I have removed the search box because it was not working but the search box in the title bar seems to.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Politics – Practical Morality

I have been looking at some of the earlier posts on this blog and I came upon an assertion by me that Politics is practical morality and it struck me that a statist (or progressive) and a conservative (or libertarian) could mean very different things by this phrase.

For a Statist or a Progressive it could mean that Politics is (or should be) enacting legislation or regulations which do good things, things which the well-ordered conscience of an individual would dictate. He might not understand this concept or might express it in class terms. Thus, for example, it would forbid and punish murder. In this instance no conservative would, so far, disagree. On the assumption that murder is bad, the state should discourage it, an assumption most conservatives share with most progressives. The state enacts the conscientious beliefs of all individuals.

Next example: abortion should be permitted in most cases and that the state should subsidise it with the taxes paid by all citizens, conservative and progressive.

The hitherto complacent conservative is suddenly deafened by cacophonous bells, drums and trumpets, which shriek ‘Not the same thing at all!’ There is no shared assumption.
The hitherto complacent conservative backtracks furiously: what about ‘well-ordered conscience? You can’t murder babies and with my money.

She is desperate. She can see where this is going. She has to put forward an alternative view. The view she wants to put forward is that Politics should be enacting legislation which encourages good behaviour and discourages bad behaviour. She slumps in her chair, almost terminally depressed.
Almost terminally depressed is how I feel now. I can see where this is going.

I was going to put the other case: that Politics is (or should be) enacting legislation or creating institutions which encourage individuals to behave morally and discourages them from acting immorally.

But I almost feel myself being backed into a position which I hate: theocracy. No way. Theocracy is a system where some people take it upon themselves to know the mind of God and to legislate accordingly. That’s Islam (among other things).

It is true that there are a very large number of my fellow citizens who take the view that infanticide is a right. To my mind, that is an abomination. It is the society I live in.

Something of a digression:
Suppose that I know that my neighbour is about to perform an abortion. Suppose that I do not know anything about the circumstances of the pregnancy he is about to terminate. Suppose too that I have a .38 revolver. What does my conscience tell me to do? This does not seem that difficult a moral problem. I must not sneak up behind him and put a bullet in his head without warning. That is, I must not simply execute him. I must not put his family or any third party at risk. This is the least fun post I have ever embarked upon. The truth is that, since starting this post, I have come to the conclusion that I would have to confront him and his vile objective. With my .38 I could either demand that he swear convincingly to desist or promise him that he would otherwise be disabled or die. I’d have to do it. This post has brought me to a place I had not imagined. It may have got more fun. I’m not sure.

I don’t think I am going to resolve the issue, only to restate the problem again: what has politics to do with morality? Clearly, it is agreed that there is a connection. One side believes that the state is an actor. The other side believes that the state is, at best, a context.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting that Leon Brittan contributed to this debate given that he's dead!