Politics as a Vocation

Ethic of Responsibility vs. Ethic of Ultimate Ends [Politics as a Vocation]
Contrast ethic of ultimate ends [as when one says] 'The Christian does rightly and leaves the results with the Lord' [and an] ethic of responsibility, in which case one has to give an account of the foreseeable results of one's action."

  • Ultimate Ends - attention to intentions

*Responsibility - attention to possible outcomes, takes into account average deficiencies of people, realistic.

In a sense, Weber is arguing that the former belongs in the realm of religion and the latter in politics. "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." Compare Pareto here. Weber is really making an impassioned plea that people realize that politics is a task/profession that is wrought with ethical difficulty.

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 dialbolic forces which enter the play remain unknown to the actor. 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.
“Politics as a Vocation”
[Peripenultimate page]

Notes on "Politics as Vocation" from UChicago grad student notes archive

  • Weber, M. 1918. "What Is Politics?" from "Politics as a Vocation." (114-116)
  1. You want me to talk about actual contemporary political positions, but I won't. This talk is about the general idea of politics as a vocation.
  2. What we mean by politik (policy) is leading, influencing the leadership of, a "political association, hence today, of a state" (114.5).
  3. Sociological definition of state is based on means, not ends (these can vary too much), namely physical force.
  4. States claim "monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory" (115.1).
  5. The "political" is about power. Either as a means or for its own sake. (115.3)
  6. State is about domination supported by "legitimate" violence. What is basis therefore?
  7. Traditional justification of the "eternal yesterday" (115.5)
  8. Charismatic individual (115.6)
  9. Legality (115.7)
  10. Though it can be described in terms of hopes and fears, the LEGITIMACY can be seen under these three types.

This selection omits a lot of the good material in this lecture. An important take-away from this and its companion lecture, "Science as a Vocation," is the idea that there are two fundamental "ethics" according to which one can orient one's activity. One is the ethic of ultimate ends — sometimes called the ethic of "conviction" — action is based on fundamental beliefs and a commitment to bring about certain states of affairs. The other is the "ethic of responsibility" — one cannot simply "do what is right" without regard for consequences.