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Weber, Iron Cage

July 15th, 2011 · No Comments

We might link the question of scientism to Weber’s idea of the Iron Cage.
However, the question of Darwinism, while we have pointed to it as case of scientism, has a deepr problem that ‘rationalization’, it seems.
It may be that the problem is a simple lack of intelligence in scientists! The grip of Darwinism and reductionism is ‘cluelessness’ in people who are very smart, but in a narrow way, that fails immediately outside of the realm of technical derivations, and the question of evolutionary theory is far more than mere technical issues of science conformity.
Whatever the case scientists certainly act as if they are in an Iron Cage.
Max Weber page

4.1 The “Iron Cage” and Value-fragmentation
Thus seen, rationalization as Weber postulated it is anything but an unequivocal historical phenomenon. As already pointed out, first, Weber views it as a process taking place in disparate fields of human life with a logic of each field’s own and varying directions; “each one of these fields may be rationalized in terms of very different ultimate values and ends, and what is rational from one point of view may well be irrational from another” [Weber 1920/1992, 27]. Second, and more important, its ethical ramification for Weber is deeply ambivalent. To use his own dichotomy, the formal-procedural rationality (Zweckrationalität) to which Western rationalization tends does not necessarily go with a substantive-value rationality (Wertrationalität). On the one hand, exact calculability and predictability in the social environment that formal rationalization has brought about dramatically enhances individual freedom by helping individuals to understand and navigate through the complex web of institutions in order to realize the ends of their own choice. On the other hand, freedom and agency are seriously curtailed by the same force in history when individuals are reduced to a “cog in a machine,” or trapped in an “iron cage” that formal rationalization has spawned with irresistible efficiency and at the expense of substantive rationality. Thus his famous lament in the Protestant Ethic:

No one knows who will live in this cage (Gehäuse) in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For the “last man” (letzten Menschen) of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: “Specialist without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of humanity (Menschentums) never before achieved” [Weber 1904-05/1992, 182: translation altered].
Third, Weber envisions the future of rationalization not only in terms of “mechanized petrification,” but also of a chaotic, even atrophic, inundation of subjective values. In other words, the bureaucratic “iron cage” is only one side of the modernity that rationalization has brought about; the other is a “polytheism” of value-fragmentation. At the apex of rationalization, we moderns have suddenly found ourselves living “as did the ancients when their world was not yet disenchanted of its gods and demons” [Weber 1919/1946, 148]. Modern Western society is, Weber seems to say, once again enchanted as a result of disenchantment. How did this happen and with what consequences?

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