[Blog] The Aim of Politics is Ethics and Virtue, the Promotion of the Individual Self Worth and the Common Good by Jose Mario De Vega

The Aim of Politics is Ethics and Virtue, the Promotion of the Individual Self Worth and the Common Good
by Jose Mario De Vega

Mario De VegaI refer to the letters of Hassan Talib’s “Is there ethics in politics?” (The Star, January 24) and Robert Lim’s “Hard to find ethical politicians as the world is not ideal” (The Star, Feb. 1) respectively and I sincerely wish to respond to the controversial propositions that they jointly advanced.

To the contention that we do not live to an ideal world, let me state that: the world is the world today because of who we are. We improve the world by improving ourselves. We deserve the kind of community, society and world that we have, because whether we like it or not, we are responsible to its creation.

Undeniably, Professor A. C. Grayling lucidly remind us:

“humanity is part of nature, and the beauties and pleasures of everything of everything natural are part of humanity’s inheritance. This was the view of the ancient Greeks, who saw in the exercise of man’s reason the source of his ability to recognize goodness. The Greeks extolled friendship, the quest for knowledge and the appreciation of excellence in all things, as the source of the greatest pleasure that humans can have. They sought to understand what should make a good society so that individuals within it could enjoy flourishing lives. The focus of their attention is on this world and its benefits, and they debated intelligently about how to enjoy them, share them, and get the best from them.”

As a close student of the ancient Greeks, it is my humble contention and in conformity to the Aristotelian view: that the very basis of politics is ethics.

Hence, the negative outlook and pessimistic view that there is no ethics in politics is without any foundation!

Inarguably, not only that there is a room for ethics in politics, the very aim or purpose (telos) of politics is the creation of virtues citizens, a good society where the citizens are responsible and truly living a happy life; because their interest is not simply their personal one but the interest of the whole for the promotion and the development of the common good!

I concur that “morality is hard to preserve and practise in politics”, nonetheless, it does not mean that being a moral and ethical politician is improbable! Yes, it is hard, yet it does not mean that it is impossible.

True, the English philosopher Francis Bacon said: “It is hard and severe a thing to be a true politician as to be truly moral.”

I would like to thank the writer for highlighting this quotation, because he also put into the forefront the thesis of my argument.

What does it means to be a true politician? The very idea or the concept of a politician as originally envisioned by the Greeks is very different from the conception of the politician that we, the so-called “moderns” now understood.

Etymologically, a politician is what the Greeks called as a polites. A polites is an individual whose main concern is the public welfare and the promotion of the common good!

We, the so-called “moderns” unfortunately has corrupted and bastardized a very noble concept.

With regard to those so-called “politicians” who does not give a damn to the people or who do not care about the public interest or those creatures whose interest is their only interest and use power not to distribute it but to further their nefarious and selfish aims; the term given to them by the Greeks is — an idiotes.

Those “politicians” who are in truth are the idiotes are those creatures quoted by our correspondents whose interest is their self-interest, those who are engaged in corruption (whether in money, position or power), those who do not care about the welfare of the people and don’t give a damn about problems of society.

Yes, they are idiots. They are idiots not because they are uneducated or unlettered or ignorant. Rather, they are what they are because they are blind and deaf with regard to what is the most important thing in life and in the public sphere.

They thought, idiotically and myopically that what is most important in life is money, power, position, privileges, etc.

They thought that the people exist to provide them with positions; they do not realize that instead their position exist to provide those people with freedom, justice, equity and to advance their wellbeing.

They believe that money is the most important thing, yet failed to discern that rather it is honor and virtue.

A fake “politician” thought that he or she is powerful and privileged when that individual is using it arbitrarily as against the wishes of the people; not knowing that he or she is powerless, because the true source of power is the power that comes from the people themselves.

Dr Farid captured the veracity of my claim when he himself said that: “Politics, in its true meaning, is praiseworthy”. The problem is, the idiotes of today corrupted and twisted the beautiful meaning of politics.

Now, politics is known universally as the so-called “realpolitik” which meaning is galaxy away from its original meaning.

Nevertheless, despite the negative connotation of “politics” in its general present form, politics, not merely as a profession but more importantly as a way of life can achieve a high ethical values if the very system in which politics arise have strong values as developed by the people or the citizens themselves.

The question is how? What’s to be done?

Aristotle stated that we cannot be fully be human and be a good citizen without participating in politics to create civic virtue which is utterly necessary to be a virtuous person and correspondingly a responsible citizen.

As testified by Professor Michael J. Sandel, “For Aristotle, the purpose of politics is not to set up a framework of rights that is neutral among ends. It is to form good citizens and to cultivate good character.”

To quote Aristotle’s key passage in his book the Politics:

“Any polis (society) which is truly so-called, and it is not merely one in name, must devote itself to the end of encouraging goodness. Otherwise, a political association sinks into a mere alliances… Otherwise, too, law becomes a mere covenant… “a guarantor of men’s rights against one another” — instead of being, as it should be, a rule of life such as will make the members of a polis good and just.”

Man by nature is a socio-political animal. We cannot do much if we are alone or in isolation, because if that is the case we will fail to develop both language and moral deliberation.

Hence, to be a good, virtuous human being and a responsible citizen, it is a condition sine qua non that we must participate and take part in everything that is happening in our politics.

In the categorically stirring words of Bertolt Brecht:

“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

Jose Mario Dolor De Vega

College of Arts
Department of Philosophy
Polytechnic University of the Philippines

Institute of Arts and Sciences
Department of Humanities, Literature and Philosophy
Far Eastern University

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