Views of sharp observers suggest that little has changed in the last few centuries.
Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745): "Politicks as the word is commonly understood is nothing but Corruptions."
Mark Twain (1835 – 1910): "No-one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session."
HL Mencken (1880 – 1956): "Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under."
George Orwell (1903 – 1950): "Political language … is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give appearance of solidity to pure wind."
Harry Truman (US President 1945-1953): "My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse, or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference."
So what do we conclude from this? An obvious conclusion is that the cry for a «return to moral principles in politics» misses the point. There is nowhere to go back to!
An individual is not a society and a society is not an individual.
An individual has ethical principles—indicating what is right and good in personal choices.
A society needs—indicating what is right and good in societal choices and supporting relevant institutions.
Governments, being responsible for society’s good, have a duty to uphold and applyand respect society's . The people within government, the politicians, must do this for the rest of us i.e. politicians are not elected to apply personal to choices in violation of society's institutions.
Exhorting politicians to be 'more ethical' or to 'return to moral principles' is futile if not worse, in that it displaces responsibility from where it belongs:
More on the futility of exhortation:
Any enduring social phenomenon like «corrupt politicians» is an emergent property of the social system, which is maintained by the populace. It is not a property of particular individuals who happen to be in government i.e. society and its political institutions contain powerful cultural assumptions, which actively select for unethical behaviour and then tolerate it.
So when one corrupt politician or sleazy political party is exposed or thrown out of office in disgust, another equally corrupt politician and sleazy political party promising moral renewal takes its place. There are few certainties in social life, but this probably one of them.
Corruption in political life is irrelevant to understanding howrelates to . Instead, it is relevant to understanding the of society’s culture.
values and social institutions that its individual members assume and expect of themselves and their leaders. The state of a society in this regard is referred to here as its .is measured in terms of the
Individual members of society, seemingly unlike politicians-in-role, are free to use their own. They should use them to choose politicians and to bring pressure to bear on the government in regard to its choices.
At a certain point, people may associate with others to alter, even overturn, existingand so change the .
Exactly how and when this happens is a major focus of this inquiry.
There are some preliminary issues to clarify before considering how societies mature through changes in the.
Originally posted: July 2009; Last updated: 24-Feb-2014