â€œWe are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.â€
This humble paper is a counter-thesis to the prevalent negative and pessimistic view that there is no ethics in politics and that the idea of the ancient Greeks concerning politics is not applicable in our society or in the world in general because we are not living in an ideal world!
I sternly disagree! Hence, I am registering my dissent and offering my counter arguments to refute and debunk the baseless twin contentions.
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To the contention that we do not live to an ideal world, let me state that: the world is the world today because of who we are. We improve the world by improving ourselves. We deserve the kind of community, society and world that we have, because whether we like it or not, we are responsible to its creation and continuing existence.
There is no shadow of doubt as Professor A. C. Grayling lucidly remind us:
â€œhumanity is part of nature, and the beauties and pleasures of everything of everything natural are part of humanityâ€™s inheritance. This was the view of the ancient Greeks, who saw in the exercise of manâ€™s reason the source of his ability to recognize goodness. The Greeks extolled friendship, the quest for knowledge and the appreciation of excellence in all things, as the source of the greatest pleasure that humans can have. They sought to understand what should make a good society so that individuals within it could enjoy flourishing lives. The focus of their attention is on this world and its benefits, and they debated intelligently about how to enjoy them, share them, and get the best from them.â€
As a close student of the ancient Greeks, it is my humble contention and in conformity to the Aristotelian view: that the very basis of politics is ethics.
Hence, the negative outlook and pessimistic view that there is no ethics in politics is without any foundation!
Undeniably, not only that there is a room for ethics in politics, but the very aim or purpose (telos) of politics is the creation of virtues citizens, a good society where the citizens are responsible and truly living a happy life; because their interest is not simply their personal one but the interest of the whole for the promotion and the development of the common good!
I concur that â€œmorality is hard to preserve and practice in politicsâ€, nonetheless, it does not mean that being a moral and ethical politician is improbable! Yes, it is hard, yet it does not mean that it is impossible.
True, the English philosopher Francis Bacon said: â€œIt is hard and severe a thing to be a true politician as to be truly moral.â€
I intentionally highlighted this quotation, because it put squarely into the forefront of the discourse the very heart of the thesis of my argument.
What does it means to be a true politician? The very idea or the concept of a politician as originally envisioned by the Greeks is very different from the conception of the politician that we, the so-called â€œmodernsâ€ now understood. Etymologically, a politician is what the Greeks called as a polites. A polites is an individual whose main concern is the public welfare and the promotion of the common good!
We, the so-called â€œmodernsâ€ unfortunately have corrupted and bastardized a very noble concept.
With regard to those so-called â€œpoliticiansâ€ who do not give a damn to the people or who do not care about the public interest or those creatures whose interest is their only interest and use power not to distribute it but to further their nefarious and selfish aims; the term given to them by the Greeks is — an idiotes.
Those â€œpoliticiansâ€ who are in truth are the idiotes are those creatures quoted by our correspondents whose interest is their self-interest, those who are engaged in corruption (whether in money, position or power), those who do not care about the welfare of the people and donâ€™t give a damn about problems of society.
Yes, they are idiots. They are idiots not because they are uneducated or unlettered or ignorant. Rather, they are what they are because they are blind and deaf with regard to what is the most important thing in life and in the public sphere.
They thought, idiotically and myopically that what is most important in life is money, power, position, privileges, etc.
They thought that the people exist to provide them with positions; they do not realize that instead their position exist to provide those people with freedom, justice, equity and to advance their well-being.
They believe that money is the most important thing, yet failed to discern that rather it is honor and virtue.
A fake â€œpoliticianâ€ thought that he or she is powerful and privileged when that individual is using it arbitrarily as against the wishes of the people; not knowing that he or she is powerless, because the true source of power is the power that comes from the people themselves.
Incontestably, only a moron would doubt the veracity of the claim that: â€œPolitics, in its true meaning, is praiseworthyâ€.
The problem is, the idiotes of today corrupted and twisted the beautiful meaning and aims of politics.
Now, politics is known universally as the so-called â€œrealpolitikâ€ which meaning is a galaxy away from its original meaning.
Nevertheless, despite the negative connotation of â€œpoliticsâ€ in its general present form, politics, not merely as a profession but more importantly as a way of life can achieve a high ethical values if the very system in which politics arise have strong values as developed by the people or the citizens themselves.
The question is how? Whatâ€™s to be done?
Aristotle stated that we cannot be fully be human and be a good citizen without participating in politics to create civic virtue which is utterly necessary to be a virtuous person and correspondingly a responsible citizen.
As testified by Professor Michael J. Sandel, â€œFor Aristotle, the purpose of politics is not to set up a framework of rights that is neutral among ends. It is to form good citizens and to cultivate good character.â€
To quote Aristotleâ€™s key passages in his book the Politics:
â€œAny polis (society) which is truly so-called, and it is not merely one in name, must devote itself to the end of encouraging goodness. Otherwise, a political association sinks into a mere alliancesâ€¦ Otherwise, too, law becomes a mere covenantâ€¦ â€œa guarantor of menâ€™s rights against one anotherâ€ — instead of being, as it should be, a rule of life such as will make the members of a polis good and just.â€
Man by nature is a socio-political animal. We cannot do much if we are alone or in isolation, because if that is the case we will fail to develop both language and moral deliberation.
Hence, to be a good, virtuous human being and a responsible citizen, it is a condition sine qua non that we must participate and take part in everything that is happening in our politics.
In the categorically stirring words of Bertolt Brecht:
â€œThe worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesnâ€™t hear, doesnâ€™t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesnâ€™t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesnâ€™t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.â€
The writer has a Master’s degree in Philosophy, a law degree and a degree in AB Political Science. He was previously teaching Philosophy, Ethics and Anthropology at an institution of higher education in the Nilai University College at Nilai, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia. He is currently a lecturer at the College of Arts, Department of Philosophy at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
As of the moment, he is preparing to publish his first book entitled “Dissidente”. It is a collection of his articles, commentaries and op-ed published by various newspapers in Southeast Asia.