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Politics as vocation
This lecture, which I give at your request, will necessarily disappoint you in a number of ways.You will naturally expect me to take a position on actual problems of the day. But that will be the case only in a purely formal way and toward the end, when I shall raise certain questions concerning the significance of political action in the whole way of life. In today’s lecture, all questions that refer to what policy and what content one should give one’s political activity must be eliminated. For such questions have nothing to do with the general question of what politics as a vocation means and what it can mean. Now to our subject matter.
What do we understand by politics? The concept is extremely broad and comprises any kind of independent leadership in action. One speaks of the currency policy of the banks, of the discounting policy of the Reichsbank, of the strike policy of a trade union; one may speak of the educational policy of a municipality or a township, of the policy of the president of a voluntary association, and, finally, even of the policy of a prudent wife who seeks to guide her husband. Tonight, our reflections are, of course, not based upon such a broad concept. We wish to understand by politics only the leadership, or the influencing of the leadership, of a political association, hence today, of a state.
But what is a ‘political’ association from the sociological point of view? What is a ‘state’?Sociologically, the state cannot be defined in terms of its ends. There is scarcely any task that some political association has not taken in hand, and there is no task that one could say has always been exclusive and peculiar to those associations which are designated as political ones:
today the state, or historically, those associations which have been the predecessors of the modern state.Ultimately, one can define the modern state sociologically only in terms of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely, the use of physical force.’Every state is founded on force,’ said Trotsky at Brest-Litovsk. That is indeed right. If no social institutions existed which knew the use of violence, then the concept of ‘state’ would be eliminated, and a condition would emerge that could be designated as ‘anarchy,’ in the specific
sense of this word. Of course, force is certainly not the normal or the only means of the state–nobody says that–but force is a means specific to the state. Today the relation between the state and violence is an especially intimate one. In the past, the most varied institutions–beginning with the sib–have known the use of physical force as quite normal.
Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory. Note that ‘territory’ is one of the characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence. Hence, ‘politics’ for us means striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power, either among states or among groups within a state.
This corresponds essentially to ordinary usage. When a question is said to be a ‘political’question, when a cabinet minister or an official is said to be a ‘political’ official, or when a decision is said to be ‘politically’ determined, what is always meant is that interests in the distribution, maintenance, or transfer of power are decisive for answering the questions and determining the decision or the official’s sphere of activity. He who is active in politics strives for power either as a means in serving other aims, ideal or egoistic, or as ‘power for power’s sake,’ that is, in order to enjoy the prestige-feeling that power gives.
Like the political institutions historically preceding it, the state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate (i.e. considered to be legitimate) violence. If the state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be. When and why do men obey? Upon what inner justifications and upon what external means does this domination rest?To begin with, in principle, there are three inner justifications, hence basic legitimations of domination.
First, the authority of the ‘eternal yesterday,’ i.e. of the mores sanctified through the unimaginably ancient recognition and habitual orientation to conform. This is ‘traditional’ domination exercised by the patriarch and the patrimonial prince of yore.There is the authority of the extraordinary and personal gift of grace (charisma), the absolutely personal devotion and personal confidence in revelation, heroism, or other qualities of individual leadership. This is ‘charismatic’ domination, as exercised by the prophet or–in the field of politics–by the elected war lord, the plebiscitarian ruler, the great demagogue, or the political party leader.
Finally, there is domination by virtue of ‘legality,’ by virtue of the belief in the validity of legal statute and functional ‘competence’ based on rationally created rules. In this case, obedience is expected in discharging statutory obligations. This is domination as exercised by the modern ‘servant of the state’ and by all those bearers of power who in this respect resemble him.It is understood that, in reality, obedience is determined by highly robust motives of fear and hope–fear of the vengeance of magical powers or of the power-holder, hope for reward in this
world or in the beyond– and besides all this, by interests of the most varied sort. Of this we shall speak presently. However, in asking for the ‘legitimations’ of this obedience, one meets with these three ‘pure’ types: ‘traditional,’ ‘charismatic,’ and ‘legal.’
These conceptions of legitimacy and their inner justifications are of very great significance for the structure of domination. To be sure, the pure types are rarely found in reality. But today we cannot deal with the highly complex variants, transitions, and combinations of these pure types,which problems belong to ‘political science.’ Here we are interested above all in the second of these types: domination by virtue of the devotion of those who obey the purely personal ‘charisma’ of the ‘leader.’ For this is the root of the idea of a calling in its highest expression.
