Max Weber

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The Truth is the Truth.
It is above all the impersonal and economically rationalized (but for this very reason ethically irrational) character of purely commercial relationships that evokes the suspicion, never clearly expressed but all the more strongly felt, of ethical religions.
The more a religion is aware of its opposition in principle to economic rationalization as such, the more apt are the religion’s virtuosi to reject the world, especially its economic activities.

Maximilian Carl Emil Weber (21 April 1864 – 14 June 1920) was a German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist whose ideas profoundly influenced social theory and social research. Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as among the three founders of sociology.


  • The capacity to distinguish between empirical knowledge and value-judgments, and the fulfillment of the scientific duty to see the factual truth as well as the practical duty to stand up for our own ideals constitute the program to which we wish to adhere with ever increasing firmness.
    • Max Weber, “Objectivity in Social Science and Social Policy” (1904)
  • When I studied modern Catholic literature in Rome a few years ago, I became convinced how hopeless it is to think that there are any scientific results this church cannot digest... I could not honestly participate in such anti-clericalism. It is true that I am absolutely unmusical in matters religious and that I have neither the need nor the ability to erect any religious edifices within me — that is simply impossible for me, and I reject it. But after examining myself carefully I must say that I am neither anti-religious nor irreligious. In this regard too I consider myself a cripple, a stunted man whose fate it is to admit honestly that he must put up with this state of affairs (so as not to fall for some romantic swindle)... For you a theologian of liberal persuasion (whether Catholic or Protestant) is necessarily most abhorrent as the typical representative of a halfway position; for me he is in human terms infinitely more valuable and interesting... than the intellectual (and basically cheap) pharisaism of naturalism, which is intolerably fashionable and in which there is much less life than in the religious position (again, depending on the case, of course!)
    • Max Weber, letter to Ferdinand Tönnies, Feb. 19, 1909; As cited in: James T. Kloppenberg. Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920. Oxford University Press, 24 mrt. 1988. p. 498
  • Mysticism intends a state of "possession," not action, and the individual is not a tool but a "vessel" of the divine. Action in the world must thus appear as endangering the absolutely irrational and other-worldly religious state. Active asceticism operates within the world; rationally active asceticism, in mastering the world, seeks to tame what is creatural and wicked through work in a worldly "vocation" (inner-worldly asceticism). Such asceticism contrasts radically with mysticism, if the latter draws the full conclusion of fleeing from the world (contemplative flight from the world). The contrast is tempered, however, if active asceticism confines itself to keeping down and to overcoming creatural wickedness in the actor's own nature. For then it enhances the concentration on the firmly established God-willed and active redemptory accomplishments to the point of avoiding any action in the orders of the world (asceticist flight from the world). Thereby active asceticism in external bearing comes close to contemplative flight from the world. The contrast between asceticism and mysticism is also tempered if the contemplative mystic does not draw the conclusion that he should flee from the world, but, like the inner-worldly asceticist, remain in the orders of the world (inner-worldly mysticism).
    In both cases the contrast can actually disappear in practice and some combination of both forms of the quest for salvation may occur. But the contrast may continue to exist even under the veil of external similarity. For the true mystic the principle continues to hold: the creature must be silent so that God may speak.
  • The Truth is the Truth.
    • Max Weber's last words (1920), as quoted in Prophets of Yesterday : Studies in European Culture, 1890-1914 (1961) by Gerhard Masur, p. 201
  • Sociology is the science whose object is to interpret the meaning of social action and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which the action proceeds and the effects which it produces. By "action" in this definition is meant the human behaviour when and to the extent that the agent or agents see it as subjectively meaningful [...] the meaning to which we refer may be either (a) the meaning actually intended either by an individual agent on a particular historical occasion or by a number of agents on an approximate average in a given set of cases, or (b) the meaning attributed to the agent or agents, as types, in a pure type constructed in the abstract. In neither case is the "meaning" to be thought of as somehow objectively "correct" or "true" by some metaphysical criterion. This is the difference between the empirical sciences of action, such as sociology and history and any kind of a priori discipline, such as jurisprudence, logic, ethics, or aesthetics whose aim is to extract from their subject-matter "correct" or "valid" meaning.
    • Max Weber, The Nature of Social Action, 1922
  • Only on the assumption of belief in the validity of values is the attempt to espouse value-judgments meaningful. However, to judge the validity of such values is a matter of faith.
    • Max Weber (1949/2011), Methodology of Social Sciences, Edward E. Shils & Henry A. Finch (transl. & ed.). p. 55
