Tag Archives: Max Weber

Lies, Damned Lies, and Politics

Donald Trump  and Hillary Clinton at the second 2016 presidential debate. Screencap from NBC’s debate livestream.

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton at the second 2016 presidential debate. Screencap from NBC’s debate livestream.

Early into last night’s debate, Donald Trump found himself in an awkward position. No, I am not talking about the question first asked about the Access Hollywood tape on which he boasts of sexual assault. I am talking about a more subtle moment: early on Donald Trump found himself calling himself a “politician,” incredulously admitting, “I can’t believe I am saying that about myself.”

Almost one hundred years ago, the German social theorist Max Weber gave a lecture in Munich called “Politics as Vocation” in which he argued that there was a big difference between the “occasional” politician and the “professional” politician. We are all, he claimed, occasional politicians, in as much as we all may vote, circulate a pamphlet or petition, or give a stump speech. But professional politicians are a different breed: For them politics is a vocation, a calling, and with the vocation comes certain burdens and responsibilities.

The biggest problem with Donald Trump in this election cycle is that he is, in fact, no politician, at least not in a vocational sense. And contrary to popular belief, that is a very bad thing for a person running for president. Continue reading

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Why It’s Good to Love Football (Or Any Sport)

Codex-borgia-tlachtli

Depiction of a ballcourt and players in the Codex Borgia Fol. 42. Wikimedia Commons.

To be a sports fan in academia is to be a little out of place. There simply aren’t that many of us (particularly once you take out the soccer fans). Sports like baseball and American football are either ignored or dismissed. So, against the prevailing prejudice of my peers, I would like to propose, if not a full moral and intellectual justification of sports fandom, at least something in the way of an apologia. I do so with a special sense of urgency, counting the few days that remain before my favorite National Football League team, the Carolina Panthers, enters Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California to play in the Super Bowl.

Writing in The Atlantic three years ago on the eve of the forty-seventh Super Bowl, Michael Serazio, an assistant professor of Communication at Fairfield University, observed that “if you look hard at sports, you can’t help but see contours of religion.” Serazio had no pretensions of original insight. He cited the early sociologist Émile Durkheim, for whom religion was of interest not so much as a body of scripture or doctrines but as a means of social solidarity and common purpose. When people come together to worship, whether the ostensible object of their worship is a religious totem or a battalion of athletes, they are affirming themselves as a community.

But a complete self-portrait of sports fandom requires me to call upon another pioneering sociologist, Max Weber. In his famous work The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber took note of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, which holds that only some souls are chosen (“predetermined”) by God to be spared damnation, and that such selection can be neither earned nor altered through one’s own efforts. As Weber writes of Calvinism, “God’s grace is, since His decrees cannot change, as impossible for those to whom He has granted it to lose as it is unattainable for those to whom He has denied it.” Continue reading

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