Skip to content

Three Critics of Weber’s Thesis of the Uniqueness of the West: Jack Goody, Kenneth Pomeranz, and S.N. Eisenstadt. Strengths and Weaknesses


Vittorio Cotesta

The paper offers a new discussion of Max Weber’s theory on modernity. It is based mainly on the Weber’s Collected Essays on the Sociology of Religion. The main thesis of the author is: (a) it is not possible to support the Calvinist thesis and its role in the genesis of capitalism; (b) the methodology of different rationalizations proposed and utilised by Max Weber in his essays on the sociology of religions is valid and offers a very good example of comparative sociology.
In the first part of the paper the author briefly presents the Weberian analysis of the rationalization process and the general view of Western society proposed by Weber.
In the second part are discussed the critique against Weber proposed by J. Goody and K. Pomeranz. In the third part Eisenstadt’s theory of multiple modernities is discussed. The article concludes noting the relevance of Weber’s comparative sociology.

Vittorio Cotesta is Full Professor of Sociology at Università degli Studi Roma Tre. His fields of interest are global society, human rights, modernity, civilizations, ethnic relations, ethnic conflicts. Among his recent publications are: Global society and human rights (2012); Prosternarsi. Piccola indagine sulla regalità divina nelle civiltà euroasiatiche (Proskynesis. A short inquiry about divine kingship in the Eurasian civilizations), and Global society, Cosmopolitanism and human rights (2013).

1 Adair-Toteff, C. 2013. ‘“Sinne der Welt”: Max Weber and the problem of Theodicy’. Max Weber Studies 13.1: 87-107.

2 Bell, D.A., ed. 2008. Confucian Political Ethics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

3 Bell, D.A., ed. 2006. Beyond Liberal Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

4 Bellah, R. 1985 (1957). Tokugava religion. The cultural roots of modern Japan. New York: The Free Press.

5 Bernal, M. 1991. Atene nera. Le radici afroasiatiche della civiltà classica. Parma: Pratiche.

6 Braudel, F. 1969. Ecrits sur l’histoire. Paris: Flammarion.

7 Braudel, F. 1999. Espansione europea e capitalismo. 1450–1650. Bologna: il Mulino.

8 Brubaker, R. 2009. ‘Nazionalismo, eticità e modernità’. Paper presented at the congress ‘Le modernità multiple all’inizio del XXI secolo’, Rome, 23-25 September.

9 Burckhardt, J. 1860. Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien. Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig: Insel Verlag.

10 Buss, A.E., ed. 1985. Max Weber in Asian studies. Leiden: Brill.

11 Chakrabarty, D. 2000. Provincializing Europe. Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

12 Cotesta, V. 2012. ‘Identity and Human Rights: A Glance at Europe from Afar’. In Global Society and Human Rights, ed. V. Cotesta, 125-49. Leiden: Brill.

13 Delanty, G., ed. 2006. Europe and Asia Beyond East and West. London: Routledge.

14 Eisenstadt, S.N. 1994. Fondamentalismo e modernità. Rome-Bari: Laterza.

15 Eisenstadt, S.N. 1997. Modernità, modernizzazione e oltre. Rome: Armando.

16 Eisenstadt, S.N. 2003. Comparative Civilisations and Multiple Modernities. Leiden-Boston: Brill.

17 Erodoto. 2000. Storie. Milan: RCS libri.

18 Goody, J. 1996. The East in the West. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

19 Goody, J. 2006. ‘Europe and Islam’. In Europe and Asia Beyond East and West, ed. G. Delanty, 138-47. London: Routledge.

20 Hamilton, G.G. 2006. Commerce and Capitalism in Chinese Societies. London: Routledge.

21 Hamilton, G.G. 2010. ‘World Images, Authority, and Institutions. A Comparison of China and the West’. European Journal of Social Theory 13: 31-48.

22 Hamilton, G.G., and Cheng-Shu Kao. 1987. ‘Max Weber and the analysis of East Asian Industrialisation’. International Sociology 2.3: 289-300.

23 Hamilton, G.G. et al. 2000. ‘Neither States nor Markets. The Role of Economic Organisation in the Asian Development’. International Sociology 15: 288-305.