  • Since Judaism made Christianity possible and gave it the character of a religion essentially free from magic, it rendered an important service from the point of view of economic history. For the dominance of magic outside the sphere in which Christianity has prevailed in one of the most serious obstructions to the rationalization of economic life. Magic involves a stereotyping of technology and economic relations. When attempts were made in China to inaugurate the building of railroads and factories a conflict with geomancy ensued … Similar is the relation to capitalism of the castes in India. Every new technical process which an Indian employs signifies for him first of all that he leaves his caste and falls into another, necessarily lower … An additional fact is that every caste makes every other caste impure. In consequence, workmen who dare not accept a vessel filled with water from each other's hands, cannot be employed together in the same factory room. Obviously, capitalism could not develop in an economic group thus bound hand and foot by magical means.
    • Max Weber, General Economic History, trans. by Frank Knight, 1961. p 265
Luther understands monasticism as a product of an egoistic lovelessness that withdraws from one's duties in the world. By contrast, this-worldly work in a vocation appears to him to be a visible expression of brotherly love, a notion he anchors in a highly unrealistic manner indeed and in contrast—almost grotesquely—to the well-known passages of Adam Smith.
  • Both as ruling and ruled strata and both as a majority and minority, Protestants ... have demonstrated a specific tendency toward economic rationalism. This tendency has not been observed in the same way in the present or the past among Catholics, regardless of whether they were the dominant or dominated stratum or constituted a majority or minority. Therefore the cause of the different behavior must be mainly sought in the enduring inner quality of these religions and not only in their respective historical-political external situations.
    • Ch. 1 : Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification
  • This striving becomes understood completely as an end in itself—to such an extent that it appears as fully outside the normal course of affairs and simply irrational, at least when viewed from the perspective of the "happiness" or "utility" of the single individual. Here, people are oriented to acquisition as the purpose of life; acquisition is no longer viewed as a means to the end of satisfying the substantive needs of life. Those people in possession of spontaneous, fun-loving dispositions experience this situation as an absolutely meaningless reversal of a "natural" condition (as we would say today). Yet this reversal constitutes just as surely a guiding principle of [modern] capitalism as incomprehension of this new situation characterizes all who remain untouched by [modern] capitalism's tentacles.
    • Ch. 2 : The "Spirit" of Capitalism
  • Modern capitalism has as little use for liberum arbitrium [undisciplined] persons as laborers as it has for the businessman fully without scruples in the running of his company.
    • Ch. 2 : The "Spirit" of Capitalism
  • Owing to the incapacity of the higher price-rate to appeal to the "acquisitive sense," it would appear altogether plausible to attempt to do so by utilizing the opposite strategy: by decreasing piece-rates, to force workers to produce more in order to maintain their accustomed earnings. Moreover, two simple observations seem to have held true in the past, as they do today: a lower wage and higher profit are directly related, and all that is paid out in higher wages must imply a corresponding reduction of profits.
    Capitalism has been guided by this axiom repeatedly, and even from its beginning, and it has been an article of faith for centuries that lower wages are "productive." In other words, lower wages were believed to enhance worker productivity.
    • Ch. 2 : The "Spirit" of Capitalism
  • "Rationalism" is a historical concept that contains within itself a world of contradictions.
    • Ch. 2 : The "Spirit" of Capitalism
  • Luther understands monasticism as a product of an egoistic lovelessness that withdraws from one's duties in the world. By contrast, this-worldly work in a vocation appears to him to be a visible expression of brotherly love, a notion he anchors in a highly unrealistic manner indeed and in contrast—almost grotesquely—to the well-known passages of Adam Smith.
    • Ch. 3 : Luther's Conception of the Calling
  • Above all, as will be repeatedly apparent in the sections below, fundamental for our discussion is the investigation of the idea of a testifying to one's belief as the psychological point of origin for methodical ethics.
    • Ch. 4 : The Religious Foundations of This-Wordly Asceticism
  • Finally, and of central importance, the special life of the saint—fully separate from the "natural" life of wants and desires—could no longer play itself out in monastic communities set apart from the world. Rather, the devoutly religious must now live saintly lives in the world and amid its mundane affairs. This rationalization of the conduct of life—now in the world yet still oriented to the supernatural—was the effect of ascetic Protestantism’s concept of the calling.
    • Ch. 4 : The Religious Foundations of This-Wordly Asceticism
  • No one any longer knows who will live in this steel-hard casing and whether entirely new prophets or a mighty rebirth of ancient ideas and ideals will stand at the end of this prodigious development. Or, however, if neither, whether a mechanized ossification, embellished with a sort of rigidly compelled sense of self-importance, will arise. Then, indeed, if ossification appears, the saying might be true for the “last humans” in this long civilizational development:

