The immorality of affairs

Added: Shaday Patchett - Date: 31.08.2021 16:13 - Views: 22273 - Clicks: 6263

On July 10,the chaplain of the U. Senate, Reverend Forrest Prettyman, opened the chamber's day on a world-historical note, praying that "the God of our fathers will lead us on and fulfill the great de in us as a Nation. It was not until the peroration that Wilson's tenor did justice to the grandiosity of Prettyman's invocation. The cause of the war was now not mere national interest, as it had been when Wilson sought a declaration of war in on the grounds of Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare.

The war was now a moral crusade:. It was our duty to go in, if we were indeed the champions of liberty and of right.

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We answered to the call of duty in a way so spirited, so utterly without thought of what we spent of blood or treasure It is thus that a new role The immorality of affairs a new responsibility have come to this great nation that we honour and which we would all wish to lift to yet higher levels of service and achievement. In his vaunted closing, Wilson declared that "[t]he stage [was] set We cannot turn back. We can only go forward The light streams upon the path ahead, and nowhere else.

Wilson was known as a moralizer of Olympian proportions. A prudential matter of statecraft became a moral crusade, with God called into its service. There was no limit to the blood or treasure that would be expended to succeed.

That premise of limitless commitment was itself absurd. But even when the aim was purportedly achieved, the fact of success itself rechanneled moral energies to "yet higher" goals. This is the essence of moralistic politics. It is different from politics oriented toward moral ends. One of the most striking features of contemporary American politics is that political rhetoric is increasingly moralistic while the actual ability of governing systems to achieve moral ends is in decline.

These are related phenomena: Moralistic politics is prone to stalemate because it disdains such instruments of effective political practice as barter and compromise. Its insistence on its own correctness, elevated to the urgency of the moral plane, makes compromise not merely imprudent but indefensible.

Because of its tendency toward monomaniacal focus on single issues to the exclusion of all others, it cannot engage in horse-trading. Where the politician sees shades of gray and operates in a world of contradictions and tensions, the moralist, hostile to nuance, perceives only darkness and light.

This has a dual effect. When moral questions are oversimplified, there is no room for liberty and the responsibility that should attend it. When imperatives are categorical, prudence is impossible. This dissolves liberty in favor of a one-dimensional and allegedly unimpeachable moral truth. Second, cautious, partial steps toward moral ends cannot satisfy the moralizer because he operates in an environment in which more of the object in view is always better than less. Moralism cannot tolerate the fact, evident to James Madison in Federalist No.

In short, for the moralist, unlike for the statesman, to "let justice be done though the heavens fall" is an acceptable tradeoff, for the options are identical: The pursuit of justice may bring down the heavens, but so will the persistence of injustice. The issues are always ultimate. The stakes of success and failure are the same. Given the fact that people disagree, moralized politics is bound to fail except on those rare and transient occasions when a single moral vision possesses all branches of government.

Indeed, there are no mutually acceptable outcomes; one choice is always right and the other is always wrong. Burke perceived the milieu: "Moderation will be stigmatized as the virtue of cowards, and compromise as the prudence of traitors. Daniel Patrick Moynihan expressed much the same sentiment in The Politics of a Guaranteed Income : "No one is innocent after the experience of governing.

But not everyone is guilty. The moralist, by contrast, is always innocent, for he can always say moral ends would have awaited at the end of the path of light and goodness, which the prudent statesman had no choice but to reject.

The moralist is, in that sense, apolitical, hovering pristinely above and sneering down upon those faced with the hard choices of government. But it The immorality of affairs more than that: By foreclosing meaningful moral deliberation, moralism is actively anti-political. Moynihan continued, "Kennedy would say over and again: to govern is to choose. Men who will not abide by this condition are less than what is required. Reinhold Niebuhr grappled with similar questions of how to maintain moral conviction while accommodating political variety and human limitation.

