ABSTRACT

Max Weber’s most immediate legacy to the wider intellectual community was the decade-long dispute about the relations between science and politics set off by the publication, in the year before his death, of two lectures that he presented to the Free Students’ Society at the University of Munich, in a series ambiguously called “Spiritual Work as Calling.” The ambiguity arises from the range of meanings attached to the key concepts, with both “spiritual work” (geistige Arbeit) and “calling” (Beruf) capable of denoting nothing more than occupational census terminology but extending as well to concepts heavily freighted with ethical meaning. In view of the student discontents noted earlier and the express dedication of the sponsoring organization to the “Humboldt-Schleiermacher university ideal of the civitas academica” (Buckmiller 1980: 20), it seems obvious that the students expected Weber and the other speakers to address questions about the meaning and value of the work they were formally preparing to be certified for and thus about the point of their education. 1 In any case, the author of Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism clearly followed his own lead in that earlier work and applied a secularized version of the novel Protestant meaning of “calling”—“its present meaning in the everyday speech of all Protestant peoples”—as “a task set by God.... a life-work” that entails duties having a moral character (Weber 1958: 79-80; Weber 1922: 62-69; cp. Brunner et al. 1972-84:1, 488-507). For his original audience and for many of the participants 72in the subsequent dispute about the works, accordingly, Weber’s lectures on the callings of “science” and “politics” are charged with the question of cultivation. 2