Politics And Scientific Expertise According To Max Weber

Max Weber is a German sociologist, political economist and regarded as one of the founders of the disciplines.

He is known for his works on the relationship between Protestanism and capitalism, his ideas about bureaucacy, economic history and politics together with the ideal definiton of the state. His main ideas about bureaucracy and politics are published in the book Politics as a Vocation. In this book, he defines some terminology for the politics as in sociologial terms, draws the conditions of the professional politican and explains how and why does a person involve in politics with many other dimensions of the topic.

Max Weber defines the state as “ a human community that succesfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of pyhsical force within a given territory”He suggests that state is the sole source of the right to use violence and derives the definition of politics as “ striving to share power or striving to influence the distribution of power either among states or among groups within a state”. We have to consider these definitions and explanation for our context of discussion. According to Weber, there are three basic legitimations of domination which is holding power and using it. These are ‘the authority of the eternal yesterday’, ‘ authority of charisma (personal gifts of grace) ’ and domination by virtue of legacy’. These are to be briefly summarized as the qualities of these legitimations as ‘traditional’, ‘charismatic’ and ‘legal’, respectively. The domination of men over men is something to be examined. One may ask the question how in order to understand this idea of authority. Weber examines the ‘charismatic’ domination in order to answer this question. He claims that in charismatic authorities, “men obey the leader because they believe in him, not because of tradition or legal virtues.”.[footnoteRef:4] To maintain the domination of the charismatic leader, there must be a political organization that creates and executive staff alongside the power holder and therefore using the legitimate power to gain social honor and material rewards. For these executive staff, Weber suggests that fear of losing those social honors and material rewards is the basis for the solidarity between them and the power holder. The executive staff may or may not be seperated from the power holder. For the authorities that are not seperated from the power holder, they are chained to the owner of the legitimate power that creates the bureaucratic state order. The bureaucratic state order, as stated by Weber, is the characteristic of the modern state in which it controls the total means of political organization and this organization is under the control of a single leader. In those modern states, the bureaucracy does not own the money, buildings, stores despite the fact that they control them.

The political environment of these states caused the emergence of the ‘professional politicians’.

These professional politicians have been “who, unlike the charismatic leader, have not wished to be lords themselves, but who have entered the service of political lords” [footnoteRef:7]. According to Weber politics can be avocation or vocation for an individual.[footnoteRef:8] All of the party agents and those who are affiliated with the voluntary political associations are politically active only in case of need, which makes politics as an avocation for them. For politics being a vocation, Weber suggests that there are two ways of making politics a vocation, either one person lives off the politics or live for the politics. The distinction between them is clear, if one makes use of the politics as a source of income then he lives off politics, however for a sincere man who lives for politics devotes his life to politics also lives off the politics. The circumstances does not allow a man who makes politics a cause for himself to earn other source of income. However, under normal conditions, the politician must be economically independent from the political income. This can be further explained as the politican must be wealthy on his own to pursue a life in politics. 

Weber explains that there are three qualities that are decisive for the politican, these are ‘passion’, ‘a feeling of responsibility’ and ‘a sense of proportion’.[footnoteRef:12] The politican must be passionate about his work, his political life. He must be devoted to his cause. He should not let any outside event affect his judgement or ability to be objective. He needs this sense of proportion to maintain his concentration and calmness to stay in the realities that are surrounding him. Weber suggests that the strength of a political personality means that the possesion of those three qualities. There are two deadly sins in the field of politics, lack of objectivitiy and irresponsibility. One can imagine these two may be identical, however they are different in terms of practice most of the time.[footnoteRef:13] Weber claims that there is a reason that drives the politician to commit these sins. The reason is ‘vanity’, the need personally to stand in the foreground as clearly as possible.[footnoteRef:14] For the politician, it is extremely important to avoid commiting these sins. By not committing these sins, the politician can practice its ‘strength’ in political terms and make the best of it. These two sins are often seen in one of the ‘professional politician’s, the journalists. The responsibility of the journalist is greater most of the individuals. As it is explained by Weber, “the journalist career remains under all circumstances one of the most important avenes of the professional activity. It is not a road for everybody, least of all for weak characters, especially for people who can maintain their inner balance only with a secure status position”.To consider, any journalist who is irresponsible or lacks objectivity makes work that effects the political environment and remembered for a long period of time. 

The bureaucratic state order is the definite characteristic of the modern state. The administrative and executive staff are officials who do not have the power, but use this power by use of money and control the assets of the political leader. Those who are the officials of the state, are not the political leaders or professional politicans. These officials can be considered as paid workers. The state order causes the emergence of the ministers and parliament. The power struggle between the political leader and the officials are now out of the question with the emergence of the parliament. The political parties also help build a “machine” that have the power of domination and authority alongside with those political associations.[footnoteRef:17] This machine keeps the members of the parliament in check and there is a man who the machine follows, the leader.[footnoteRef:18] The state of the expert officials of the politics and the “machine” order are results of the emergence of the professional politicians. Those who make politics a vocation for themselves are different in terms of political order. They pursue their career in order to achieve their ideals and goals which may or may not affect other individuals. The professional politican does seek for the power whereas the executive staff in the bureaucratic order does not. The experts in the political order are educated officials they do not play a part in the final decision making while the political leader, the politician, does the decision making on his own or with his consultants. The bureaucratic state is the order of the educated experts, they do not live for the politics, instead they live off the politics. The professional politican is as obvious lives for the politics, however one can hardly imagine where someone who lives for the politics does not live off the politics. In practice, those who live for the politics also live off the politics as well. 

Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologists who is known for his works on politics, economy and phiolosphy. Some of his major works are The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (1962), Legitimation Crisis(1973) and Theory of Communicative Action (1983). Habermas had studied the subjects of expertise in modern state, scientization of politics, political administration and he also sought for the answer of the question “what is the proper relationship between scientific experts and political practice? “ which he criticizes Weber’s theories and proposes a different model.

Habermas explains three models for the political state. These are decisionistic, technocratic and pragmatistic models. The decisionistic model is associated with Weber’s defitions of relations between politicians and experts in specialized administration. This model differs bureaucracy and political leadership in terms of making decisions and confronting the outcomes. While bureaucracy is the rational application of means based on specialized technical knowledge in accordance with legal rules, political leaders make decisions and take responsibility ultimately based on choices between value spheres. Habermas criticizes the decisionistic model because it assumes that rationality does not apply to political questions. The relationship between values and means are weak and values will die if they lose their connection to the satisfaction of needs. 

Habermas claims that according to Weber, “complete division of labor between the objectively informed and technically schooled general staffs of the bureaucracy and the military on the one hand and leaders with a power instinct and intense will on the other will make possible the scientization of politics.”[footnoteRef:20]. However, this decisionistic model has its flaws,” if the division of labor between experts and leaders is carried out according to this model, then the politically functioning public realm of citizens can serve only to legitimate ruling group”, as stated by Habermas. To express in basic terms, if the decisionistic model suggests that the decisions must not be open to te public discussion and therefore it cannot be considered as democratic. The problem now becomes that the reduction of the political power to expert administration can only be achieved at the expense of democracy itself. 

Among the three models that are explained by Habermas, only the pragmatistic model is related to the democracy. The pragmatistic model offers a critical interaction between the politicians and scientific experts thus creating a whole different dynamic of rationalization and scientization of the politics. To consider, the critical interaction succeeds in maintaining order and seeking the benefits of the state because the interaction from both fields make the politics an area of rational and scientific activity. The communication between the scientific experts and politicans are reciprocal, nothing is one sided. It makes use of the needs of the public as its purpose to advance and when one is limping, other one can make the progress continue by offering the appropriate solution. The technical progress in the pragmatistic model is directed according to the society’s values and interpreted to needs. All of the possibilities are tested and revised, they are based on scientific backgrounds by the experts and all the outcomes in terms of technical or strategic are considered.

‘Public sphere’ is a term defined by Habermas as a realm of social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Private indiviudals assembling to form a public body helps create a public sphere. According to Habermas, citizens behave as a public body when they are guaranteed to express and publish their opinions freely about the matters of general interest. There are means of communication within the public body. Media -television, radio, newspapers and magazines- is one of the means of communication. The public opinion and the public sphere is one of the key features of Habermas’ offer in alternative to those three models. Public opinion rationally binds the discussion of the citizens, clarifies the goals and traditional interpretations, leads to enlightenment of the political will which leads to political rationalization. However, “this could be guaranteed only by the ideal conditions of general communication extending to the entire public and free from domination”, explained by Habermas.In addition, there must be some ways to translate science into public. There can be research and consulting organizations under state contract, governmental agencies directing research and development and scientific consulting agencies within the state bureaucracy. They all have two definite tasks, interpret the results of research within the framework of social interests and orient research in the direction of practical issues.If the institutions succeed in completing these two tasks, then there will be strong communication and understanding between science and politics hence the public. Media also plays an important role in communication between science and public, if the media correctly achieves the goal of creating a bridge between an individual scientist and larger public, sharing the scientific knowledge. 

To conclude, Max Weber defines the relationship between the expert state bureaucracy as follows. The specialized officials of the bureaucracy is the application of means based on technical knowledge in accordance with the legal rules whereas politicans make decisions and take responsibility of the outcomes of those decision. The distinction causes a conflict between the choice of means and choice of ultimate goals. According to Habermas, the explanations by Weber are associated with the decisionistic model in terms of the subject. Habermas suggest that there are problems with this model. In decisionistic model, rationality does not apply to political questions and the distinction between the decision makers and specialized experts makes the decision making process beyond the public opinion and therefore not democratic. If the political power is to be reduced, then it would be at the expense of democracy. Considering these, the pragmatistic model is the only model among three that can be considered as democratic. Stating these problems, Habermas offers a different model going beyond the idea of pragmatistic model in which public is strongly connected with the science and politics. Organizations that create a bridge between science and politics and ultimately to the public is only to be achieved through the formation of the public sphere and general communication is extended to all and free from domination.