Thinking about “politics as a vocation” and these closing lines by Max Weber in reponse to the elections in Israel and to the rise of ethno- and ethno-theofascists both there and here in the United States. Weber recommends himself today for the combination of sober realism and utter hoplelesss that he combined with resolve. Where will be in ten years? Noting that Weber’s own use of pronouns shifts from “we” to “you” in the first paragraph tuoted below I am substituting “you” and “they” back to “we” (and “he” to “they”). I do this to undesrcore my own conviction that that we on the liberal, liberal-left, and radical left side of the political spectrum have not done well at the task of measuring up to the world as it now is and people as they are.
Now then, ladies and gentlemen, let us debate this matter once more ten years from now. Unfortunately, for a whole series of reasons, I fear that by then the period of reaction will have long since broken over us. It is very probable that little of what many of you, and (I candidly confess) I too, have wished and hoped for will be fulfilled; little—perhaps not exactly nothing, but what to us at least seems little. This will not crush me, but surely it is an inner burden to realize it…Not summer’s bloom lies ahead of us, but rather a polar night of icy darkness and hardness, no matter which group may triumph externally now…And what will have become of all of
you [us] by then? Will you [we] be bitter or banausic? Will you simply and dully accept world and occupation? Or will the third and by no meansthe least frequent possibility be your lot: mystic flight from reality for those who are gifted for it, or—as is both frequent and unpleasant—for those who belabor themselves to follow this fashion? In every one of such cases, I shall draw the conclusion that they [we] have not measured up to their [our] own doings. They [We] have not measured up to the world as it really is in its everyday routine.
Objectively and actually,
they [we] have not experienced the vocation for politics in its deepest meaning, which they [we] thought they [we] had. They [We] would have done better in simply cultivating plain brotherliness in personal relations. And for the rest— they [we] should have gone soberly about their [our] daily work. Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth —that man [we] would not have attained the possible unless time and again he [we] had reached out for the impossible….And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men [we] will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has [they have] the calling for politics who is sure that he [they] shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants [we want] to offer. Only he [they] who in the face of all this can say ‘In spite of all!’ has the calling for politics.
—Max Weber, “Poltics as a Vocation” from From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology [127-8]