The Special Issue “Max Weber” in the Japanese Intellectual Monthly Gendai Shisō.
A Review by Yufei Zhou
Max Weber’s popularity in Japan’s social sciences has long been confirmed by the sheer fact that a considerable percentage of the sales volume of Max Weber Gesamtausgabe (MWG, published by Mohr Siebeck) went to Japanese universities and research institutes. Since the name Max Weber was first introduced to Japan in 1905, his theoretical arsenal on economy, society, and the religious origin of rationality and modernity has continued to attract such significant interest in Japan that the symposium celebrating the 100th anniversary of Weber’s birth (1964) at Tokyo University attracted more than 500 attendees.
Not surprisingly, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, which hampered offline celebrative events on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Weber’s death, Japanese intellectuals contributed to a substantial special issue in one of the country’s most prestigious intellectual journals — Gendai Shisō — to celebrate Max Weber’s legacy in Japan’s intellectual milieu. This special issue comprises 24 articles divided into six sections, and includes a brief discussion.
The first section, “Modernity, Religion and Capitalism,” begins with Mishima Ken’ichi’s (emeritus Professor of Osaka University) article “Disenchantment Reconsidered” in which Mishima explored the potential of resistance in the realm that has not been “disenchanted.” For example, lament and indignation amidst infernal experiences (e.g. the nuclear disasters in Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima), so argued Mishima, are not unusually verbalized in mysterious and superstitious vocabularies as resistance against modernity that is internalized in the state. Weber’s concept of disenchantment, therefore, failed to grasp the animistic protest against the deadlocks of modernity.
Following Mishima’s critical study, Hashimoto Tsutomu (Professor of Hokkaidō University) posed the question in his article “What is the Capitalist Spirit: How to Read Weber’s ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’,” why, despite Weber’s overwhelming influence in postwar Japan’s social sciences, little research has been undertaken to elaborate the Protestant Ethics thesis. In order to challenge this scholarly vacuum, Hashimoto differentiated between “Protestant Ethic” and “Protestant Ethic of Calling,” where the latter, characterized by its new-conservatist tinge, equals the “spirit of capitalism,” for both commit the pursuit of private profits and requires moral behavior for the sake of public welfare.
The subsequent two articles, “Theology from the ‘Iron Cage’: A Political Liberation?” (Ōtake Kōji, Associate Professor of Nanzan University) and “Max Weber and Experimental Psychology” (Takaoka Yūsuke, Associate Professor of Waseda University) shed light on Walter Benjamin’s theological interpretation of Weber’s concept of “capitalist spirit” and Weber’s psychological observation of industrial wage laborers. The fifth article in this section titled “Re-enchanting the World” (Sasaki Yūta, emeritus Professor of Nagoya University) zoomed in on the paradoxical nature of Weber’s theory of disenchantment by comparing it to Emile Durkheim’s thesis on the transformation from segmentary to highly complex society. Sasaki came to the conclusion that Weber’s concept of secularization meant a process of disenchantment by installing a new circle of Verzauberung. The last article, “Irrationality, but for whom?” (Tsuneki Kentarō, Associate Professor of Senshū University), shifted its focus to Ōtsuka Hisao (1907-1996), the most prominent Weberian economic historian in postwar Japan. Tsuneki noticed the changing nuances in different versions of Ōtsuka’s translations and pointed out Ōtsuka’s critical stance against Weber’s reluctance to engage in activities that factually change the social reality.
The second section, “Rethinking Modern Politics,” comprises four articles. Noguchi Masahiro (Professor of Seikei University) integrated in his article “Max Weber for Bureaucrats” Weber’s concept of Beruf and David Graeber’s recent study on “bullshit jobs” to analyze the problem of overwork and the feeling of pointlessness that is widespread among Japan’s bureaucrats. Hayakawa Makoto (Professor of Rissho University) then analyzed Weber’s influences in various writings on political representation by Hanna Fenichel Pitkin and Nadia Urbinati etc. in his article “Reading Max Weber from the Standpoint of Representation Theory,” followed by Otobe Nobutaka’s (Associate Professor of Osaka University) unveiling of Weber’s heritage in current political theories and political philosophy. This section ends with the sinologist Suzuki Masahiro’s (Professor of Tokyo University) extraneous contribution to the reception of Max Weber in China after the open-door policy in 1978. Suzuki wrote that even the intellectual context in China differed entirely from that of Japan; the common interest in Weber’s ethics of intellectuals helps to facilitate mutual understanding between Chinese intellectuals and their peers abroad.
