Max Weber's ethics and the peace movement today View Full Text


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Article Info

DATE

1984-07

AUTHORS

Guenther Roth

ABSTRACT

The decisive change since Weber spoke of “our responsibility before history” has not been the demise of the German nation state after only seventy-five years but the sudden dawn of the nuclear age. Now the survival of populations, not of nation-states is at stake - a situation not anticipated by Weber and his contemporaries. It is quite possible that many millions, perhaps hundreds of millions, will die because of rational strategic decisions by political and military leaders, but it is no longer possible to legitimate a great war as a matter of honor, as Churchill and Weber did, or as an enterprise “to make the world safe for democracy,” as Wilson and Roosevelt did. If there can be no more victors, it also becomes impossible to load the “responsibility before history” on their shoulders, as Weber did in “Politics as a Vocation.” Today a new concept of responsibility is appropriate, which has a general and a specifically German aspect. The latter involves the German responsibility for the World Wars. Weber had vehemently rejected the Allied charge that Imperial Germany was primarily responsible for the war, even though he was very worried about what might be buried in the German archives. Today it can no longer be denied that Imperial Germany was largely guilty as charged. After the second war, it was impossible to deny the German responsibility. During his tenure as chancellor Helmut Schmidt pointed time and again to the Federal Republic's moral obligation to assure the Soviet Union that it would never again be attacked. Since the German nation does no longer exist, the foreign minister under Schmidt and Kohl, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, now speaks of a “German-German community of responsibility” (Verantwortungsgemeinschaft), in contrast to the “community of fate” shared with the Western allies. At the same time the peace movement has used the German responsibility for the Second World War and for organized genocide as a moral argument for a special German duty to help prevent another war. Before the First World War pacifism was propagated by only a handful of intellectuals. Afterwards the “Nie wieder Krieg” (“Never again war”) movement was supported by masses of people who had experienced the horrors of the “Great War.” Today the peace movement is no longer what it was for Weber, a cause for “a few pacifist Utopians” or of a generation that suffered through a world war.43 The danger of a nuclear holocaust has given the movement a novel historical significance. If the new kind of pacifism is not merely a matter of humanitarian commitment, which aims at a world without war, but a movement that struggles to help humanity survive, then it is equally a matter of “good intentions” and of responsibility - and Weber's distinction collapses. Weber could take it for granted that there would be generational succession and hence history in the future. We cannot do so any more. This has created a special kind of responsibility not before our descendants but for the very possibility that new generations will be able to live - a totally new ethical situation. Saving whole populations and even having to ensure the continuance of life has become a new “ultimate value,” transcending the salvation concerns of religious virtuosi and the political Utopias of revolutionaries as well as the traditional interests of the leaders of nation-states. Before this situation Weber's distinction between the two ethics loses its political applicability. Finally, the new ethical situation forces us to look beyond “politics as a vocation” as a matter merely of political leadership. Today the peace movement is an endeavor to make politics everybody's vocation in the face of perplexed governments who surrender the people to the rationality of military technology. During the Second World War the atom bomb was constructed in total secrecy. For many years afterwards its further development lay in the hands of a tiny number of political leaders and scientists, who withheld as much information as possible from the public. The tendency toward secrecy has remained strong, but a large part of the public is now fighting for disclosure. If Clemenceau believed that war was too important to be left to generals, the new wisdom has it that the dangers of a nuclear war are too great to leave the armaments race and military strategy to elected politicians without effective public participation. In contrast to Weber's polar concepts, his battle-cry “our responsibility before history” has not remained part of public memory. Perhaps it should be resurrected today with a changed emphasis as a peaceable call to take responsibility for history. This might help both sides in the current struggles over nuclear defense policies in western Europe and the United States to remember their human commonality in spite of highly emotional confrontations. More... »

PAGES

491-511

Journal

TITLE

Theory and Society

ISSUE

4

VOLUME

13

Author Affiliations

Identifiers

URI

http://scigraph.springernature.com/pub.10.1007/bf00156900

DOI

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/bf00156900

DIMENSIONS

https://app.dimensions.ai/details/publication/pub.1050804593


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