Devotion to the charisma of the prophet, or the leader in war, or to the great demagogue in the ecclesia or in parliament, means that the leader is personally recognized as the innerly ‘called’ leader of men. Men do not obey him by virtue of tradition or statute, but because they believe in him. If he is more than a narrow and vain upstart of the moment, the leader lives for his cause and ‘strives for his work.’1 The devotion of his disciples, his followers, his personal party friends is oriented to his person and to its qualities.
Charismatic leadership has emerged in all places and in all historical epochs. Most importantly in the past, it has emerged in the two figures of the magician and the prophet on the one hand, and in the elected war lord, the gang leader and condotierre on the other hand. Political leadership in the form of the free ‘demagogue’ who grew from the soil of the city state is of greater concern to us; like the city state, the demagogue is peculiar to the Occident and especially to Mediterranean culture. Furthermore, political leadership in the form of the parliamentary ‘party leader’ has grown on the soil of the constitutional state, which is also indigenous only to the Occident.
These politicians by virtue of a ‘calling,’ in the most genuine sense of the word, are of course nowhere the only decisive figures in the cross-currents of the political struggle for power. The sort of auxiliary means that are at their disposal is also highly decisive. How do the politically dominant powers manage to maintain their domination? The question pertains to any kind of domination, hence also to political domination in all its forms, traditional as well as legal and charismatic.Organized domination, which calls for continuous administration, requires that human conduct be conditioned to obedience towards those masters who claim to be the bearers of legitimate power. On the other hand, by virtue of this obedience, organized domination requires the control of those material goods which in a given case are necessary for the use of physical violence. Thus, organized domination requires control of the personal executive staff and the material implements of administration.
However, everywhere, reaching back to the earliest political formations, we also find the lord himself directing the administration. He seeks to take the administration into his own hands by having men personally dependent upon him: slaves, household officials, attendants, personal ‘favorites,’ and prebendaries enfeoffed in kind or in money from his magazines. He seeks to defray the expenses from his own pocket, from the revenues of his patrimonium; and he seeks to create an army which is dependent upon him personally because it is equipped and provisioned out of his granaries, magazines, and armories. In the association of ‘estates,’ the lord rules with the aid of an autonomous ‘aristocracy’ and hence shares his domination with it; the lord who personally administers is supported either by members of his household or by plebeians. These are propertyless strata having no social honor of their own; materially, they are completely chained to him and are not backed up by any competing power of their own. All
forms of patriarchal and patrimonial domination, Sultanist despotism, and bureaucratic states belong to this latter type. The bureaucratic state order is especially important; in its most rational development, it is precisely characteristic of the modern state.
Everywhere the development of the modern state is initiated through the action of the prince.He paves the way for the expropriation of the autonomous and ‘private’ bearers of executive power who stand beside him, of those who in their own right possess the means of administration, warfare, and financial organization, as well as politically usable goods of all sorts. The whole process is a complete parallel to the development of the capitalist enterprise
through gradual expropriation of the independent producers. In the end, the modern state controls the total means of political organization, which actually come together under a single head. No single official personally owns the money he pays out, or the buildings, stores, tools,and war machines he controls. In the contemporary ‘state’–and this is essential for the concept of state–the ‘separation’ of the administrative staff, of the administrative officials, and of the workers from the material means of administrative organization is completed. Here the most
modern development begins, and we see with our own eyes the attempt to inaugurate the expropriation of this expropriator of the political means, and therewith of political power.
The revolution [of Germany , 1918] has accomplished, at least in so far as leaders have taken the place of the statutory authorities, this much: the leaders, through usurpation or election, have attained control over the political staff and the apparatus of material goods; and they deduce their legitimacy–no matter with what right–from the will of the governed. Whether the leaders,on the basis of this at least apparent success, can rightfully entertain the hope of also carrying through the expropriation within the capitalist enterprises is a different question. The direction of capitalist enterprises, despite far-reaching analogies, follows quite different laws than those of political administration.
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Today we do not take a stand on this question. I state only the purely conceptual aspect for our consideration: the modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination. It has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means domination within a territory. To this end the state has combined the material means of organization in the hands of its leaders, and it has expropriated all autonomous functionaries of estates who formerly controlled these means in their own right. The state has taken their positions and now stands in the top place.
