A Letter to a Friend- The Dilemma of my Politics and my Ethics
I am in a certain dilemma which has been incoming for some time. I believe it is already established that I am the ultimate hyper-realist in politics, willing to justify nearly any murder, theft, or injustice in the name of either political expediency or historical causality. Of course I stipulate, always, that the perpetrators of all such injustices will have their checklists of good and evil blotted beyond repair, that the good prince will rarely be a good person, and that the expert of politics will always find himself tormented at least by Purgatory, if not by Hell, upon entry to the next life. But nonetheless I condemn all those who seek, in politics, a perfect world; and I treat as ignorant all those who believe that by a single generous act they effect a true change in the nature of reality. Thus is detailed my political yardstick, which presently forms the core of my intellect and inclinations.
Yet I am no Nietzche- I am no godless beast devoid of all principles, believing that at the final judgment we shall be judged merely by the measure of our expediency on Earth. While certainly that must form a part of my morality, I ought to be damned to Hell right now should I decide that that should be the whole of it. I am not only a citizen, but also a man. I live, as all men, not solely in the political sphere of things, but in a whole host of other spheres of things. And while my analytic specialization, and perhaps someday my career, revolves around a realistic interpretation of the political affairs of Mankind, too deep an intrusion of this specialty into my conscience would be an imbalance of tremendous proportion- and I have already discerned that a just balance is the greatest of blessings in all political projects, and perhaps in all other projects, too.
It is interesting that I should have thus far made the mistake of discerning a universe devoid of principles solely to refute the rhetoric of the liberals and the universalists. For from the beginning of my conscious life, up to the beginning of my political evolution (and in subtler ways throughout my political evolution) the primary moral purpose which I discerned for myself and pursued with the best of my meager ability has been TO BECOME THE BEST POSSIBLE INDIVIDUAL I CAN BE by ALIGNING MYSELF WITH SUCH PRINCIPLES as to PROPERLY DEVELOP A SOUND, STRONG CHARACTER while CULTIVATING A PERSONALITY PROPER TO MY ASPIRATIONS AND SITUATION. I have certainly not accomplished this goal, for it is one which must be pursued throughout life, and is never fully accomplished; but I have certainly attained higher heights than I would have without it, and in those times in which my pursuit has been weakened by intrigues with girls and circumstances of prolonged depression and more intense focuses upon studies, my previous cultivation of virtue has yet served me as a habit ineradicable in those short periods. I have certainly been a greater hypocrite than most people, for in assuming myself to be upon a quest to virtue, I have therefore assumed upon myself an air of self-percieved greatness which, invariably, is quite visible to others and is quite contradictory to the virtue of humility. And I have failed to destroy my typical human flaws and my unique personal flaws, all the while pursuing greater goods- Kipling, Bennett, Washington, Franklin, and the Scout Oath and Law have been my guides on this journey, yet I am in no way a model of any of them, nor have I accurately emulated their precepts in my life. And more seriously, in my pursuit of virtue I have failed to learn any usable and useful skills. The desolation of uselessness haunts me; in a way, scholarship of politics has been my attempt at escape into the economy of worth.
But forgive my self-deprecating drivel. I hope merely to show you my personal tendency, the one which exhibits my behavior better than any other one.
It has not escaped my perception, that this pursuit of moral betterment by aligning myself with moral codes and acting their precepts in my life, relies on the concept of OBJECTIVE MORALITY. By one measure, it shows a belief that there is an objective objective towards which to strive, a ‘better’ not in the sense that a person may be more fit to fulfill a purpose as a tool, but in the sense that a person may be measurably better in one phase of life than in another. I look within myself and I find this belief strongly in my mind. By another measure, it supposes that certain actions- not all, but certain ones- are good in themselves, not because they make an individual a better person or because they increase goodwill between people, but because they are simply good. These actions might include loving another person, loving oneself, showing mercy or compassion, being fair in dealings, and a host of other ones which doubtless just about every rational moral code ever conceived would agree to and submit to. It would seem, if these two beliefs which I generally hold to be true are true, that there IS an objective morality. Perhaps I sound much like CS Lewis at the moment.
Yet I recall writing against this very concept in another message to a different friend, arguing that the differences between moral codes are so significant as to render them all, in general, perpetually at war with each other in the field of discussion and debate. And, truth be told, I believe I find myself reverting to the ultimate conclusion which I reached in that previous message- that an objective morality exists, and we know it because we can feel it with our moral sense; but that we cannot know it in full, and as it is, and must always know only a subjective and personal account of it in our lives, which nonetheless is a sufficiently powerful compass as to bring happiness and meaning to human life, in whatever way it is found. Perhaps this is a mystic’s answer; but it nonetheless, as I think on it, seems more proper than establishing a codex of moral laws, or a code of moral principles. I tend to poke at the flaws in the codes I follow.
And now to the dilemma itself.
Politics supposes that there is a set of objective natural laws governing human nature; Ethics supposes that there is a set of objective positive laws governing human behavior. It is clear, by any observation of the history of the world, that these two approaches are incompatible at the largest scale. History marches over the bodies of the defeated, and the Engine of Progress is fueled by the blood of the vanquished. The attempts at ethical restructurings of human affairs have, in general, either failed completely, failed and resulted in greater injustice than before, or most commonly, succeeded only partly and resulted in great hypocrisy on the part of those who benefited from them. Successes in ethics seem evident only in the smallest of groups, or else more commonly, at the level of individuals- and even these successes are fraught with inconsistencies and flaws. Yet the ethical impulses are never removed, and indeed are powerful; for it is a truism, that a good man will stand before kings; and the best leaders are never simply cunning, but possess charismatic qualities which seem to bespeak of an inner benevolence and love for their followers which the cynic would dismiss as useless. The heroes of popular culture are always morally excellent. It would seem that the moral sense is at least a factor in politics; yet to ultimately relegate it to that level would be to dismiss its providence in the conscience.
And so looking upon my previous actions now, I find it somewhat foolish that I have always so callously dismissed the liberals, who place a greater influence of moral law upon politics. Indeed, we follow the same moral law; but I believe that in general, they hold a skewed sense of the political laws which govern man’s actions. I find that I agree with them in more ways than I previously had, on the surface morality of political action. Yet the political analyst in me causes me to disagree due to the consequences of such action. I must acknowledge that they tend to be more moral than me, for their cries for justice are pure and good. But, (while in full doubt of whatever mean wisdom I may have,) I question whether they are wiser than me. Nonetheless they likely stand a higher chance of entering Heaven, for they align their principles with their actions. I, on the other hand, partake in the very bloodbath which moral codes have since time immemorial have sought to eliminate.
It seems, then, an interesting place- to be an individual striving for moral excellence and excellent citizenship, yet a political analyst and aspiring political actor aware of the wretchedness of the life of Man.
God help my soul.