Why Max Weber matters

P4_Kelly2_Web_1128672hDuncan Kelly at the Times Literary Supplement:

As Ghosh notes, Weber had always been a superb political analyst. His “probability” theory about when peace would come and the possibilities of German victory was as ruthlessly realistic as anything else he wrote. Yet if objectivity in the midst of war set him apart, one of Ghosh’s major points is that politics for Weber, although a grand human ideal, had been on the decline for centuries as the crucial arbiter of human conduct. Now, it meant nothing more or less than earthly Herrschaft, so that there were only so many ways one could talk about its development, or think about its valences. For those who hold fixed ideas about Weber the political animal, Ghosh’s claims will be hard reading. But part of the problem with seeing him as a straightforward nationalist was that even incandescent rage about national shame was allied to a profound understanding of geopolitics and political responsibility. This made it clear to him that “reaction” and public retribution, or power politics without content, were futile modes of engagement. Subtler and more “responsible” policy was required if long-term success was to be achieved, and that would have to take place in diplomatic back channels by “responsible” statesmen. Germany was actually quite successful at this when seen in comparative perspective, a point amplified recently by Adam Tooze in The Deluge: The Great War and the remaking of global order(2014).

Weber’s well-known refrains about the dangers of a politics of national vanity (Eitelkeit), made most famously in his lecture on the vocation of politics, were in fact extant in his writings from the start. For example, in a perspicacious essay realistically assaying the prospects of Germany against the European world powers during the war, he once more stated his belief that “objective politics” was not a “politics of vanity”, but one whose actions necessarily took place in the shadows.

more here.