During this process of political expropriation, which has occurred with varying success in all countries on earth, ‘professional politicians’ in another sense have emerged. They arose first in the service of a prince. They have been men who, unlike the charismatic leader, have not wished to be lords themselves, but who have entered the service of political lords. In the struggle of expropriation, they placed themselves at the princes’ disposal and by managing the princes’ politics they earned, on the one hand, a living and, on the other hand, an ideal content of life.
Again, it is only in the Occident that we find this kind of professional politician in the service of powers other than the princes. In the past, they have been the most important power instrument of the prince and his instrument of political expropriation.
Before discussing ‘professional politicians’ in detail, let us clarify in all its aspects the state of affairs their existence presents. Politics, just as economic pursuits, may be a man’s avocation or his vocation. One may engage in politics, and hence seek to influence the distribution of power ithin and between political structures, as an ‘occasional’ politician. We are all ‘occasional’politicians when we cast our ballot or consummate a similar expression of intention, such as applauding or protesting in a ‘political’ meeting, or delivering a ‘political’ speech, etc. The whole relation of many people to politics is restricted to this. Politics as an avocation is today practiced by all those party agents and heads of voluntary political associations who, as a rule, are politically active only in case of need and for whom politics is, neither materially nor ideally, ‘their life’ in the first place. The same holds for those members of state counsels and similar deliberative bodies that function only when summoned. It also holds for rather broad strata of our members of parliament who are politically active only during sessions. In the past, such strata were found especially among the estates. Proprietors of military implements in their own right, or proprietors of goods important for the administration, or proprietors of personal prerogatives may be called ‘estates.’
A large portion of them were far from giving their lives wholly, or merely preferentially, or more than occasionally, to the service of politics. Rather, they exploited their prerogatives in the interest of gaining rent or even profits; and they became active in the service of political associations only when the overlord of their status-equals especially demanded it. It was not different in the case of some of the auxiliary forces which the prince drew into the struggle for the creation of a political organization to be exclusively at his disposal. This was the nature of the Rate von Haus aus [councilors] and, still further back, of a considerable part of the councilors assembling in the ‘Curia’ and other deliberating bodies of the princes. But these merely occasional auxiliary forces engaging in politics on the side were naturally not sufficient for the prince. Of necessity, the prince sought to create a staff of helpers dedicated wholly and exclusively to serving him, hence making this their major vocation. The structure of the emerging dynastic political organization, and not only this but the whole articulation of the culture, depended to a considerable degree upon the question of where the prince recruited agents.
A staff was also necessary for those political associations whose members constituted themselves politically as (so-called) ‘free’ communes under the complete abolition or the far-going restriction of princely power. They were ‘free’ not in the sense of freedom from domination by force, but in the sense that princely power legitimized by tradition (mostly religiously sanctified) as the exclusive source of all authority was absent. These communities have their historical home in the Occident.
Their nucleus was the city as a body politic, the form in which the city first emerged in the Mediterranean culture area. In all these cases, what did the politicians who made politics their major vocation look like? There are two ways of making politics one’s vocation: Either one lives ‘for’ politics or one lives ‘off’ politics. By no means is this contrast an exclusive one. The rule is, rather, that man does both, at least in thought, and certainly he also does both in practice. He who lives ‘for’ politics makes politics his life, in an internal sense. Either he enjoys the naked possession of the power he exerts, or he nourishes his inner balance and self-feeling by the consciousness that his life as meaning in the service of a ’cause.’ In this internal sense, every sincere man who lives for a
cause also lives off this cause.
The distinction hence refers to a much more substantial aspect of the matter, namely, to the economic. He who strives to make politics a permanent source of income lives ‘off’ politics as a vocation, whereas he who does not do this lives ‘for’ politics. Under the dominance of the private property order, some–if you wish–very trivial
preconditions must exist in order for a person to be able to live ‘for’ politics in this economic sense. Under normal conditions, the politician must be economically independent of the income politics can bring him. This means, quite simply, that the politician must be wealthy or must have a personal position in life which yields a sufficient income
This is the case, at least in normal circumstances. The war lord’s following is just as little concerned about the conditions of a normal economy as is the street crowd following of the revolutionary hero.
