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CHARISMA, LEGITIMACY, IDEOLOGY, and Other Weberian Themes / Vol. 42, No. 4 (Winter 1975)

Arthur J. Vidich, Guest Editor
Arien Mack, Journal Editor

The papers presented in this issue of Social Research are dedicated to the memory of Carl Mayer, who was one of the original members of the Department of Sociology of the Graduate Faculty, New School for Social Research, when it was established as the University in Exile in 1933. Carl Mayer was a dedicated teacher. He was associated with the Graduate Faculty for forty years, and served .for many years as chairman of the Department of Sociology. He remained as a professor emeritus of sociology until his death on May 13, 1974.

From time to time a relatively esoteric academic field and/or its concepts becomes highly popular among lay audiences, and its vocabulary enters the common language. Thus the concepts of physics associated with the atom bomb, at least at the level of vocabulary are part of the ordinary speech of millions of people. Psychology, especially Freudian psychology, has enriched or, according to some, helped to debase everyday language. In this essay we are concerned with the term charisma, which by now is not only the name of a perfume and the title of a pop tune, the name of a laundry, and a shirt brand, but also widely applied to virtually every situation in which the popularity of a political or any public personality is involved.

Bureaucracy, in its essence, represents the total institutionalization of task leadership. It is an efficient way to organize and accomplish specific tasks in large-scale, complex societies. Weber has described its structure, Mumford its origins. But, since task-accomplishment is never one of the central issues of the political process, humans are always singularly unimpressed by task-officialdom. This attitude is a mixture of blase acceptance of the necessity of task officialdom and annoyance when this officialdom impinges upon them and prods them to accomplish some specific task. Bureaucracy gains legitimacy simply because people accept the fact that complex tasks need to be done in large-scale societies. Since bureaucracy is identified with task leadership, it arouses neither enthusiasm nor passionate opposition.

At an intellectual level this movement claims to present a worldview which transcends the limitations of anyone scientific discipline, and recasts the problems of sociology, psychology, ethics, cosmology, and the physical sciences. Beginning as a set of techniques applied to a number of separable disciplines, in which these techniques were originally quite narrow, specific, and specialized, the systems movement has steadily widened its scope, and has produced a popularizing literature that excludes nothing from the systems view.

The purpose here will be to unfold a series of problems endemic to the confrontation of Marxism with systems theory as these problems have in fact emerged in the recent social, political, and ideological history of East Germany. By virtue of the fact that East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic (GDR), is the most advanced industrial society in east-central Europe, a critical analysis of a major aspect of its ideological and political system may very well bear on the present and future developments of analogous social systems. For this reason, there is more than intrinsic interest to recommend an analysis of the GDR informed by reference to problems within the methodologies of both Marxism and contemporary social science—the type of analysis I will undertake in this paper.

Whether society can be looked upon as a natural system has preoccupied thinking about the character and limitations of social-science knowledge since the late nineteenth century. Possibly the most complete treatment of this question is contained in Weber's essay" 'Objectivity' in Social Science and Social Policy," where Weber expressed considerable misgiving over the use of the concepts of law and mechanism in the social sciences. Weber did not find necessity in the objective and naturalistic sense in social-historical phenomena, nor did he think it could be found. Instead, he looked for patterns rather than laws, and sought to explain broad changes and tendencies in the development of the modern West in terms of their causal antecedents in contrast to subsuming them under general laws about human behavior or the structure of social systems.

More than thirty years ago, Albert Salomon published an essay in which he asserted not merely that Max Weber's work could be understood only if seen against the background of Karl Marx but also that Weber's work itself was the product of an intense, lifelong preoccupation with Marx. This assertion is not literally correct. In the first phase of Weber's scientific work, Marx's work meant little to him. What he did, before 1900, was to utilize the categories in Marx's system in a unique manner for his own investigations. Beyond this, he spoke of the shattered scientific system of Marx, which was then being hammered dogmatically into the minds of the German workers.

Carl Mayer's lecture on Marx and Weber must be seen in the context of the German academic setting in which it was delivered. He spoke before students who had been exposed to the broad discussions that accompanied the revival of intellectual interest in the work of Marx, including its theoretical and methodological principles and their application to the analysis of contemporary society. Present-day Marxists or Marxian sociologists had advanced a variety of critiques of Weber's work as that of a sociologist who, in scope, problem formulation, and subject matter, must be considered a full-scale rival of Marx as a social theorist. Mayer sought to set the scholarly record straight by establishing what Weber's actual positions on the crucial issues were in contrast to what the critics had made them out to be. To one familiar with similar discussions that took place in Germany during the 1920s, the present exchanges seem mere repetitions of the arguments offered fifty years ago.

It has become commonplace to speak of "crisis" as a contemporary characteristic of both society and social science. In recent years a sense of "crisis" has been apprehended in "late" or "advanced" capitalism, Marxism, Western sociology, and in the basis for authority in general. With such a plethora of crises, it is only inevitable that—among the radicals, at any rate—a politics-of-crisis theory would also develop, and that both radical and moderate sociologists would begin to search for the sources and causes of error in their predecessors' and their own work. In fact "crisis" is a complex and ambiguous term, less than adequately suited for conceptual usage in the social sciences. Moreover, the basic sociological ideas of most of the "crisis" theorists are not much different from those of their more conventional opponents. Precisely because of this, it is useful to reexamine the concerns of conventional social science with the structure and dynamics of society and more especially with the political sector. Such a review can throw light on certain persistent problems in conceptualization and theorizing.

Between the late 1960s and early 1970s, public attitude surveys recorded an explosive increase in public mistrust, resentment, and cynicism, an erosion of confidence in national institutions, and an upsurge in feelings of impotence and powerlessness. In 1975, the most serious reservations about the country and its institutions come not from minorities, or minorities of minorities (as in the sixties), but from the mainstream of America itself. It is the general public, the former Silent Majority, that appears, if we are to heed the surveys, to have turned from benign and automatic acceptance of our institutions to troubled criticism. The contrast between the present state of mind of Americans and that of the 1960s or earlier post–World War II decades could hardly be more striking. In this essay I wish to explore whether this shift signals the emergence in the United States of a psychology of ressentiment, European style, and a challenge to acceptance of the legitimacy of American political institutions.

By focusing his attention on finding the weaknesses in the systems of legitimation of "so-called" capitalism, late capitalism, and postcapitalism, Habermas has failed to notice the possibility that social systems may exist without a dominant system of legitimation. It may be that modern industrialized and bureaucratized societies can be governed without a dominant legitimating ideology designed to secure consent. In this paper I will consider the possibility that many legitimating ideologies can coexist and compete and that acceptance or rejection of such ideologies is not always necessary to processes of governance in bureaucratic society.

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