Politics and Ethics, and the Ethic of Politics

Hans Henrik Bruun

in The Oxford Handbook of Max Weber

ISBN: 9780190679545
Published online March 2019 | e-ISBN: 9780190679569 | DOI:
Politics and Ethics, and the Ethic of Politics

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This chapter first examines Max Weber’s views on the relationship between ethics and politics. Weber maintained that there is an ineradicable conflict between the ultimate value spheres, each of which has its own inherent logic; consequently, he rejected the idea that politics could build on ethical foundations. Moreover, he pointed to an essential conflict within the sphere of politics between two radically different “ethics”: the ethic of conviction and the ethic of responsibility. A person acting according to the ethic of conviction judges his or her action solely by its intrinsic value, regardless of consequences, and takes no responsibility for those consequences; a person acting in accordance with the ethic of responsibility will not only take those consequences into account but also feel that he or she must accept responsibility for them. Although Weber’s formulations often seem to indicate his personal preference for the ethic of responsibility, it should be noted that he explicitly states that the true vocation of politics presupposes both responsibility and conviction on the part of the politician. This account of Weber’s views is followed, first, by an analysis of contemporary usage of the terms “ethic of conviction” and “ethic of responsibility” and, second, by a discussion of the relevance of Weber’s argument today, on the basis of five concrete cases. The conclusion of these discussions is that Weber’s analysis of the relationship between ethics and politics, and of the ethic of politics, remains as relevant as ever.

Keywords: value conflict; ethic of responsibility; ethic of conviction; power pragma; inherent logic; German politics; rescue of Danish Jews; terrorism; Muhammad cartoon; House of Cards

Article.  9112 words. 

Subjects: Political Sociology ; Social Theory

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