Political Leadership and the Problem of "Dirty Hands" [Abstract]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 8 (1994)

December 3, 1994

Garrett assesses the morality of leaders' political choices. Does the nature of leadership force us to tolerate or even accept marginally moral acts? Do acts considered unethical in one's private life become ethical when performed by a public servant for the good of the public? If the views of a leader reflect the moral standards of his/her constituency, to what degree, if any, is the leader released from political responsibility? The issue here is whether the causes of the moral acts in question are inherent in the political office or in the leader's own moral standards. At what point is it morally appropriate to set aside one's conscience for the interest of the state, even if it means relinquishing power? Three ways to assess morality of the power-holder's political acts are offered: intuitive values, consequentalism, and universalization. Garrett concludes that a lust for power, even with the noblest intentions for public good, implies a willingness to compromise one's own moral values.


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