Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber (21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) was a German sociologist and political economist who profoundly influenced social theory, social research and the discipline of sociology itself. A key proponent of methodological antipositivism, which presents sociology as a non-empiricist field which must study social action through interpretive means based upon understanding the meaning and purpose that individuals attach to their own actions, Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as one of the three principal architects of modern social science.
Weber's main intellectual concern was understanding the processes of rationalisation, secularization, and "disenchantment" that he associated with the rise of capitalism and modernity. His thinking about the nature of these developments in the modern Western world led to the development of "critical theory," particularly in the work of later social thinkers such as Theodor W. Adorno and Jurgen Habermas. Also highly influential was his thesis in economic sociology, elaborated in his book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that ascetic Protestantism was one of the major "elective affinities" associated with the rise of capitalism, bureaucracy and the rational-legal nation-state in the Western world. Against Marx's "historical materialism," Weber emphasised the importance, for understanding the development of capitalism, of cultural influences embedded in religion. The Protestant Ethic formed the earliest part in Weber's broader investigation into the sociology of religion: he would go on to examine the religions of China, the religions of India and ancient Judaism, with particular regard to the apparent non-development of capitalism in the corresponding societies, as well as to their differing forms of social stratification.
In another major work, Politics as a Vocation, Weber defined the state as an entity which successfully claims a "monopoly on the legitimate use of violence". He was also the first to categorize social authority into distinct forms, which he labelled as charismatic, traditional, and rational-legal. His analysis of bureaucracy emphasised that modern state institutions are increasingly based on rational-legal authority. Weber also made a variety of other contributions in economic history, as well as economic theory and methodology.
After the First World War, Max Weber was among the founders of the liberal German Democratic Party. He also ran unsuccessfully for a seat in parliament and served as advisor to the committee that drafted the ill-fated democratic Weimar Constitution of 1919. After contracting the Spanish flu, he died of pneumonia in 1920, aged 56.