Intellectual legacy of Max Weber and Vilfredo Pareto in social theory

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Max Weber and Vilfredo Pareto had a profound impact on sociology and philosophy, contributing to the emergence of questions relating to politics.

To explore the question of politics effectively, it is essential first to examine the foundations of societal analysis. As social beings, interaction and an understanding of the relationships between individuals within society are key elements for us. However, our modern societies pose an intriguing paradox: they are made up of individuals. When we examine the individual as a social entity, we are interested in managing his or her interactions with others. It is impossible to dissociate the social domain from the political conditions that govern it. This perspective reveals how sociology can lead to political science. In political sociology, the focus is on the political behaviour of the individual. Following Durkheim's introduction of the concept of social fact and governmentality as a scientific postulate, we are led to consider the question of social regulation. The political aspect of society is inescapable. To establish a harmonious society and generate a collective sense of purpose, it is imperative to understand how power is structured, and to question the notion of democracy.

Society goes hand in hand with political organisation. In the past, when we looked at traditional societies, it seemed that there were just individuals with no specific policies. Today, however, we know that every society has a political dimension, regardless of its nature. We can therefore postulate that politics shapes societies. Political organisation is the result of interaction between the social and political spheres. Nevertheless, there are societies in which the political character disappears, giving way to another type of power. This leads to a shift from a regulatory system to a system of relations based on force and violence. We are therefore invited to reflect on the political foundations of a society that aims to establish relationships based on a logic of coercion. From this analysis, sociologists concede that society is a structure fundamentally based on politics. It is therefore natural for sociology to focus on politics. This is why we are interested in the work of Max Weber and Vilfredo Pareto, who examined the forms of governance of social groups and political behaviour.

Max Weber: 1864 - 1920[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The life of Max Weber[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Max Weber was born on 21 April 1864 in Erfurt, Germany, into a wealthy and influential family. His father, Max Weber Sr. was a successful businessman and committed politician, while his mother, Helene Fallenstein, came from a cultivated bourgeois family. Weber grew up in a stimulating intellectual environment and was encouraged to pursue his academic interests from an early age. After completing his secondary education, Weber began studying law at the University of Heidelberg in 1882. However, he also took courses in philosophy, history and political economy, which greatly influenced his intellectual development. He continued his studies at the University of Berlin, where he was exposed to the ideas of great thinkers such as Wilhelm Dilthey and Heinrich Rickert.

In 1889, Weber completed his doctoral thesis entitled "The History of Commercial Societies in the Middle Ages". This was the starting point for his academic career and his growing interest in sociology. The thesis already demonstrated the beginnings of his methodological approach, combining a rigorous analysis of historical facts with an understanding of the economic, legal and cultural factors that shaped medieval societies. In the years that followed, Weber held a variety of academic posts and continued to develop his sociological ideas. He taught at the University of Berlin and published important works such as "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" (1904-1905) and "Economy and Society" (1922). These works laid the foundations of modern sociology and made Weber one of the key figures in the discipline. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is considered to be one of Weber's most influential works. In it, he examines the links between Protestant religion, particularly Calvinism, and the emergence of modern capitalism. Weber argues that religious values and beliefs played a crucial role in the formation of capitalism by encouraging the accumulation of wealth and valuing hard work. In addition to his academic work, Weber was also politically active. He was a member of the German Liberal Party and held administrative positions in the government. However, his political views and his critical stance on German nationalism earned him criticism and difficulties. Max Weber suffered periods of mental illness throughout his life, which often interrupted his work. He died of Spanish flu in 1920 at the age of 56. Despite his relatively short life, Weber's work had a significant influence on the development of the social sciences and continues to be widely read and cited today.

Max Weber played a key role in the development of political sociology by closely examining the structure of Prussian society, which was notoriously rigid and hierarchical. He focused on how power is structured and exercised in society, and developed concepts such as 'domination' and 'charisma' to help explain these dynamics. Weber taught at the University of Freiburg from 1894, where he lectured on law and political economy. He was particularly influential in the development of political economy as an academic discipline, emphasising the importance of entrepreneurship and economic behaviour in general in understanding the structure and functioning of society. According to Weber, entrepreneurship is a fundamental value of political economy because it represents innovation, risk and value creation, which are essential to economic growth and social progress. This perspective has had a significant influence on the way political economy is studied and understood, and continues to influence research and policy in the field today. Weber was also concerned about the effects of bureaucratisation and rationalisation on society, processes which he saw as characteristic of modern capitalism. He feared that these tendencies would lead to a "steel cage" of rationality that could inhibit human freedom and individuality. This is another aspect of his thinking that remains relevant to contemporary sociological debates.

In addition to his work on law and economics, Max Weber also published a number of important studies in history, demonstrating the breadth of his intellectual interests. He was a founding member of the German Sociological Society in 1910, which played a key role in establishing sociology as an academic discipline in Germany. Politically, Weber was a critic of the Prussian regime and an ardent defender of democracy. He was particularly concerned about the centralisation of power and authoritarianism, and campaigned for greater democratic participation and civil rights. In 1918, Weber was appointed to the chair of sociology at the University of Munich, a position he held until his death. It was during this period that he wrote some of his most influential works, including "Economy and Society", which was published posthumously.