In the third section, “From the Perspectives of Philosophy and Intellectual History,” five contributors, Ohji Kenta (Associate Professor in French Literature of Tokyo University), Mizutani Hitoshi (Research Fellow of Nagoya University), Todoroki Takao (Professor of National Defense Academy of Japan), Makino Masahiko (Professor of Hiroshima University), and Takemine Yoshikazu (Associate Professor for German Literature of Tokyo University), reconsider Weber’s intellectual interconnectedness to representative European philosophers including Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, Martin Heidegger, Hannah Arendt, and Theodor W. Adorno. Compared to this extensive and systematic section devoted to philosophizing, the next section entitled “How to Grasp Society” is surprisingly brief and dispersed. It begins with a Japanese translation of Niklas Luhmann’s article “Zweck-Herrschaft-System: Grundbegriffe und Prämissen Max Webers” (1964) in which Luhmann positioned Weber as a pioneer of social system theory against the background of rising interest in organization and management science in the 1960s. Luhmann’s article is followed by Daikoku Takehiko’s (Professor of Meiji University) article “The Deep Structure of Weber’s Social Theory and the Society’s ‘Autology’,” in which Daikoku reexamined Weber’s methodological individualism by focusing on his theoretical affinity to Kant and the Neo-Kantian philosophy. In the consequent contribution “How Can We Talk About Weber Without Talking About Interpretive Sociology?” Nakano Toshio (emeritus Professor of Tokyo Foreign Studies University) criticized the increasing specialization and professionalization of Japan’s Weber-related scholarship after the 1980s. Nakano called for a revival of Weberian interpretive sociology in order to grasp an overarching view of problems and crisis we are now facing.
The next section deals with Weber discernment on the role of knowledge and knowledge producers in society. In his brief notion of Weber and the subjectivity of academic research, Germanist Ikeda Hiroshi (emeritus Professor of Kyoto University) took Weber’s early survey of agricultural workers in eastern Prussia as the departing point and argued that instead of focusing on the existing state of affairs, professionals should also have a vision of how things would develop in the future. Afterwards, Fujimoto Yui (Associate Professor of Seisen University) explored in her study “Wissenschaft, Nihilism and the Abyss” Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom’s reinterpretation of Weber in their respective discernment on knowledge production. This section ends with Konno Hajime’s (Professor of Aichi Prefecture University) fierce criticism of Japan’s scholarship on Max Weber as a whole. In his article “Imagining Max Weber as a Prophet,” Konno mercilessly attacked the “Galápagos effect” of Japanese scholars’ engagement with Max Weber by pointing out three vital flaws: the domination of personality cult, the misinterpretation of Wertfreiheit for the sake of demonstrating their own political viewpoint in university education, and lastly, the phantasy of Weber’s non-participation in political affairs.
The last section, “The Variety of ‘Subject’,” contains Naitō Yōko’s (Associate Professor of Osaka Prefecture University) comparative study of Max Weber and Marianne Weber’s contradicting approaches towards gender and the marriage system. Naito came to the conclusion that whereas Max’s analysis of sexual relationship and marriage aims to serve as components of his overall illustration of large-scale society transformation, Marianne placed the central value on gender equality. Takahashi Yuki’s (Part-Time Lecturer of Musashi University) article “The ‘Modern Subject’ of Neoliberalism and the ‘Subject of Care’” reexamined the concept of “modern subject” from Weber to Anthony Giddens, suggesting a new conception of subject that is to be defined and negotiated in the daily social interaction. The interpretation of “subject” based on the ethics of care, so argued Takahashi, opens a new possibility to reconsider human’s autonomy and liberty.
Both the extraordinarily large number of contributions and the variety of perspectives provided by this dense volume seem to confirm the ongoing interest of Japanese intellectuals in Weber. We should not forget that only six years ago, Japanese scholars organized the conference “Social Sciences in Postwar Japan and Max Weber” in Tokyo to celebrate Weber’s 150 Anniversary. Weber was and still is the icon of rationalized and professionalized social observation that continues to inspire learned Japanese men to reconsider the past and present of the world in which they live.
Yufei Zhou is Senior Research Fellow at the German Institute for Japanese Studies (DIJ Tokyo). She obtained her PhD in Intellectual History and Social Thought from Osaka University and is specialized in the global circulation of social sciences at the turn of the 20th Century.