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Jameson’s Vanishing Mediator

That Protestant movement studied by Weber, and therefore Jameson, that of rationalisation, is that which may be summarised by Franck’s aphorism, ‘the significance of the Reformation [is] in the fact that now every Christian had to be a monk all his life’.

Frederic Jameson | Credit: Ralph Crane (Copyright: Getty Images)

Jameson observes the relationship between Calvinism and Industrialisation, which Weber has drawn out. Calvinism presents certain individualised virtues, such as hard work, sacrifice, thrift, delayed pleasure, and has thus become the capitalist sedative against all revolution: ‘turn the other cheek’, and so on. However, Weber’s argument is not that Calvinism created industrialisation. It is not that secular life becomes more religious, nor religious life becomes more secular. Rather, secular life becomes so religious that it no longer becomes religious, from which we get capitalism. Capitalism imbibes the Calvinist or Protestant ethic, and makes it the standard by which the original catalyst of Protestantism disintegrates. The Calvinist ethic becomes so universally imbibed within capitalism that Calvinism disintegrates, as religious life becomes universalised, and secular life remains secular, yet we treat it as if it were religious. To which Walter Benjamin recognises that our participation within capitalism is quasi-religious. Hereafter, capitalism only exists as a form of disavowed religion, as a religion that is both universalised, and emptied out of its formal positive content. Calvinism (or Protestantism) is the vanishing mediator, the catalyst for shift in perception of our relations to the world. The thing that causes the historical transformation, the catalyst, becomes so universalised in the new historical state that one no longer remembers it. In effect, Calvin ‘turned the entire world into a monastery’. Thus, what follows is a summary of Jameson’s argument in his essay, ‘The Vanishing Mediator: Narrative Structure in Max Weber’, which discusses Weber’s The Protestant Ethic.

Jameson gives us a radical reading of Weber, and thus suggests that although Weber is typically aligned with a ‘value-free’, positivistic sociology, his Wertfreiheit (‘neutrality’) is rich in value judgement. Weber’s Wertfreiheit originated as a sort of centrist polemic, which sought to constrain the narratives on the left and right, however, ‘a notion like that of value-free and objective research cannot but be influenced by the element in which it originates and by the use to which it is put’. The Wertfreiheit fails to live up to its neutrality, for neutrality does not really exist, ‘but amounts to the affirmation of one value over against others’. Jameson suggests that Weber’s anti-Marxism, such as that in The Protestant Ethic, has been largely misconstrued, and is actually more so a repudiation of vulgar Marxism, and the economism of the Second International, such that rather than repudiating the historical materialist method, Weber in fact contributes to it in his theorisation of how economic conditions are shaped by religious conditions. What Weber does do however, is aim to separate much of politics from economics, from which we get a new autonomous field, in which ‘analyses of capitalism are parried by discussions of political freedom, and concepts of economic alienation and of the commodity system replaced by attacks on party bureaucracy’, which has come to align with much of contemporary politics, ‘a classic manifestation of all the ambiguity of liberalism’. Jameson thus aims to understand Weber on a number of fronts: his hostility toward most political movements in his 19th Century liberalism, his anti-psychoanalytic bent in spite of his ‘Oedipal disturbances’ and ‘unresolved neurosis’, and his place within what many saw as Western moral degradation with the crippled nation, failed revolution, and pessimism in literature and philosophy.

France is here typically thought of in political-historical terms: we have the failures of 1848, and the disillusionment of the Second Empire and the Third Republic. England, conversely, is thought of in religious-philosophical terms: we have the withdrawal of the Church, in favour of empiricism, Darwinism and positivism. And Germany (and America) are thought of in economic terms: we have great growth and development, and the materialism and philistinism of the ‘gilded age’. And the fourth ‘diagnosis’ Jameson introduces is that of Victorianism, from which we have the ‘authoritarian patriarchal family, the taboo on sexual expression, and the obligatory frigidity of ‘respectable’ women’. These diagnoses may be compared to Žižek’s analysis of the toilet: ‘In a traditional German toilet, the hole into which shit disappears after we flush is right at the front, so that shit is first laid out for us to sniff and inspect for traces of illness. In the typical French toilet, on the contrary, the hole is at the back, i.e. shit is supposed to disappear as quickly as possible. Finally, the American (Anglo-Saxon) toilet presents a synthesis, a mediation between these opposites: the toilet basin is full of water, so that the shit floats in it, visible, but not to be inspected. […] It is clear that none of these versions can be accounted for in purely utilitarian terms: each involves a certain ideological perception of how the subject should relate to excrement. Hegel was among the first to see in the geographical triad of Germany, France and England an expression of three different existential attitudes: reflective thoroughness (German), revolutionary hastiness (French), utilitarian pragmatism (English). In political terms, this triad can be read as German conservatism, French revolutionary radicalism and English liberalism.’ (Žižek, How to Read Lacan)

