POLITICS AS A VOCATION BY MAX WEBER
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POLITICS AS A VOCATION
Max Weber was a German academic, a liberal, but a liberal of the Kaiser's Germany: a nationalist, an anti-Socialist (i.e. an anti-Marxist), and a Prussian reserve officer. In an autobiographical passage he says, "The usual training for haughty aggression in the dueling fraternity [at university] and as an officer had undoubtedly had a strong influence upon me." (Gerth and Mills, 1946) Furthermore, the concept of the nation and of national interest is the limit of Weber's political outlook and constitutes his ultimate value" (Gerth and Mills, 1946, 48) such to the survival needs of Germany would over-ride any moral restriction. Weber was active in politics as a National Liberal, in opposition to both conservatives and socialists. He was contemptuous of the Kaiser, but supported certain annexationist war aims in World War I. In his Essays in Sociology, particularly regarding the lecture on Politics as a Vocation, he provided insights on how to understand politics through several components such as the professional politicians, the administrative officials, the political officials, political journalism, and the values needed to battle in the political arena.
The lecture started with Weber recognizing the meaning of politics by initially discussing the environment where it thrives, the state. According to Weber, the state is considered the sole source of the 'right' to use violence. He added that the state is founded by force. Hence, he concluded that politics means striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state.
In preparation to his discussion on the professional politicians, he discussed several kinds of authorities. First, he noted the authority of the eternal yesterday, which he described as those who sanctified through the unimaginably ancient recognition and habitual orientation to conform. This includes the monarchy and other leadership titles, which is possibly transferred through lineage. Concurrently, he also noted the existence of the authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace, which is also known as charisma. He described this kind of authority as a person with the absolute personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership. And lastly, he discussed the existence of the domination by virtue of 'legality,' by virtue of the belief in the validity of legal statute and functional 'competence' based on rationally created rules. In this case, obedience is expected in discharging statutory obligations.
With these authorities, professional politicians have come about. Apparently these men have been rooted in service to royalties characterized as those, dissimilar to charismatic leaders, who declined the opportunity to become leaders themselves. This way, they have placed themselves at the royalty’s disposal and by managing their politics have earned both a means of living and an ideal content of life.
Moreover, Weber noted the importance of checks and balance in the vocation of politics. He observed the significance of the occasional politician. According to him, we are all 'occasional' politicians when we cast our ballot or consummate a similar expression of intention, such as applauding or protesting in a 'political' meeting, or delivering a 'political' speech. He added that politics as an avocation is today practiced by all those party agents and heads of voluntary political associations who, as a rule, are politically active only in case of need and for whom politics is, neither materially nor ideally, 'their life' in the first place. Moreover he noted the imperative nature of the separation of public functionaries into two categories: Administrative officials and political officials.
These individuals are termed by Weber as the staff. A staff was also necessary for those political associations whose members constituted themselves politically as so-called 'free' communes under the complete abolition or the far-going restriction of princely power. He added that the administrative staff, which externally represents the organization of political domination, is, of course, like any other organization, bound by obedience to the power-holder and not alone by the concept of legitimacy, of which we have just spoken.
Another public functionary is the public official. Weber characterized these individuals as those who could be transferred any time at will, and can be dismissed or at least temporarily withdrawn. Moreover, they are the elected officials where leadership and decision making lies. Weber added that these officials 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. Moreover, it has been also noted that he must also have responsibility to the cause in order to have a tangible mission.
Weber then talks about political journalism and different kinds of party organization beginning with the feudal parties of the Middle Ages, ranging through the development of the English and American party systems, to Germany. Then he comes to the question, "What inner enjoyments can this career of a professional politician offer, and what personal conditions are presupposed for one who enters this avenue?"
Moreover, Weber showed the aptitude of political journalism to draw social consciousness. He stated that nobody believes that the discretion of any able journalist ranks above the average of other people, and yet that is the case. It is in this discussion that provided him the chance to segue to the importance of ethics in the realm of political journalism.
This is a famous contrast between the ethic of ultimate ends and the ethic of responsibility. "Ethic of ends" is not actually a well-chosen term. The first term he used was "the absolute ethic", which is a fair enough term for an ethical system consisting of rules some of which are supposed to be followed in every case no matter what the consequences, or, to be more exact, rules which make an action conforming to them right even if it has undesirable consequences. An ethic that says "disregard consequences" is not properly described as an ethic of ends--an end is a consequence sought.
The difficulty is that in some situations all the actions that would ward off the bad consequences seem to be forbidden: then you have to allow the bad consequences to happen, since the end of warding them off cannot justify the only available means some forbidden action. If on the other hand you say, as most modern liberals do, that no ethical prohibition is ever absolute, that every prohibition has possible exceptions, then you can avoid seriously evil consequences by doing something that would normally be prohibited. Weber doesn't seem to have thought through these issues.
Values Needed In The Political Arena
According to Weber, a professional politician is one who is active in politics strives for power either as a means in serving other aims, ideal or egoistic, or as 'power for power's sake,' that is, in order to enjoy the prestige-feeling that power gives. He also noted the importance of passion, the feeling of responsibility, and a sense of proportion. Moreover, he noted that the politician must also combat vanity, in order to be matter-of-factly devoted to his cause and preserve some distance, not least from him. 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.
More importantly, a politician should be bound by ethics. 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.
Gerth, H.H. and C. Wright Mills. (1946) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, New York: Oxford University Press, 1946.