Ethics in Political Life

Ethics in Political Life

Bal Krishna Chaturvedi
Copyright: © 2021 |Pages: 15
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4117-3.ch001
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This chapter explores the role of ethics in political life. It is in two parts. In Part 1, the relation between ethics and politics and the moral standards on which the politicians and policies framed by them should be judged is considered. It is also analysed why certain ethical norms well accepted in a society may not be appropriate for politicians due to their obligation to the public office or the nature of politics. In Part 2, the problem of political corruption and areas in which infraction of moral standards in political life occurs across the globe in different countries is discussed. It is also analysed whether objective norms are feasible on which politicians can be judged for their ethical values when they deviate from moral standards applicable to ordinary citizens. While focussing on this, it is argued that greater public vigilance, more vital international institutions, and an ethically strong community can improve moral norms in political life.
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For more than two millennium societies have evolved various institutional mechanisms to provide for an orderly conduct of their affairs. Ethical principles in political life of the society had a key role in governance during this period in political systems. According to Kanglee (1972) the famous Indian sage Kautiliya, in his treatise on governance written about 350-400 BC, advised the king that in the happiness of the subjects lay the happiness of the king and what was dear to the king was not beneficial for him but what was dear to the subjects was. (p 47).In a cross country study of India, China, the Greeks and Christianity, while reviewing the political advices given by different advisors and thinkers Girardin (2012) mentions about another Indian sage Manu who advised that within his realm the king should act in accordance with rules with similar thoughts echoed in Taoism, by Confucius and later Men Zi in China. Confucius thought that exemplary virtue of king was being just, clever, sincere, patient and detached. Men Zi later advised that quality of law matters and effective rule requires not only humanity but just laws (pp 23-25). In Europe after the adoption of Christianity by the Roman kings, church had a major say in political life. Later the people presented a charter to the king in England and asserted their rights. All these civilizations laid emphasis on ruler to follow ethical norms while dealing with their subjects. In the 16th century Niccole Machiavelli an Italian political thinker strongly disagreed with this approach and propounded a theory off extreme political realism. He argued in his famous work “The Prince” that in matters of state end justifies means. He advised the king as below

For that reason, let a prince have the credit of conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will always be praised by everybody, because the vulgar are always taken by what a thing seems to be and by what comes of it: and in the world there are only the vulgar,… (para 6, chapter XVIII)

He thought that tyranny, deceit or dishonest means were justified in the interest of the state. He did not see much need for moral values in handling issues concerning state

Key Terms in this Chapter

Public Policy: Policies made by politicians or the bureaucracy empowered to do so and which effects a group of men or the entire society.

Ombudsman: A person called by this designation and usually appointed by government to consider and resolve grievances of citizens against government or businesses.

Bloody Hands: A phrase indicating use of unethical practices in public life especially by politicians.

Bilateral Treaties and Multinational Agreements: International agreements among two nations or a group of nations which they are expected to honour.

Balloting: Use of ballot paper to elect a public representative in open democratic fashion.

Descriptive Approach: Defining morality in terms of religious commands or other prescriptive norms of conduct.

Normative Approach: Defining moral conduct in accordance with values and norms generally accepted by all rational men.

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