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Max Weber and the Rights of Citizens



Duncan Kelly

The importance of ‘rights talk’ to contemporary political and social theory is clear. What is less often recognized, however, is the importance that the idea of rights plays in Max Weber's political thought. For although there are few explicit references to the concept in his writings, once it is realized that his account of rights is dependent upon an understanding of the rights-bearer as a citizen, then this can be used to illuminate the importance of citizenship and rights for Weber. This paper discusses Weber's conception of citizenship in terms of his distinction between the homo politicus of the ancient world, and the homo economicus of the medieval commune. The latter type was the citizen who, according to Weber, laid the foundations for the possible future development of a rational capitalism. Reflecting on the transformation from communal to individual rights in his writings on Protestantism and Russian politics, I then discuss the type of citizenship Weber promoted under the modern nation-state, concluding with some remarks on the comparative relationship between Weber's thoughts on citizenship rights with contemporary political theory.


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