Rationality and domination[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

"Economy and Society" is probably Weber's most comprehensive work and one of his last. It was published posthumously in 1921, and covers a wide range of topics, including forms of power and domination in society. According to Weber, power is the ability of an individual or group of individuals to impose their will, even in the face of resistance. Domination, on the other hand, is a specific form of power in which individuals voluntarily submit to the authority of another because they believe in its legitimacy.

Max Weber attached great importance to rationality in his understanding of society. He argued that the modern world is increasingly characterised by 'legal rationality', where actions and behaviour are guided by rules, laws and regulations rather than by traditions, emotions or irrational beliefs. This rationality manifests itself in many aspects of modern society, including political behaviour and the structure of the state.

  1. Rationality: For Weber, political behaviour is largely rational insofar as it is guided by calculations of interests, by anticipation of the consequences of actions and by the adoption of effective means to achieve specific objectives. However, Weber's rationality is not a perfect or pure rationality; it recognises that individuals may have imperfect information and that their actions may be influenced by non-rational factors.
  2. Bureaucratic power: Weber saw bureaucracy as an essential feature of the modern state. In his view, an effective modern state requires a bureaucracy to administer its laws and regulations consistently and fairly. Bureaucracy is also needed to provide the public services on which modern society depends. Weber emphasised that modern bureaucracy is characterised by a hierarchy of authority, a division of labour, written rules and impersonal relationships. For him, the link between politics and bureaucracy is therefore essential to the functioning of the modern state.

However, Weber was also aware of the potential dangers of bureaucracy, notably the risk of 'enclosure' in a 'steel cage' of rationality that could erode individual freedom and creativity. He stressed that, while bureaucracy is necessary for the effective management of the modern state, it must be balanced by other forms of authority and social control to prevent excessive bureaucracy.

Weber identified three distinct sources of legitimacy for power and domination: legality, tradition and charisma.

  1. Legal or rational-legal domination: this refers to the concept of "statuary domination". In this type of domination, obedience is accorded to legally established rules and the people who apply them. This form of domination is typical of modern societies where political power is exercised through a rational and impersonal legal system.
  2. Traditional domination: in this type of domination, authority is granted on the basis of tradition and established customs. Individuals obey a ruler not because of written rules or laws, but because they believe that this is the way things have always been done. This type of domination is often associated with older forms of government, such as monarchy.
  3. Charismatic leadership: this type of leadership is based on the personal appeal and charisma of the leader. Individuals follow the leader not because of rules or traditions, but because they are personally attracted by his or her vision or personal qualities. This form of domination can be unstable, as it is highly dependent on the person of the leader and can disappear if the leader dies or if his charisma fades.

Each of these forms of domination has its own strengths and weaknesses, and Weber argued that real societies are often characterised by a combination of all three.

Legal, or rational-legal, domination is the type of domination that characterises most modern societies, where power is exercised through a system of impersonal, rational laws and rules.

For Weber, this form of domination is based on several fundamental principles:

  1. All law can be rationally established : For Weber, legality derives from mutual agreement or consent, usually expressed through a contract or pact. However, he recognised that even in a rational system, there is an element of subjectivity in the decision-making process.
  2. A right is in essence a set of abstract rules: These rules are usually decided intentionally and are designed to guide behaviour in a variety of situations.
  3. The legal holder of power must himself obey the impersonal order: Even those in positions of authority are required to follow the rules and laws of the system. This ensures that authority is exercised fairly and predictably.
  4. He who obeys, obeys the law: In a system of legal domination, individuals obey the laws and rules, not any particular person or authority. This ensures that obedience is given to the impersonal order of the system, rather than to the arbitrary will of an individual.

These principles form the basis of legal domination as Weber understood it, and they underline the central role played by rationality in the organisation and functioning of modern societies.

Weber put forward the idea that bureaucracy is a crucial element of modern societies, particularly in the case of legal or rational domination. This bureaucracy is characterised by a set of specific features:

  1. Specialisation of tasks: each bureaucrat or civil servant has a specific role to play and a clearly defined area of competence.
  2. Hierarchy of authority: bureaucracies are organised hierarchically, with clear levels of subordination and supervision.
  3. Formal rules and procedures: bureaucracies operate according to a set of written rules and procedures that define how tasks are to be carried out and decisions taken.
  4. Impersonal relationships: in a bureaucracy, interactions between civil servants and citizens are impersonal, based on roles rather than personal relationships.
  5. Skills-based employment: positions in a bureaucracy are often allocated on the basis of skills and qualifications, rather than personal relationships or favouritism.
  6. Separation between the role of civil servant and personal life: bureaucrats are expected to act according to their official roles and not according to their personal preferences or feelings.

These characteristics allow the bureaucracy to function efficiently and predictably, which is essential for the proper functioning of a modern society. However, Weber also noted that bureaucracy can sometimes be excessively rigid and inflexible, which can hinder innovation and adaptation to change.

