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date: 21 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Max Weber believed that the Occident had produced a set of unique institutions whose distinctiveness could be characterized using ideal types that accentuated their type and degree of “rationalism.” The rise of modern capitalism, one element within this set, had been enabled by the presence of other elements, he famously argued, none of which had indigenously arisen anywhere else in the world. This chapter reconstructs Weber’s idea of the Occident and examines how he understood the place of his own “modern European cultural world” within the development of occidental rationalism. It also considers the ways in which Weber’s comparative project might have been contaminated by various forms of “Eurocentric” biases, such as cultural prejudices, misapprehensions of Western uniqueness, and inept applications of the ideal-typical method. The most serious methodological difficulty with Weber’s comparative project is not his assertion of occidental difference, this chapter suggests, but rather his assumption that many paradigmatic cultural institutions were shared by societies whose developmental trajectories ultimately diverged. By attempting to understand non-Western institutions in terms of ideal types that were derived from European experiences, Weber often failed to appreciate the distinctive norms that structured the dynamism of non-Western societies.

Keywords: Max Weber, Eurocentrism, Occident, rationalism, great divergence

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