Jameson recognises that these analyses have their utility, but they are not on their own, nor together, capable of accounting for Weber, and thus suggests that we ought to phenomenologically investigate his underlying ennui (anxiety, neurosis, or boredom), which is itself a historically contingent phenomenon. However, Jameson draws distinction between the Romantic ennui of the early 19th Century, in which one withdraws from the world, and that of the late 19th Century, perhaps more appropriately deemed melancholia, such as Weber’s, who finds himself in this unique historical position. For Freud, ‘[t]he distinguishing mental features of melancholia are a profoundly painful dejection, abrogation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, and a lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in self-reproaches and self-revilings, and culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment’, in which the object of libidinal investment is removed (‘Mourning and Melancholia’, General Psychological Theory, p. 165, 1963). This object has been associated with the self, to which its removal means: ‘the testing of reality, having shown that the loved object no longer exists, requires forthwith that all the libido shall be withdrawn from its attachments to this object. Against this demand a struggle of course arises- it may be universally observed that man never willingly abandons a libido-position, not even when a substitute is already beckoning to him. This struggle can be so intense that a turning away from reality ensues, the object being clung to through the medium of a hallucinatory wish-psychosis’ (pp. 165–6). For the Romantics, this libidinal object, Jameson suggests, may have been the aristocratic world which they have thus lost through the Reformation, such that one may ‘describe Romanticism as a coming to consciousness of some fundamental loss in shock and rage’, only for the object of this rage, and this rage itself, to be forgotten by later in the Century. Forgetting this loss then, ‘the sufferer can no longer remember a situation qualitatively different from his own and assumes, naturally enough, that all life is thus empty’, such that ennui is there transformed from suffering to an absence of feeling altogether.Thus, the mark of ennui is not revolt, but renunciation. However, this passive ennui is not exactly that more active anxiety which characterises the 20th and 21st Century, as so theorised by Sartre and Heidegger: ‘anxiety is intimately related to praxis itself, and results from a sudden awareness of the self as the unjustified source of all values and all action, an awareness that can arise only in the moment of choice and not in a situation of generalised inactivity’. Thus, we can chart the process in which man adopts the humanising world, from Romantic despair, to ennui, to anxiety, in which ‘the soul, having first registered its shock and distress at the new and barren world in which it finds itself, begins with a kind of paralysed detachment to take an inventory of its surroundings, before at length coming to the conclusion that it is itself the very ground of the latter’s bustling agitation, and the source and foundation of the values on which, as in a void, those activities depend’. Jameson also makes note of Aquinas’ acedia: ‘a kind of sadness, whereby a man becomes sluggish in spiritual exercises because they weary the body’ (Summa Theologica), in which one wants to withdraw from all activity, and one’s ‘monastic environment takes on renewed significance’: monasticism is an early form of rationalisation. The intellectual knows the how so well that he comes to doubt the why.

Traditional philosophical thought has tended to separate the means from the ends in regards to ennui: in traditional society, in which roles are assigned by birth or ritual, ‘that internal temporal dissociation within the act itself which characterises the lag between an aim [(an end)] and its execution [(its means)] is not yet present’. The means are thus made themselves scared, performed for their own sake, such that the notion of the act does not exist. And between tradition and modernity, in Ancient Greek philosophy, such as Aristotle’s system of causes, we still do not make this proper distinction between means and ends in order for the act to exist. Objects have some intrinsic teleological logic which strives toward some end, but the act ‘does not yet function with the abstract and depersonalised force it has come to have in the modern secular market culture, in the world of desacralised technique’. The act is here is still intertwined with its end, and thus cannot be distinguished in the modern manner. Jameson thus suggests that the modern dichotomous notion of the act derives from the secularisation of the act, in which tradition is replaced by the market, values are isolated, activities are weighed against each other, and the private life allows one to distance themselves from their professions. This is the vanishing of the ‘Romantic lie’ of ‘innate passions and inborn vocations’, such that ‘to wonder what to do with your life is already to commit yourself in advance to a certain ontological dissatisfaction with any of the ultimate possibilities’. Thus, through the distanciation from values, a theory of Value is thus made possible; however, we are stuck with the problem that that a theory which holds value to be its object is itself subject to values. Such a theory, like any theory, is unable to, although it so attempts, construct some transcendent vantage point outside of values, as in Nietzsche’s ‘transvaluation’ of all values, in which the ultimate ‘will to power’ is the ‘will to truth’, which Weber too pursues through his Wertfreiheit. And this fracture between ends and means is irreparable, through which phenomenological, materialist philosophy may be understood, such that ennui ‘can now be seen to presuppose the rift in the … [structure of the modern world] between intention [(end)] and act [(means)] as a precondition of its own existence’.

