German sociologist Max Weber’s 1919 lecture Politics as a Vocation is widely regarded as a masterpiece of political theory and sociology. Its central strength lies in Weber’s deployment of masterful interpretative skills to power his discussion of modern politics.
Interpretation involves understanding both the meaning of evidence and the meaning of terms – questioning definitions, clarifying terms and processes, and supplying good, clear definitions of the author’s own. As a sociologist accustomed to working with historical evidence, Weber based his own work on precisely these skills, solidly backed up by analytical acuity.
Politics as a Vocation, written in a Germany shocked by its crippling defeat in World War I, saw Weber turn his eye to an examination of how the modern nation state emerged, and the different ways in which it can be run – interpreting and defining the different types of rule that are possible. It is testament to Weber’s interpretative skills that Politics is famous above all in sociological circles for its clear definition of a state as an institution that claims “the monopoly of legitimate physical violence” in a given territory.