Max Weber’s essay entitled Politics as a Vocation focuses on the relationship between politics and ethics and discusses the right way in which politics should be performed. As many of the political scientists and sociologists have noticed in the course of time, the balance between politics and ethics is always hard to maintain. As Weber notices, the notion of politics is intrinsically related to that of power and dominance, that is, one can apply the term “political” to every action which uses power or dominance as a means of attaining a precise end.
Thus, according to Weber, politics can not exist without the exercise of power and force. Force and violence are thus indispensable to any political organization. Thus, the state as a social and political organization is the very source of the legitimacy of the use of violence in the attempt to maintain the order: “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. ” Weber’s definition of the political state can be easily extended to the contemporary politics.
The striving to ascend to power and to influence the distribution of power among states is still the main political context, and it can be identified in the foreign policy of the United States. Also, according to Weber, there are three forms of legitimacy for the imposition of power: traditional, charismatic and legal. The traditional refers to the power of the monarchs, who were considered as the legitimate on the basis of their names and families while the charismatic legitimacy refers to the political leader who has a vocation for politics and is trusted on the basis of his own character and personality.
The legal type of legitimacy is the one that one finds in the modern states: the general adherence and obedience to a determined set of laws and common rules. The legal legitimacy seems to be the same that functions in the democratic states of today. Thus, as Weber argues, power (which can have any of the legitimacies mentioned above) and dominance are the main foundations of any political state, that is, in fact, a “relation of men dominating men”: “the state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate (i. e. considered to be legitimate) violence[…]”
In this context, Weber identifies the vocation for politics as the ability to live “for” politics, that is, the ability or to pursue a certain cause, while at the same time, enjoying the power: “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 has meaning in the service of a ’cause. ‘ “
Thus, the main tenant of Weber’s essays is that while politics cannot be separated from the undemocratic exercise of power, it must, at the same time pursue a cause, and be able to manifest devotion to that cause. Politics takes both talent for leadership and the moral qualities that are required usually of a hero: “But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well[…]” This would be the true vocation for politics, according to Weber. The politicians should be principled and follow an ethic in their acts and in their use of power.
What Weber goes against is in fact the pursue of power for the sake of power. The end of any form of politics should be something else than power itself. In this sense, the doctrine of Machiavelli seems to be applicable: the end justifies the means. However, this is not to say that the views of Weber and Machiavelli on this subject are the same. On the contrary, Weber believes that genuine vocation for politics is never to pursue personal ends or to try to ascend to power by any means. The main coordinates of the political vocation are the pursue of ultimate ends and the politics of responsibility.