By ENRIQUE KRAUZE
Enlightened leaders always tend to self-proclaim their moral superiority, and throughout history, the consequences of this delusion have been terrible.
In his 1919 conference “Politics as a Vocation,” German socialist Max Weber pointed out the similarity between the revolutionaries of his time and the millenarian sects of the 17th century that had announced the imminent arrival of Christ. Their leaders conveyed the certainty of an “eschatological opening of history,” an advent of such a radiant degree that propitiating or hastening it justified the use of all means. But by justifying their political actions — which were, after all, earthly — with the protective mantle of absolute ethics, prophets and revolutionaries alike incurred an insurmountable contradiction with the values they proclaimed to embody.
“It was always naïve,” Weber said, “to believe that only good is born from good and only evil is born from evil. The opposite often happens … and whoever does not see this is a child, politically speaking.”
Weber went on to add that “it is … a basic fact of history … that … the final result of any political action bears an absolutely inadequate relationship, and frequently paradoxical, with its original meaning.”
Based on this “tremendous truth,” the “rupture” of the “ethics of conviction” by those who seek the total renewal of a society, and not its reasoned, gradual, prioritized, fragmented, prudent, responsible transformation, seemed inevitable.
To be truly ethical, beyond their lofty goals, these leaders would have had to prevent and, as far as possible, avoid the consequences, often painful, of the means they employed to accomplish their goals. Or, failing that, take care of the victims of those consequences (including the survivors of the dead that their actions or inactions might leave in their path). By definition, that never happened.
So to whom exactly was Weber referring? To the German socialists, anarchists and communists who mortally detested each other but had in common their shared contempt for democratic institutions, of course. Once in power, their accelerated radicalization — which included the abolition of money, social chaos, ideological repression — encouraged the rise of Nazism, which erased them all.
But the most-clear evidence that Weber’s theory was valid could be seen in the case of the young Russian Revolution. Weber traced its development.
“Whoever wants to impose absolute justice on Earth using power needs followers, a human apparatus,” he wrote. “For this to work, they have to put before their eyes the necessary prizes… In the conditions of the modern class struggle, they must offer … the satisfaction of hatred and the desire for revenge … for resentment and the so-called ethical passion of being right, that is, they must satisfy the need to defame the adversary and accuse them of heresy.”
This crude description corresponds to the acts of Vladimir Lenin and refers explicitly to “the Red Guards, the rogues and the agitators.”
But once a leader unleashes these passions, it is difficult to control them. They no longer depend on him. Even assuming the purity of the leader (and Lenin was not hypocritical, cynical or corrupt), his power depends on the apparatus he has formed, and that apparatus is not made up solely or mainly of pure beings like himself.
But even admitting that the faith of the majority was “subjectively” sincere, Weber noted that in most cases, objectively, it is nothing more than a “legitimation” of the desire for revenge, power, spoils and perquisites.
“Let us not fool ourselves,” he added sarcastically, “the materialist interpretation of history is not a chariot that is taken and left at will, and does not stop before the authors of the revolution.”
That corrupt and inevitable bureaucratization would bring socialism into disrepute for the rest of the century.
After any passionate revolution, traditional daily life is inevitably imposed again. The so-called heroes of faith and faith itself disappear or, what is even more effective, they become a constituent part of the phraseology of the rogues and the technicians of politics, Weber said.
“The triumphant retinue of an ideological caudillo tends to be thus transformed … into an … ordinary group of prebendaries,” he wrote.
Weber died in 1920, unable to witness his fulfilled prophecy. But the confirmation of his political philosophy would be the least of it. The diabolical legacy of these manipulators of power was the postulation of a new “morality” that was very different from the Judeo-Christian one that had preceded it. This alleged new morality sanctified collective crimes in the name of the revolution. The red dawn became a human pyre.
Russia was led to this barbarism by an ambition for power, fanatically clothed in the moral superiority of a supposed enlightened leader and his clientele.