I’ve never had a problem seeing Eliot’s work both as brilliantly complex craftsmanship and as a desperate defensive mechanism propelled by fears of political, social, and sexual failure: impotence of every sort. To separate one from the other -form from subject- would be like separating sadness from the blues. But that separation is something Modernism demanded, either in terms of “pure” form, or of subject matter reformulated as “ideas”, “content” and reducible to ideology.
Consider a discipline such as aesthetics. The fact that there are works of art is given for aesthetics. It seeks to find out under what conditions this fact exists, but it does not raise the question whether or not the realm of art is perhaps a realm of diabolical grandeur, a realm of this world, and therefore, in its core, hostile to God and, in its innermost and aristocratic spirit, hostile to the brotherhood of man. Hence, aesthetics does not ask whether there should be works of art.
Aesthetics was an invention of the eighteenth century and the age of reason, a theory of art in the shadow of production, as something to be taken or left, optional, superfluous, “parasitic”. But military uniforms are the outward manifestation of a military ethos, and they serve a purpose. The outward signs of regimentation reinforce the fact of it. Max Weber’s manners are Germanic and bourgeois. He didn’t analyze the way he dressed, walked, talked and parted his hair, but these aesthetic choices are documents of his relation to a culture, and his ideal of value-free science is as much the product of an age as he was. The fantasy of objectivity is the fantasy of the universal through the elision of the particular, beginning with the elision of the particular self. All you have to do to undermine Weber’s moralizing pedantry is to imagine him mumbling the words to himself while adjusting his tie in the mirror. It’s fascinating that although military orders don’t always conflate the militaristic and the universal it’s one thing you can count on philosophers to do. And Weber’s goal of course was to replace one form of aristocracy with another.
Compare Weber with the art historian, Panofsky.
When an acquaintance greets me on the street by lifting his hat, what I see from a formal point of view is nothing but the change of certain details within a configuration forming part of the general pattern of color, lines and volumes which constitutes my world of vision. When I identify, as I automatically do, this configuration as an object (gentleman), and the change of detail as an event (hatlifting), I have already overstepped the limits of purely formal perception and entered a first sphere of subject matter or meaning. The meaning thus perceived is of an elementary and easily understandable nature. and we shall call it the factual meaning; it is apprehended by simply identifying certain visible forms with certain objects known to me from practical experience and by identifying the change in their relations with certain action or events.
Now the objects and events thus identified will naturally produce a certain reaction within myself. From the way my acquaintance performs his action I may be able to sense whether he is in a good or bad humor and whether his feelings towards me are indifferent, friendly or hostile. These psychological nuances will invest the gestures of my acquaintance with a further meaning which we shall call expressional. It differs from the factual one in that it is apprehended, not by simple identification, but by "empathy". To understand it, I need a certain sensitivity, but this sensitivity is still part of my practical experience, that is, of my everyday familiarity with objects and events. Therefore both the factual and the expressional meaning may be classified together: they constitute the class of primary or natural meanings.
However, my realization that the lifting of the hat stands for a greeting belongs in an altogether different realm of interpretation. This form of salute is peculiar to the Western world and is a residue of mediaeval chivalry: armed men used to remove their helmets to make clear their peaceful intentions and their confidence in the peaceful intentions of others. Neither an Australian bushman nor an ancient Greek could be expected to realize that the lifting of a hat is not only a practical event with certain expressional connotations, but also a sign of politeness. To understand this significance of the gentleman's action I must not only be familiar with the practical world of objects and events, but also with the more-than- practical world of customs and cultural traditions peculiar to a certain civilization. Conversely, my acquaintance could not feel impelled to greet me by lifting his hat were he not conscious of the significance of this act. As for the expressional connotations which accompany his action, he may or may not be conscious of them. Therefore, when I interpret the lifting of a hat as a polite greeting, I recognize in it a meaning which may be called secondary or conventional; it differs from the primary or natural one in that it is intelligible instead of being sensible, and in that it has been consciously imparted to the practical action by which it is conveyed.
“...but this sensitivity is still part of my practical experience, that is, of my everyday familiarity with objects and events.” Weber simply bypasses this as if it were irrelevant. He imagines an impersonal relation to the world. It’s a common trope of the literature of the period, but the impersonal in art and technocracy, though the product of the same events are very different things.
By the time anything becomes known as an idea, it’s been around for awhile. Concepts come late to the game. Sensibilities predate their clear articulation. Most serious scholars of Eliot have read Weber; the reverse is less a given, at least in English.
Franz Kafka published The Metamorphosis ten years after Weber published The Protestant Ethic. In 1905 Kafka was a student of Weber's younger brother; In the Penal Colony is now assumed to have lifted images and phrases from Alfred Weber's essay, Der Beamte, (The Official or The Bureaucrat), so it’s safe to say Kafka had read Die protestantische Ethik. Talcott Parsons' translation came out in 1930, and the image of the "iron cage" has become ubiquitous as a description of the individual within modern bureaucratic systems. It wasn’t until 2001 that what Kafka read as stahlhartes Gehäuse was translated simply and directly as the more psychologically intimate, “shell as hard as steel”.
That political scientists don’t read Kafka or Eliot is not a matter of taste or aesthetics -whatever term you prefer to describe something unnecessary- but error, the mistake Weber himself makes, that all philosophers make in imagining themselves an unmoved mover, the cause but not the product, imagining their own freedom even as their arguments describe, and prescribe, the lack of it for others.