MAX WEBER: “Politics as a Vocation”

(Based on materials found at http://www.spc.uchicago.edu/ssr1/PRELIMS/Theory/weber.html)

  1. Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards.
  2. First, a general chat on states. Politics is any kind of leadership in action (Class, Status, Party: remember, social clubs and grad school cohorts can have parties, just as states can). For this lecture, we will understand politics as the leadership or influencing the leadership of a political association, today (1918) a state.
  3. The decisive means of politics is violence. A state is defined by the specific means peculiar to it, the use of physical force. The state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Politics, then, means striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state. The state is a relation of men dominating men by means of legitimate violence (you already know the three ways it can get legitimated, so I’m not telling you). Leaders may arise on those three foundations as well.
  4. How do the politically dominant powers maintain that dominance? Organized domination calls for continuous administration, requires that human conduct be conditioned to obedience to the power-bearers. It requires control over the material goods necessary for the use of physical violence. Thus, it requires control of the personal executive staff and the material implements of administration. All states may be classified by whether the staff of men themselves owns the administrative means, or whether they are separated from it (necessary. for bureaucracy).
  5. Now to chatting about politics as a vocation. There are two ways to make politics your vocation: you can live for it or off it. It you live for it, you make it your life in an internal sense, either because you enjoy power or because you serve some cause. If you live off it, you strive to make it your permanent source of income (cf Dan Rostenkowski). All party struggles are struggles for the patronage of office, as well as struggles for objective goals (see D.R. again). Setbacks in participating in offices are felt more severely by parties than is action against their objective goals.
  6. The development of politics into an organization which demanded training in the struggle for power, and in the methods of this struggle as developed by modern party policies, determined the separation of public functionaries into two categories: administrative officials and political officials. Political officials can be transferred any time at will, and can be dismissed or at least temporarily withdrawn. Cabinet ministers often are much less in control of their areas than divisional heads, who are long-term, administrative appointees; a minister is simply the representative of a given political power constellation.
  7. The genuine official, even a political official, conducts his business sine ira et studio (at least formally, as long as the vital interests of the ruling order are not in question). To be passionate, on the other hand, is the element of the politician and above all of the political leader. ‘‘Since the time of the constitutional state, and definitely since democracy has been established, the demagogue has been the typical political leader’’ (96). The current state of affairs is a ‘‘dictatorship resting on the exploitation of mass emotionality’’ (107). Next to the qualities of will, the force of demagogic speech has been above all decisive in the choice of strong leaders.
  8. ‘‘What kind of man must one be if he is to be allowed to put his hand on the wheel of history?’’ (115). He must have passion, a feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion. Passion in the sense of matter-of-factness, of passionate devotion to a cause, to the god or demon who is its overlord. Responsibility to the cause must be the guiding star of action. For this, a sense of proportion is needed Warm passion and a cool sense of proportion must be forged together in one and the same soul.
  9. The politician must combat vanity, in order to be matter-of-factly devoted to his cause and preserve some distance, not least from himself. Lack of objectivity and irresponsibility are the two deadly sins of politics; vanity, the need to personally stand in the foreground, temps the politician to commit these sins. The final result of political action regularly stands in completely inadequate and often paradoxical relation to its original meaning (oh, cheery old Weber). Because of this fact, the serving of a cause must not be absent if action is to have inner strength. Exactly which cause looks like a matter of belief (117). Some kind of faith must exist in a politician, ‘‘otherwise it is absolutely true that the curse of the creature’s worthlessness overshadows even the externally strongest political successes’’ (117).
  10. Then is a discussion of two ethics, the ethic of ultimate ends and the ethic of responsibility. They are fundamentally different and irreconcilably opposed. The ethic of ultimate ends, formulated in religious terms, is: ‘‘The Christian does rightly and leaves the results with the Lord.’’ If an action of good intention leads to bad results, then, in the actor’s eyes, not he, but the world, or the stupidity of other men, or God’s will who made them thus, is responsible for the evil. The ethic of responsibility, on the other hand, requires one to give an account of the foreseeable results of one’s action. The man who believes in an ethic of responsibility takes into account precisely the average deficiencies of people. He does not feel in a position to burden others with the results of his own actions so far as he was able to foresee them; he will say, these results are ascribed to my action. On the other hand, the ultimate ends dude feels a ‘‘responsibility’’ only to keep his intentions good.
  11. In many cases, the attainment of good ends is bound up with the price of using morally dubious or dangerous means, and must face the possibility of evil ramifications. From no ethics in the world can it be concluded when and to what extent a good ends justifies ethically dangerous means and ramifications. (121) The ethics of absolutism goes to pieces on the problem of justification of means by ends. Everything that is striven for through political action operating with violent means and following an ethic of responsibility endangers the salvation of the soul. If, however, on chases after the ultimate good in a war of beliefs, following a pure ethic of absolute ends, then the goals may be damaged and discredited for generations because responsibility for consequences is lacking. A man following an ethic of responsibility will arise at a place where he must say, Here I stand; I can do no other. Here, the ethic of ultimate ends and the ethic of responsibility are supplements, which only in unison constitute a genuine man, a man who can have the calling for politics (127).
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