High principles in politics is essential for those who want to change the world

“A comment on a Facebook thread that the Pope is a “poor moral guide” because of his fucked-up gender politics really clarified something for me: people look at politics through moral eyes, not practical ones. He’s a useful ally on some very important issues, like poverty/inequality, the deadening hand of capital, and the climate crisis. He’s not some blessed beacon who should serve as a model for living or a sanctified dispenser of virtue. Politics… is not a form of ethics.”

A Facebook friend sent me that post from a leftist fellow’s wall & asked what I thought of it. The commenter is not among my friends so I feel free to respond publicly. The statement is appalling in its smugness, cynicism & perhaps in its defense of amorality in politics. Whose politics are without ethics & merely based on the practical?

If you’re talking about the presidential candidates or US Congress, that definition fits to a tee. Political principles mean nothing & expedience rules. But if you’re talking about transformational politics, the social movements against war, racism, misogyny, apartheid, & social hatreds of every kind, ethics & morality are essential, of the highest order, & not political impedimenta.

What kind of ethics are required to change the world? Those that insist on the equality of human beings–not just in the abstract but in political organizing; those that place human rights as the guiding principles of political activity; those that will not equivocate or remain silent when human beings are persecuted; those that insist on straightforward, honest dealings with others in the struggles to make this world suitable for human beings to live in.

My observation in several social movements is that people who resort to maneuvering, trickery, backroom bargains, bullying, petty cruelties, eventually end up as bureaucrats or pompous hacks. The regrettable thing is they drive so many committed activists out of politics who want to change the world but refuse to become lowlifes to do that because they know it’s the fast road to political hell.

Those who think high-principled functioning has no place in politics have likely never spent a moment trying to change the world or are themselves amongst the practical fools whose cynicism blinds them to the vision of a world free of human exploitation.