There is always a tension between our political leaders, and the bureaucrats who implement the political policies. Civil servants are habituated to do a task “without scorn or partiality.” It does not matter who they punish, reward, or the task they undertake. They are to do it without passion, and without scorn or partiality.
But politicians are different: Their job is to seek control over the levers of power, by generating a passion in the people who will follow them. For this reason, being a politician involves seeking followers, rewarding friends, and punishing enemies. In short, where the civil servant is to act without scorn or partiality “sine ira et studio,” while the politician is to act “ira et studium,” that is with scorn and partiality.
Here is how we translated Max Weber’s description of this paradox, which he writes about in his classic essay “Politics as Vocation.”
The Beamte [civil servant] should preside over his Amt [office] “ sine ira et studio ,” that is “without scorn or partiality.”
In fact, the Beamte should in no case do the very thing that defines a politician, and The Leader [Führer ] and his followers: fighting.
Because partisanship, battle, and passion— ira et studium —is the essence of a politician.
And above all, such scorn and passion are the basic tools of Leaders [Führer]. (Weber and Rationalism, p. 159).
No wonder every politician campaigns for office passionately promising to reform the bureaucracy. No wonder they never quite do it.
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.