Brandt School Universität Erfurt

Public Guest Lecture on Max Webers' “Politics as a Vocation“

Prof. Michele Nicoletti

To what extent does a politician actually «grasp the spokes of the wheel of history»? What passions can legitimately inspire his or her political action? And does the inner pleasure of power really exist?

These are a few questions addressed by the lecture “Politics as a Vocation. Reflections on Max Weber’s ‘Politik als Beruf’, 100 years later“ delivered by Prof. Michele Nicoletti at the Willy Brandt School, on July 2nd, 2019. Prof. Nicoletti is Professor of Political Philosophy and International Studies at the University of Trento (Italy) and was visiting fellow at several international universities (i.a. Freiburg i.B.. KU Leuven, Notre Dame IN, USA). On the other hand, he is an experienced politician, both at the Italian and European level. He was a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, where he led the Socialist, Democratic and Green Group; in 2018, he served as President of that Parliamentary Assembly.

In his lecture, prof. Nicoletti recalled that Max Weber (born in Erfurt in 1864) gave the conference Politik als Beruf – which was to become a classic work in the field of political science, humanities and professional ethics - in January 1919, in Munich, to the “Free Students Union” of Bavaria. He then focused on the second, normative, part of Weber's text and on his reflection on the kind of human being that a professional politician must be. Intertwining the reading of Weber's quotations, a number of historical and philosophical references, and some concrete examples drawn from his own political experience, Prof. Nicoletti provided an illuminating insight into the profession of the politician, its responsibilities, its challenges, its ethical dilemmas. The ethics of responsibility put by Weber at the heart of his essay was also showed to have inspired the political action of some great politicians. In this regard, Prof. Nicoletti evoked Alcide Degasperi, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, who used to say that the difference between a politician and a true statesman is that the former only thinks of the next election, while the latter of the next generation. On the other hand, the contrast between an expected powerfulness and the frequent, effective powerlessness of the politician in parliamentary democracies was also touched upon in connection to Weber’s idealized and partially aristocratic description.

Notwithstanding the heat and the closeness to the end of the semester, with its exams, several students, some researchers and other non-academic people attended the lecture and joined in the lively discussion that followed: a good example of the extent to which re-reading the classics can still provide food for thought and pave the way for a constructive, intersectorial dialogue on current challenges.

The lecture was supported by the University of Erfurt’s Willy Brandt School of Public Policy and the Max Weber Kolleg, and was promoted by Dr. Tiziana Faitini, Postdoc Fellow at the Max Weber Kolleg,  as part of her current research project Shaping the professional. Towards a genealogy of professional ethics (funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 665958).