Max Weber Politics As A Vocation

Max Weber’s Politics as a Vocation is the second in a series of lectures (Science as A vocation was the first) delivered on the 28th of January 1919 at a “Free Students Union” gathering in Bavarian). This lecture was initially given based on handwritten transcripts which were written down and later published as an essay in July 1919. The essay which was initially written in German was also, after the end of the Second World War, translated to English to cover a wider audience.

In this essay, Weber broadly talked about politics as a career. He, for general understanding, also provided alternate ideas on the concepts of state, politics, and politics as a career choice and gave enlightenment on the several types of political leaders that we have in the political world. Weber started by outlining his definitions of what political organization, state, politics, etc., are from a sociological point of view. Firstly, he defined “politics” as “the leadership or influence exercised by leaders of a political organization; in other words, of a state”.

He went on to define what a state (or political organization) is: “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force.” (Rampersad, no date; Gerth and Mill, 1946). Weber viewed the state as an entity that holds the monopoly over the use of legitimate powerful control in a given territory.

“The state is seen as the sole grantor of the ‘right’ to physical force. Therefore, ‘politics’ in our case would mean the pursuit for a portion of power or for influencing the division of power whether it is between states, or between groups of people which the state encompasses.”

Weber’s notion of the state is based on violence. We can deduce here that he must have drawn on Thomas Hobbs’ State of Nature, in which the state and violence are said to share a rather close connection. This state-violence notion can be confirmed if we closely examine the politics of every state all around the world. Violent occurrences have occurred in different states, especially in Africa where the tussle for power is even more rigid, to confirm this. In the General Elections of Nigeria in 2019 for example, cases of snatched electoral boxes and political killings by political thugs, assigned by big politicians, were reported in different regions and states of the country.

Based on Weber’s definition of the state, he went on to provide three justifying principles on the legitimacy of the political domination of the state. They are traditional, charismatic and have legal authority. Traditional authority is monarchical; a leader transfers their role to their chosen heir who also does the same — the line goes on and on. With charismatic authority, “legitimacy comes from the personality and leadership qualities of the leader themselves” (Rampersad, no date). Lastly, Weber explains legal authority as one which is officially and legally attached to certain public posts and statuses.

Weber explicitly explained in his speech the two ways by which a politician can make politics their vocation; those who live off politics and those who live for politics

According to him, “the one who lives for politics makes politics, his life an internal sense while the one who lives off politics strives to make politics a perpetual source of income simply because it’s their ‘bread and butter” (Rampersad, no date). This is to say politics is made into a permanent means of income. This set of politicians is driven by their greediness as well as the strong desire to seriously accumulate wealth and retain high social statuses.

Rampersad (no date) further explains in her analysis of Weber’s essay that “those who live for politics, are the ones who have other means of income and are also actively involved with the society to fix societal ills. For this politics, politics is their passion while the monetary gains are just secondary to their desire.” Although many politicians get into politics for the monetary gain they stand to enjoy, the chief or primary aim of many of them is to fix their political organization and make it better.

Weber went on to describe the qualities of politicians, stating that “vanity”, that is the lack of objectivity and irresponsibility, according to Rampersad (no date), is a prevailing problem amongst politicians all around.

The comprehensive analysis Weber provided on politics and the state is quite satisfying when examined in the context of the present world day politics. He was not only able to capture the essential elements visible to all, but he was also able to provide relevant representations to back up his assertions. However, as revealing as his essay is, there are still certain limitations we have to look out for. His idealistic and superficial perception of politicians as perfect and infallible social characters is one of the apparent limitations that can be pointed out.

Another limitation, as pointed out by Rampersad is the “hasty generalization when he says religion has no room in politics because politics demands ruthlessness apart from violence whereas religion, on the other hand, preaches uprightness and humility.”

Beyond these limitations, Weber was able to provide express illumination on politics, leadership, the state and some other relevant sociological concepts.

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