Max Weber argued that in order to perform their role effectively, bureaucrats must act in a depersonalised manner, i.e. they must put aside their personal preferences and feelings and act solely according to official rules and procedures. This depersonalisation is important for several reasons. Firstly, it ensures that decisions and actions are based on objective rules and not on personal preferences or favouritism. This contributes to the fairness and predictability of the bureaucratic system. Secondly, depersonalisation helps to maintain a certain distance between the bureaucrat as an individual and his or her role as a representative of the state or organisation. This can help prevent conflicts of interest and ensure that the bureaucrat is acting in the interests of the organisation rather than in his or her own interest. However, it should be noted that this depersonalisation can also have disadvantages. For example, it can lead to a rigid and inflexible bureaucracy that is unable to adapt to changing circumstances or to respond sensitively and humanely to citizens' needs.

Weber identified a number of essential elements for a well-functioning bureaucracy, including :

  1. Appointment by contract: In an effective bureaucracy, civil servants are appointed on the basis of a contract, which clearly defines their roles and responsibilities. This promotes transparency and ensures that positions are allocated on the basis of competence rather than favouritism or nepotism.
  2. Professional qualifications: Modern bureaucracies require an increasingly high level of professional competence. Positions are often allocated on the basis of experience and qualifications, and ongoing training may be required to maintain and improve these skills.
  3. Fixed remuneration: For Weber, fixed remuneration is essential to ensure that civil servants are motivated to do their job effectively and honestly. Remuneration must be sufficiently high to deter corruption and promote integrity.
  4. Function as the main profession: For many civil servants, their role within the bureaucracy is their main profession. This means that they are fully committed to their work and are prepared to devote the time and energy needed to do it properly.

These elements help to create a bureaucracy that is capable of managing the affairs of the state or organisation effectively, while minimising the risk of corruption or abuse of power.

Weber's monocratic bureaucracy is a type of bureaucracy characterised by a centralisation of power and a rigorous formalisation of procedures and roles.

  1. Levelling by universal recruitment: Weber argued that bureaucracies should seek to recruit the most qualified people for each role, regardless of their background. This can lead to a kind of "levelling", where professional competence is valued above other criteria such as social origin or wealth.
  2. The tendency towards plutocratisation: However, Weber also noted that the need for specialised training can lead to a certain "plutocratisation", where those who can afford long and expensive training have an advantage. This can potentially lead to a concentration of power in the hands of an educated elite.
  3. Formal impersonality: Finally, Weber pointed out that bureaucracies are characterised by a high degree of impersonality. Decisions are taken on the basis of formal rules and standardised procedures, rather than personal relationships or subjective preferences.

These characteristics can help to ensure that bureaucracies operate efficiently and fairly. However, they can also present risks, such as excessive concentration of power and bureaucratic rigidity.

Protestant ethics and capitalism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Protestant ethics and the 'spirit' of capitalism original cover.

Max Weber saw religion as a major force in the formation of societies and the development of Western rationality. For example, in his seminal work Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber argues that the values of Protestantism, particularly those of Calvinism, played a crucial role in the development of modern capitalism. In addition, Weber saw the 'functionarisation' of society - that is, the increasing role of the state and bureaucracy in the management of social life - as a key trend in the development of modern Western societies. According to Weber, this trend is linked to the increasing complexity of social life and the expansion of rationality as the organising principle of society. This 'functionarisation' is accompanied by an extension in the scope and intensity of the mechanisms for managing society. In other words, as society becomes more complex, the state and the bureaucracy are called upon to play an ever greater role in the management of all aspects of social life. However, Weber was also aware of the potential dangers of this trend. He warned of the risk of what he called the 'steel cage' of rationality, where bureaucracy and rationality could become so pervasive that they would come to inhibit individual freedom and stifle creativity and innovation.

In Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism (1904-1905), Weber examines the influence of certain religious ideas, particularly those associated with ascetic Protestantism, on the development of modern capitalism. He argues that Protestant ethics promoted values such as thrift, hard work, discipline and self-control, which contributed to the rise of capitalism. Indeed, he proposed that the Protestant idea of 'vocation' or 'calling' led individuals to seek success in their professional work, which stimulated economic activity. But Weber also pointed out that religion can also be an obstacle to rationality and economic activity. For example, certain religious beliefs may discourage the accumulation of wealth or promote values that conflict with capitalist ethics. In exploring these ideas, Weber sought to understand how 'ensemble effects' - the combined influence of various social, economic and religious factors - shaped the development of society. He used this approach to shed light not only on the emergence of capitalism, but also on other aspects of modernity, such as bureaucracy and the rationalisation of social life.

For him, capitalism was not just an economic system, but also a way of life characterised by a certain work ethic, discipline and rationality. In "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism", Weber argues that the rise of capitalism in the West would not have been possible without the influence of Protestantism, particularly Calvinism. In his view, the Protestant ethic promoted values such as hard work, frugality and individual responsibility, which encouraged the accumulation of capital and productive investment. The key idea here is that of the Protestant 'vocation' or 'calling'. According to Weber, Protestants believed that everyone had a specific vocation given to them by God, and that success in this vocation was a sign of salvation. This belief encouraged people to work hard and succeed at their jobs, which in turn stimulated economic activity. However, Weber does not claim that Protestantism was the sole cause of the rise of capitalism. He also recognised the importance of other factors, such as the development of technology and trade. But for him, the role of religion was crucial in creating the cultural and ethical conditions necessary for the emergence of capitalism.