One thus becomes able to see actions without intrinsic value. And the paradox of is that this decoupling coincides with the greatest period of development, the Victorian era of industrial revolution, from which Jameson draws the evident conclusion that ‘life becomes meaningless in direct proportion to man’s control of his environment … [as] humanisation of the world goes hand in hand with a spreading philosophic and existential despair’. Meaning has thus been trapped in this transcendent nature and theocratic, hierarchical tradition, of which we have been removed, thus leaving a void of meaninglessness.

The Wertfreiheit is the rejection of the illusion of meaning, and thus of the teleological movement of the world-historical which is made sense of with some ethical meaning to which it moves forward, such as in Christianity, Marxism, and Hegelianism. Heroic cynicism, which is different to scientific objectivity, defines the consequent conservative position: ‘the existent, the status quo, amounts somehow to Being itself, so that the revolutionary project as well as the naive and nostalgic illusion come to seem equally ‘unrealistic’’. And so too is this done in sociology, such as in Weber: ‘the functional study of society requires you to presuppose that the entire social mechanism is complete and present …, where the visionaries who want to tinker with it risk invalidating the carefully recorded results’. Yet Weber does not resign to positivistic objectivity, rather taking the plurality of sciences, ideologies, and theories to be like a Hellenistic pantheism, wherein all fight against one another, and may serve different causes at different times in different instances. For Weber, religion is the ‘very hypostasis of value in general, value seen from the outside by the man who no longer believes in any values and for whom such living belief has thus become a kind of mystery in the older ritualistic sense’. However, in this pantheistic struggle, ‘the matter has reached its limit so far as it can be discussed’, as ‘Weber’s attitude towards values preeminently constitutes a value in its own right, and this contradiction paralyses the Wertfreiheit, unable to make action or judgement, but this is not what objectivity is.

As ‘Weber’s thinking offers a privileged object for what must initially be a purely logical or conceptual analysis, inasmuch as it is explicitly organised into pairs of binary oppositions, albeit of a rare complexity’. We thus have dichotomisation: bureaucracy and charisma, asceticism and mysticism, realpolitik and ethics, politics and science, etc. However, one cannot isolate these determinations and their opposites, when taken on their own or in conjunction, as this too becomes a paralysing endeavour, as thus one must instead turn to isolating the mechanisms from which these determinations and their opposites emerge. Jameson thus uses Greimas’ ‘semantic rectangle’:

We have S and contrary anti-S (-S) and contradictory not-S (S), and a contrary contradictory not-anti-S (-S). All concepts are defined by opposites, and we thus have this sealed off scheme: all possibilities are contained by introducing the final term. This scheme can chart Weber’s four types of social behaviour, in which action is determined as: end-oriented rationality (S), in which expectations about external behaviour become ‘conditions’ or ‘means’ towards rationally conceived ‘ends’; value-rationality (-S), through conscious beliefs in the unconditional value of a given type of conduct, irrespective of the success of this conduct; emotional (S), through immediate experience of affects and emotional states; traditional, through instinctual habit (-S).