    narrow specialists without mind, pleasure-seekers without heart; in its conceit, this nothingness imagines it has climbed to a level of humanity never before attained.

    • Ch. 5 : Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • For sure, even with the best will, the modern person seems generally unable to imagine how large a significance those components of our consciousness rooted in religious beliefs have actually had upon culture, national character, and the organization of life. Nevertheless, it can not be, of course, the intention here to set a one-sided spiritualistic analysis of the causes of culture and history in place of an equally one-sided “materialistic” analysis. Both are equally possible. Historical truth, however, is served equally little if either of these analyses claims to be the conclusion of an investigation rather than its preparatory stage.
    • Ch. 5 : Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • The Confucian aspirant to office, stemming from the old tradition, could hardly help viewing a specialized, professional training of European stamp as anything but a conditioning in the dirtiest Philistinism. ... The fundamental assertion, ‘a cultured man is not a tool’ meant that he was an end in himself and not just a means for a specified useful purpose.
    • p. 160
  • A true prophecy creates and systematically orients conduct toward one internal measure of value. In the face of this the "world" is viewed as material to be fashioned ethically according to the norm. Confucianism in contrast meant adjustment to the outside, to the conditions of the "world." A well-adjusted man, rationalizing his conduct only to the degree requisite for adjustment, does not constitute a systematic unity but rather a complex of useful and particular traits.
    • p. 235
  • For the Confucian, the specialistic expert could not be raised to truly positive dignity, no mater what his social usefulness. The decisive factor was that the "cultured man" (gentleman) was "not a tool"; that is, in his adjustment to the world and in his self-perfection he was an end unto himself, not a means for any functional end. This core of Confucian ethics rejected professional specialization, modern expert bureaucracy, and special training; above all, it rejected training in economics for the pursuit of profit.
    • p. 246
as translated and edited by Hans H. Gerth and Don Martindale
  • Ordinarily, the propagation of Hinduism occurs in approximately the following way. ... Native deities are rebaptized with the names of Hindu gods and goddesses. ... Some Brahman is requested to provide and take charge of ritual concerns and thereby also to convince himself and provide testimony to the fact that they—the rulers of the tribe—were of ancient, only temporarily forgotten, knightly (Kshatriya) blood.
    • pp. 9-10
  • Legitimation by a recognized religion has always been decisive for an alliance between politically and socially dominant classes and the priesthood. Integration into the Hindu community provided such religious legitimation for the ruling stratum. It not only endowed the ruling stratum of the barbarians with recognized rank in the cultural world of Hinduism, but, through their transformation into castes, secured their superiority over the subject classes with an efficiency unsurpassed by any other religion.
    • p. 16
  • Persecutions of these heterodoxies ... do not account for the unusually quick victory of Hinduism. Favorable political circumstances contributed to the victory. Decisive, however, was the fact that Hinduism could provide an incomparable religious support for the legitimation interest of the ruling strata.
    • p. 18
  • What interests us here is the assimilative power of the Hindu life order due to its legitimation of social rank.
    • p. 20
  • The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the disenchantment of the world. Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations. It is not accidental that our greatest art is intimate and not monumental.
  • After Nietzsche’s devastating criticism of those “last men” who “invented happiness,” there is probably no need for me to remind you of the naïve optimism with which we once celebrated science, or the technology for the mastery of life based on it, as the path to happiness. Who believes this, apart from a few overgrown children occupying university chairs or editorial offices?
  • Academic life is a mad hazard. If the young scholar asks for my advice with regard to habilitation, the responsibility of encouraging him can hardly be borne. If he is a Jew, of course one says lasciate ogni speranza ("abandon all hope").[1]
  • "Politics means a strong slow drilling of hard boards, with passion and judgment at the same time." ([[1]]: "Die Politik bedeutet ein starkes langsames Bohren von harten Brettern mit Leidenschaft und Augenmaß zugleich.")

