether in the field of nature or in social life, are not to be denied.

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