However, the emotional and traditional explanations are ‘privative, simple negations of the positive terms’, of the end-rational and value-rational explanations. Those behaviours which are accommodated by the positive explanations are interpretable insofar as they are constructed on a basic ends-means structure. However, those in the negative explanations are distortions of the original S: ‘some end is clearly sought, although it is not thematised as a value in its own right, but the agent has lost control of his means and his technical equipment for achieving that end’ as in S; but in -S, ‘collective, rather than, as in S, individual, we find examples of conduct which, although they present observable regularities and may thus be supposed to be intelligible or ‘rational’ in some way, do not seem to be governed by any visible end or value’. That is, in not-S, we have some distorted or out-of-reach end, but in not-anti-S, we have no end whatsoever. The institutionalised behaviour of tradition-oriented conduct has had its end, perhaps charismatically endowed when this society was still in a state of value-rationality, completely eroded, such that it ‘proves meaningful of rational in the past only, in the light of that original and obliterated charismatic gesture of which it is the trace the ruined memorial’. We thus have the ‘beginning of a genuine historical transformation’, from charisma to bureaucracy. However, the dynamic nature of historical change, such as that from value-orientation to tradition-orientation appears to be constrained by the strict typology of Weber. For example, Weber has the distinction between the priest, ‘who influence[s] the gods by means of worship’, and the magician, ‘who coerce[s] demons by magical means’. This is also the distinction between the bureaucratic and the charismatic. However, the priest-magician distinction is not the primary distinction, as the power of the magician lies in his unique charismatic prestige uses magical means for immediate individual gain, whether spiritual or material, whereas that of the priest lies in participation in the universal doctrine. Thus, the bureaucratic priesthood is the negation of the charismatic magician-hood, which then may be schematised as follows:

Each agent ‘recapitulate[s]’ the opposite side, its ‘deictic’ axis, such that the magician is the synthesis of personal power and immediate gain, and the priest is that of universal doctrine and bureaucracy. However, there remain more ‘complex’ syntheses: those of personal power and universal doctrine, and immediate gain and bureaucracy. This is how Weber thus explains the transformation from charismatic religion into its institutionalisation and bureaucratisation, as the complex syntheses mediate between magician and priest. He of personal power and universal doctrine is thus the prophet, ‘the bearer of rationalisation itself’ which erodes the power of magic, from which modern science, technology, and capitalism spring forth, thus mediating the contradictions between agents. That is, between the magician’s concern for immediate gain and the conditions necessary for bureaucracy for the priest, but following this historical transition, this mediatory agent no longer becomes necessary. And he of immediate gain and bureaucracy is the modern man, the man living under bureaucratic capitalism, the product of the transformation brought about by the prophet, who then replaces the priest, and institutionalised religion altogether. Jameson thus summarises this as so:

Here, we face the (post-)modernist problem of the historical narrative. Jameson suggests that we must deal with the diachronic, that is, ‘the irreversible character of narrative and historical change’, in order to deal with this problem. The problem is that one takes the diachronic relationship to be some synchronic relationship, in systematic terms: it is a fixed flux between before and after. This is due to the tendency to position linguistic relations (to describe in systematic terms) prior to actual historical transformation, thus rendering the diachronic static. However, this is where narrative differs from history: narrative is a response to some feeling of transformation which is then translated into static, systematic terms, unable to truly represent the dynamism of this movement. Thus, Jameson suggests we ought to move from Weber’s classificatory, expository process, such as that from the prophet to the modern man, in favour of Lévi-Strauss’ ‘formalisation of the structure of myth’, who thus suggests that ‘every myth (taken as the totality of its variants) can be reduced to a formula of the following type (Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology):

This is an equivalence between two seemingly contradictory situations ‘defined by an inversion of terms and of relations’. This inversion occurs under two conditions: ‘that one of the terms be replaced by its contrary’ (a and -a), and; ‘that a correlative inversion be made between the function value and the term value’ (y and a). In terms of narrative then, rather than myth, ‘its advantage is to suggest the way in which, without the addition of any new terms, some illusion of change and transformation may nonetheless be generated’ which is done by ‘a shifting of valence from positive negative’, the a to the -a, and ‘an inversion of what was formerly a term into a function and vice versa’. Jameson thus provides two additional conditions: that ‘in spite of their designations (x would not seem to have to be related to y in any way), in practice the two functions must always be felt to be opposites of each other’; and that ‘in the assignment of terms to functions, there must be a kind of asymmetrical harmony between x and b on the one hand, and y and a on the other’. Thus, in terms of Weber’s The Protestant Ethic, which aims to demonstrate the relationship between the rationalisation of modernity, its transformation into an organised market system, and the development of the Lutheran/Calvinistic Beruf- ‘religiously sanctioned vocation to live ascetically within the world itself’. Sanction and secularisation ‘govern those constitutive elements of human activity which are ends and means respectively’, from which, following from Lévi-Strauss’ formula, Weber’s thesis is made of the following terms which may be substituted in: x= rationalisation; y= ‘religionalisation’; a= ends; b= means.

