With or Without Scorn or Partiality? Why Politicians and Bureaucrats Don’t Get Along

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.