Politics must be based on ethics

Published on Current Concerns, by Joachim Hoefele and Moritz Nestor, January 15, 2012.

When recently the Pope visited his native country Germany, he gave a much-noticed speech on political ethics before the German Bundestag on 22 September 2011. In his reflections, he focused on natural law and called for truthfulness in political action. The political-ethical core of natural law is, according to Benedict XVI, that “Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. [...]  

To serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician.” This is about “the question of what now corresponds to the law of truth, what is actually right and may be enacted as law [... ].”

With these words, the Head of the Catholic Church took up Aristotle’s claims, which have been at the center of natural law since the Greek Antiquity 2500 years ago: Politics must be based on ethics. Power alone cannot generate justice. Law must be measured against ethical standards and shaped accordingly; only then it will be just. According to Aristotle law will therefore not become just by mere controversy (discourse ethics), nor by force or ideology.

Thus the Greeks entered into a new historical stage 2,500 years ago: Natural law recognized that man cannot secure lasting peace by force, but must oblige the political powers to secure a just and safe peace.

This was due to the fact that right and wrong in the state depended on how man perceived and assessed reality. Law and equitable action are directly related to truthfulness. Anyone who perceives things as they are can live up to them and do right, and by doing so he will become happy.

Since Aristotle, the basic idea of natural law has been that man lives happily when he leads a life in harmony with the laws of external nature as well as of his social nature (zoon politicon). Conduct of life means nothing but using his senses and understanding what is right and wrong, guided by empathy. Political action on this scale approaches to justice … //

… Therefore we need an explanation whom the intellectual elite served when they strived again at separating politics from ethics towards the end of the twentieth century and thus prepared the ground for a return to mere power politics. It really does not come as a surprise that in a world dominated by mere power politics natural law is dismissed as “Catholic special doctrine” or some other way. According to natural law, however, any imperial power politics is unjust and misanthropic. (full text).

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