Thus, we have an equivalence between the rationalisation of the means (Fx(a)) to the religionalisation of the ends (Fy(b)), and the rationalisation of the ends (Fx(b)) to the ‘non-finalisation’ of religion (F-a(y)). Weber aims to ‘correct some widespread misapprehension as to the nature of Protestantism and of the latter’s relationship to the business ethic’, namely, the vulgar Marxist perspective in which ‘religious forms are … ‘reflexions’ of changes in the [economic] infrastructure’. However, ‘[i]t is … not [Weber’s] aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation’; he rather aims to construct a third position. Weber’s opposition to the vulgar Marxist account, however, Jameson suggests, is not its naked materialism, but the linearity of its narrative: from agricultural society to feudalism to capitalism to socialism to communism, and so on. In order to understand this opposition then, Jameson suggests an intertextual comparison with some prior text ‘without which the first cannot properly be understood’. For example, we have the realistic novel against the dominant narrative form; Cervantes’ Don Quixote against romanticism; Flaubert against Balzac and romanticism, all of which Jameson cites. Thus, Jameson suggests, there is no such thing as ‘naive realism’, as the realistic novel entails a repudiation of the conventions ‘which with its common sense it undercuts’. In the vulgar Marxist account of Protestant development, with ‘the increasing rationalisation of the [economic] infrastructure, with the increasing economic organisation, first of ends and then of the means themselves, there takes place a corresponding shift in the superstructure’, such that ‘the older religion of ends and otherworldly values gives way to a new rationalisation of the innerworldly means’, Calvinism. The rationalisation of ends (Fx(a)) is to the rationalisation of means (Fx(b)) is thus equivalent to the religionalisation of means (F-y(a)) to the religionalisation of ends (F-y(b)), from which we get the reconfiguration of the Straussian formula:

Here the religionalisation of ends refers to the transition from mediaeval to Protestant theology, and the religionalisation of means refers to the development of the secular bureaucratic state, which follows from the rationalisation of ends and means of that twofold rise of capitalism and Protestantism. This lacks the inversion and the creation of a new product of the original formulation. In the original formulation, ‘the reversals of this … expression open up a perspective in which religion [(y)], now taken as a term [(F-ay)] rather than a function [(F-y(a))], ceases to be felt as an ultimate end or value in its own right’. Such that, ‘the prolongation of this historical event into the secular waste of modern times is inherent in the initial thesis’. The religionalisation of means (Fy(b)) thus goes beyond just the shift in the base and superstructure, to shift ‘the emphasis from the relationship between religion and ‘ends’, … and draws our attention to the effect of religious change on the organisation of the means themselves, … which triggers the historical restructuration’. And thus the paradox is that ‘religionalisation becomes itself the principal agent in the process of secularisation’, as ‘by destroying the monastic order, Luther made it impossible for men to pursue otherworldly ends, for there now no longer exists institutions which sanction withdrawal from the daily world of work’. The vulgar Marxist would expect the immediate secularisation of the means in which the means simply become more religious whilst the ends become more secularised, but the Weberian-Straussian recognises this paradox, that ‘with Calvinism we have to do with a new and more thoroughgoing integration of precisely those means into a religious framework’.

‘For Calvin, faced with a separation of ends from means so absolute that the ultimate end or value of life was thrust into otherworldliness and the unknowable, finds that only the means or in other words earthly existence itself, remains as a testing place … for the drama of salvation: innerworldly life thus undergoes a ‘systematic rational ordering of the moral life as a whole’.’

Thus, Weber says: ‘The process of sanctifying life could thus almost take on the character of a business enterprise. A thoroughgoing Christianisation of the whole of life was the consequence of this methodical quality of ethical conduct into which Calvinism as distinct from Lutheranism forced men.’ This is the dialectical reinforcement between the antithetical positions, the rationalisation of ends (Fx(a)), and the religionalisation of means (Fy(b)). And in the original formulation, the tension of the right-hand side is resolved: ‘for Calvinism’s increasing rationalisation of ‘means’ … [Fx(b)] results in the sudden permutation of [the non-finalisation of religion], … in the disappearance of religion itself as an ultimate value from the henceforth totally rationalised and desacralised world of the capitalist market-place’. From Lévi-Strauss, we have an ability to deal with diachrony, to compare different narratives of the same events, and to dramatise intertextuality. From Greimas, we can identify what is missing from Lévi-Strauss, the mediatory agents in historical transformation, albeit in static form: ‘Lévi-Strauss’ formula … shows us the various conceptual elements or data at work as they combine and interact with each other, but does not give us a very adequate picture of their articulation into those basic surface units of narrative’, agents such as groups or movements, like Protestantism. Thus, Jameson suggests we ought to combine this irreversibility of historical narrative with the figuration of agents, such that ‘Protestantism will itself serve as a kind of mediation between the traditional mediaeval world from which it emerged and the modern secularised one which it in its turn prepared’. In the vulgar Marxist account, mediation is in the transitional state in which life is secularised by Protestantism, which dismantles mediaeval religious structures, and imposes secular structures in their place, whilst in the Weberian account, this transition is not brought about ‘by making life less religious but by making it more so’. Jameson thus traces this development from Mediaeval to Protestant to Modern in terms of ‘religious ends’ and the ‘rational organisation of means’.