Prefatory Remarks to Collected Essays in the Sociology of Religion (1920)

  • This naive manner of conceptualizing capitalism by reference to a “pursuit of gain” must be relegated to the kindergarten of cultural history methodology and abandoned once and for all. A fully unconstrained compulsion to acquire goods cannot be understood as synonymous with capitalism, and even less as its “spirit.” On the contrary, capitalism can be identical with the taming of this irrational motivation, or at least with its rational tempering. Nonetheless, capitalism is distinguished by the striving for profit, indeed, profit is pursued in a rational, continuous manner in companies and firms, and then pursued again and again, as is profitability. There are no choices. If the entire economy is organized according to the rules of the open market, any company that fails to orient its activities toward the chance of attaining profit is condemned to bankruptcy.
    Let us begin by defining terms in a manner more precise than often occurs. For us, a "capitalist" economic act involves first of all an expectation of profit based on the utilization of opportunities for exchange; that is of (formally) peaceful opportunities for acquisition. Formal and actual acquisition through violence follows its own special laws and hence should best be placed, as much as one may recommend doing so, in a different category. Wherever capitalist acquisition is rationally pursued, action is oriented to calculation in terms of capital. What does this mean?

From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (1946)

as translated and edited by Hans Heinrich Gerth, C. Wright Mills
Full text online
  • In a democracy the people choose a leader in whom they trust. Then the chosen leader says, 'Now shut up and obey me.' People and party are then no longer free to interfere in his business.
    • p. 42;
  • The problem — the experience of the irrationality of the world — has been the driving force of all religious evolution. The Indian doctrine of karma, Persian dualism, the doctrine of original sin, predestination and the deus absconditus, all these have grown out of this experience. Also the early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.
    • p. 124; Essay "Politics as a vocation"
  • No sociologist, for instance, should think himself too good, even in his old age, to make tens of thousands of quite trivial computations in his head and perhaps for months at a time
    • p. 135 (in 2009 edition)
  • The ultimately possible attitudes toward life are irreconcilable, and hence their struggle can never be brought to a final conclusion.
    • p. 152 (in 2009 edition)
  • The capacity for the accomplishment of religious virtuosos — the “intellectual sacrifice”— is the decisive characteristic of the positively religious man. That this is so is shown by the fact that in spite of (or rather in consequence) of theology (which unveils it) the tension between the value-spheres of “science” and the sphere of “the holy” is unbridgeable.
    • p. 154; Essay: "The prestige and power of the “Great Powers."