In Calvinism, the doctrine of predestination holds that God decided before the creation of the world who would be saved (the elect) and who would be condemned (the reprobate). This belief can be a source of anguish, as we can never be certain of our status as the elect. According to Weber, this uncertainty led Calvinists to look for signs of their election in their daily lives. One of these signs was success in the world, particularly in work. As a result, Calvinists were encouraged to work hard and succeed, not to earn their salvation (which, according to the doctrine of predestination, was impossible), but to gain an assurance of their election. This led to the Calvinist work ethic, which valued hard work, discipline and frugality. These values, according to Weber, played a crucial role in the emergence of modern capitalism.

It is important to note that in Calvinism, one cannot 'earn' one's salvation through works, since salvation is already predestined by God. However, success in work and professional life is seen as a possible sign that one is among the elect. Consequently, Calvinist believers are encouraged to work hard and succeed in their God-given vocation. This does not guarantee salvation, but it can give the individual a subjective assurance of election. This is what Weber calls the "Protestant ethic" - a set of values that values hard work, frugality, and individual responsibility. According to Weber, this Protestant ethic was one of the main driving forces behind the emergence of capitalism. By promoting work and economic efficiency as moral values, it helped to create a culture favourable to capital accumulation and productive investment.

According to Max Weber's analysis, the Protestant ethic, particularly in its Calvinist form, played a crucial role in shaping the spirit of capitalism. In Calvinism, hard work and frugality are not only virtues, they are seen as proof of divine election. Consequently, the accumulation of wealth through hard work and thrift is seen as a sign of divine favour. However, this wealth is not meant to be spent extravagantly, as this would be contrary to the virtue of frugality. Instead, it must be reinvested, creating a cycle of capital accumulation. This cycle, according to Weber, contributed to the emergence of modern capitalism. This is one interpretation of how religious ideas and beliefs can influence economic and social development. However, it is important to note that Weber is not suggesting that Protestantism was the sole cause of capitalism, but rather that it provided a set of values that facilitated its development.

Weber highlights the contrast between Protestant ethics and what he calls "the spirit of traditionalism". In traditional societies, according to Weber, people work for a living. Once they have earned enough to satisfy their immediate needs and desires, they stop working. In other words, work is a means of achieving a certain level of comfort and enjoyment. In contrast, in the Protestant ethic as Weber describes it, work is not simply a means of achieving a certain level of material comfort. On the contrary, work is an end in itself. It is valued not only for the wealth it produces, but also as proof of divine election and as a means of glorifying God. Consequently, accumulated wealth is not intended for enjoyment or excessive consumption, but must be reinvested in work. This approach to work and the accumulation of wealth, according to Weber, is one of the factors that have fostered the development of modern capitalism. Capitalism requires constant investment and the accumulation of capital, both of which are encouraged by the Protestant ethic.

The political profession[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Max Weber in 1917.

In "Politik als Beruf" (Politics as a vocation), Weber draws a distinction between "living for" politics and "living from" politics. Living "for" politics means that politics is a personal calling, a vocation in the deepest sense. People who live 'for' politics are motivated by their convictions and ideals, and are often prepared to make personal sacrifices to achieve them. For them, politics is a goal in itself, not a means to other ends. It is an activity they pursue out of passion and commitment, not for material gain. On the other hand, living "from" politics means earning a living by participating in politics. People who make their living "from" politics can be political professionals, such as politicians, consultants, lobbyists, etc. For these people, politics can be a way of life. For these people, politics may be less of a calling than a means of earning a living. They may be motivated less by ideals than by personal or material interests. These two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive. An individual may be motivated both by deeply held convictions and by the desire to earn a living. However, Weber points out that these two motivations can sometimes come into conflict, and that the tension between them can create ethical dilemmas for individuals engaged in politics.

This opposition pits an existential goal against a utilitarian goal. Existential purpose, in this context, refers to the approach of those who live 'for' politics. These people see politics as a vocation, something that gives meaning and purpose to their lives. They are motivated by deep convictions and are often prepared to make sacrifices to achieve their political ideals. Utilitarian purpose, on the other hand, refers to the approach of those who live "from" politics. For these people, politics is a means to an end, in this case a means of earning a living. They may be motivated by material and personal considerations rather than ideological or ethical convictions.

According to Max Weber, for a politician to act ethically and independently, he or she should be financially independent. In other words, he should not be dependent on the income that politics might bring him. This idea is based on the fear that economic dependence on politics could create conflicts of interest and influence a politician's decisions. Weber argued that if a person made his living "from" politics (i.e. derived his main income from his political activity), there might be a risk that he would act more in his own financial interests than in the public interest. However, Weber recognised that such financial independence is not always possible. In many cases, politicians are paid for their work, as it is necessary to allow those who are not already economically independent to participate in politics.

