Sociological Forum

, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 67–89 | Cite as

Weber's analysis of legal rationalization: A critique and constructive modification

  • Joyce S. Sterling
  • Wilbert E. Moore


Max Weber's identification of increased rationalization as a master process of change included extensive discussion of legal systems. A cross-classification of rational/irrational and formal/substantive rationality makes some valid analytical distinctions, but neglects a source of legitimate authority for a formally-rational legal system and thus a determination of the goals and values toward which rules are oriented. It also neglects “instrumental” rationality, which Weber recognized in other contexts. A modification of Weber's analytical scheme is proposed, not merely to improve the accuracy of classification of legal orders but more importantly to permit empirical analysis of their dynamics.


Empirical Analysis Legal System Social Issue Analytical Scheme Extensive Discussion 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bendix, Reinhard 1960 Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  2. Bierne, Piers 1979 “Ideology and rationality in Max Weber's sociology of law.” In Stephen Spitzer (ed.), Research in Law and Sociology, Vol. 2:103–131. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bohannan, Paul 1965 “The differing realms of law.” The Ethnography of Law. Supplement to The American Anthropologist 67, Pt. 2:33–42.Google Scholar
  4. Brubaker, Rogers 1984 The Limits of Rationality: An Essay on the Social and Moral Thought of Max Weber. Controversies in Sociology, Vol. 16. London: George Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  5. Cain, Maureen 1980 “The limits of idealism: Max Weber and the sociology of law.” In Stephen Spitzer (ed.), Research in Law and Sociology, Vol. 3:53–83. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.Google Scholar
  6. David, Rene 1972 French Law: Its Structure, Sources and Methodology. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Eisen, Arnold 1978 “The meaning and confusions of Weberian rationality.” British Journal of Sociology 29:57–70.Google Scholar
  8. 1969 “On legal development.” Rutgers Law Review 24:11–64.Google Scholar
  9. 1975 The Legal System: A Social Science Perspective. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  10. 1985 A History of American Law, 2d ed. New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc.Google Scholar
  11. Hunt, Alan 1978 “Max Weber's sociology of law.” In The Sociological Movement in Law. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Inverarity, James M., Pat Lauderdale, andBarry C. Feld 1983 Law and Society. Boston, MA: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  13. Kronman, Anthony T. 1983 Max Weber. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Lempert, Richard andJoseph Sanders 1986 An Invitation to Law and Social Science. New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  15. Levine, Donald N. 1981 “Rationality and freedom: Weber and beyond.” Sociological Inquiry 51:5–25.Google Scholar
  16. Levy, Rueben 1965 The Social Structure of Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Lowith, Karl 1982 Max Weber and Karl Marx. London: George Allen & Unwin.Google Scholar
  18. Luhmann, Niklas 1982 The Differentiation of Society. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Nonet, Philippe andPhilip Seznick 1978 Law and Society in Transition: Towards a Responsive Law. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  20. Offe, Claus 1985 Disorganized Capitalism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. Parsons, Talcott 1949 Essays in Sociological Theory: Pure and Applied. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.Google Scholar
  22. Pospisil, Leopold 1971 Anthropology of Law: A Comparative Theory. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  23. Schiller, A. Arthur 1968 “Introduction.” In Thomas W. Hutchinson et al. (eds.), Africa and the Law. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  24. Schluchter, Wolfgang 1981 The Rise of Western Rationalism: Max Weber's Developmental History. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  25. Simon, William 1983 “Legality, bureaucracy, and class in the welfare system.” Yale Law Journal 92:1198–1269.Google Scholar
  26. Swidler, Ann 1973 “The concept of rationality in the work of Max Weber.” Sociological Inquiry 43:35–42.Google Scholar
  27. Teubner, Gunther 1983 “Substantive and reflexive elements in modern law.” Law and Society Review 17:239–265.Google Scholar
  28. Trubek, David M. 1972 “Max Weber on law and the rise of capitalism.” Wisconsin Law Review 1972:720–753.Google Scholar
  29. 1947 The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, trs. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. 1968 Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretative Sociology. (1922) New York: Bedminster.Google Scholar
  31. Wrong, Dennis, ed. 1970 Max Weber. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Eastern Sociological Society 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joyce S. Sterling
    • 1
  • Wilbert E. Moore
    • 1
  1. 1.University of DenverUSA

Personalised recommendations