In this extract from Max Weber’s classic essay “Politics as Vocation.” Max Weber is about to let loose regarding the insistence of the victorious Allies of World War I that Germany accept fault for starting the war in 1914, and feel “guilty” for doing so. He doesn’t like this, and compares it to the ethics of a romantic cad.
You will rarely find a man, who no longer loves a woman and therefore turns to another, will not feel the need to justify himself by arguing: “She was not worth my love, or she disappointed me”—or what other reasons there may be.
The woman has not only to cope with the sober fact that he doesn’t love her anymore, but also with the fact that he makes up a legitimacy for himself in a manner no chivalrous knight would.
He sees this made-up legitimacy as his right, and adds insult to injury by blaming the wreckage on her wrongdoing. The successful erotic competitor proceeds in just the same way; he argues that the adversary has to be the one who is unethical, after all, otherwise he would not have been defeated.
Of course, there is no difference; rather it is taken for granted that the winner claims with an undignified bossiness after any successful war: “I won because I was in the right.”
[This same phenomenon happens] when someone succumbs emotionally under the atrocities of the war and now, instead of plainly stating “It was just too much,” feels the need to legitimate his war fatigue to himself by substituting his feelings [for reason] and assert: “I was not able to take this war any more, because I had to fight for a morally wrong cause.”
The same phenomenon holds true for everybody who is defeated in wartime. So instead of looking for the “guilty culprit” like nattering washwomen— and especially when it is evident that the structure of society is responsible for the war—every manly and austere attitude [simply] signals to the enemy, “We lost the war—you won the war.”
This has been taken care of! Now, let’s talk about the conclusions… (pp. 183-184)
Weber is about to become involved with the Versailles Treaty negotiations on behalf of the defeated Germans. At the Versailles negotiations, the Allies will present Germany with the options of accepting their surrender conditions, or face an invasion. Weber’s position of course is of a (defeated) German nationalist. In such a circumstance, how could he proceed? How could he victorious Allies proceed?
From Max Weber, (1919) “Politics as Vocation” in Weber’s Rationalism and Modern Society, translated and edited by Tony Waters and Dagmar Waters, Palgrave MacMillan 2015.
A sample chapter from our book Weber’s Rationalism is here.