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Politics as a Vocation (Politik als Beruf) is an essay by German economist and sociologist Max Weber. It originated in a lecture he gave to the Free Students Union of Munich University, in January 1919, during the German Revolution.
In his essay Weber states that politics is the art of compromise and decision making based on social benefits weighed against costs; in this respect, political action cannot be rooted only in conviction, since one's conviction can be another's social anathema. Using as an example Christianity, seen as a core conviction, Weber affirms that a politician cannot only be a man of "true Christian ethic" (understood in terms "turning the other cheek"). The political realm is no realm for saints. A politician should marry the ethic of ultimate ends with an ethic of responsibility. The latter, which is the ultimate criterion for judging politicians, should take into account all that is at stake in making a political decision, namely all the convictions and the relative weight and moral importance. A politician must possess both passion for his vocation and the capacity to distance himself from the subject of his exertions (the governed).
The lecture introduces a definition of the state that has become pivotal to Western social thought: that the state is that entity which claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of force, which it may therefore elect to delegate as it sees fit. Politics is to be understood as any activity in which the state might engage in order to influence the relative distribution of force. Politics thus comes to obtain two power-based concepts, to be understood as deriving of power.
Three grounds for legitimate rule
Weber defines politics as a form of "independent leadership activity". In this essay, the "state" serves as the placeholder for the analysis of political organizations. The grounds for the legitimate rule of these political organizations, according to Weber, fall into three major categories, or types:
- The authority of "eternal past," based on habit. Weber defines custom as largely patriarchal, patrimonial, and traditional in scope.
- Gift of grace/charisma
- The authority of the "revelations, heroism, or other leadership qualities of an individual". Associated with "charisma" of prophets, demagogues, and popular vote.
- Legal rational authority, legality based on valid statutes. Based on rational competence and obedience of the "servant of the state".
The two forms of the state
Weber focuses his analysis on "political organizations", i.e. "states", and identifies two general forms of the state, supposedly encompassing all state forms at the most general level:
- The administrative staff beneath the ruler in status and power has its own means of administration separate from those of the ruler. This can include various forms of wealth and possessions, as well as means of production and control over labor. This administrative staff is essentially aristocratic, subdivided into distinct estates;
- The administrative staff is completely or partially separated from the actual tools of administration, i.e., how the proletariat is separated from the means of production. This staff become confidants without means in a patriarchal organization of deference and delegation.
Weber delineates two different ideas of the "state" based on the relationship between the administrators and their access to the actual means of administration. The second form of the state is considered to be modern; the administrators do not own the money, buildings, and organizations they direct but are in the process of becoming expropriated expropriators by the actions of the monarch or the higher ruling class. With this expropriation completed, the leaders are then free to invest all resources in what way they choose, executive decisions often remaining with the discretion of the highest representatives.