Exploring Political Morality

Two politicians on the steps of a courthouse talking together.

The intersection of politics and morality is an intense topic of deliberation and contemplation particularly in the Western world which is forced to grapple with a growing number of fashionable social issues arising to the front of political discourse. These new topics one by one supplant subjects which have yet to be resolved in the public sphere despite decades of debate.

As society continuously attempts to confront this array of complex issues, the question of political morality in the resolution of said subjects looms large in the minds of all who grapple with it. While this enthralling realm of political ethics requires an examination akin to that of what is found in the medical field, here we will attempt to simply skim the surface, carefully attempting to provide some context to this complex intersection. Before we dive deeper in political morality, let's quickly set the stage on which we will dance.

In This Article:

The Intersection of Politics and Morality: An Inseparable Duo

It is impossible to separate politics and morality entirely, and a fool’s errand to try. The decisions made by policymakers are bound by an invisible thread of morality built in by their Creator whether they choose to acknowledge this ethereal connection or not.

Therefore, it is of imminent importance in representative democracies that morality lives at the forefront of a state’s decision-making process given the gravity that the choices made can have profound effects on the lives of individuals within society as a whole. It is therefore both natural and imperative that ethical considerations play a pivotal role in governance, made paramount by leaders willing to exhibit political morality and stand before a populous in objection to society’s unethical morays.

4 Common Ethical Issues for Political Candidates

There are many circumstances in which politics and ethics intertwine, including:

1. The Utilitarian Dilemma

We are a fallen people, so placing one’s self-interest before the benefit of the group is deep within our very nature. The pressure put on politicians to make the decisions that best direct society are tantamount to the choices made by the Sunday pastor as he wrestles with how best to guide his flock along the straightest path to heaven.

One of the fundamental ethical issues in politics has been and forever shall revolve around the concept of utilitarianism and whether or not a politician should prioritize the contentment of the majority, even if it means sacrificing the interests of a minority. In most cases, the search for the position that strikes the proper balance between the welfare of the majority and the protection of the rights of the few is a politician’s unceasing challenge.

That is, unless they are not willing to risk the immediate selfish desire for perpetual political position and the power/prestige that inevitably comes along. In these cases, one could argue that their situation is not to necessarily do what is best, but instead bow to the will of the majority, regardless of emotionality that may blind the masses from the truth, maintaining a politician’s electability and authority.

2. Transparency and Accountability

A cornerstone of political ethics is transparency, a mantra most every executive and legislator espouses when both entering office and uses to levy criticism upon the outgoing administration. Openness in the political processes and holding elected leaders accountable for their actions is essential for a morally sound political system.

That accountability was supposed to be most frequently found in the election process itself, with the occasional power to recall those who egregiously usurped their authority prior to an election opportunity. However, it has become much more murky in the ever-growing number of non-competitive states and districts in which the pattern of tribal mentality through party-line voting prevent the worst offenders from ever facing a truly competitive environment.

3. Corruption and Ethical Lapses

To that end, corruption is a never-ending ethical quagmire in politics in which the participants have only become more sinister over time. The misuse of power through bribery and graft erode the trust between citizens and their government, undermining the moral foundation of society.

The general overall lack of transparency and accountability unfortunately make truly condemning and punishing the worst offenders particularly difficult, especially in those situations in which one party rule prevents a competitive environment, thus destroying the opportunity for political culpability from ever being applied.

4. Human Rights

Particularly in America in which our founding documents clearly note the imperative nature of such protections by the government, upholding human rights is the most paramount of moral obligations grappled with in politics. The violation of human rights, whether domestically or internationally, raises grave ethical concerns that demand to be confronted.

However, when politics and, in particular, the rights of minorities come into contact, politics nearly always wins. It takes a very special group of politicians willing to risk their positions to fly in the face of potentially overwhelming, or certainly exceptionally vocal backlash, in order to place the demands of the ethical concerns first and foremost before the desire of the majority of the populous.

How Truth and Morality Can Prevail in Our Political Climate

What is ultimately required of each generation of politician is a strong cast of leaders who make principled decisions that stand the test of time.

Leaders must prioritize morality over professional gain in perpetuity and be willing to risk their political futures even in the face of an opposition eager to take political advantage. In those moments, while their individual impacts may ultimately be short-lived, working on a collective front with an ever-growing cadre of eager ethical defenders will allow their decisions to make a lasting positive impact on society.

These leaders must address ethical issues in politics by being willing to:

  • Challenge prevailing dogmas when in conflict with moral imperatives
  • Engage in meaningful dialogue with their constituents and the nation at large in order to shape public attitudes
  • Lose personally in order to make gains for all

In politics, the presentation of information is more important than the information itself. But sharing the truth, as simple as it might seem, can be exceedingly difficult in the face of an opposition who sees immediate emotional satisfaction as their earthly empyrean.

Today, passion often places a cloak over truth and morality. Arguments that take crisscrossing turns to reach conclusions are meticulously masked by speakers who use emotion rather than logic to meet the desires of the listeners.

This is no more than a short-cut to agreement. One that often leaves out the tricky nature of ethics which cares not of the ardor one feels when confronted by it, but rather desires to cause the masses to rethink their personal version of the truth and embrace something much more eternally fundamental.

Why Study Public Administration at GCU

If you are interested in pursuing a career in politics or public administration, Grand Canyon University offers various government degrees that focus on developing and improving policies that can contribute to community and human flourishing.

As a Christian university, programs such as the Bachelor of Arts in Government with an Emphasis in Public Administration and the Master of Public Administration with an Emphasis in Government and Policy teach students to develop crucial skills in servant leadership and ethical decision-making. If you are ready to start your political career on a morally-sound foundation, complete the form on the page to learn more about GCU.

Approved by faculty for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Oct. 16, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.