Where does morality not come into the picture

Political philosophy: Max Weber: Politics and Morals

Who hasn't heard of the distinction between ethics of conviction and ethics of responsibility? It plays a role in political disputes, for example in refugee policy or in climate protection. While ethics of conviction measures the moral quality of action primarily in terms of moral principles and intentions, ethics of responsibility also asks about the possible consequences of our actions. The distinction comes from Max Weber, one of the founders of modern sociology, who also pioneered other fields of knowledge.

Weber was born on April 21, 1864 in Erfurt. He died a hundred years ago on June 14, 1920 in Munich. Weber's father, who also had the first name Max, was a lawyer and a member of the Landtag and Reichstag for the National Liberal Party. The family belonged to the Protestant educated middle class, Weber's mother had Huguenot ancestors. The influence of Calvinist ethics on the development of capitalism was to become an important research topic for Weber, and religion remained a central theme for him throughout his life. He had an excellent knowledge of the Bible, but in later years referred to himself as "religiously unmusical".

After studying law, history, philosophy and economics, Weber initially embarked on a legal career, but then became professor of economics in Berlin and later in Heidelberg. He retired in 1903 and has worked as a private scholar ever since. In the summer semester of 1918 Weber taught at the University of Vienna, but then switched to a professorship in Munich.

Classic lectures

There Weber gave his famous lecture on "Politics as a Profession" in January 1919. It was the second lecture in a series entitled "Intellectual work as a profession" organized by a student union. A year earlier, Weber had spoken about science as a profession. Both lectures are considered modern classics, one in the field of political science, the other for understanding modern science.

Weber understands politics - who had transformed himself from an ardent German national imperialist to a determined republican - "any kind of independent managerial activity" and defines the modern state as a political association based on the monopoly on the use of force, which is regarded as legitimate, and as a "relationship of rule regulated by law" of people about people ".

Ulrich H.J. Körtner is a professor at the Evangelical Theological Faculty of the University of Vienna. He speaks to Max Weber on Ö1 in the "Thoughts for the day": Monday, June 15. until Friday, June 19 at 6.56 a.m.

Weber's statements on modern professional politics are still worth reading. The sociologist differentiates between casual, part-time and professional politicians. There are those who live for politics and those who live from it. While civil servants in the administrative apparatus are not actually involved in politics (or should not be), politicians have management and organizational tasks. Weber primarily relies on charismatic leaders who, however, do not act out of a pure will to power, but on the principle of responsibility and are ready to take on personal responsibility.

Politics creates power that must be handled responsibly. With this, according to Weber, "we are entering the field of ethical questions". And the core question, which is also worth considering at present, is, in Weber's words: "What kind of person one has to be to be allowed to put one's hand in the spokes of the wheel of history". A year after the Ibiza scandal, this question is very topical.

A well-ordered political community depends on the moral integrity of those who make politics their profession. Even if all citizens ultimately bear political responsibility, modern democracy cannot do without politicians who are not only given power for a limited period of time, but who practice politics as a profession and master their craft in the interests of the general public.

Politics as a profession is of course just as inconceivable as the profession of doctor or entrepreneur without a corresponding professional ethos. The term "honorable businessman" may sound old-fashioned - it was booming again during the financial and banking crisis of 2008. In the same way, politicians of moral integrity are needed and not just technocrats of power. In representative democracy, it is not just a question of parties, but of the individual, his conscience, his firmness of character, sovereignty and his personal sense of responsibility.

Personal qualities

For Max Weber, three qualities are primarily decisive for a good politician, namely passion, a sense of responsibility and a sense of proportion. Passion is meant in the sense of objectivity, in the service of the cause, to which personal ambition and vanity are also subordinate. Passion for the cause makes the politician's responsibility "the decisive guiding star" for his actions. Ultimately, as Weber literally said, "there are only two types of deadly sins in the field of politics: irresponsibility and - often, but not always, irresponsibility. Vanity: the need to come to the fore as much as possible the politician most tempted to commit either or both. "

It is not uncommon for a lack of morality to be lamented in today's politics. Is politics moral if it follows an ethical conviction or appeals to moral values? Values ​​are very important today. The European Union, for example, expressly sees itself not only as an economic community, but also as a community of values. "The values ​​on which the Union is founded are respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values ​​are common to all Member States in a society that is characterized by pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men. " That is what the Lisbon Treaty says.

An ethics and politics of values ​​is, of course, a double-edged matter. Weber pointed out that the rhetoric of values ​​leads to the "use of 'ethics" as a means of being' right '". Values ​​are the secular garb in which the gods of a premodern age, said to be dead, live on: "The many old gods, disenchanted and therefore in the form of impersonal powers, rise from their graves, strive for power over our lives and begin their eternal struggle among themselves again."

The philosopher Krzysztof Michalski, who died in 2013, agrees with Weber. Ultimately, the appeal to moral values ​​always leads to demarcation from any "others" who are excluded from one's own community. Michalski's succinct conclusion is: "Values ​​don't connect, values ​​separate."

We therefore need a sensorium for the danger of the tyranny of values, and not only in politics. But what does it mean to take responsibility in politics? And also for moral reasons? Can you make politics with Jesus' Sermon on the Mount? Weber's answer is clear: only those who want to be a saint in all things can follow the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount without compromise and cannot withstand the evil in the world. The politician, on the other hand, has to withstand the evil, if necessary with force, otherwise he is responsible for its excess.

An absolute ethic - Weber speaks of ethics of conviction - does not ask about the consequences of one's own actions, but leaves success to God. The ethics of responsibility, on the other hand, follow a relative ethic that takes into account the "average defects of people" and their stupidity - or "the will of God who created them".

There is a difference between moral and political responsibility. Anyone exercising a political office must take into account the good of the community and, accordingly, the consequences of political decisions for this good. A distinction must be made between what is morally required and what is politically correct. The two must not be torn apart, but they can come into conflict with one another. An understanding of politics that always considers moral reasons to be superior to political reasons is not only politically but also morally questionable. For moral reasons, for example, compliance with the rule of law is required.

For Weber, however, "ethics of conviction and ethics of responsibility are not absolute opposites, but additions that together make up the real person, the one who can have a 'job in politics'". So beware of wrong alternatives. But doesn't the ethics of responsibility in politics boil down to the end justifying the means? Max Weber explains frankly: "No ethics in the world can avoid the fact that the attainment of 'good' purposes is tied in numerous cases to the fact that one includes morally questionable or at least dangerous means and the possibility or even the probability of bad side-effects Purchase takes. "

Violent fanatics

Ethics also does not protect against possible dilemmas in which one can only weigh up between two evils. Ethics of opinion cannot escape such problems either, unless at the cost of uncompromising rigorism. Weber points out the danger that ethicists will mutate into apocalyptic prophets. In radical end-time movements, such as the Anabaptist Empire in Münster in 1534/35, it has repeatedly come about that initial pacifism has turned into violence in order to bring about the kingdom of eschatological peace by destroying all evil.

Today radicalization tendencies can be observed in parts of the animal rights and climate protection movements. Radical advocates of uncompromising policy change sometimes come up against the rules of the game of a parliamentary democracy, one of which is political compromise. Right-wing movements also despise parliamentarism. A living democracy, however, not only needs consensus, but also a conflict, for the settlement of which, however, mutually accepted rules must apply.

"Politics," says Max Weber literally, "means strong, slow drilling of hard boards with passion and a sense of proportion." This also applies today to all political fields, not just climate protection.