We have the Mediaeval, in which ends of behaviour are supremely religious, without the rational organisation of means. In the Protestant, the ends are made less religious, but the means are made rational. And in the Modern, the ends are no longer religious whatsoever, but the organisation of means remains rational. Thus, it appears that ‘the crucial transformation on the level of means, from a traditional and non-rationalisatic organisation, to a rational and quantitative one in modern items, has been effectuated … beneath the cover, of an intensified ‘religionalisation’ of ends’. However, whereas Lévi-Strauss gives us three historical states, Weber gives us another in his recognition of the distinction between two moments of Protestantism in Lutheranism and Calvinism, from which Weber develops ‘a virtual combinatoire of all the possible logical permutations between ends and means … and innerworldly or otherworldly stances’. Luther’s significance ‘lies not in his having brought new content to theology as Calvin will, but rather in his having actualised … what was already implicit in the mediaeval system’. Just as Badiou says, ‘Creation from nothing is a task for a god, but not for a human being’. One does not begin with nothing, but with a master.However, where Lacan is concerned with the figure of the master, Badiou is concerned with the content of the master: ‘ought there to be a master?’ against ‘who is the good master?’ Such is Lacan’s critique of the 1968 demonstrations in France, who were, in his words, only seeking out a new master, and without the Freudian revolution of pas-tout, this longing remains, which is why he withdrew his support from such, which is why, in a sense, psychoanalysis can go beyond Marxism.

Weber’s dormant catalyst for the transformation from the Mediaeval to the Protestant is the monastic community: ‘In that epoch the monk is the first human being who lives rationally, who works methodically and by rational means toward … the future life’, to which Luther, who ‘represents a conscious … renewal of the habituated religious thinking of the middle ages … strikes down the artificial isolation of monastic life’. Luther rather brings about a ‘regeneration of religious value or end-orientation; but in so doing, without realising it, he liberates the nascent rationalism of the monasteries which are now able to spread to all domains of life’. The mediaeval world, in which Luther inhabits, is one in which ‘innerworldly otherworldliness … [(that is, monastic life)] and innerwordly thisworldiness … [(that is, civic secular life)] coexisted’. Thus, Luther does not create any new term, but destroys the possibility of innerworldly otherwordliness, the monastery, by which Calvin brings about the realisation of innerworldly thisworldliness as asceticism. Thereafter, the monastic relationship between the rationalisation of means and the religionalisation of ends cannot any longer be contained by the monastery, but overflows into civic secular life, from which we have the new schema which includes this Protestant two-step:

We have now the Mediaeval and Modern as before, but the Protestant is divided into these two moments. In Luther, we have the regeneration of these religious ends, and the neglect of rational means. But in Calvin, by product of Luther and the monastery, religious ends remain, but now with rational means. We can draw out another historical stage not here mentioned of modern capitalism, in which Protestantism fully ‘assumes its function as a ‘vanishing mediator’’. Here, ‘once Protestantism has accomplished the task of allowing a rationalisation of innerworldly life … it has no further reason for being and disappears’. Of course, Protestants remain, but Protestantism as a historical catalytic agent is no longer, as it is subsumed into the capitalist machinery; it is an agent which ‘permits an exchange of energies between two otherwise mutually exclusive terms’. Thus, a non-vulgar Marxist account is here perfectly reconcilable, such as the Marxist models in which Jacobinism acted as the vanishing mediator in the development from 1789 to 1848 in France, ‘as the conscious and almost Calvinistic guardian of revolutionary morality, of bourgeois universalistic and democratic ideals’, which is thus done away with in the victory of the bourgeoise in bringing about capitalism post-1848. Thus, Jameson suggests, we can conflate the ends with the social, ideological superstructure and the means with the economic base or infrastructure. And therefore, in Weber and Marx, ‘the superstructure may be said to find its essential function in the mediation of changes in the infrastructure [(base)] along the lines we characterised’, that is, in accordance with the notion of the vanishing mediator. Thus, Jameson returns to the prior historical process of Magician, Prophet, Priest, from which we can draw out the same schema with regards to charismatic power and rational religious organisation:

In the Magician, charismatic power is supreme, without any rational religious organisation. In the Prophet, there is both charismatic power and rational religious organisation. And in the Prisest, the Magician’s charismatic power has eroded, but rational religious organisation remains in the institutionalisation of the Church. The prophet frees one from the ‘charismatic authority implicit in the traditional institution of the magician’, but he does not professionalise his religionalisation, but rather affirms his own personal powers, like Christ. And we are left with the ‘solidification of charisma itself’, with the prophet as the vanishing mediator in the creation of the priesthood.

Weber is concerned with the story of rationalisation, but Jameson suggests that rationalisation ought not to be taken as empirical fact, but as ‘an observable social institution’. Jameson has shown the decoupling of ends and means finds its objective form in rationalisation, and its subjective form in ennui. Jameson thus makes reference to Sartre’s psychoanalytic existentialism, which takes the formation of individual form ad developing from the historic family structure: ‘existentialism … believes that it can integrate the psychoanalytic method which discovers the point of insertion for man and his class- that is, the particular family- as a mediation between the universal class and the individual. The family … is constituted by and in the general movement of History, but is experienced … as an absolute in the depth and opaqueness of childhood.’ (Sartre, Search for a Method, p. 62) From which, we have a model in which opposition between the ‘personality structures’ of parents define the ‘personality patterns’ of children akin to a sociological phenomenon.

Morazé describes the recent development of the nuclear family, which due to this reconfiguration, has psychological implications: ‘[the household] had still been a vast collective group at the end of the old regime, and still opened its doors to newly married couples. They had their place at the common table. Several generations and innumerable families of cousins lived happily together under one and the same roof … The change of habits which took place in the last decade of the eighteenth century led young married couples to set up their own homes. They wished to live in their own houses and to keep themselves. The large number of well-paid jobs opened to them by the widening of social life encouraged this process. The new family broke away from its own folk. It now consisted of the limited group- father, mother, child … Responsibility fell more and more on the individual … Each man felt master of his own destiny and responsible for his own children.’ (Morazé, The Triumph of the Middle Classes, p. 82)

And so too does the object which the bourgeois family developed from deteriorate, the aristocracy, such that middle class frustrations must find a new object and be reoriented within its new enclosure. Mitzman describes the consequences of this: ‘in the generations before the 1860s it was the archrepressiveness of the Victorian superego that inspired both the economic triumphs of the European bourgeoise and its demands for social status and political power. As long as the bourgeoise remained politically unsuccessful, there was a certain equilibrium created by the continued deflection of the aggressiveness that was not absorbed by the conquest of nature into the concealed Ressentiment, conscious hostility of open struggle against traditional powers. In other words, there was a rationally defensive political outlet for the psychic bile accumulating in the souls of those energetic Victorians, and because the struggle of bourgeois against aristocrat seemed to make sense, the oedipal hostilities and the struggle for release of the shackled, built-in aggressions of the nineteenth-century bourgeois could be rationalised in the name of Progress and Reason. But when the last generalisation of rebellious bourgeois achieved success in the 1860s and early ’70s their descendants, no less repressed and hostile than themselves, were deprived of those glorious visions of terminal conquest by means of which the earlier generations had sublimated their hostilities. Aggressions masquerading as political passions had formerly been unleashed against the aristocracy. But now the older generation of bourgeois politicians ruled either in place of or alongside the conservative aristocracy: revolt against the generation in power no longer permitted the early transference of patricidal aggressions to enemies condemned by Reason and History.’

The woman (the mother, the wife) is transformed from an object of exchange between families, to an ‘alternate life style within the bourgeois family itself … which calls the hitherto unquestioned value of the father into question’, such that ‘the older struggle between the bourgeois patriarch and the oppressive aristocracy tends to reorganise itself into a structural opposition between the two middle-class parents themselves’ which thus manifests in the child. And this contradictory phenomenon is what femininity, that is, the woman, represents in the revolutionary ‘monstrosity’ of Negri and Hardt, or the example of the woman in Corinthians who as the symptomatic excess does away with false hierarchy. In the case of Weber himself, his mother was more so the socialist, political Protestant, and his father the tradition-oriented bourgeois apolitical liberal (paradoxically despite being a politician), from which Weber’s inner condition can be made sense of from that childhood in which one ‘must estimate the configuration of parental values’, which can thus be taken as archetypes which reflect the tension in class itself hereafter. Although both parents residing within the bourgeois class, Weber’s mother represents the product of the ‘Prussian bureaucracy, with its emphasis on service and on a severely interiorised sense of duty’, and the father represents the ‘pre-industrial mercantile traditions’, and their communion is itself reflective of the unification of modern Germany and its industrial transformation, thus connecting the private experience of Weber to the sociohistorical sphere.