Both live off booty, plunder, confiscations, contributions, and the imposition of worthless and compulsory means of tender, which in essence amounts to the same thing. But necessarily, these are extraordinary phenomena. In everyday economic life, only some wealth serves the purpose of making a man economically independent. Yet this alone does not
suffice. The professional politician must also be economically ‘dispensable,’ that is, his income must not depend upon the fact that he constantly and personally places his ability and thinking entirely, or at least by far predominantly, in the service of economic acquisition. In the most unconditional way, the rentier is dispensable in this sense. Hence, he is a man who receives completely unearned income. He may be the territorial lord of the past or the large landowner and aristocrat of the present who receives ground rent. In Antiquity and the Middle Ages they
who received slave or serf rents or in modern times rents from shares or bonds or similar sources–these are rentiers.
Neither the worker nor–and this has to be noted well–the entrepreneur, especially the modern,large-scale entrepreneur, is economically dispensable in this sense. For it is precisely the entrepreneur who is tied to his enterprise and is therefore not dispensable. This holds for the entrepreneur in industry far more than for the entrepreneur in agriculture, considering the seasonal character of agriculture. In the main, it is very difficult for the entrepreneur to be represented in his enterprise by someone else, even temporarily. He is as little dispensable as is the medical doctor, and the more eminent and busy he is the less dispensable he is. For purely organizational reasons, it is easier for the lawyer to be dispensable; and therefore the lawyer has played an incomparably greater, and often even a dominant, role as a professional politician. We shall not continue in this classification; rather let us clarify some of its ramifications.
The leadership of a state or of a party by men who (in the economic sense of the word) live exclusively for politics and not off politics means necessarily a ‘plutocratic’ recruitment of the leading political strata. To be sure, this does not mean that such plutocratic leadership signifies at the same time that the politically dominant strata will not also seek to live ‘off’ politics, and hence that the dominant stratum will not usually exploit their political domination in their own economic interest. All that is unquestionable, of course. There has never been such a stratum
that has not somehow lived ‘off’ politics. Only this is meant: that the professional politician need not seek remuneration directly for his political work, whereas every politician without means must absolutely claim this. On the other hand, we do not mean to say that the propertyless politician will pursue private economic advantages through politics, exclusively, or even predominantly. Nor do we mean that he will not think, in the first place, of ‘the subject matter.’ Nothing would be more incorrect. According to all experience, a care for the economic ‘security’ of his existence is consciously or unconsciously a cardinal point in the whole life orientation of the wealthy man. A quite reckless and unreserved political idealism is found if not exclusively at least predominantly among those strata who by virtue of their propertylessness stand entirely outside of the strata who are interested in maintaining the economic order of a given society.
This holds especially for extraordinary and hence revolutionary epochs. A non-plutocratic recruitment of interested politicians, of leadership and following, is geared to the self-understood precondition that regular and reliable income will accrue to those who manage politics.Either politics can be conducted ‘honorifically’ and then, as one usually says, by ‘independent,’that is, by wealthy, men, and especially by rentiers. Or, political leadership is made accessible to propertyless men who must then be rewarded. The professional politician who lives ‘off’ politics may be a pure ‘prebendary’ or a salaried ‘official.’ Then the politician receives either income from fees and perquisites for specific services–tips and bribes are only an irregular and formally illegal variant of this category of income–or a fixed income in kind, a money salary, or both. He may assume the character of an ‘entrepreneur,’ like the condottiere or the holder of a farmed-out or purchased office, or like the American boss who considers his costs a capital investment which he brings to fruition through exploitation of his influence.
Again, he may receive a fixed wage, like a journalist, a party secretary, a modern cabinet minister, or a political
official. Feudal fiefs, land grants, and prebends of all sorts have been typical, in the past. With the development of the money economy, perquisites and prebends especially are the typical rewards for the following of princes, victorious conquerors, or successful party chiefs. For loyal services today, party leaders give offices of all sorts–in parties, newspapers, co-operative societies, health insurance, municipalities, as well as in the state. All party struggles are struggles for the patronage of office, as well as struggles for objective goals.
In Germany , all struggles between the proponents of local and of central government are focused upon the question of which powers shall control the patronage of office, whether they are of Berlin , Munich , Karlsruhe , or Dresden . Setbacks in participating in offices are felt more severely by parties than is action against their objective goals. In France , a turnover of prefects because of party politics has always been considered a greater transformation and has always caused a greater uproar than a modification in the government’s program–the latter almost having the significance of mere verbiage. Some parties, especially those in America since the disappearance of the old conflicts concerning the interpretation of the constitution, have become pure patronage parties handing out jobs and changing their material program according to the chances of grabbing votes.
