Political Morality

Ten Commandments MonumentMorality is like politics. I never thought I’d write that.

Some people think there are moral laws. A fairly well known example of moral legislation is the Ten Commandments. Another, in a slightly more complicated manner, is Kant’s categorical imperative. According to these views, context is irrelevant. The laws are universal and must be obeyed at all times. They are an end in themselves, rather than a means to an end, and indeed they are usually presented as the ultimate and superlative end.

This strikes me as very similar to the notion of party politics. Rather than acting in accordance with his own conscience and judgment, a member of a political party is often expected to support his party whatever his leaders decide. Thus we have whips, whose sole job is to ensure that party members vote as the party leaders demand. Similarly, there are electors who will always vote for the same political party every time. In the USA there are people who will always vote for the Democratic Party and wouldn’t dream of voting for the Republican Party. In the UK there are people who will always vote for the Conservative Party and recoil in horror at the idea of voting for Labour.

The idea can be extended to political ideologies. There are people who consider themselves to be libertarians and so will always propose a textbook libertarian answer to any political problem. There are people who say they are anarchists and so will always provide an anarchic answer to any problem. And so on.

Personally, I prefer to use ideologies as starting points. When approaching a new situation, one needs somewhere to begin. So, for example, I might approach a political question from the point of view of an anarchist. Then I would seek to identify the ways in which the state was coercing the individual. A universalist anarchist would then decry every such instance of state interference as immoral and harmful. I would not. Instead, I would try to find out what purpose the state’s interference served and whether or not it could be justified. I would use anarchism as a point of departure – i.e. I would begin with the assumption that state interference is bad and therefore must be well justified in every instance – but I would allow its tenets to be overruled by the practicalities of the particular situation in question.

Morality is the same. I have, and think other people should also have, a moral code by which I attempt to live my life. But the code is not a set of rigid laws, rather it is a set of principles or guidelines that give me a starting point from which to assess a new situation. No law is universal and the universal application of any law is bound to cause harm.

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Published in: on September 12, 2006 at 12:00 am  Comments (4)  

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  1. “No law is universal”THE law is universal! Also, if you look at the world’s religions, big philosophies, etc. you will notice quite many similarities in the morals and ‘laws’. Of course the modern and outwardedly versions of these systems are not too representative, but honour and loyalty (see other post), good name, do good, etc. can be found anywhere.

  2. I think you misinterpreted what I wrote. “Do good” can indeed be found anywhere but exactly what that “good” is changes quite a lot. My point is that “do good” cannot be described with a list of actions that one should perform and/or a list of actions that one should not perform. No such list could cope with every situation. Rather, the context is all important. There may be an underlying concept of good in my decisions (at least, that is my goal) but my specific actions in any situation depend on the situation, informed by the sense of good rather than rigidly following a set of instructions. (I see a parallel with the Buddhist concept of ‘right action’ here.)The other post to which you refer (and thank you for commenting on it, I will post a reply soon) is part of my attempt to develop an accurate sense of good (or, if you prefer, to better align myself with ørlog.)

  3. We are not in disagreement on that point, I think it’s just another way of putting things.”But the code is not a set of rigid laws, rather it is a set of principles or guidelines that give me a starting point from which to assess a new situation.”Very true. I think that people have to try to get back to living in line with “Orlögr” (or whatever term you prefer) and will then ‘internally‘ know what is the best action in a given situation. In one situation you might have to help a person, in another, kill another to help someone, still “thou shalt not kill”. At a certain point of ‘development’ a code of rules should be no longer needed.”No law is universal and the universal application of any law is bound to cause harm.”This may be the same as a discussion about polytheism (see my own logbook about that). One Law (capitalised) certainly is universal, but all ‘below’ it is no longer.I know I have neglected the initial purpose of your post about politics, but I don’t know if I can give my views in just a few lines. Given your example (anarchy) I have to think of a certain book review in Tyr journal volume 1 (which I don’t have at hand) about an anarchist connected to the Unabomber which (if I remember correctly) had some similar thoughts. I’ll look it up if you are interested.

  4. I just had a look in my copy of Tyr Volume I and found the review you mentioned. It doesn’t go into much detail but from what I’ve read I think Edward Abbey was a great man.


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