Main article: Economy and Society
  • The ascetic, when he wishes to act within the world ... must become afflicted with a sort of happy closure of the mind regarding any question about the meaning of the world, for he must not worry about such questions. Hence, it is no accident that inner-worldly asceticism reached its most consistent development on the foundation of the Calvinist god's absolute inexplicability, utter remoteness from every human criterion, and unsearchableness as to his motives. Thus, the inner-worldly ascetic is the recognized "man of a vocation," who neither inquires about nor finds it necessary to inquire about the meaning of his actual practice of a vocation within the whole world, the total framework of which is not his responsibility but his god's.
    • pp. 547-548
Sociology of Religion was published in 1922 as part of a posthumous collection of writings titled Economy and Society. The quotes below are from a translation by Ephraim Fischoff, published by Beacon Press in 1963.
  • It is above all the impersonal and economically rationalized (but for this very reason ethically irrational) character of purely commercial relationships that evokes the suspicion, never clearly expressed but all the more strongly felt, of ethical religions. For every purely personal relationship of man to man, of whatever sort and even including complete enslavement, may be subjected to ethical requirements and ethically regulated. This is true because the structures of these relationships depend upon the individual wills of the participants, leaving room in such relations for manifestations of the virtue of charity. But this is not the situation in the realm of economically rationalised relationships, where personal control is exercised in inverse ratio to the degree of rational differentiation of the economic structure.
    • pp. 216-217
  • The more a religion is aware of its opposition in principle to economic rationalization as such, the more apt are the religion’s virtuosi to reject the world, especially its economic activities.
    • p. 217

Quotes about Max Weber

  • In Weber, the gods that have risen from their graves in a disenchanted world are truly warring – there is no common standard of value, no conceivable truce, among them, any more than in the world of the great powers. The hope of a eudaimonist mediation between rival deities was the paltriest illusion of all...
    • Perry Anderson, A Zone of Engagement (1992), Ch. 11 : The Pluralism of Isaiah Berlin
  • In Weber’s historical analysis, Protestant Calvinists — who generally believe in the idea of “predestination,” or that God has chosen some people to be saved and others damned — felt the need to justify their own sense of themselves as the saved. They looked both for outward signs of God’s favor (i.e., through material success) and for ways to express inward virtue (i.e., through hard work). While the accuracy of Weber’s analysis is still debated by scholars, it nevertheless tells us a lot about cultural attitudes at the time Weber wrote it.
  • let’s not get all excited about Weber, because Weber was a racist, like he was such a racist, so yes, and no. What Weber actually teaches us, that old racist, is what the state does is it monopolizes the delegation of legitimate violence.
  • Weber's methodology was as ethical as it was epistemological
    • Sung Ho Kim, "Max Weber", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Weber's wide-ranging contributions gave critical impetus to the birth of new academic disciplines such as sociology and public administration as well as to the significant reorientation in law, economics, political science, and religious studies. His methodological writings were instrumental in establishing the self-identity of modern social science as a distinct field of inquiry; he is still claimed as the source of inspiration by empirical positivists and their hermeneutic detractors alike. More substantively, Weber's two most celebrated contributions were the “rationalization thesis,” a grand meta-historical analysis of the dominance of the west in modern times, and the “Protestant Ethic thesis,” a non-Marxist genealogy of modern capitalism. Together, these two theses helped launch his reputation as one of the founding theorists of modernity. In addition, his avid interest and participation in politics led to a unique strand of political realism comparable to that of Machiavelli and Hobbes. As such, Max Weber's influence was far-reaching across the vast array of disciplinary, methodological, ideological and philosophical reflections that are still our own and increasingly more so.
    • Sung Ho Kim, "Max Weber", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Broadly speaking, Weber's philosophical worldview, if not coherent philosophy, was informed by the deep crisis of the Enlightenment project in fin-de-siècle Europe, which was characterized by the intellectual revolt against positivist reason, a celebration of subjective will and intuition, and a neo-Romantic longing for spiritual wholesomeness [Hughes 1977]. In other words, Weber belonged to a generation of self-claimed epigones who had to struggle with the legacies of Darwin, Marx, and Nietzsche. As such, the philosophical backdrop to his thoughts will be outlined here along two axes: epistemology and ethics. [...] Weber's ethical sensibility is built on a firm rejection of a Nietzschean divination and Foucaultian resignation alike, both of which are radically at odds with a Kantian ethic of duty. In other words, Weber's ethical project can be described as a search for a non-arbitrary form of freedom (his Kantian side) in what he perceived as an increasingly post-metaphysical world (his Nietzschean side). According to Paul Honigsheim, his pupil and distant cousin, Weber's ethic is that of “tragedy” and “nevertheless.” [Honigsheim 2003, 113] This deep tension between the Kantian moral imperatives and a Nietzschean diagnosis of the modern cultural world is apparently what gives such a darkly tragic and agnostic shade to Weber's ethical worldview.
    • Sung Ho Kim, "Max Weber", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  • Then the works of Max Weber, first translated from the German in the 1940s — he wrote around 1910, incredibly — began to find their way into social science thought. At first, with his celebration of the efficiency of bureaucracy, he was received with only reluctant respect, and even with hostility. All writers were against bureaucracy. But it turned out, surprisingly, that managers were not. When asked, they acknowledged that they preferred clear lines of communication, clear specifications of authority and responsibility, and clear knowledge of whom they were responsible to. They were as wont to say "there ought to be a rule about this," as to say "there are too many rules around here," as wont to say "next week we've got to get organized," as to say "there is too much red tape." Gradually, studies began to show that bureaucratic organizations could change faster than non-bureaucratic ones, and that morale could be higher where there was clear evidence of bureaucracy.
    • Charles Perrow, "The short and glorious history of organizational theory." Organizational Dynamics 2.1 (1973): 3-15. p. 6
  • The rejection of concern for practical goals expressed in the German Society for Sociology's founding charter represented the culmination of a debate in the Social Policy Association, the so-called Werturteilsstreit, in which a group of young political economists, including Ferdinand Tonnies, Werner Sombart, and Max Weber, attacked the older generation of political economists for mixing facts and values, science and politics.
    • Robert N. Proctor, Value-free science?: Purity and power in modern knowledge. Harvard University Press, 1991. p. 86
  • [Weber] formulated the idea of methodology to serve, not simply as a guide to investigation but as a moral practice and a mode of political action.
    • Sheldon Wolin, “Max Weber: Legitimation, Method, and the Politics of Theory,” Political Theory (1981)

