Politics as a vocation

By Artchil B. Fernandez

In this election season, politicians of various colors, shades, and stripes take the center stage to sell themselves to the public. All of them package themselves as ethical eunuchs and paragons of public service. Aided by sophisticated and well-designed public relations campaigns, they conceal their true selves and try to win votes by projecting a benign image that is far divorced from who they really are.

The media, both traditional and digital are polluted by false likeness and fictitious portrayal of politicians which conceal their real persona. How can the voting public strip them of their deceit and expose their treachery? Sociologist Max Weber more than a century ago provided a tool on how to deconstruct politicians and their politics.

Politics as a Vocation was a lecture delivered by Weber before a group of students in Munich on January 18, 1919.  In that famous essay, Weber outlined his take on politics, the state, political legitimation, party politics, and political ethics.

“Politics, just as economic pursuit, maybe a man’s avocation or his vocation,” Weber argues. As avocation, politics is “practiced by all those…who, as a rule, are politically active only in case of need and for whom politics is, neither materially nor ideally, ‘their life’ in the first place.” Politics as a vocation on the other hand is pursued by those who consider it as their “calling.” Weber borrowed the concept of “calling” from Luther and he defined it as “the valuation of the fulfillment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume.”

Weber contends that “there are two ways of making politics as one’s vocation: either one lives ‘for’ politics or one lives ‘off’ politics.”

Furthermore, Weber elaborates that “he who lives ‘for’ politics makes politics his life, in an internal sense. Either he enjoys the naked possession of power he exerts, or he nourishes his inner balance and self-feeling by the consciousness that his life has meaning in the service to a ‘cause’… He who strives to make politics a permanent source of income lives ‘off’ politics as a vocation…”

The distinction between those who live ‘for’ politics and those who live ‘off’ politics is clear and unequivocal. Those who live ‘for’ politics found meaning in their involvement by being dedicated to a higher cause like good governance, honest and clean government, and genuine public service that truly works for the interest and welfare of the people. Those who live ‘off’ politics are into it for self-service – using public office to enrich themselves, fatten their bank accounts, and advance their selfish interest.

In the context of the Philippines, the tragedy of the country at present is it is captured by those who live ‘off’ politics, politicians who consider public office as a source of income. The political landscape is populated and dominated by corrupt and morally bankrupt leaders who had been feasting on people’s money for decades.  Politics becomes a “calling” of these crooks to steal public funds and abuse power.

Rare is a politician that lives ‘for’ politics and their kind is becoming extinct. In fact, honesty is viewed as an ‘aberration’ in public service and hard-working and upright politicians are ridiculed and derided.

Filipinos must use the Weberian lens to unmask the politicians assiduously courting their votes in the coming election.  Who among them lives ‘for’ politics and who are those who live ‘off’ politics?  One way of evaluating those running for public office in the 2022 election is to look at their track record.  Many of these politicians and their families had been in politics for decades and it is easy to spot those who look at politics as a source of income.

The Marcos-Arroyo-Duterte (MAD) + Estrada (E) alliance popularly known as the Axis of Evil is the best example of those who live ‘off’ politics. This cartel of dynastic families had been fleecing public funds for decades and they have banded together in the 2022 election to perpetuate their crooked ways.

In the twenty years that the Marcos family ruled the country, US$10 billion was stolen from the Filipino people, the biggest government robbery in the world according to the Guinness book of world records. Yet this unrepentant family is trying to make a comeback in an attempt to erase their high crime.

Erap Estrada in his brief rule was impeached for bribery, graft and corruption, betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution. In 2007 a Sandiganbayan special division found him guilty of plunder involving Php4 billion and sentenced him to life imprisonment. He escaped punishment when his successor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) granted him unconditional pardon.

GMA herself was involved in numerous corruption scandals during her tumultuous rule. Among these cases are: misuse of the intelligence funds of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office amounting to more than P300 million; the questionable transfer of P530,382,445 from the OWWA Medicare Fund to the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation; the P728-million Fertilizer Fund that was allegedly used in the 2004 elections; and the P16.4 billion ($329 million) NBN/ZTE deal.

Filipinos must look at what these dynastic families did in the past and learn from the lessons of history. Will they allow the MAD + E cartel that find vocation in politics by making public office a milking cow, a source of billions to plunder to continue their wicked ways or eradicate them from national politics?

Politics is a vocation but it should be one that serves the common good, promote the highest ethical and moral standard, and advance public interest and not one that uses politics to amass enormous wealth by pillaging and looting the national treasury.