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Max Weber Diagnosed His Time and Ours

A Political Ethic for a Disenchanted Era

At the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, June 28, 1919 ARCHIVIO GBB / CONTRASTO / REDUX

In early 1919, Germany risked becoming a failed state. Total war had morphed into a civil war that pitted revolutionaries against reactionaries, internationalists against nationalists, and civilians against soldiers. Munich was the bloodiest arena: over a few short months, the city was ruled by a Bavarian king, a socialist prime minister, and a Soviet republic. The first was overthrown, the second murdered, and supporters of the third slaughtered. “Everything is wretched, and everything is bloody,” Victor Klemperer, a professor at the University of Munich, wrote in his diary, “and you always want to laugh and cry at once.”

These events framed the much-anticipated lecture “Politics as a Vocation” that Klemperer’s colleague Max Weber gave that same year. One hundred years later, there are few better texts to serve as a guide for the increasingly wretched and violent events now unfolding in our own time and place. In particular, Weber’s

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