Weber: Politics as a Vocation, part 2

“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 sill 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.”

— Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation” (p. 26)

[Here I should probably reiterate that posting a passage indicates my recognition that the point(s) made therein are interesting jumping-off points for conversation or thought; doing so does not (necessarily) indicate my endorsement of the ideas on their merits. –JCE]


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