Weber speaks of a paraxosis of modern democracy. On the one hand, democracy is supposed to be a political system that allows all citizens to participate and have an equal voice. This is the principle of democratic equality. On the other hand, the practical reality of politics often means that those who have the financial means and time - i.e. the wealthy - are more able to participate actively in politics, whether by running for political office, funding campaigns or influencing policy in other ways. This can lead to a situation where politics is dominated by a "plutocracy", a government by the rich, where those with financial resources are over-represented and have disproportionate influence. This contradicts the principle of democratic equality and has the potential to lead to policies that serve the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the less well-off. This paradox raises important questions about fairness and representativeness in modern democracy.

Weber recognised this paradox in democratic politics. In an ideal society, political activity should be open to all, regardless of economic status. In practice, however, political participation often requires time, resources and energy that only those who are already economically stable can afford. As a result, the political class tends to be dominated by those with significant financial resources, what Weber describes as a "plutocracy". This situation risks skewing political priorities in favour of the interests of the wealthiest and excluding the voices and needs of the less privileged. This has led to debates about how democracy can be made fairer and more inclusive. Some proposals include public funding of political campaigns, introducing quotas to ensure representation of different socio-economic groups, and encouraging the participation of ordinary citizens in politics through structures such as citizens' assemblies and citizens' juries.

Weber highlights the fundamental dilemma at the heart of modern politics. If politicians are not paid enough, there is a risk that only those who already have considerable wealth will be able to afford to participate actively in politics. This could lead to a form of plutocracy, where power is concentrated in the hands of those with money. On the other hand, offering generous remuneration for political work could attract people interested in politics primarily for the financial benefits it can offer, rather than for public service. This could lead to a professionalisation of politics, where politicians are more concerned with their careers and personal income than with the public interest. So this is a complex and delicate issue facing modern democratic societies. How do we balance the need to attract competent and dedicated people to politics, while avoiding too much influence from money and ensuring that politics remains focused on public service? Weber does not propose a simple solution, but highlights the importance of this dilemma and invites in-depth reflection on these issues.

Weber recognised that the professionalisation of politics could lead to problems. While it is necessary to have qualified politicians with in-depth knowledge and experience of politics, over-professionalisation can threaten democracy by distancing politics from ordinary citizens. Politics could then become a kind of "closed club" for professionals, making it difficult for ordinary people to understand, influence or participate in politics. This in turn could lead to a sense of alienation and cynicism towards politics, and potentially weaken democracy. Furthermore, if political parties become too powerful and institutionalised, they can also become barriers to political innovation and change. They can become more concerned with their own survival and power than with serving the public good. Weber does not suggest that the professionalisation of politics is entirely bad, but he warns of the potential dangers of excessive professionalisation and institutionalisation of political parties. He stresses the need for a balance between professional competence and civic commitment, between the effectiveness of political parties and their accountability to the public.

Max Weber, in analysing the role and nature of politics, addressed the issue of demagoguery. For him, demagogy is a potential danger in any democracy. A demagogue is a political leader who seeks to win support by manipulating people's emotions, prejudices and ignorance, often through inflammatory speeches and unrealistic promises. Demagogy is therefore a form of political manipulation that exploits popular feelings to gain power, rather than seeking to serve the public good. Weber warned against demagoguery because of its potential to distort the democratic process. Demagogues can exploit people's fears and prejudices to gain power, which can lead to policies that are actually contrary to the interests of the people. Demagoguery can also undermine public confidence in political institutions. If politicians constantly make unrealistic promises to win support, people can become cynical and disillusioned with politics, which in turn can weaken democracy. Weber, as a sociologist and political scientist, insisted on the need for responsible politics, based on a rational understanding of the problems and aimed at the well-being of society as a whole. He advocated an approach to politics that respects the intelligence of the public and avoids emotional manipulation.

Max Weber highlighted some of the practices that politicians can use to maintain their power, particularly through bureaucracy. In his view, one of the main methods is the use of bureaucracy to control and influence the administration of the state.

  1. Bureaucratic control: Politicians can use bureaucracy to influence policies and decisions. They can appoint loyal bureaucrats to key positions, control information and resources, and use bureaucracy to implement their policies.
  2. Patronage and patronage: Politicians may also use patronage methods to maintain their power. This can take the form of distributing resources or favours to specific individuals or groups in exchange for their political support.
  3. Strategy of division: Another commonly used method is to divide opponents in order to weaken them. This may involve playing on existing divisions or creating new ones to prevent the opposition from uniting against them.
  4. Propaganda and manipulation of information: Politicians can also use propaganda and information manipulation to influence public opinion and maintain their power. This can involve disseminating false information, distorting facts, or using demagogic rhetoric to win public support.

These practices can be detrimental to democracy and the rule of law, as they can lead to corruption, inequality and the concentration of power in the hands of a few individuals or groups.

