University of Leicester
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'Caesarism' in the politics and sociology of Max Weber

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posted on 2010-10-14, 09:16 authored by Peter Baehr
This thesis attempts to describe the meanings, chart the development and evaluate the cogency of 'Caesarism', with particular reference to that concept's place and significance in the thought of Max Weber. It begins (Chapter 2) by investigating the genesis and historical trajectory of the term, concentrating on French and German usage between the period 1850-1880. My concern here is to determine the social causes of the word's emergence, the social problems and issues that it articulated and the reasons that account for its decline as a vernacular expression among the educated political public. With the term's original intellectual milieu established the next task is to proceed (Chapters 3 and 4) to the centrepiece of this study, an exposition and critique of Caesarism as both word and concept in Weber's political and sociological writings. Four primary contexts in which Weber employed 'Caesarism' are discussed: Bismarck's governance; 'plebiscitary leadership' in modern liberal-democratic states; the military 'dictatorships' of the likes of Cromwell and Napoleon; and the constitutional position of the Weimar Reich President. In the process of the discussion, 'Caesarism’ ‘s relationship to the more famous 'charisma' is explored. Following on from this I assess the view of the 'irrational masses' that underlies Weber's theory of leadership, and seek to demonstrate that view's empirical implausibility and logical incoherence while, at the same time, defending Weber from the charge of 'irrationalism' and defending also the value of the notion of 'irrationality' itself. Finally (Chapter 5) surveys a selection of recent attempts to apply the concept of 'Caesarism' to specific institutions, epochs and types of leadership. Though locating problems with these attempts, my suggestion is that 'Caesarism' can indeed do some sociological work for us, provided that our ambitions for the concept are modest and our approach historically informed.


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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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