I don't mean to offend. It's probably going to happen anyway.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Political Ethics 1

Sorry for the lateness of this, I was sleep deprived enough yesterday that the word 'number' was far too entertaining.

Every time some new governmental scandal appears, there is an immediate outcry from somewhere. Most of the time, at least part of that outcry is calling for ethical action among our political class.

The question then becomes, what ethics?

The ethical codes that we as individuals follow on a daily basis are different than those of our political rulers. Theoretically, politicians should maintain some degree of personal ethical behavior, for the same reasons that any of us follow ethical guidelines. There is an added layer of ethics in government though.

Governments have responsibilities. People place their trust, lives, and money in the hands of a group of people in exchange for certain protections and guarantees. This is the most basic level of the social contract.

Any governmental system functions on some form of social contract. Quite simply, it is the agreement of the people to be ruled in exchange for the protections of government. Every leadership role from the worst authoritarian despot to the most lenient small-town mayor follows this. When it gets to the point where the social contract is not upheld properly, people will rebel, either by vote or by arms. No matter how despotic, the people living under the system believe it is better as it is than it would be should they attempt to remove it.

Ideally, everyone would agree on the terms of the social contract. Government would abide by it, and no one would be discontented, as the understandings of why what is happening is happening are there. The will of the people, including those in government, is unified, and governmental action is simple.

The trouble in the social contract is difference of opinion. In a single constituency, people will have radically different views on even the most simple of issues. Those in government have their own agendas and views. Reconciling all of these views into a single comprehensive and clear-cut guideline is quite simply impossible. Therefore, political leadership requires choices on how best to serve people, and how to balance responsibilities with personal desires or agendas. This is the field of political ethics, in providing that framework for decisions.

Next weeks discussion is planned as a look at what exactly those responsibilities of governments are.

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