20 Law & Soc'y Rev. 573 (1986)
Max Weber's Tragic Modernism and the Study of Law in Society

handle is hein.journals/lwsocrw20 and id is 575 raw text is: Review Essay*

While Max Weber is revered as one of the patron saints of the
law and society movement, his views on the nature and limits of socio-
logical studies in law are not fully understood. Using recent analyses
of Weber's legal thought (Kronman, 1983) and overall social theory
(Alexander, 1983a), the author argues that while Weber set forth the
standard, positivist understanding of the sociology of law that influ-
ences research to this day, at the same time he critiqued this under-
standing and in the end despaired that social science could contribute
significantly to human emancipation. Arguing that Weber's tragic
modernism is an inappropriate guide for law and society studies today,
the author suggests an alternative vision in which the sociology of law
is seen as part of a pragmatic enterprise of social transformation.
For all of Weber's rationalist proclivities, he despaired
about the possibility of rationally grounding the ultimate
norms that guide our lives; we must choose the gods or de-
mans we decide to pursue. With the disenchantment of the
world that results from the ineluctable processes of moderni-
zation which destroys the foundations of traditional world-
views, we are left with a void. Weber bequeathed to us un-
resolved tensions and aporias. (Bernstein, 1985: 5).
Those of us who belong to the community of scholars that
in the United States calls itself the law and society movement
have treated Max Weber as one of our patron saints and re-
garded his work on law as among our classics. Weber, who was
* A review essay of Kronman, Anthony T. (1983) Max Weber. Stanford:
Stanford University Press; and Alexander, Jeffrey C. (1983) Theoretical Logic
in Sociology, Volume III. The Classical Attempt at Theoretical Synthesis: Max
Weber. Berkeley: University of California Press.
This paper was originally presented in 1984 at the Seminar on Legal
Ideology, in Amherst, Massachusetts, where the author had the opportunity to
discuss these matters in a particularly stimulating environment. Rick
Lempert suggested I undertake this project, and provided support and
insightful criticism throughout. John Esser gave me invaluable assistance and
advice at all stages of the project. Stewart Macaulay, Fernando Rojas, and
Jack Schlegel provided helpful comments on an earlier draft.

LAW & SOCIETY REVIEW, Volume 20, Number 4 (1986)

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