Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Is there ethics in politics?


DR Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran of Ikim in “When the world of politics is devoid of ethics” (The Star Jan 22 - See the attachment) believes there is still room for ethics in politics.

In the real world, especially in developing countries, the ethics of Plato and al-Farabi are only good for an utopian society.

While man is not born power crazy, those who enter politics are goaded by power to resort to unethical means.

Morality is hard to preserve and practise in politics.

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

Unethical behaviour seems to be the order of the day as the general election looms near.

Almost everyday we read of mudslinging on both sides of the fence. Everything under the sun is being politicised as the stakes are very high.

French philosopher Voltaire remarked: “The pleasure of governing must certainly be exquisite if we may judge from the vast numbers who are eager to be concerned with it.”

Had Voltaire been alive today, he would qualify his statement by saying, “It is not so much the pleasure of governing, but the power that comes with it, making the vast numbers who are eager to be concerned with it.”

As Dr Farid said: “Politics, in its true meaning, is praiseworthy”. But the “realpolitik” meaning is different. Mao Zedong once said: “Power comes from the barrel of the gun”.

Jonathan Swift said: “Politics as the word is understood, is nothing but corruption.”

Despite the negative connotation of politics in its general form, politics as a profession can have high ethical values if the very system in which politics arise have strong values as seen in most developed countries.

Singapore is a shining example where the ruling party has great difficulty finding candidates to stand for elections as the people do not see it as a way to become rich overnight.

Singaporean politicians are known to observe and practice the highest ethical principles as espoused by Plato.

The observance of ethical political principles in Malaysia still has a long way to go as noted by Dr Farid where “small issues can potentially be magnified into a big scandal.”

“The various issues raised by political parties range from major ones such as fair economic distribution and political justice, to the most trivial or personal matters such as the way leaders and their family members dress”.

So far, general elections in Malaysia, unlike in some developing countries, have not resulted in the use of heavy weapons to gun down people.

And when the election results are announced, people accept it in good faith and continue with their daily chores while waiting for the next general election. Meanwhile, they hope the party that won will honour its manifesto.

One of America’s founding father’s Thomas Jefferson said: “I have no ambition to govern men. It is a painful and thankless office.” Thomas Jefferson was a man of high ethical values.

Do we have men like Jefferson in Malaysian politics?

Certainly there are many men and they should be given the task of providing true leadership along the political principles of Plato and al-Farabi.

By HASSAN TALIB

When the world of politics is devoid of ethics

 

Much too often, personalities are the biggest casualties as they are ruthlessly tarnished. All the dirt and grime is dug out and paraded for the nation to see despite their many prior good contributions.

WITH the general election around the corner, the heat of the Malaysian political climate is gradually increasing.

The number of political gatherings, ceramah and demonstrations by political parties multiply by the day and continue to increase.

The various issues raised by political parties range from major ones such as fair economic distribution and political justice, to the most trivial or personal matters such as the way leaders and their family members dress.

It looks as if Malaysians have become a very conscious lot concerned over everything overnight. Small issues can potentially be magnified into a big scandal.

Not only is the intensity palpable within ceramah and gatherings, a similar tone is also evident in cyberspace where heated debates and exchange of views have overwhelmed the social media such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

While such a phenomenon is regarded as normal, the negative culture attached to it is best eschewed.

To render support for one’s own party, some leaders and fanatical followers would resort to unethical means such as making false claims and unfounded allegations that include character assassination.

In response to such accusations, the opposing parties will stage similar counter attacks. As a result, emotions simply overrule reason causing the situation to get out of hand.

Understandably, the principle that guides extreme political groups is that politics is a war in which all kinds of weapons must be deployed to exterminate the enemies.

In engaging power politics, the prince, says Machiavelli, must be “adaptable and know how to do wrong when he must”.

Naturally, such an approach will have a more divisive impact on society.

People become more divided and emotions override everything else, particularly level-headedness.

Much too often, personalities are the biggest casualties as they are ruthlessly tarnished. All the dirt and grime is dug out and paraded for the nation to see despite their many prior good contributions.

Thus, questions remain: Is this the way politics serve its purpose in administering human life? Must society undergo this unhealthy process to elect a leader? Must we necessarily be divisive before arriving at political maturity when the amount of damage done is irreparable?

The answer lies in how the meaning of politics should be properly understood.

More importantly is the understanding of the role of ethics in political activities.

Politics, in its true meaning, is praiseworthy.

Philosophers and political thinkers as early as Plato, through his idea of the “Philosopher King”, had proposed a political system where wisdom and virtues must be the bases of governing states.

Although his idea is also criticised as utopian, the principle that Plato tried to put forward is very important, that is, a true political system must be guided by knowledge and virtue reflected primarily in the character of the leaders and politicians.

In other words, ethics, according to Plato, must be the basis of politics.

Just as men must live virtuous and good lives, a state must also be built on strong ethical ground. If the state is unfavourable, says Plato, the individual citizens would find themselves unable to lead a good life as it should be lived.

This organic relationship between ethics and politics from Plato stemmed from his idea that a state must be a microcosmic reflection of man. Since a state is run by humans who need to be furnished with good ethical virtues for him to be good, a good state must also be refined with virtuous characteristics.

Echoing Plato is al-Farabi, a celebrated thinker from the Muslim tradition whose work, The Opinions of Inhabitants of the Virtuous City, underlines that a state should be properly ruled by virtuous leaders and followed by virtuous people.

“The excellent city resembles the perfect and healthy body where all of whose limbs co-operate to make the life of the animal perfect and to preserve it in this state.”

Among the qualities needed by a ruler, according to al-Farabi, are intelligence, good memory, keenness of mind, love of knowledge, moderation in matters of food, drink and sex, love of truthfulness, magnanimity, frugality, love of justice, firmness and courage.

Arguably for some, real politics can never take ethics as its principle.

Such a view is justified if only man is naturally born with the attribute of being power crazed.

However, this has not been so since man was created by God in the best of mould as affirmed in the Quran: “Verily we have created the human being in the best of form.”

Furthermore, mankind can take pride in some of its leaders and rulers with good qualities and virtuous characteristics decorating its history. In Islam, for example, Prophet Muhammad and the four-guided caliphs continue to be revered as leaders par excellence for all Muslims. Another outstanding and exemplary leader at a later period was Umar Abd Aziz whose short rule, nevertheless, left a tremendous impact.

So rigid was Umar’s standard of ethics that he was said to have even refused to use up the candle in his office to light the room when discussing personal matters.

In sum, while we all can agree and understand Einstein when he said, “Politics is more difficult than physics”, we hope that, just as physics has contributed immensely to benefit the life of the human kind, politics would be able to do likewise.

BY DR MOHD FARID MOHD SHAHRAN, SENIOR FELLOW CENTRE OF ECONOMICS AND SOCIAL SCIENCE 
IKIM VIEWS - The Star Jan 22, 2012

Related post:
The cause of unethical activities

On Ethics and Politics :
 Is man not capable of love if he embraced the morality of self-interest? Only the man who loves himself and who knows his values is capable of loving others, albeit not indiscriminately.



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