Who now reads Max Weber? Seventy years ago, Talcott Parsons began his magisterial study of social thought by asking Crane Brinton's question about Herbert Spencer. Parsons demonstrated that by the end of the first third of the twentieth century, Weber's, Durkheim's, Pareto's, and Marshall's scholarship had eclipsed Spencer's social science and of the four theorists, Weber deserved pride of place. Has knowledge of Weber's social science among the current generation of students and professors of comparative politics mimicked the earlier abandonment of Spencer's social analysis?
When the senior comparativists in this volume attended graduate school, they studied Max Weber. From him, they learned about theories of regime types and transformation, economic development, bureaucracies, rationality, religion and politics, philosophy of social science, the tension between formal government and democratic processes, and a deep critique of modernity and of Marxist theory, among a host of basic matters. Most important, they developed an appreciation for grand questions of politics encased in theory and method.
Today, graduate studies in comparative politics more closely resemble professional training than library reading. Highlighting methods, students are taught that the best work combines fieldwork, interviews, surveys, archival work, experiments, and statistics, as well as formal models. Explaining substantive puzzles with causal arguments buttressed by extensive methods occupies the field's center. Successful scholarship displays the best techniques of analysis.