The "spoil system" is a term that has been used to describe political practice, particularly in the United States, where public office is given as a reward to those who have supported the winning candidate or party. This system was widespread in the 19th century, particularly under the administration of President Andrew Jackson. In a spoil system, the party in power can replace a large number of civil servants with its own supporters, which can have a profound effect on the administration of the government. This can lead to instability and inefficiency, as civil servants may be appointed on the basis of political loyalty rather than competence or experience. Moreover, it can lead to widespread corruption, as those in positions of power may be tempted to use their positions for their own interests rather than for the public interest. Weber, in his reflections on the role of bureaucracy and rationality in modern society, criticised this type of practice. He argued that public administration should be run rationally and impersonally, with competent civil servants appointed on the basis of merit rather than political affiliation. According to Weber, the spoils system is an illustration of how politics can be used to serve particular interests rather than the common good, which is at odds with the idea of a democratic and rational society.

According to Weber, there are three essential qualities for politics:

  1. Passion: Weber does not see passion as an irrational impulse, but rather as passion in the sense of deep devotion to a cause. It is the commitment, energy and determination needed to meet the challenges of politics.
  2. A sense of responsibility: Politics, especially when it concerns the governance of a country, involves enormous responsibilities. The decisions taken can affect millions of people, so it's crucial that those who choose to enter politics have a deep sense of responsibility.
  3. The eye: This is what Weber calls "Augenmass", which can be translated as a sense of proportion, judgement or discernment. It is the ability to understand a complex situation quickly, to judge its implications and to make informed decisions.

Finally, Weber warns that these qualities must not be separated, otherwise they can become dangerous. Passion without responsibility can lead to blind fanaticism, while responsibility without passion can become sterile formalism. Likewise, vision without passion or responsibility can become a form of political cynicism. So you need all three qualities together to be a good politician.

In his work "Politik als Beruf" (Politics as a vocation), Weber examines the nature of politics and its interaction with ethics. He argues that politics is intrinsically an activity of power and violence. It is inevitably linked to the struggle for power and the exercise of force.

However, despite this reality, Weber maintains that there is a place for ethics in politics. He distinguishes two types of ethics that can guide political action: the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility.

  1. An ethic of conviction refers to absolute moral principles to which an individual remains faithful, regardless of the consequences. Individuals who follow a conviction ethic focus on the intention rather than the outcome of their actions. A conviction ethic focuses on an individual's unshakeable principles and values. An individual who follows a conviction ethic focuses on fulfilling their moral duties, regardless of the consequences of their actions. It is an approach to morality that is primarily guided by absolute principles and firm beliefs.
  2. The ethics of responsibility, on the other hand, is more pragmatic. It takes into account the consequences of action and considers that individuals have a responsibility towards the results of their actions. The ethic of responsibility focuses on taking into account the consequences of actions. An individual who follows an ethic of responsibility considers the effects of their actions on others and makes decisions based on how they will affect the world around them. It is an approach to morality that focuses on the practical and real consequences of actions.

Weber favours neither, but warns against over-reliance on the ethic of conviction in politics. He argues that politicians should be guided by an ethic of responsibility, taking into account the consequences of their actions, while remaining true to their convictions. For Weber, politics requires a combination of passion and ethical judgement, a fusion of the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility. According to Weber, a good politician must balance these two forms of ethics. He must have firm convictions and principles, but he must also be prepared to take difficult decisions that may have undesirable consequences in the short term, but are necessary for the long-term good.

Adolf Eichmann, a senior Nazi official responsible for the logistics of the Holocaust, used this argument at his trial in Jerusalem in 1961. He claimed that he was a mere executor who obeyed the orders of his superiors, and that he therefore had no personal responsibility for the crimes committed. This is an example of what Hannah Arendt called the "banality of evil" in her account of Eichmann's trial. According to Arendt, Eichmann was not a monster, but an ordinary bureaucrat who simply carried out orders without reflecting on the moral consequences of his actions. She suggests that it was this ability to blindly obey orders and abdicate personal responsibility that made the Holocaust possible. This notion of responsibility is central to Weber's ethics of responsibility. In his view, everyone is responsible for their actions, even when they are acting in their professional role. He emphasised the importance of conscious and ethical decision-making, rather than simply following orders without thinking.

Max Weber, in his work, clearly distinguished between two types of ethics, namely the ethics of conviction and the ethics of responsibility, and emphasised their respective limits.

  1. The conviction ethic focuses on the unshakeable moral and ethical principles that guide an individual's actions. A person acting according to an ethic of conviction will follow his principles regardless of the consequences of his actions. The limitation of this ethic is that it can lead to rigid, inflexible and dogmatic actions that take no account of changing consequences or circumstances. On the other hand, the ethic of responsibility focuses on the consequences of an individual's actions. A person acting according to an ethic of responsibility will make decisions based on potential consequences and will be prepared to take responsibility for them. The limitation here is that this approach can lead to excessive pragmatism, where the end justifies the means, even if those means violate certain ethical principles.

According to Weber, a good politician must balance these two ethics. He must have strong convictions and principles, but must also be aware of the consequences of his actions and be prepared to take responsibility for them.

