Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 1 March 2012

Re-Thinking the Capitalist State - Max Weber's Political Sociology

And still they come! To show my gratitude to all the friends who visit this site in ever-larger numbers - even as the frequency has waned of late -, here is an extract from Part Four of the Weber-buch on the capitalist State. Please read carefully because this can form the basis for a re-interpretation of the society of capital at a time when the overthrow of its State-machine becomes an immediate and ever more attainable goal! Cheers.

As we hinted above, Weber’s position represents a regression with respect to Constant’s still clear and sharp distinction between “freedom” and “guarantees”, between active participation in politics and passive “enjoyment” of constitutional “rights and liberties”. Both Constant and Weber maintain the metaphysical notion of “possession”, of the “in-dividual’s” natural right to the pro-duct of individual labors. But whilst Constant still preserves the validity of the Classical notion of “freedom” which, to his mind, has been eclipsed by the complexity of the “socialisation” occasioned by “the system of needs and wants”, for Weber, instead, this classical “freedom” or Freiheit never existed! It was never “real”, but was only a “meta-physical” delusion. What is real for Weber, what is physical, is the “greed-dom” of conflicting individual self-interests that have finally found their most “rational” expression as the end-result of the “ascetic Ideal”that has debouched into “the iron cage of modern industrial labor”. Constant’s liberalism remains tied to the ideology of “Enlightenment” in its British or French or German varieties all of which see “freedom” as the final re-solution of human conflict, as “the end of history” in both senses of the word – the conclusion and the final goal of history. Weber’s Entwurf instead has already overcome this “enlightened” version of bourgeois civil society and conceives of “free-dom” not in a telelological, millenary sense, but only as the negative by-product of “greed-dom”.

Far from being the Hegelian Vergeistigung, the apotheosis of human universality as a stage of the Objective Spirit in the extrinsication of the Idea (cf. Philosophie des Rechts, final section on “Welt-geschichte”), or the “guarantee” of the “neutrality” of its institutions in Socialist or Liberal utopias founded on the “scientific” enforcement of the Law of Value (even in the Marxian framework where instead the “withering away” of the State is anticipated once capitalism is superseded), for Weber the “State” exists not as an “end” but purely as an instrument, as a “means” (in PaB, p78):

Ultimately, one can define [78] the modern state sociologically only in terms

of the specific means peculiar to it, as to every political association, namely,

the use of physical force….Today the relation between the state and violence is an

especially intimate one. In the past, the most varied institutions—beginning

with the sib—have known the use of physical force as quite

normal. Today, however, we have to say that a state is a human community

that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of

physical force within a given territory. Note that 'territory' is one of the

characteristics of the state. Specifically, at the present time, the right to

use physical force is ascribed to other institutions or to individuals only

to the extent to which the state permits it. The state is considered the

sole source of the 'right' to use violence. Hence, 'politics' for us means

striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power,

either among states or among groups within a state.

The well-nigh universal consensus in interpretations of Weber’s political sociology is that because Weber insists on the need for the State as a “means” or instrument to hold its “monopoly of physical force” in a manner that is “legitimate” – because of this condition, many conclude thereby that for Weber the Political or “legitimacy” takes priority and has primacy over Economics! To be sure, Weber does stipulate that if a state is to claim and hold successfully a monopoly over “the legitimate use of physical force”, then it needs a modicum of “inner assent”. But far from postulating what many have called “the autonomy of the Political” in the sense that the “power” of the State is based solely or predominantly on its “legitimacy”, Weber is speaking of a very specific type of “legitimacy” – that is to say, a “successful” legitimacy, one that comes not from the base (from the demos, “from the bottom up”) but from the vertex (from the “leadership”, “from the top down”) of the social pyramid of power and authority! And this “legitimacy” rests for him precisely on “the social question”, that is to say, on that “sphere of necessity”, on that “struggle for existence” dictated by “the scarcity of means”, by the Economic, upon which the “autonomy” or “freedom” of the Political is founded! Let us read Weber carefully:

Let us now turn to parliament.

First and foremost modern parliaments are assemblies representing

the people who are ruled by the means of bureaucracy. It is,

after all, a condition of the duration of any rule, even the best

organized, that it should enjoy a certain measure of inner assent from

at least those sections of the ruled who carry weight in society. Today parliaments

are the means whereby to manifest outwardly this minimum of assent. (165)

Die modernen Parlamente sind in erster Linie Vertretungen der durch die Mittel der Bürokratie Beherrschten. Ein gewisses Minimum von innerer Zustimmung mindestens der sozial gewichtigen Schichten der Beherrschten ist ja Vorbedingung der Dauer einer jeden, auch der bestorganisierten, Herrschaft. Die Parlamente sind heute das Mittel, dies Minimum von Zustimmung äußerlich zu manifestieren.

