Philosophy for Politicians

What virtues are required in politics?


This post is going to confuse you. Actually, we are about to defend politicians! Well, not all of them (not the stealers, not the crooks). Anyway, we defend, among others, the politicians who change their minds, who are incoherent. And you might be disoriented because we value coherence and because we are quite severe on moral issues. Indeed, the point is that we are philosophers. And they are politicians. Jobs have tricks.

Generally, we accept that all jobs have ‘tricks of the trade’. For instance, policemen must know ‘the ropes’ and something more in order to accomplish their tasks (within the rules). We do not want angels or saints wearing the PD uniform and conducting counter-terrorism operations. Of course, we love angels and saints, but they are likely to fail as policemen on the beat. So, there are cases when we seem to be less picky about ethics and formalities. When the stakes are high, it could become admissible an ACTION which does not match high standards of morality. A means to an end!


Actually, life requires a BALANCE between righteous principles and pragmatic results. Therefore, we turn a blind eye if we expect to be returned with desirable, tangible results. And we are ready to lower the behavioural bar in exchange for visible solutions on important issues, like national security.

Two are the focal points of this discussion. Firstly, what are the jobs whose objectives are so crucial that we might accept some tricks in order to reach the targets? In other words, what kind of interest can we legitimately consider more urgent than the adherence to impeccable, stringent behaviours? Secondly, how much can we lower the bar?


As regards the first point, common practice seems to concentrate on life-threatening situations, national security issues, serious public needs in general. Hence, we are prone to forgive secret service officers if they resort to dirty games when it comes to counter-terrorism or other similar affairs. But we are less lenient in the case of artists or entertainment. As an example, we would not be so ready in absolving actors, poets or writers.


As for the question on how much we are available to take, we rely on some common sense (gross calculation). In short, it all depends on what lies on the ‘give’ weighing plate. If upon the ‘give’ plate lies the survival of millions, we accept also a slaughter on the ‘take’ plate. However, can we really trust a gross calculation? Is it acceptable to rely on ‘common sense’? Is it a credible parameter? Please, see also <DOXA> in the WORDS section of this site.


Let’s go deeper into the issue. Mostly, we are fine with secret agents who ‘terminate’ a potential threat without prior judicial proceedings. And it is okay even if the threat is merely possible (not actual). Moreover, such a circumstance is acceptable also if the ‘termination’ is the unintentional outcome of a messed up operation. For instance, our hypothetical agency is not planning the assassination of the suspects but something goes wrong. In addition, we do not objet either on the anonimity of secret agents.

Anyway, in case the agents were known, we would be happy to have them with us in a social dinner. We consider them heros.


Let us notice that the secret agents are doing their job. It is a public-interest job. It is a risky job. And it on the taxpayer’s budget (because it is of public concern). Let us also consider that killing people is the most atrocious offence.

In theory, shouldn’t we expect from public officers an impeccable adherence not only to the law but also to ethical rules? They are the embodiements of the State (public) and of the principles on which the State is founded!

No, that is just good theory! We want from them practical results, not philosophy. We want them to be effective in protecting our country and ourselves.

Morality issues are very controversial. Criteria do vary from case to case. Most of our evaluations come from habits and public customs more than from accurate investigations. But let’s move to the final point.


Should we not be over with expecting immaculate behaviours from politicians? Here we are not talking of not stealing money. Such a crime is out of discussion. We do not want it from citizens, we do not want it from politicians. What we are talking about is being effective and results-producing, exactly as in the case of secret agents. We are talking of tactics and Machiavellian strategies.

For example, do we prefer pure, naif representatives of our country in the UN or do we want smart, crafty politicians?

Should we not accept once and for all that politics has to do with abilities, showdowns, schemes and not squeaky-clean games? Well, we do think that we should acknowledge the impure reality of politics, accepting all the consequences.

What are you saying? Oh, you say that you already accept it. That you know jobs have tricks. And you are asking who on earth does believe that politics is for saints and angels. Ah, fine. Yes. You are right. Anyway, it is the public discourse on politics which is wrong (not personal, intimate assessments). It is the general, public approach that is misleading. In fact, we still publicly object and grimace when a politician changes his mind. We turn up our nose if a politician, all of a sudden, consorts with a faction he was an opponent of until an hour ago. We ask for coherence and other important assets.

Instead we should simply ask for solid, measurable results, and for a clear respect of a good morality standard (which is not the same as the holy beings’ one). Jobs have tricks. We know it in general. And we perfectly know it in the case of politics. So, let us end the hypocritical discourse on the perfect coherence and purity of politicians. Thanks.