Weber emphasised that it is crucial for an individual to think critically and consciously about his actions, rather than relying solely on pure rationality or collective prescriptions. Ethics, from this perspective, is a matter of informed and conscientious individual choice. It is not enough to conform to collective expectations or norms without questioning the ethical principles that underpin them. Similarly, it is not enough to make decisions based solely on rationality without considering the ethical implications of those decisions. This is why Weber insists on the need to reconcile the ethics of conviction, which focuses on personal moral principles, and the ethics of responsibility, which focuses on the consequences of actions. Ultimately, each individual must make his or her own ethical choices in full awareness of the implications of those choices.

Vilfredo Pareto: 1848 - 1923[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Vilfredo Pareto.

The life of Vilfredo Pareto[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) was an Italian economist and sociologist, known for his work on elite theory and for introducing the concept of the Pareto distribution into economics. After a successful career in engineering and management, Pareto decided to devote himself to the study of the social sciences.

He began writing about economics in the 1890s and was appointed Professor of Political Economy at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland in 1893. His work covered a wide range of topics, including exchange theory, welfare theory and income inequality.

Pareto is best known for his concept of the Pareto distribution, which describes an unequal distribution of wealth in which a small proportion of the population holds a large proportion of the total wealth. This idea is often summarised by the 80/20 principle, which states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

In sociology, Pareto developed the elite theory, according to which every society is governed by a minority of individuals, the elite, who hold the power. He also put forward the idea of "residues" and "derivations", which are key concepts for understanding his analysis of human actions and social dynamics.

Vilfredo Pareto was known for his strongly liberal political views and his criticism of state intervention in the economy. He was a firm believer in individual freedom and personal autonomy, and was sceptical about the effectiveness of the state in improving social welfare.

Pareto criticised what he saw as a growing tendency towards statism, i.e. increased state intervention in social and economic life. In his view, statism led to economic inefficiency and limited individual freedom. He believed that the State should confine itself to ensuring compliance with laws and contracts and protecting citizens against violence and fraud.

Pareto's ideas were taken up by the neo-liberal economists of the 20th century, who also argued for a reduction in the role of the state in the economy. However, Pareto's ideas on elitism and the unequal distribution of wealth are often criticised for being undemocratic.

After working in industry and the private sector, Vilfredo Pareto made a notable career change to concentrate on academia and economic research. In 1893, he took over the post of Léon Walras, one of the founders of the neoclassical school of economics, at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. At Lausanne, Pareto had the opportunity to develop his own economic and social theories and make a significant contribution to the discipline. His work covered areas such as the distribution of wealth, welfare economics and choice theory, and his ideas had a lasting influence on economics and sociology.

Society and history[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

In his "Treatise on General Sociology", also known as "Mind and Society", Pareto developed his theory of circular elitism. According to this theory, power in society is always held by a minority, which he calls the elite. He argued that the history of society is a constant succession of elites, with one elite displacing another. He distinguished between two types of elite: the governing elite and the non-governing elite. The governing elite is the one that holds power directly, while the non-governing elite is made up of individuals who have an indirect influence on society, such as academics, industrialists and so on. According to Pareto, these elites are not stable, they are in constant motion. When an elite becomes ineffective or unable to maintain its power, it is replaced by a new elite. This is what he calls the "circulation of elites". This was part of his wider vision of sociology and economics, where he sought to apply scientific and quantitative methods to the study of social phenomena.

Pareto believed that societies went through cycles of transformation and that these cycles were largely guided by these three 'classes of facts'.

  1. The crisis of religious feeling: Pareto observed that a society's religious beliefs tend to weaken over time. This can lead to a crisis where old values and traditions are called into question, creating a vacuum that can be filled by new ideas and institutions.
  2. The decadence of the ancient aristocracy: In this context, 'aristocracy' can be understood as the elite in power at any given time. Pareto noted that these elites tend to lose their vigour and effectiveness over time, which can eventually lead to their downfall.
  3. The emergence of a new aristocracy: Pareto observed that when the old elite loses its power, a new elite emerges to take its place. These new elites may be made up of individuals or groups who were previously marginalised or excluded from power.

These three sets of facts are interconnected and mutually reinforcing, leading to a constant cycle of change and transformation within society.

Vilfredo Pareto had a rather realistic view of society. He argued that despite appearances of equality, societies were in fact fundamentally heterogeneous and hierarchical. This is what he called "social heterogeneity". In this system, some individuals or groups have more power, prestige or resources than others, creating a hierarchical structure. This hierarchy is not fixed, but constantly changes as a result of factors such as competition for resources and economic, political and cultural changes. The balance of society is therefore unstable, in the sense that it is constantly shifting and changing. This can sometimes lead to tension and conflict, as different groups struggle to improve their position in the social hierarchy. Pareto's idea is that this instability is both inevitable and necessary for the progress and development of society. Conflicting forces can create imbalances, but they can also stimulate innovation, change and adaptation.

Vilfredo Pareto commented on the transformations of modern society, which he saw as showing some worrying signs. He identified two major trends:

  1. The weakening of central sovereignty and the rise of anarchic forces: Pareto observed that the power of the central state was diminishing in many countries, while anarchic forces were gaining ground. This may be interpreted as a move towards greater decentralisation and diffusion of power, but Pareto saw it as a sign of the growing instability of society.
  2. The rapid progression of the "cycle of demagogic plutocracy": This phrase refers to the process by which a wealthy elite (plutocracy) uses demagogy, i.e. emotional and populist appeals, to win public support and maintain itself in power. Pareto observed that this cycle was becoming increasingly common in modern societies, and saw it as a sign of democratic decline.