Clear is the “division of labor” indicated by Weber between “the bureaucracy” on one side, which simply “administers” to “the most basic needs of social life” (that is, the “rationality” of capitalist enterprise that has now become “social capital” and on whose “profitability” the entire reproduction of “the society of capital” is dependent), and "modern parliaments" on the other side which exist as a "means to manifest outwardly this minimum of assent" . It is this “bureaucracy”, which is both “official” (military and civilian) and “private” (capitalistic), that effectively “rules the people” independently of their assent or dissent! “A measure of inner assent” is essential for Weber not to the definition of a State, but only as a “condition of its duration”. Weber therefore assumes the pre-existence of a pyramid of “power” (potestas) that runs from officialdom to private capitalistic enterprise that “rules the people” of a modern nation-state who are in turn merely “re-presented” by an assembly called “parliament” which they have “selected” to secure for the “rule” – that is, importantly, for the “bureaucracy”, official and private – “a certain measure of inner assent”, which means “legitimacy and authority”, “from at least those sections of the ruled who carry weight in society”! After all, it is difficult to conceive of a State that “ruled” without the “inner assent” of “at least those sections of the ruled who carry weight in society”, whether or not they themselves in reality held the reins of State power in that society or whether they allow their “representatives” to do it!

Indeed, it is all but evident from Weber’s indisputable adherence to elitarian theories of politics (from Pareto to Mosca to his Archiv colleagues Michels and Schumpeter) that he always intended by “legitimacy” and “inner assent” not so much - if at all! – “democratic consensus” but rather “the use by the State of its monopoly of physical force instrumentally on behalf of the powerful elites in society”! By this last phrase Weber means principally the owners of capital – because we must remember that a nation-state is “a nation-state among many”, in the sense that capital is free to be withdrawn from the territory of a nation-state. This is a point – the “circulation” of capital – to which Constant gives great prominence.

Still, it is evident that not only officialdom but also private capitalist enterprise needs a minimum of legitimacy in terms of its ability to provide for the needs and wants of most members of a society, in particular its workforce which is part of “those sections who carry weight” because, as we saw in Part Two, the “rationalization” operated by the advent of capitalist industry is dependent on the “exact calculation”, or “profitability”, that is specific to a society founded on “the rational organisation of free labor under the regular discipline of the factory”!  Thus this “inner assent” (legitimacy and authority) at least under what Weber calls “modern capitalism” seems to depend very much for him on the ability of “the rulers” (the combined bureaucracies, public and private) to deliver the goods of economic growth and development; - and on the means to ensure that this happens, first, in a manner that does not endanger the wage relation and, second, in a manner that perpetuates the existing system of political domination, that is, by means of a “tool”, the State, that dispenses political power in accordance with a pool of economic resources drawn from the productive activities of workers.

Thus, it is not so much that Parliament is “the means by which this inner assent [its legitimacy] becomes manifest” in the sense that it merely ex-presses or is a mere mouthpiece for “the system of needs and wants”, “the iron cage of modern industrial labor”. Rather, Parliament is the means by which this “inner assent is made manifest” in an objective instrumental organicist sense!

Today parliaments are the means to manifest outwardly this minimum of assent.

Die Parlamente sind heute das Mittel, dies Minimum von Zustimmung äußerlich zu manifestieren.

It is not an accident that Weber uses the impersonal, almost passive voice (“to manifest”) here and refers to “parliaments” generically to convey strongly the sense that a particular “parliament” is not the instrument of the “people”, of the demos, whose “inner assent” it is there to re-present. Quite to the contrary, Weber is saying that “parliaments generally” are the new “organic tools” or “institutional instruments” by means of which the particular structure and form of politico-economic power constituted by the capitalist bourgeoisie “in the Occident” manifests itself outwardly or ostensibly as as "legitimate", as "inner assent", as a “show of support”! It follows therefrom that “inner assent” is not a “spontaneous manifestation” of popular democratic consensus formed autonomously by “the people”. Instead, for the State bureaucracy "to claim successfully" its monopoly over the use of physical force, it must secure this “minimum assent” by means of parliaments! In other words, this "minimum of assent" must be “governed” by the ruling bureaucracy, in the sense that it must be “gathered”, “interpreted”, “shaped” and “directed” (and even “purchased” venally, grex venalium) through the “separation” of workers from “the machinery of State” and their “individual division of labor”.

