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Pragmatism In Government Essay

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The character of politics makes consistency pretty close to impossible, partly because politicians are human and human nature is inconsistent, and partly because the voters don’t really want consistency. As voters, we have the luxury of holding politicians to standards we would almost certainly be unable to meet if we were in their positions. And when they fail, we revile them for their hypocrisy, which is as pointless as reviling a dog for having a moist nose.

Now, all of this may make Auntie sound awfully cynical. Should we have no moral standards at all for politicians? Should we throw principles by the wayside and let some kind of shifty situational ethics figleaf naked greed and power grabbing? Not at all.

Just for illustration, take the issue of “saving people from oppressive dictators,” which is unquestionably a worthy concept, right up there with protecting children from pedophiles or saving animals from being abused and mistreated. But no matter how worthy an end is, its moral righteousness alone can never justify evil means employed in achieving it. It’s not wrong, cold, or cynical to carefully calculate the cost of achieving a noble end, it’s responsible, and responsibility is what we should be demanding from ourselves and the leaders we elect to represent us.

Costs come in many forms. We may not always agree on the totals, or even what should be counted as cost in such an equation, but the greater the potential for harm from an action, the more stringently we should perform the analysis. If, for example, saving people from an oppressive dictator requires unpopular political decisions, economic pressure that involves some level of pain and suffering on both sides, diplomatic actions that require quids-pro-quo we’d rather not give, possibly even strained relations with another party whose good will has value for us, etc., that’s one calculation. If it requires military action, that’s another cost accounting entirely.

Military action, even for noble mot...

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