The moral statesman cannot remain above politics, Niebuhr wrote: "It is to be noted that in Hebraic religion the transcendent God is never an escape from the chaos of this world. This world is not meaningless, and it is not necessary to escape from it to another supramundane world in order to preserve an ultimate optimism. Moralizing tends to exist in the eye of the beholder, characterizing moral appeals with which one does not agree. Its caricature is of the sanctimonious, finger-wagging politician or preacher.

But some underlying characteristics of the phenomenon can be discerned. The moralizer, as Lefever noted, is often concerned with a single end above The immorality of affairs others. This is more than clarity of moral purpose. It is a single-minded obsession that refuses to see the need for choices. The actual statesman can almost never achieve one moral end without impairing another, so prudence must rank and balance them: A foreign policy that pursues a morally informed purpose may be impossible to achieve without the inescapable immoralities of war, the economic burdens in which the less fortunate will share, or the elevating of one alliance and the fraying of another.

In domestic policy, the ongoing debate about pharmaceutical prices, for example, pits the economic welfare of the population with already-treatable conditions against the innovation on which a few people with rarer diseases depend. Such choices are almost always the basic condition of politics. The moralizer, meanwhile, is sanctified by the certainty that his primary end is the only acceptable one. He is therefore oblivious to the subordinate sacrifices that are usually necessary to achieve it. The metaphor of war, which pits friends against enemies and thereby delegitimizes opposition, is common even when applied to problems like cancer or poverty that resist conquering.

Wilson, in a speaking tour before his presidential campaign, declared in Denver:. No man can sit down and withhold his hands from the warfare against wrong and get peace out of his acquiescence. The most solid and satisfying peace is that which comes from this constant spiritual warfare, and there are times in the history of nations when they must take up the crude instruments of bloodshed in order to vindicate spiritual conceptions. For liberty is a spiritual conception, and when men take up arms to set other men free, there is something sacred and holy in the warfare.

I will not cry "Peace" so long as there is sin and wrong in the world. Actual warfare is sometimes necessary, but it is never holy. As Niebuhr noted, neither is an abstract devotion to peace at all costs: "When the Church proclaims the love commandment to the world as the law of God, it must guard against the superficial moralism of telling the world that it can save itself if men will only stop being selfish and learn to be loving.

It bears observing that in Wilson's formulation, "spiritual," as opposed to territorial, warfare is "constant. The moralizer who attempts to attain the fullness of his ends rejects the doctrine of original sin and often does so, as Wilson's case shows, in the name of Christian piety. Wilson was speaking well before World War I. His reference was less to literal warfare than to the cause of social progress, especially with respect to economic issues.

Hence another feature of the moralizer: the proclivity to cast ordinary political choices in Manichaean terms. Senator John McCain supplies a contemporary example. George Will reported during the presidential campaign that McCain, the Republican nominee, had responded to a briefing on a complicated financial issue by inquiring: "So, who is the villain?

A scoundrel always causes it. Mere problems admit debate as to the most prudent solution. One's opponent in a battle royal, by contrast, must be destroyed. The moralist apparently must work in abstractions. Actual moral reasoning requires a precision about ends and means that is willing to name the things under debate.

In order to clarify the available options, one must be willing to say something is this and not that. The moralist dodges this responsibility because it entails hard choices, shrouding moral reasoning in abstractions instead. Daniel Mahoney notes the consequent irony that "relativism coexists with limitless moralism. This is the most striking feature of the modern 'moral' order. For Raymond Aron, the working statesman did not have this luxury.

He thus wrote that Max Weber overlooked a "reasonable politics based on a balanced analysis of the social order because he wanted to reserve the rights of the ethics of conviction, to elevate the pacifist or revolutionary trade unionist who is unconcerned with the consequences of his acts, to the same level of dignity The immorality of affairs the responsible statesman There are, of course, villains in politics.

There are evil empires, greedy interests, and corrupt politicians. But it is more common for moral to be attained through coalitions of individuals or interests who each possess pieces of the truth. It is more common still for issues to resist definition in moral terms at all.