See also

Social and political philosophers
Classic AristotleMarcus AureliusChanakyaCiceroConfuciusMozi LaoziMenciusMoziPlatoPlutarchPolybiusSeneca the YoungerSocratesSun TzuThucydidesXenophonXun Zi
Conservative de BenoistBolingbrokeBonaldBurkeBurnhamCarlyleColeridgeComteCortésDurkheimDávilaEvolaFichteFilmerGaltonGentileHegelHeideggerHerderHobbesHoppeHumede JouvenelJüngerKirkvon Kuehnelt-LeddihnLandde MaistreMansfieldMoscaOakeshottOrtegaParetoPetersonSantayanaSchmittScrutonSowellSpenglerStraussTaineTocqueville • VicoVoegelinWeaverYarvin
Liberal ArendtAronBastiatBeccariaBenthamBerlinBoétieCamusCondorcetConstantDworkinEmersonErasmusFranklinFukuyamaHayekJeffersonKantLockeMachiavelliMadisonMaineMillMiltonMenckenMisesMontaigneMontesquieuNietzscheNozickOrtegaPopperRandRawlsRothbardSadeSchillerSimmelSmithSpencerSpinozade StaëlStirnerThoreauTocquevilleTuckerVoltaireWeberWollstonecraft
Religious al-GhazaliAmbedkarAugustine of HippoAquinasAugustineAurobindoCalvinChestertonDanteDayanandaDostoyevskyEliadeGandhiGirardGregoryGuénonJesusJohn of SalisburyJungKierkegaardKołakowskiLewisLutherMaimonidesMalebrancheMaritainMoreMuhammadMüntzerNiebuhrOckhamOrigenPhiloPizanQutbRadhakrishnanShariatiSolzhenitsynTaylorTeilhard de ChardinTertullianTolstoyVivekanandaWeil
Socialist AdornoAflaqAgambenBadiouBakuninBaudrillardBaumanBernsteinButlerChomskyde BeauvoirDebordDeleuzeDeweyDu BoisEngelsFanonFoucaultFourierFrommGodwinGoldmanGramsciHabermasKropotkinLeninLondonLuxemburgMaoMarcuseMarxMazziniNegriOwenPaine RortyRousseauRussellSaint-SimonSartreSkinnerSorelTrotskyWalzerXiaopingŽižek

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  1. Borrowing the expression from Inferno by Dante Alighieri.