I have a problem with Max Weber

Max Weber, an influential German sociologist, said in 1918:

the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.

This statement is used as the argument for policing, criminal justice, prisons, war and all manner of violent acts initiated by the state that cause harm to its people.

Note that he said ‘territory’ not ‘people’, and that he said it immediately after Germany lost the Great War.

Weber, a Prussian by birth, was raised by a strict pro-Bismark politician and a strict puritan Protestant and grew up in Berlin surrounded by the political elite that were promoting the development and growth of a united Germany on the world stage.  He was a strong proponent of liberal imperialism: imperial expansionism that would allow Germany to compete with France and Britain.

He had identified a strong correlation between capitalist success in Germany and Protestantism.  This he attributed to predestination associated with protestant puritanism that was elsewhere suppressed by the Catholic Church.

During the Great War, Weber argued for strength and unity for Germany.  In 1916 he said the conquered nations of Europe should, in Germany’s long-term interests, remain as independent political countries within the greater German economy.  In 1917 he was one of those advocating ceasing the war, when Germany put the proposition to the Allies to leave the boundaries at their new positions based on the front line, that is, accept Germany had won.  This would allow the extended Germany to keep Belgium and other territories gained in the war to that point.  Unfortunately for Germany, the Allies decided to fight on.

During the Great War, Germany had committed ‘the Rape of Belgium’.  This was the taking from Catholic Belgium – at that time one of the world’s largest and most modern industrialised economies – of its machines and resources.  Its male population was transported to Germany to provide forced labour for the German war industry.  Belgium was stripped of its factories and experience and has never recovered from what Germany did.

After the Great War, discussions took place in Paris about what reparations Germany should be making for what it did in Northern France and Belgium.  It was during these discussions that Max Weber, pro-German, anti-Catholic, pro-capitalist gave his speech about the state being entitled to use violence within its territory.  That is, that Germany was perfectly entitled to do what it like to Belgium as it was German conquered territory.

That his quote “the state is a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” is still used today as an excuse for police brutality, the death penalty and genocide is beyond my comprehension.  Max Weber was an apologist for this worst atrocities Germany committed in the Great War and his defence of Germany in the context of a horrific war in which war crimes and genocide occurred is being used today in modern democracies to excuse immense social harms committed by states upon their citizens.

And yet he is considered a founding father of modern social science and this quote appears in text books as an essential foundation for functioning societies.

Some more of his statements from that period of the post-war German revolution:

The decisive means for politics is violence.


the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true.


Whoever wants to engage in politics at all, and especially in politics as a vocation…lets himself in for the diabolic forces lurking in all violence.

Punishing people of conscience

Governments say we are not allowed to kill people.

Then the government of Country A decides it wants some people killed in Country B to achieve regime change / combat terror / deal with a drugs problem / whatever.  The nation is merely an intangible social construct with no means to do anything meaning it requires people to do its work.  So the government orders its people to kill some people in Country B.  But some people who agree with the government that killing is wrong refuse to go and they get punished by their government, sometimes by killing them.

So the government is run by people in power who say killing is wrong and these people in power are ordering its citizens to kill other people – meaning the people in power have the power of life and death over the citizens of other countries and also the power to decide when killing is illegal or killing is a good thing and in the national interests.

Meanwhile the government and people of Country B who also say killing is wrong, including their own citizens being killed by another country.  So the people in power in Country B respond by telling their people to go and kill people from Country A.

So now both countries’ citizens – whose governments claim they are there to represent, protect and nurture their people – are killing one another on the orders of the people in power.

But the citizens of both countries are not allowed to kill anyone when they want to, merely when they are told to.

And yet those who stick to the original principle of killing being wrong are themselves made to suffer harm because they won’t participate in the killing.

This does not make any sense.

What do we learn from history? That we are repeating it.

It’s funny where voluntary work can take you.

Yesterday I was helping someone put together words for inclusion in a United Nations report, responding to Human Rights Council resolution 20/2, proposing conscientious objection to military taxation be considered a form of military service thereby including it under article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1998/77 can then be used to advocate people be permitted to say they want the military part of their tax to be spent on peacebuilding.

Meanwhile Donald Trump is getting around human rights legislation and treaties by recreating the CIA’s secret overseas detention and interrogation centres for unrecorded and untried undesirables.  Their “black site” prisons where they humiliated, tortured, murdered and detained people without trial for years.

It must take an awful lot of volunteers to overcome the work of one powerful man’s pen.

It’s topical because I’ve been learning about the history of the SA, SD, SS, Gestapo, Gefepo and other Nazi tools of security and oppression.  They were granted authority above the law by order of the top executive.  Just like Donald Trump is about to do for the CIA.

Remember what they say about absolute power?  It corrupts absolutely.

