Grace under pressure
In a classic lecture delivered almost exactly a century ago, the German sociologist Max Weber discussed “Politics as a Vocation” (Politik als Beruf).
What made the speech universally resonant was not only its formidable substance, but also its timing. Weber delivered it before the “Free Students Union” of Bavaria at the height of the brutal German Revolution, which saw the postwar nation devouring itself. The once mighty empire, and the feared adversary of the Allied Powers, was now torn asunder, as radicals and proto-fascists spared no form of violence for mastery of a broken nation.
It was civil war in its most vicious sense, as traumatized soldiers, peripatetic thinkers and radicalized youth, all
possessed with millenarian obsessions, proudly killed and sacrificed their lives in the name of ideology.
Weber’s speech itself was an act of courage by someone who valiantly overcame bouts of depression and the daily struggles of an academic-cum-statesman in most turbulent times. After all, for Weber, politics and leadership is not a career or choice, but instead an almost mystical calling, which should survive and overcome the complexities of modern governance and disruptive societal transformation.
In his lecture, Weber made a crucial distinction between “Ethics of Conviction” and “Ethics of Responsibility.” While the former concerns passionate commitment to certain ideals and collective vision, the latter is about methodical assessments of costs and benefits of every political action.
For him, the two impulses seem almost irreconcilable, and yet capable leaders should strive to do so. Weber also made a distinction between those who rise to power “from” politics, as opposed to those who achieve power “for” politics. The former are those who benefit from the privileges of inherited prominence, while the latter are self-made leaders who inspire through charisma, conviction and capability.
I recommend his indispensable lecture, which was later published as an essay, as a must-read not only for our leaders but also fellow citizens of our nation, and especially for those who are in the position to become our top leaders in the future.
As things stand, Grace Poe is expected to garner (once again) the highest ever number of votes in Philippine history. Even in times of Dutertismo, she is still a force to reckon with. Ceteris paribus (all other things remaining constant), Poe will get more than 30 million votes in the upcoming midterm elections, which should set the stage for the next chapter in her political life.
Three years ago, I didn’t vote for her. She was my third preferred candidate, and for a simple reason: She is “from” politics (her prominence gained through her celebrity pedigree), and I wasn’t fully sure about her Ethics of Conviction.
Poe, in my opinion, should have not run for the highest office, especially when stacked against far more experienced and proven personalities. Yet, three years of high-octane politics can do wonders, exposing the innermost strengths and weaknesses of a leader.
The Grace Poe I know today is a far more mature version of her earlier self. Her stoic composure reveals a certain depth of character that was perhaps missing or inaccessible to outsiders in earlier years.
She has increasingly combined elements of conviction with responsibility. Unrecognized by many of her detractors, she has led numerous efforts at investigating the consequences of the current administration’s China-leaning policies.
While West-bashing and China-praising is the new vogue, Poe has consistently and eloquently called for a sober and responsible examination of our traditional alliances, the national security consequences of Chinese investments in critical sectors, and the deluge of foreign illegal workers and shady businesses into the country in recent years.
She also held her ground on the necessity for a thorough examination of infrastructure projects, demanding maximum transparency in this regard no matter how unpopular this had seemed in times of unbearable traffic.
She has still a long way to go to become the young and progressive leader this country desperately needs to move forward, but finally we are beginning to see a Grace Poe who is fighting “for” politics (vision) and with greater conviction. As Ernest Hemingway put it, “courage is grace under pressure.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.