Politics As Vocation | Max Weber

A potpourri of Political Science and Sociology, this week’s addition to the Sunday Reading List is Max Weber’s essay ‘Politics As Vocation’. The essay was essentially a speech given by the German Sociologist at Munich to the Free Students Union in 1919.

The essay is strongly remembered for Weber’s damning analysis of the State as the ‘sole grantor of the ‘right’ to physical force’ and effectively defining Politics as the pursuit of this determining power. Essential to any dialogue of the State, Power, legitimacy of the State and Authority, ‘Politics as Vocation’ is a quintessential reading of our times.

Weber writes:

“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.”

You can access the full transcript of the essay Politics as a Vocation – Max Weber.

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