In Spain , up to recent years, the two great parties, in a conventionally fixed manner, took turns in office by means of ‘elections,’ fabricated from above, in order to provide their followers with offices. In the Spanish colonial territories, in the so-called ‘elections,’ as well as in the so-called ‘revolutions,’ what was at stake was always the state bread-basket from which the victors wished to be fed.
In Switzerland , the parties peacefully divided the offices among themselves proportionately,and some of our ‘revolutionary’ constitutional drafts, for instance the first draft of the Badenian constitution, sought to extend this system to ministerial positions. Thus, the state and state offices were considered as pure institutions for the provision of spoilsmen. Above all, the Catholic Center party was enthusiastically for this draft. In Badenia, the party, as part of the party platform, made the distribution of offices proportional to confessions and hence without regard to achievement. This tendency becomes stronger for all parties when the number of offices increase as a result of general bureaucratization and when the demand for noffices increases because they represent specifically secure livelihoods. For their followings, the parties become more and more a means to the end of being provided for in this manner.
The development of modern officialdom into a highly qualified, professional labor force, specialized in expertness through long years of preparatory training, stands opposed to all these arrangements. Modern bureaucracy in the interest of integrity has developed a high sense of status honor; without this sense the danger of an awful corruption and a vulgar Philistinism threatens fatally. And without such integrity, even the purely technical functions of the state apparatus would be endangered. The significance of the state apparatus for the economy has
been steadily rising, especially with increasing socialization, and its significance will be further
In the United States , amateur administration through booty politicians in accordance with the outcome of presidential elections resulted in the exchange of hundreds of thousands of officials, even down to the mail carrier. The administration knew nothing of the professional civil servant-for-life, but this amateur administration has long since been punctured by the Civil Service Reform. Purely technical, irrefrageable needs of the administration have determined this development.
In Europe , expert officialdom, based on the division of labor, has emerged in a gradual development of half a thousand years. The Italian cities and seigniories were the beginning, among the monarchies, and the states of the Norman conquerors. But the decisive step was taken in connection with the administration of the finances of the prince. With the administrative reforms of Emperor Max, it can be seen how hard it was for the officials to
depose successfully of the prince in this field, even under the pressure of extreme emergency and of Turkish rule. The sphere of finance could afford least of all a ruler’s dilettantism–a ruler who at that time was still above all a knight. The development of war technique called forth the expert and specialized officer; the differentiation of legal procedure called forth the trained jurist. In these three areas–finance, war, and law–expert officialdom in the more advanced states was definitely triumphant during the sixteenth century. With the ascendancy of princely
absolutism over the estates, there was simultaneously a gradual abdication of the prince’s autocratic rule in favor of an expert officialdom. These very officials had only facilitated the prince’s victory over the estates.
The development of the ‘leading politicians’ was realized along with the ascendancy of the specially trained officialdom, even if in far less noticeable transitions. Of course, such really decisive advisers of the princes have existed at all times and all over the world. In the Orient, the need for relieving the Sultan as far as possible from personal responsibility for the success of the government has created the typical figure of the ‘Grand Vizier.’ In the Occident, influenced above all by the reports of the Venetian legates, diplomacy first became a consciously cultivated art in the age of Charles V, in Machiavelli’s time. The reports of the Venetian legates were read with passionate zeal in expert diplomatic circles. The adepts of this art, who were in the main educated humanistically, treated one another as trained initiates,similar to the humanist Chinese statesmen in the last period of the ‘warring states. The necessity of a formally unified guidance of the whole policy, including that of home affairs, by a leading statesman finally and compellingly arose only through constitutional development. Of course,individual personalities, such as advisers of the princes, or rather, in fact, leaders, had again and again existed before then. But the organization of administrative agencies even in the most advanced states first proceeded along other avenues. Top collegial administrative agencies had emerged.
In theory, and to a gradually decreasing extent in fact, they met under the personal chairmanship of the prince who rendered the decision. This collegial system led to memoranda, counter-memoranda, and reasoned votes of the majority and the minority. In addition to the official and highest authorities, the prince surrounded himself with purely personal confidants–the ‘cabinet’–and through them rendered his decisions, after considering the resolutions of the state counsel, or whatever else the highest state agency was called. The prince,coming more and more into the position of a dilettante, sought to extricate himself from the unavoidably increasing weight of the expertly trained officials through the collegial system and the cabinet. He sought to retain the highest leadership in his own hands. This latent struggle between expert officialdom and autocratic rule existed everywhere. Only in the face of
parliaments and the power aspirations of party leaders did the situation change.
