The German sociologist Max Weber is one of the most venturesome, stimulating, and influential theorists of the modern condition. Among his most significant works are the so-called vocation lectures, published shortly after the end of World War I and delivered at the invitation of a group of student activists. The question the students asked Weber to address was simple and haunting: In a modern world characterized by the division of labor, economic expansion, and unrelenting change, was it still possible to consider an academic or political career as a genuine calling? In response Weber offered his famous diagnosis of “the disenchantment of the world,” along with a challenging account of the place of morality in the classroom and in research. In his second lecture he introduced the notion of political charisma, assigning it a central role in the modern state, even as he recognized that politics is more than anything “a slow and difficult drilling of holes into hard boards.”
Damion Searls’s new translation brings out the power and nuance of these celebrated lectures. Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon’s introduction describes their historical and biographical background, reception, and influence. Weber’s effort to rethink the idea of a public calling at the start of the tumultuous twentieth century is revealed to be as timely and stirring as ever.
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