Nietzsche is a bridging figure within the genealogical narrative of this series of posts. He presents the culmination point of the ethical aspect of depoliticization critique: as ontology and universality retreat, ethics and politics occupy the foreground. We saw how the general will overcame particularity in Rousseau; how morality and politics remained ambivalent in Kant; and finally, how morality itself was revealed as a historical construct by Nietzsche. This final move only entailed an increase in responsibility, as we have seen: precisely because there are no given values for us to hold on to, it becomes of decisive importance for us to make our own.

On the other hand, Nietzsche represents a turning point because of his influence on Max Weber and, both directly and indirectly, Carl Schmitt. The idea that values are not given, which is of paramount importance in Nietzsche, leads both of these thinkers to conclude that they are posited – and there is indeed a Fichtean echo at work here. Weber’s work can be conceived as describing the life of duty or vocation [Beruf] both as a condition of possibility for the rationalization of the world and as an alternative to the life of a cog in the machine, which the latter produced[1].

The notion underlying Beruf is used in different ways throughout Weber’s work: as the devoted professional [Berufsmensch], as the ‘personality’ [Personalität], the charismatic individual, and the ‘genuine politician’ [Berufspolitiker][2]. The latter political category is closest to our concerns, but because the dynamic between rationalization and Beruf is consistent throughout Weber’s work the underlying tension between the two can be analyzed in a more general sense through this particular avenue.

Like Nietzsche, Weber attempts a genealogy of modern subjectivity; also like Nietzsche, he grants a starring role to ascesis. For both thinkers, this ascesis has an initial effect of withdrawing or internalizing, which then, quite paradoxically, leads to a transformed outside world. Nietzsche had analyzed how the spirit of Christianity had persisted in modern science, so that it even became necessary to do away with the God hypothesis entirely. But the will to truth persists through this development. Weber describes that development in terms of rationalization and disenchantment [Entzauberung][3]. He describes how puritans turned to ‘good works’ and so became Berufsmensche, as the toil of work in religious devotion became the only way to work toward one’s salvation. This meant that ascesis went “from the monks’ cells to professional life and began to dominate inner morality [innerweltlichte Sittlichkeit]”[4]. This in turn meant that the ascetic drive of the puritans helped to construct the technical and economic conditions of the ordered society that determines, “with overwhelming force”, the lifestyle of all individuals that are born into this machinery[5]. Weber continues:

In Baxter’s [puritan] view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the ‘saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.’ But fate [das Verhängnis] decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage[6] [ein stahlhartes Gehäuse]. (Weber 2016, 171)

External goods, which had first assumed their meaning as intermediaries on the way to salvation, thus increasingly came to dominate both the internal and external lives of all, in Weber’s analysis. But again as in Nietzsche, a certain “practice of the self” becomes both the drive of the main problem – the possibility of meaningful action in the context of rationalization – and Weber’s main hope. He consistently points out two directions into which we are pulled, inward or outward, at the expense of its opposite: most of us are “sensualists without heart”, “specialists without spirit”, or idealistic “airheads” [Windbeutel][7]. All of these are different registers of powerlessness.

Weber sees an alternative conception, which he uncovers through his genealogy: the “unbroken whole” of subjective value and objective rationality[8]. In political terms, this requires a true leader, and even a hero[9]. The two directions into which we are pulled according to Weber are represented by what he calls the ethic of conviction [Gesinnungsethik] and the ethic of responsibility [Verantwortungsethik]: their unity is the mark of the “genuine human being” that can have the “call to politics”[10]. This has important implications for his views on politics and ethics, which we will examine in the next post.

[1] Kim 2012

[2] Weber 2016, Wissenschaft als Beruf, Economics & Society, Weber 2012; cf. Kim 2012

[3] Weber 2012

[4] Weber 2016, 171

[5] ibid

[6] “casing as hard as steel” is a better translation, but ‘iron cage’ has become the dominant one. Cf. Strong 2007, xxx

[7] Kim 2012; Weber 2012, 80

[8] Weber 1978, 319

[9] Weber 2012, 82-83

[10] ibid, 81


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