Very different conditions led to the externally identical result, though to be sure with certain differences.
Wherever the dynasties retained actual power in their hands–as was especially the case in Germany –the interests of the prince were joined with those of officialdom against parliament and its claims for power. The officials were also interested in having leading positions, that is, ministerial positions, occupied by their own ranks, thus making these positions an object of the official career. The monarch, on his part, was interested in being able to appoint the ministers from the ranks of devoted officials according to his own discretion. Both parties, however, were
interested in seeing the political leadership confront parliament in a unified and solidary fashion, and hence in seeing the collegial system replaced by a single cabinet head.
Furthermore, in order to be removed in a purely formal way from the struggle of parties and from party attacks, the monarch needed a single personality to cover him and to assume responsibility, that is, to answer to parliament and to negotiate with the parties. All these interests worked together and in the same direction: a minister emerged to direct the officialdom in a unified way. Where parliament gained supremacy over the monarch–as in England –the development of parliamentary power worked even more strongly in the direction of a unification of the state
apparatus. In England , the ‘cabinet,’ with the single head of Parliament as its ‘leader,’ developed as a committee of the party which at the time controlled the majority. This party power was ignored by official law but, in fact, it alone was politically decisive.
The official collegial bodies as such were not organs of the actual ruling power, the party, and hence could not be the bearers of real government. The ruling party required an ever-ready organization composed only of its actually leading men, who would confidentially discuss matters in order to maintain power within and be capable of engaging in grand politics outside. The cabinet is simply this organization. However, in relation to the public, especially the parliamentary public, the party needed a leader responsible for all decisions–the cabinet head. The English system has been taken over on the Continent in the form of parliamentary ministries. In America alone, and in the democracies influenced by America , a quite heterogeneous system was placed into opposition with this system. The American system placed the directly and popularly elected leader of the victorious party at the head of the apparatus of officials appointed by him and bound him to the consent of ‘parliament’ only in budgetary and legislative matters.
The development of politics into an organization which demanded training in the struggle for power, and in the methods of this struggle as developed by modern party policies, determined the separation of public functionaries into two categories, which, however, are by no means rigidly but nevertheless distinctly separated. These categories are ‘administrative’ officials on the one hand, and ‘political’ officials on the other. The ‘political’ officials, in the genuine sense of the word, can regularly and externally be recognized by the fact that they can be transferred
any time at will, that they can be dismissed, or at least temporarily withdrawn. They are like the French prefects and the comparable officials of other countries, and this is in sharp contrast to the ‘independence’ of officials with judicial functions. In England , officials who, according to fixed convention, retire from office when there is a change in the parliamentary majority, and hence a change in the cabinet, belong to this category. There are usually among them some whose competence includes the management of the general ‘inner administration.’
exposed to its specific consequences. This holds especially for the crusader, religious and revolutionary alike. Let us confidently take the present as an example. He who wants to establish absolute justice on earth by force requires a following, a human ‘machine.’ He must hold out the necessary internal and external premiums, heavenly or worldly reward, to this ‘machine’ or else the machine will not function. Under the conditions of the modern class struggle, the internal premiums consist of the satisfying of hatred and the craving for revenge; above all, resentment and the need for pseudo-ethical self-right-eousness: the opponents must be slandered and accused of heresy. The external rewards are adventure, victory, booty, power, and spoils.
The leader and his success are completely dependent upon the functioning of his machine and hence not on his own motives. Therefore he also depends upon whether or not the premiums can be permanently granted to the following, that is, to the Red Guard, the informers, the agitators, whom he needs. What he actually attains under the conditions of his work is therefore not in his hand, but is prescribed to him by the following’s motives, which, if viewed
ethically, are predominantly base. The following can be harnessed only so long as an honest belief in his person and his cause inspires at least part of the following, probably never on earth even the majority. This belief, even when subjectively sincere, is in a very great number of cases really no more than an ethical ‘legitimation’ of cravings for revenge, power, booty, and spoils.
We shall not be deceived about this by verbiage; the materialist interpretation of history is no cab to be taken at will; it does not stop short of the promoters of revolutions. Emotional revolutionism is followed by the raditionalist routine of everyday life; the crusading leader and the faith itself fade away, or, what is even more effective, the faith becomes part of the conventional phraseology of political Philistines and banausic technicians. This development is especially rapid with struggles of faith because they are usually led or inspired by genuine
leaders, that is, prophets of revolution. For here, as with every leader’s machine, one of the conditions for success is the depersonalization and routinization, in short, the psychic proletarianization, in the interests of discipline. After coming to power the following of a crusader usually degenerates very easily into a quite common stratum of spoilsmen.
