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Weber's Last Theory of Capitalism: A Systematization

Randall Collins
American Sociological Review
Vol. 45, No. 6 (Dec., 1980), pp. 925-942
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094910
Page Count: 18
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Weber's Last Theory of Capitalism: A Systematization
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Abstract

A systematic formulation is given of Weber's theory of the origins of large-scale capitalism, based upon the lectures given just before his death. This last theory is predominantly institutional, unlike the emphasis upon religious ideas and motivations in his early Protestant Ethic thesis, and unlike his analyses of the world religions. Weber's institutional theory involves a sequence of causal conditions. The outcome of the sequence is capitalism characterized by the entrepreneurial organization of capital, rationalized technology, free labor, and unrestrained markets. Intermediate conditions are a calculable legal system and an economic ethic combining universal commercialization with the moderate pursuit of repetitive gains. These conditions are fostered by the bureaucratic state and by legal citizenship, and more remotely by a complex of administrative, military, and religious factors. The overall pattern is one in which numerous elements must be balanced in continuous conflict if economic development is to take place. Weber derived much of this scheme in explicit confrontation with Marxism. His conflict theory criticizes as well as deepens and extends a number of Marxian themes, including a theory of international capitalism which both criticizes and complements Wallerstein's theory of the world system.

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