24 Hamilton G.G., and R.C. Feenstra. 2006. Emergent Economies, Divergent Paths: Economic Organization and International Trade in South Korea and Taiwan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

25 Hegel, G.F.W. 2001. Filosofia della storia. Florence: La Nuova Italia.

26 Hobson, J.M. 2004. The Eastern Origins of Western Civilisation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

27 Hobson, J.M. 2006. ‘Revealing the Cosmopolitan Side of Oriental Europe: the Eastern Origins of European Civilisation’. In Europe and Asia Beyond East and West, ed. G. Delanty, 148-52. London: Routledge.

28 Inglis, D., and R. Robertson. 2006. ‘Discovering the World: Cosmopolitanism and Globality in the Eurasian Renaissance’. In Europe and Asia Beyond East and West, ed. G. Delanty, 92-106. London: Routledge.

29 Jaspers, K. 1949. Vom Ursprung und Ziel des Geschichte. Zürich: Artemis: Piper.

30 Kant, I. 1977. ‘Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht’. In Schriften zur Anthropologie, Geschichts-philosophie, Politik und Pädagogik 2, ed. Immanuel Kant, 405-690. Frankfurt a.M.: Surhkamp.

31 Kant, I. 1923 (1802). Physische Geographie. Berlin: Akademische Ausgabe.

32 Kant, I. 1977. ‘Von den Verschiedenen Rassen der Menschen’. In Schriften zur Anthropologie, Geschichts-philosophie, Politik und Pädagogik 1, ed. Immanuel Kant, 183-92. Frankfurt a.M.: Surhkamp.

33 Leibniz, G.W. 1987. Discours sur la théologie naturelle des Chinois. Paris: L’Herne.

34 Mitterauer M. 2009. Warum Europa? Mittelalterliche Grundlagen eines Sonderwegs. Munich: C.H. Beck.

35 Parsons, T. 1966. Societies. Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

36 Parsons, T. 1971. The System of Modern Societies. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

37 Pomeranz, K. 2000. The Great Divergence. China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

38 Ponting, C. 2001. World History. A New Perspective. London: Pimlico.

39 Robinson, J.A., and K. Wiegandt, eds. 2008. Die Ursprünge der Moderne Welt. Frankfurt a. Main: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.

40 Rodinson, M. 1966. Islam et capitalisme. Paris: Editions du Seuil.

41 Said, E.W. 2001. Orientalismo. Milan: Feltrinelli.

42 Scheidel, W., ed. 2009. ‘From the “Great Convergence” to the “First Great Divergence”. Roman and Qin-Han State Formation and Its Aftermath’. In Rome and China. Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, ed. W. Scheidel, 11-23. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

43 Schluchter, W. 1993. ‘Il paradosso della razionalizzazione. Sul rapporto tra “Etica” e “Mondo” in Max Weber’. In Per leggere Max Weber, ed. H. Treiber, 150-86. Padua: Cedam.

44 Smith, A. 1776. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. London: Methuen.

45 Tenbruck, F.H. 1993. ‘L’opera di Max Weber’. In Per leggere Max Weber, ed. H. Treiber, 66-141. Padua: Cedam.

46 Turner, B.S. 1974. Weber and Islam. A Critical Study. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

47 Vernet, J. 1985. Ce que la culture doit aux arabes d’Espagne. Arles: Sindbad/Actes sud.

48 Wallerstein, I. 1974. The Modern World System I. New York: Academic Press.

49 Wallerstein, I. 1979. The Capitalist World Economy II. Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.

50 Wallerstein, I. 1989. The Modern World System III. San Diego: Academic Press.

51 Wallerstein, I. 2003. The Decline of American Power. New York: The New Press.

52 Wang Hui. 2006. Il nuovo ordine cinese. Rome: Il manifesto libri.

53 Wang Hui. 2009. The End of the Revolution. China and the Limits of Modernity. London: Verso.

54 Weber, M. 1988. Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie (3 vols.). Tübingen: Siebeck.

55 Weber, M. 2002. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings, ed. and trans. Peter Baehr and Gordon C. Wells. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

56 Wiredu, K. 2006. A Companion to African Philosophy. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

57 Wittgenstein, L. 1964. Philosophische Untersuchunge. Oxford: Basis Blackwell.

58 Wittrock, B. 2000. ‘Modernity: One, None, or Many?’. Daedalus 129(1): 31-60.


Export Citation