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. The great virtuosi of acosmic love of humanity and goodness, whether stemming from Nazareth or Assisi or from Indian royal castles, have not operated with the political means of violence. Their kingdom was ‘not of this world’ and yet they worked and still work in this
world. The figures of Platon Karatajev and the saints of Dostoievski still remain their most adequate reconstructions. 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. Men knew this even in the times of church rule. Time and again the papal interdict was placed upon Florence and at the time it meant a far more robust
power for men and their salvation of soul than (to speak with Fichte) the ‘cool approbation’ of the Kantian ethical judgment. The burghers, however, fought the church-state. And it is with reference to such situations that Machiavelli in a beautiful passage, if I am not mistaken, of the History of Florence, has one of his heroes praise those citizens who deemed the greatness of their native city higher than the salvation of their souls.
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. I have never permitted myself to lose out in a discussion through a reference to a date registered on a birth certificate;but the mere fact that someone is twenty years of age and that I am over fifty is no cause for me to think that this alone is an achievement before which I am overawed. 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.
Surely, politics is made with the head, but it is certainly not made with the head alone. In this the proponents of an ethic of ultimate ends are right. One cannot prescribe to anyone whether he should follow an ethic of absolute ends or an ethic of responsibility, or when the one and when the other. One can say only this much: If in these times, which, in your opinion, are not times of ‘sterile’ excitation–excitation is not, after all, genuine passion–if now suddenly the Weltanschauungs-politicians crop up en masse and pass the watchword, ‘The world is stupid and
base, not I,’ ‘The responsibility for the consequences does not fall upon me but upon the others whom I serve and whose stupidity or baseness I shall eradicate,’ then I declare frankly that I would first inquire into the degree of inner poise backing this ethic of ultimate ends. I am under the impression that in nine out of ten cases I deal with windbags who do not fully realize what they take upon themselves but who intoxicate themselves with romantic sensations. From a human point of view this is not very interesting to me, nor does it move me profoundly.
However, it is immensely moving when a mature man–no matter whether old or young in years–is aware of a esponsibility for the consequences of his conduct and really feels such responsibility with heart and soul. He then acts by following an ethic of responsibility and somewhere he reaches the point where he says: ‘Here I stand; I can do no other.’ That is something genuinely human and moving. And every one of us who is not spiritually dead must
realize the possibility of finding himself at some time in that position. In so far as this is true,an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility are not absolute contrasts but rather supplements, which only in unison constitute a genuine man–a man who can have the ‘calling for politics.’
Now then, ladies and gentlemen, let us debate this matter once more ten years from now.Unfortunately, for a whole series of reasons, I fear that by then the period of reaction will have long since broken over us. It is very probable that little of what many of you, and (I candidly confess) I too, have wished and hoped for will be fulfilled; little-perhaps not exactly nothing, but what to us at least seems little. This will not crush me, but surely it is an inner burden to realize it. Then, I wish I could see what has become of those of you who now feel yourselves to be genuinely ‘principled’ politicians and who share in the intoxication signified by this revolution. It would be nice if matters turned out in such a way that Shakespeare’s Sonnet 102 should hold true
Our love was new, and then but in the spring,When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
As Philomel in summer’s front doth sing,And stops her pipe in growth of riper days.
But such is not the case. Not summer’s bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness, no matter which group may triumph externally now. Where there is nothing, not only the Kaiser but also the proletarian has lost his rights. When this night shall have slowly receded, who of those for whom spring apparently has bloomed so luxuriously will be alive? And what will have become of all of you by then ? Will you be bitter or banausic ?Will you simply and dully accept world and occupation? Or will the third and by no means the least frequent possibility be your lot: mystic flight from reality for those who are gifted for it, or–as is both frequent and unpleasant–for those who belabor themselves to follow this fashion?In every one of such cases, I shall draw the conclusion that they have not measured up to their own doings. They have not measured up to the world as it really is in its everyday routine. Objectively and actually, they have not experienced the vocation for politics in its deepest
meaning, which they thought they had. They would have done better in simply cultivating plain brotherliness in personal relations. And for the rest–they should have gone soberly about their daily work.
Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective.Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth–that 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.
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