It is evident, therefore, that Weber always intended “legitimacy” to be part and parcel of his “instrumental” definition of the State and not a separate requirement or criterion for its definition! For him, there is no viable State without “legitimacy”:

It is, after all, a condition of the duration of any rule, even the best

organized, that it should enjoy a certain measure of inner assent from

at least those sections of the ruled who carry weight in society.

Thus, Weber never intended the Political to be fundamentally autonomous from the Economic, from “those sections of the ruled who carry weight in society”! Indeed, the Political reflects the “sphere of freedom” only to the extent that “freedom” is intended either as sheer arbitrium – as mere “arbitrariness” that is inconsequential in terms of the overall structure and division of power in society; – or else as the articulation of those relevant interests, the interests of “those who carry weight in society”, whose “inner assent” is needed for the State, in its organic and instrumental function as “a community with the legitimate use of physical force”, to exert its constituted rule “for any length of time or duration”.

In a modern state real rule, which becomes effective in everyday life

neither through parliamentary speeches nor through the pronouncements

of monarchs but through the day-to-day management of the

administration, necessarily and inevitably lies in the hands of officialdom,

both military and civilian. The modern high-ranking officer even

conducts battles from his ‘office’. (145)

Weber makes a point that Arendt seems to share about the “difference” between “political administration” and “private enterprise” in that the latter is much more “technical” and even represents the realm of “necessity”. And Socialism cannot overcome this “necessity” because its very political organisation is elitist and ends up preserving the “oligarchy” of private industry:

The revolution [of Germany, 1918] has accomplished, at least in so far

as leaders have taken the place of the statutory authorities, this much:

the leaders, through usurpation or election, have attained control over

the political staff and the apparatus of material goods; and they deduce

their legitimacy—no matter with what right—from the will of the governed.

Whether the leaders, on the basis of this at least apparent success,

can rightfully entertain the hope of also carrying through the expropriation

within the capitalist enterprises is a different question. The direction

of capitalist enterprises, despite far-reaching analogies, follows quite

different laws from those of political administration. (PaB, p82)

The State, through Parliament, articulates those “normative goals”, those “evaluations” that then become “unambiguous” and are pursued rationally-technically or “scientifically” in relation to available “scarce means”. Once again, as we showed in Part Three, Weber forgets that even when “economic science” is applied “correctly” or “rationally”, the task is made paradoxically impossible by the fact that the “scarcity” of means depends on the “market prices” of those “means” – which is the classical circulus vitiosus (more simply put, we cannot know what means are “scarce” until “the market” prices them – but the market is supposed to price them on their “scarcity”!). For this reason, even on Weber’s own “presupposition-less” assumptions, the task of Parliament or “parliaments” to determine “democratically” the political will of the nation is quite simply impossible given that there is no scientific or automatic way of determining not only the “goals” of government, but also the “means” available to achieve them!

For liberalism, Politics and Economics need to be “homologated”, - the one “guarantees” the other, but one cannot invade the other’s sphere! Yet this is what the negatives Denken does, not through the Economics, but through the Eris, the Strife, the polemos, through the impossibility of “reconciliation” of self-interests. Indeed, as ought to be amply evident by now, it is quite simply impossible for Weber to distinguish neatly between Politics and Economics for the simple reason that he quite correctly defines Economics in very broad terms as the area of social life in which there is a “scarcity of means”, wherever there is a “struggle for existence” (cf., ‘Objektivitat’, pp.64-5 in MoSS), or what he called in his Inaugural Address "the economic struggle for life" – which for him is just about in all areas of social life but especially in modern capitalism defined as "the rational organisation of free labor under the regular discipline of the factory"! It is in the factory that this “scarcity” and this “struggle” are concentrated and where the sphere of necessity in society is separated from the sphere of freedom – from “cultural life”, as Weber styles it.

Where Weber diverges from Nietzsche, and makes himself liable to Schmitt’s trenchant critique (in Parlamentarismus) is in the attempt to reconcile the Demokratisierung with the State by means of “parliamentary democracy”. But Weber diverges also from Nietzsche in his inchoate and incipient “liberalism” that springs from his sharing Neoclassical economic principles - the individual, utility, the market, labor – all “metaphysical” excogitations of the Austrian School and its “economic science” that Weber never questioned! Weber encounters an “apory” here that Nietzsche a-voided precisely because he indicted the Ohnmacht of the State, of the Sozialismus, and of the Liberal Parlamentarismus – their “power-lessness” in securing social harmony and stability. 

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