Ever since it was made known to English-speaking readers by R. H. Tawney and Tolcott Parsons, the thought of Max Weber has attracted increasing attention among students of sociology, history, economics, jurisprudence, political science, and political philosophy. His far-flung ideas were systematically brought together in his last book, Economy and Society, the major part of which was not published until after his death in 1921. Of this most comprehensive and significant of all of Weber’s writings, only the Introductory Part has so far been available in English.
The present book contains an English translation of those parts of Economy and Society in which Weber investigates the relationship between the social phenomenon “law” and the other spheres of social life, especially the economic and the political. The translation, by Edward A. Shils and Max Rheinstein, is accompanied by an extensive introduction and explanatory and bibliographical notes by Max Rheinstein. The Introduction will acquaint the reader with the problems of sociology of law in general and with Weber’s approach and methods in particular. The notes are meant to help the reader understand Weber’s wide-ranging references to institutions of Western and Oriental systems of law of both past and present; they also contain references to the sources used by Weber and to later literature which will help the reader evaluate Weber’s statements and conclusions.
Max Weber’s main problem was to discover the causes of the rise of modern capitalism. In his discussions of the law he is primarily concerned with finding what features of Western law, if any, were favorable to the development of the capitalistic economy and in what ways this economy has reacted upon methods of legal thought. Is logical rationality, peculiar to certain parts of the Western world, connected with that rational method of economic thought which is characteristic of Western capitalism? His concern with methods of legal thought renders Weber’s ideas specially significant for present American and English jurisprudence.
Among the other problems he discusses are those of freedom of contract, its origins, its rise and its place among the institutions of capitalist and non-capitalist societies; the development of rational processes of law making; the connections between kinds of legal thought and the types of social functionaries by whom law is shaped in a given society; the social factors favoring or counteracting codification; and the economic and political significance of ideas of natural law.