Is western philosophy inherently violent?

I’m studying philosophy (“should war criminals should be punished for crimes committed half a century or more ago?”  “what we ought or ought not to do”  “what brings about the greatest possible amount of happiness in the world?”  ought we fight for our country if it is under threat?” “political obligations: can I just opt out? When did I opt in?“) as part of my custom Peace Studies degree.  But sometimes the best material comes not from text books but from unexpected sources.

A favourite web cartoon strip is Dead Philosophers in Heaven.  In the comments below the strip about Machiavelli: immoral sociopath or satirist?, is this:

Machiavelli’s The Prince just describes the fact that there is no state or nation in history that hasn’t been founded on massive violence.  Arguably creating the biggest, fattest, ugliest paradox of western political philosophy.  He also lets us know that any state at least partially dependant on consent, if it’s going to last, is going to have to learn how to deceive its citizenry.


Killing for Christ

Personally, my main concerns over starting wars are the financial and social costs and the subsequent consequences from a desire for revenge.  Lately, I have been spending more time with people who object from a conscientious objective, sometimes from a religious viewpoint.  I have also been exposed to a forum where I regularly hear “people with no religion have no moral compass“.

I do not see there is necessarily a link between a care for humanity and adherence to a religion.  I shall explain.

When gathering evidence that argues against capital punishment, I was surprised at how many American Christian Baptist groups demand the death penalty because “it is God’s will according to the Bible“.  Funny that, because I thought the 6th commandment to not kill, and the subsequent teachings of Jesus in the Gospels to turn the other cheek and forgive, were supposed to take precedence over the Old Testament’s millennia-old verbal story traditions of nomadic desert tribes-people.

That made me contemplate the “you need religion to have morals” claim since some Christians are saying killing people is good, right and proper because it is what God wants.  But other Christians are saying they think the teachings say it is always wrong (which was my interpretation from reading them, too).

But I think learning about a variety of religions and their pros and cons is helpful and informative.  It tells you about the ground they have covered and what to think about.  It also protects one from the more predatory organisations.

If I were writing about political systems and claimed “absolute power corrupts absolutely“, few would disagree and most would sagely nod their heads and agree it has been proven time and time again through history.

But when you have any form of organised religion that says “Do exactly what we say” and “Think what we tell you to think” combined with “It is a sin to read the scriptures of others” and “Only we tell the truth“, it will always go wrong.  Organised religions are run by people and absolute power corrupts absolutely – we know that from history.  Giving them absolute power over your behaviour is naïve or foolish.

This is why I worry about people who operate in such organisations and demand people follow them blindly.  What kind of person wants that kind of power over others, and why do they want it?  Why are they attracted to that role, or create it for themselves, and why enforce it so thoroughly?  Scary people!

Then I worry about those who specifically promote such religions to vulnerable people: the homeless, refugees and students who are living away from home for the first time and who may be spiritually lost, home-sick or lonely.  Why are people who want absolute power over others so keen to target people who are already in turmoil?  Sounds like abusers looking for easy victims to me.

That is why I get so cross with people advertising or promoting the Mormons, the 7th Day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and now the Revival Fellowship too.  Relatively new organisations who demand total blind adherence to their teachings and rejection of all other beliefs such that their members are forbidden to even find out about them.  They all typically have ‘scriptures’ that have been amended many, many times, they have false end-of-the-world predictions and a history of turmoil in their leadership as different power nuts fight for control over their followers.  Organisations defending young earth creationism, faith healing, evidence of aliens or that Jesus went to America.

It is also why I would always advocate to someone feeling a need for spiritual guidance to always shop around.  You wouldn’t buy a house or a car without looking at a few first, so why commit your immortal soul (if such a thing exists) to the first Honest John dealer (“Honest John, Honest John, the others are a con!“) who approaches you?  And remember, if they are reaching out to you, it is because you have something they want, not because they have something to give away.  If you are being approached in the street or online to “open your mind” and accept their teachings blindly and reject things that most of the rest of the world believe, then you can be sure you are being conned – all cold callers and spammers are just trying to get something from you and that includes those promoting too-good-to-be-true “religions” too.

Find out about a variety of big religions and faith systems – both with and without gods – what they stand for, their history, what is involved, what the criticisms are.  Get a feel for what is right, honest, decent and true.  Become wise enough to spot the outdated, the inappropriate and, sadly, the liars hiding amongst them.

I did that and came out the other side as a confirmed atheist.  You may come to a different conclusion.  But either way, you’ll have worked out for yourself a pretty good idea of what you think is right or wrong.

More Killing for Christ: bombers, Catholic revenge on Protestants, black-policeman-killing survivalists, their own membership, lynchings, migrants, death penalty and anti-peace!   And sometimes, a religion can be very wrong indeed.