Weber IX: Last Remarks

Much of the second half of the document is of historical interest, especially for those wanting to see how the conditions in Weimar Germany might have been fertile for the rise of Hitler. I'll leave that as an exercise for those interested.

The end section has a view of how 'politics as vocation' must be managed if any good is to come out of it. Good can, Weber says, as long as we understand some basic metaphysical truths that are the foundation of politics:
The decisive means for politics is violence....  The ethic of ultimate ends apparently must go to pieces on the problem of the justification of means by ends. As a matter of fact, logically it has only the possibility of rejecting all action that employs morally dangerous means­­ - in theory! ...

My colleague, Mr. F. W. Forster, whom personally I highly esteem for his undoubted sincerity, but whom I reject unreservedly as a politician, believes it is possible to get around this difficulty by the simple thesis: 'from good comes only good; but from evil only evil follows.' In that case this whole complex of questions would not exist. But it is rather astonishing that such a thesis could come to light two thousand five hundred years after the Upanishads. Not only the whole course of world history, but every frank examination of everyday experience points to the very opposite. The development of religions all over the world is determined by the fact that the opposite is true....

This problem­ - ­the experience of the irrationality of the world­­ - has been the driving force of all religious evolution.  The Indian doctrine of karma, Persian dualism, the doctrine of original sin, predestination and the deus absconditus, all these have grown out of this experience. Also the early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil,  but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.  
The last several pages include a review of various metaphysical and religious approaches to this problem, and very much worth your time to read. If you like, you might begin by finding your own and starting there, then contrasting if you like some of the other approaches.

Whichever approach you adopt or prefer, Weber says, if you want to engage in politics you need to be ready to wrestle with demons. 
Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation, has to realize these ethical paradoxes. He must know that he is responsible for what may become of himself under the impact of these paradoxes. I repeat, he lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence.... He who seeks the salvation of the soul, of his own and of others, should not seek it along the avenue of politics, for the quite different tasks of politics can only be solved by violence. The genius or demon of politics lives in an inner tension with the god of love, as well as with the Christian God as expressed by  the church.  This tension can at any time lead to an irreconcilable conflict.
Thus, Weber offers a warning to those who seek salvation in the political world via modes like socialism.
If one says 'the future of socialism' or 'international peace,' instead of native city or 'fatherland' (which at present may be a dubious value to some), then you face the problem as it stands now. 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, one 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,  and two diabolic forces which enter the play remain unknown to the actor. These are inexorable and produce consequences for his action and even for his inner self, to which he must helplessly submit, unless he perceives them.  The sentence: 'The devil is old; grow old to understand him!' does not refer to age in terms of chronological years.... Age is not decisive; what is decisive is the trained relentlessness in viewing the realities of life, and the ability to face such realities and to measure up to them inwardly. 
This is not, however, a call for abandoning politics in pursuit of religious life. Nor is it a call for anarchism: Weber believes (like the Declaration of Independence) that political states can secure rights, and that that where politics fails, 'not only the Kaiser but also the proletarian has lost his rights.' 

No, it is a call for politics in a heroic mode that is willing to wrestle with demons, and steadfast enough to do so. Weber closes:
Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth­­that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say 'In spite of all!' has the calling for politics.


J Melcher said...

Grim, most and first, thank you for continuing this series of introductory essays about political thought. Today's problems -- and proposals -- are grounded in the human condition and there is a long tradition of thought about what is, and should, and can be. We cheat ourselves to act without the sorts of review you offer.

Next, last, and least -- if only those with a self-assessed "calling" for politics choose to participate, all of us have a problem. If wishes mattered, I'd like to see an experiment at small scale with a bi-cameral legislature where the "representative" house is comprised of ad hoc draftees. Citizens, called by law, (rather than by God or their own self-regard) to duty no differently in concept than being drafted into a military defense, or jury deliberations, or response to weather disaster.
I think your Athenians had some experience of the idea. Do you have text on the shelf to confirm or disprove the validity?

Grim said...

You’re certainly welcome. As per my post I am away from my shelves and with my motorcycle; but you’re correct that Athens often appointed political offices by lot. Plato is hotly against the idea; if you look back through my comments on the Laws you’ll find his remarks that you’d best pray every time you choose a political officer at random.