This article was originally written for an Ethics class.
The work Politics as a Vocation starts with an interesting definition of a state. State, according to Weber, is the only group of people that claims the monopoly on the legitimized use of physical force. Further, he writes about the three ways of claiming authority. The first, Traditional authority, contains a hereditary claim for power, and other “it is the way it has always been” claims for power. Charismatic authority stands on the (perceived) qualities of the person with authority. And the last one is Legal authority, an authority based on widespread agreement on rules. Democratic systems use this kind of authority. After this distinction, Weber talks about types of professional politicians from multiple angles and presents some examples. Lastly, he discusses the ethics of politics and concludes by saluting all who live with compromises on their own opinions.
For the most part, I was intrigued by the scope of the work. The initial idea of a state defined in such a way, through violence, resonated deeply in me. I believe he makes a great argument by going so deep with the definition, using only something as primitive as physical violence. It is difficult to refute or disagree with, and what is more, it works well as an argument against anarchy in the simplest sense. Another point I found not only valid but also interesting was the commentary about journalism and politics as similar vocations. However, this argument is not as straightforward for me as I discuss further. He states that politics are done with the head and the head only, with which I agree. Though, it is something that ought to be rather than something that is. Lastly, I was intrigued by the distinction between Weber’s two main ethical approaches to politics. The “ethics of responsibility” is excellent in its pragmatic realism, and the counterpart “ethics of conviction” illustrates the ideological part of politics, which was especially important in the early 20th century. The concluding argument is amazingly put. It is an excellent description of people with a calling for politics.
A big part of my criticism is that it is quite an old take on the issue. On the one hand, it gives a valuable view into the history of politics; however, most examples are tough to follow for an ordinary person in our time. This argument, of course, can hardly be a criticism of the work itself since it is more than 100 years old and talks about the era relevant. Nonetheless, I would well appreciate more generalizations. When Weber talks about politicians living “for” and “off” politics, the distinction is made in the actual financial difference. That is, I would claim, not true anymore. Even though these types of politicians exist, the economic situation of both seems quite the same. One thing Weber does not mention is that, in my opinion, journalism opposes politicians (if done right). The job of journalists is to seek important information and present it to the public. While a politician also explains to the public, a journalist must have a single goal, the pursuit of truth. Whereas, even as Weber claims, the politician cannot be simply truthful about everything. A politician must filter what to make public. I also had a slight issue with the simplicity of the ethical distinctions into two types only. I was not sure these two archetypes could suffice to express all politically ethical conduct in their various combinations.
Overall, “Politik als Beruf” is a difficult work to read. I had difficulties understanding and following Weber’s arguments and examples. It took me a lot of time. However, even though I did not understand all of his examples and had little prior knowledge about the people and political parties he was referring to, I managed to learn some new points of view. Especially the definition of a state was interesting since it seems pretty brutal in one way and very neat in another. Though it is an old text, finding something relevant for our time or some eternal truth, such as the division into the two ethics, is still possible. I would not recommend reading the work since it seems difficult for an ordinary person. I would instead recommend some distilled version of the arguments presented by Max Weber, created by a scholar with a good understanding of the work.