Weber’s father is most concerned with ultimate purposefulness and meaning (the ends), whilst Weber’s mother is concerned with both ultimate meaning and compulsive work (the ends and the means). And Weber is thereafter only concerned with compulsive work (the means). This process of self-definition, or Oedipal dissatisfaction, has its ‘most fundamental genetic expression on the biographical level’. Whereas the Freudian account describes how the child identifies with the father and thus replicates the personality structure of the father, the Jamesonian account recognises that this identification takes place through ‘a transformation of the paternal value system so thoroughgoing as to make the … [father] virtually unrecognisable’, in which the value system of the mother acts as the catalytic mediator. Weber rejects the father’s ‘unthematised, tradition-oriented kinds of activity which he feels as essentially lacking in value or ethical content’, but also the mother’s ‘insistence on ethics, … he must come to terms with what she represents- pure value’, and upon thematisation, the mother’s values erode through his compulsive labour, and his relationship to religion is elevated from belief to scientific interest. Jameson thus returns one more time to Lévi-Strauss. The Straussian treatment of the Oedipus myth is to suggest that ‘the mythic narrative results from a conceptual hesitation between two theories of birth, between modes of social organisation (such as between the communal and bourgeois family, or between the parental systems of the parents), a conceptual antinomy. Strauss also suggests that the myth takes as its most base subject the emergence of Culture from Nature, such that myths seek to provide answers to those questions which spontaneously arise in Nature. Thus, taken together, the myth is the attempt to resolve some underlying antinomy, taking the form of a story (Culture from Nature).Weber’s antinomy is that between the parental systems of his parents, but he is the resolution to this contradiction, and thus his work of the thematisation of rationalisation is akin to the thematisation of his origins, using his own character structure to read the external realities of historical development, ‘projecting … [his phenomenological experience] into that of the disappearance of the older traditionalistic and charismatic forms of social life’, thus abstracting and objectifying his own experience, just as he does rationalisation.

Jameson thus concludes with a reconfiguration of Greimas’ scheme in which we have ‘a series of progressive and cumulative negations, each of which projects the previous material as it were onto a different thematic level while at the same time preserving its fundamental unity’:

However, there remains further negation and combination: we have the combination of science and Beruf which is embodied in Weber’s ‘science as a vocation’ from which we have the psychological-sociological Wertfreiheit; and we have the synthesis between ends and means which is embodied in the ‘charismatic hero’, in which the self is liberated and one returns to that charismatic point prior to the disjoint between means and ends, however, from this longing, Nazi Germany arose. Jameson thus concludes: ‘But the charismatic hero remains, for Weber, an ideal: of the reality, both of his own life and of the historical phenomena he was able to make us see, there survives The Protestant Ethic, that ambivalent elegy to the potency of the material principle, its introspective structure projected outwards until it becomes at length indistinguishable from the dreary bureaucratic landscape of the disenchanted modern world itself.’


  • Jameson, F, 1973, ‘The Vanishing Mediator: Narrative Structure in Max Weber’, New German Critique, no. 1, pp. 52–89, New German Critique.
  • Lévi-Strauss, C, 1958, 1963, Structural Anthropology, Basic Books, United States of America.
  • Lévi-Strauss, C, Mythologiques, 1964–1981, translated by John Weightman and Doreen Weightman, various publishers.
  • Morazé, Cm 1966, The Triumph of the Middle Classes, Weinfeld and Nicolson, London.
  • Sartre, J, 1960, The Search for a Method, translated by Hazel Barnes, Vintage Books, New York.
  • Weber, M, 1958, 2003, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, translated by Talcott Parsons, Charles Schribner’s Sons, New York.
  • Žižek, S, 2006, How to Read Lacan, Granta Paperbacks, United Kingdom.

note: some of the mathematical notation has not transferred over appropriately, such as S(bar)- this will be fixed in due course.



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