Whether tax rates should be higher or lower, regulations should be more or fewer, or troops should be deployed to here or there, are typically prudential judgments obscured rather than illuminated by moralism.

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Outside of Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonthe question of where to locate a boys' camp is rarely a moral issue. Similarly, moralizers tend to ignore or reject the nuances that characterize the bulk of political choices. Because the moralizer sees the world in terms of righteousness and malice, he is likely to exhort rather than persuade. Perhaps most ominously, such issues, like Wilson's "spiritual warfare," tend to be measured in abstractions rather than concrete consequences. As Burke noted, a politics of abstraction readily, even enthusiastically, sacrifices actual individuals to ethereal goals.

To oppose moralism is not to endorse nihilism. It is both possible and desirable for politics to be oriented toward moral ends. Its tendency The immorality of affairs to rely on inspiration rather than exhortation and on persuasion rather than admonition. This Aristotelian or Thomist orientation toward moral ends is accompanied by a measured confidence in their rightness. The moral politician is not enfeebled by self-doubt, but he is likelier to approach issues gradually, drawing on tradition not out of mere reverence for it but out of humility as well: that is, for the Burkean reason that custom accumulates more wisdom than even a wise individual possesses.

Madison famously wrote, "Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates; every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob. He is satisfied with halting progress toward moral aims and is willing to work with those with whom he disagrees, even intently, to achieve it. Abraham Lincoln was the foremost American exemplar of moral rather than moralistic politics. He spoke in clear but also welcoming moral terms. His Temperance Address was a model of moderate moral discourse, advising that alcoholics be weaned from drink in "accents of entreaty and persuasion, diffidently addressed by erring man to an erring brother" rather than "the thundering tones of anathema and denunciation.

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This formulation is ificant, for Lincoln's moral judgment was confessedly limited: The "erring brother" was to be reached by the equally "erring man," who was also, suggestively, "diffident" in his attempts to persuade. When his Second Inaugural later spoke of the Northern cause in the Civil War, Lincoln called for "firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right," by which The immorality of affairs meant that only a divine perspective could comprehend the right in its full dimensions.

This is the statesman operating amid competing values and the limits of human reason: Our cause should be firm because it is right, but we should be humble rather than zealous about it. Lincoln, who saw the survival of the Union as a predicate to ending slavery, could thus work with views that were different from his own, and even objectively reprehensible, in order to advance his long-term moral aims. He told his friend Joshua Speed in that the people of the North "crucif[ied] their [moral] feelings" about slavery to preserve the Union. Could Lincoln win a primary among candidates vying to outbid each other ideologically today?

One suspects that he would propose gradual emancipation and lose primary voters to the first candidate to endorse immediate emancipation, who would in turn be outdone by another. The moral clarity that both Moynihan and Ronald Reagan expressed about the Soviet Union provides a contemporary counterpart. The diplomacy of the former and the statecraft of the latter were shot through with morality but not with moralism. They were confident in their rightness but prudent in their measures. Reagan could, with lucid moral conviction, call on Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall" without taking fire and sword to Berlin to do it himself.

Martin Luther King, Jr. His politics were clearly morally rooted, but the tone of his rhetoric sought to appeal to better angels while actually welcoming new allies into his movement. The "inescapable network of mutuality" to which he referred in the "Letter from Birmingham Jail" both acknowledged and endorsed political life with competing ends.

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In comparing adherents of civil disobedience to Socratic gadflies, he indicated that his method was persuasion rather than dogmatism: The goal was to "help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. A morally informed statesman will not hesitate to call evil by its name but will use that label economically and resist its application to ordinary problems. Indeed, unlike the Progressive movement's aspiration to "scientific legislation," a morally oriented statesman will oppose the temptation to believe that all political problems have obviously "right" answers that can be ascertained by technical means.

The moral politician can also distinguish prudentially between the immediate need and the long-term good. As Lefever also observed, the moralist always lives in the urgency of the here and now: Because his priority is morally infused, taking it slowly is not only inadvisable but positively unjust.

The immorality of affairs

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