Last post I discussed Weber’s attempts to develop a taxonomy of communities and cultures in terms of the distinctions which each community draws between legitimate/righteous dominion and illegitimate/unrighteous dominion. The ways in which righteous dominion is set apart from unrighteous dominion are not at all limited to intellectual playthings or logical puzzles to be toyed with, since such standards strongly constrain the ways in which we understand and organize our social behavior. Why should we obey what social services or medical professionals tell us? When is a command issued by a priesthood leader – or God Himself – to sacrifice all that I have or am an (il)legitimate command (one thinks of Abraham’s son)? By what standards do we tell others that they should or should not obey even their own commands within their own lives (a very modern idea that wasn’t at all obvious until rather recently)?
The standards by which obedience or any such command is legitimated vary widely across time and space, but Weber does not attempt any such fine-grained analysis. Rather, he is mostly concerned about the three broad categories in terms of which commands are (de)legitimized across the entirety of world history: rational, traditional and charisma dominion:
“The ‘validity’ of a power of command may be expressed, first, in a system of consciously made rational rules (which may be either agreed upon or imposed from above), which meet with obedience as generally binding norms whenever such obedience is claimed by him whom the rule designates. In that case every single bearer of powers of command is legitimated by that system of rational norms, and his power is legitimate insofar as it corresponds with the norm. Obedience is thus given to the norms rather than to the person.
“The validity of a power of command can also rest, however, upon personal authority.
“Such personal authority can, in turn, be founded upon the sacredness of tradition, i.e. of that which is customary and has always been so and prescribes obedience to some particular person.
“Or, personal authority can have its source in the very opposite, viz., the surrender to the extraordinary, the belief in charisma, i.e., actual revelation or grace resting in such a person as a savior, a prophet, or a hero…
“The forms of domination occurring in historical reality constitute combinations, mixtures, adaptations, or modifications of these ‘pure’ types.
“Rationally regulated association within a structure of domination finds its typical expression in bureaucracy. Traditionally prescribed social action is typically represented by patriarchalism. The charismatic structure of domination rests upon individual authority which is based neither upon rational rules nor upon tradition.” (Pg: 953-4; All quotes from Economy and Society. All emphases are mine.)
Weber’s understanding of history can thus be juxtaposed with that of Marx. The latter saw history as a progressive development within modes and relations of economic production that would finally culminate in a classless and communistic society. Socialism is basically an attempt to either transition to or approximate as much as possible this final, classless society. Weber, in contrast, held that the major historical transition that was underway was that from traditional to rational modes of dominion – a transition about which he was very ambivalent. The main point to grasp is that even if modern day socialists were to completely do away with the property relations that define capitalist society, this would do nothing whatsoever to loosen the “iron cage” of rational administration and bureaucracy within which we are progressively binding ourselves.
We can use Marx’s concept of alienation to approach this issue from a different angle. The early Marx had emphasized how raw materials and factories (in short, economic capital) had become external to the worker’s existence since all such property was owned by somebody else. The only thing which a laborer truly owned was his labor which he was forced, for the sake of his own survival, to sell by creating products that at no time belong to him. Thus, the raw materials, the factory and its machines and the material goods produced therein come to determine and control the worker’s life, rather than the other way around. Weber’s argument is that the rationalized structure of the modern day bureaucracy accomplishes the exact same thing – and it is because of this that a dissolution of property relations will do very little to give us the meaningful and unalienated freedom that Marx longed for:
“An inanimate machine is mind objectified. Only this provides it with the power to force men into its service and to dominate their everyday working life as completely as is actually the case in the factory. Objectified intelligence is also that animated machine, the bureaucratic organization, with its specialization of trained skills, its division of jurisdiction, its rules and hierarchical relations of authority. Together with the inanimate machine it is busy fabricating the shell of bondage which men will perhaps be forced to inhabit some day.” (Pg. 1402)
Most relevant to the LDS context in which most of my readers find themselves, Weber believes that the modern rationalization of society not only replaces traditional modes of dominion, but practically excludes all forms of personal authority, including that of charisma. In what we would call pre-modern times, traditional dominion was occasionally challenged 1) externally by a different tradition or 2) internally by a charismatic leader which would (if successful) become routinized as a new tradition:
“In prerationalistic periods, tradition and charisma between them have almost exhausted the whole of the orientation of action.” (Pg. 245)
Rationalization, according to Weber, is the process by which both natural and (especially) social phenomena become domesticated, calculable or, at the very least, predictable. To do this, actions and legitimating authority must become depersonalized and, if possible, dehumanized. One’s gender, race, sexual orientation, family relations, charm, cultural refinement, etc. become irrelevant as all come to stand as uniform “equals” under the rule of an abstract and impersonal law. Human actions and policy in general thus become calculated optimizations in the face of external constraints – the very definition of heteronomy.