Pareto's observations on trends in modern society reflected his concerns about the evolution of democracy and the impact of these trends on social and political stability.

Elites and power[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

According to Vilfredo Pareto, societies are always organised hierarchically, with a clear division between a ruling class (the elite) and a controlled class (the rest of society). This structure is present irrespective of the type of political system - whether democracy, monarchy or dictatorship. Pareto argues that the role of politics is to manage this relationship between the ruling classes and the ruled classes. In other words, it must maintain social equilibrium, avoid major conflicts and allow cooperation between the different strata of society. However, Pareto also observed a phenomenon he called the "circulation of elites". According to this theory, elites do not remain static, but constantly change, with new individuals or groups moving up the social hierarchy to replace the old. He also noted the danger of demagogy, where elites use populist discourse to manipulate the masses and maintain their position of power. This approach can create social and political tensions and, in the long term, destabilise society.

Pareto sees the elite as a group of individuals who have succeeded in various areas of society - be it politics, economics, the arts, science, etc. - and who have a certain influence or power over the masses. They have a certain influence or power that sets them apart from the rest of the population. According to Pareto, the elite is not necessarily a homogeneous group. It may comprise different sub-categories of elite, for example the political elite, the economic elite, the intellectual elite, etc., each with its own interests, values and ways of operating. Pareto also argues that the elite is inherently unequal. In other words, they are structurally distinct from the rest of society and tend to defend their own interests, often to the detriment of the principle of equality. This is one of the reasons why he warns of the risk of tension and conflict between the elite and the masses. Pareto does not necessarily see this inequality as negative. For him, the existence of an elite is an inevitable feature of any society and can even be beneficial in certain cases, by encouraging competition, innovation and progress.

Vilfredo Pareto divided the elite into two distinct categories: the governing elite and the non-governing elite. The governing elite is made up of those who hold political power directly, such as politicians, senior civil servants, judges, high-ranking military officers and others who have a direct influence on political decision-making. This elite is often in a position to make laws, define public policy and run the administration. The non-governing elite, on the other hand, is made up of those who have an indirect influence on political decision-making, such as entrepreneurs, intellectuals, artists, academics, the influential media and other civil society players. Although this elite does not hold political power directly, it can have a great influence on public opinion and on the framework of politics in general. This distinction is important for Pareto because it shows that power in society is not held solely by those who occupy official positions of political power. There is also a diffuse power that is exercised by those who influence public opinion, cultural values, social norms, and other aspects of social life.

Pareto postulated that for an elite to become and remain a ruling class, it must have these three abilities:

  1. Ability to take power: This is the ability of an elite to seize and exercise political power. This could be achieved through a variety of means, including but not limited to elections, coups, revolution, inheritance, or other forms of transition of power. This ability depends in large part on how effectively an elite can navigate the existing political structure and exploit opportunities within it.
  2. Ability to legitimise: This is the ability of an elite to justify its power in the eyes of the public. Legitimacy can be achieved in a number of ways, for example by drawing on ideologies, myths, religious or moral traditions, or other forms of discourse which help to create a social consensus around the elite's right to rule. The elite may also seek to gain legitimacy by demonstrating competence in governance, providing public goods, or responding to public demands and needs.
  3. Ability to retain power: This is the ability of an elite to maintain its position of power once it has succeeded in gaining and legitimising it. This could involve a variety of strategies, including manipulating political rules, using force or coercion, buying support through bribery or patronage, building coalitions with other powerful groups, or other forms of political manoeuvring.

These skills are not necessarily present in equal measure in all elites. Some elites may be better at one thing than another, and their success as a ruling class will depend largely on how they navigate these challenges.

According to Pareto, the elite, or ruling class, organises itself not on the basis of equality, but on the basis of domination. It seeks to maintain this domination by various means, including the transmission of power within its own group (for example, through inheritance or patronage) and the formation of alliances with other powerful groups. The principle of empowerment is crucial here. This means that members of the elite are often connected by a network of social, economic and political relationships that enable them to consolidate and extend their power. They can use this network to share resources, exchange information, coordinate their actions and support each other's interests. Ultimately, gaining and maintaining power is often seen by Pareto as a 'showdown' - a constant struggle for control of resources, influence and authority. This can involve a variety of tactics, from open political competition to the subtle manipulation of social structures and norms.

Vilfredo Pareto, in his analysis of social facts, is particularly interested in the dynamics of power and the mechanisms of dominance in society. In particular, he explores how individual and collective behaviour and policies can influence, maintain or modify these dynamics. He sees society as a complex system of interpersonal and intergroup relations, where power and influence are constantly negotiated and reorganised. Pareto is best known for his analysis of the elite - the small minority of people who hold much of the power in society. He examined how this elite maintains its dominant position and how it can be challenged or replaced by other groups. In this sense, Pareto offers a valuable perspective for understanding the mechanisms underlying social inequality, stratification and social change.

Anexos[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]