As society becomes so rationalized, the very nature of education is transformed as “specialized expertise” comes to replace “cultivation” as its primary end:
“Expressed in slogans, the ‘cultivated man,’ rather than the ‘specialist,’ was the end sought by education and the basis of social esteem in the feudal, theocratic, and patrimonial structures of domination…
“As … the patent of education requires considerable expenses and a long period of gestation, this striving implies a repression of talent (of the ‘charisma’).” (pg. 1000, 1001)
Whereas genuine charismatic authority was once a total break with, if not transcendence of both traditional and rational constraints/structures, this gift is watered down within the rationalized society where it is perceived as an intuitive grasp of the heretofore unarticulated inconsistencies, implications, or some unique optimization within a system of impersonal rules. Like Nietzsche, Weber objects to any such rational domestication of the charismatic who is largely defined by his/her violation of traditional and rational constraints.
[A rationalized, bureaucratic] “apparatus makes ‘revolution,’ in the sense of the forceful creation of entirely new formations of authority, more and more impossible.” (pg. 989)
“As the satisfaction of political and economic needs is increasingly rationalized, the spread of discipline advances inexorably; this universal phenomenon more and more restricts the importance of charisma and of individually differentiated action.” (pg. 1156)
This rationalization of traditional authority, to the exclusion of the charismatic has rather predictable implications for religion:
“[T]he bishop, the priest and the preacher are in fact no longer, as in early Christian times, carriers of a purely personal charisma, which offers other-worldly sacred values under the personal mandate of a master, and in principle responsible only to him, to everybody who appears worthy of them and asks for them.” (pg. 959)
Recently, Michael Austin wrote a post over at BCC discussing Weber’s model of how charisma is “routinized” and how this has rather obvious implication for how we understand revelation and correlation within the church. While the post is actually very good and well worth reading, I thought it also remarkably euphemized in that it made no reference whatsoever to the effects of rationalization.
Charisma is, for the most part, routinized only within traditional modes of dominion in which the “cultivated man” (mentioned above) comes to succeed the charismatic leader. Such traditional modes of dominion, however, are entirely antithetical to the “specialized expert” forms of rational dominion by which well-educated members seek to understand and wield control over church history, doctrine, policy and practice to the exclusion of charismatic authority. Weber’s modes of domination are often appropriated by such academics to show that traditional authority figures are acting as obstacles to charismatic revelation. This, however, is the exact opposite of what Weber insists is typically the case: it is not cultivated, traditional authorities, but specialize experts which are the primary – perhaps insuperable – obstacle to charismatic revelation.
It is so very easy to wish and long for charismatic revelation when 1) we expect it to confirm (or at least be consistent with) our rationally supported values and/or 2) we believe that such revelations will serve our own interests. But this is the exact opposite of what Weber’s model of charisma suggests. Charisma is meant to 1) challenge and transcend our rationally supported beliefs and/or 2) inspire new moral duties and responsibilities. A domesticated and rationalized charisma is simply a contradiction in Weberian terms.
A concrete example of this would be how those people who most loudly proclaim that the church is no longer led by charismatic revelation are also those who wax the most legalistic when a local authority tries to impose “irrational” responsibilities upon a member by way of church discipline. That such local authorities make these decisions through an intense search for personal guidance (charisma), suddenly becomes, to these people, a bad thing to be fought and constrained through rationalized means.
To the extent that these people do despise the correlated handbooks and manuals within the church, it is because they are not rationalized enough, not because they are not charismatic enough. The correlated material within the church is thus challenged according to the same standards by which the inspired decisions of local leaders are challenged: both are attempts to judge the Mormon mix of traditional and charismatic authority according to rationalized and impersonal standards of the expert.
It is within this context that Weber has been accused of being a proto-Nazi. To be absolutely clear, he held no racist views of any kind, and a non-racist Nazi makes as much sense as a Marxist who is indifferent to private property. That said, he did long for a charismatic leader (Führer) to take hold of the rationalized bureaucracy of the German state in order to politically revitalize it. The point is that charisma can often be terrifying, which is exactly what motivates the rationalized criticisms of both traditional and charismatic authority.
In conclusion and summary:
- Rational, not traditional constraints are the most insuperable obstacle to charismatic revelation.
- Our faith in reason is largely, and understandably motivated by a fear of personal charismatic dominion.
- And yet, we are still asked by the Lord to drop our faith in the rational so as to make space in our lives for the charismatic dominion of His representatives.