On the decline of German “mainstream” and the possibility of ethically oriented politics

On the decline of German “mainstream” and the possibility of ethically oriented politics

by Karl Müller

“This natural order of society at the service of the person is indicated, according to the social doctrine of the Church, by four values that follow from the natural inclinations of the human being and which delineate the contours of the common good that society must pursue, namely: freedom, truth, justice, and solidarity. These four values correspond to the requirements of an ethical order in conformity with the natural law. If one of these is lacking, the city will tend towards anarchy or the rule of the strongest.”

After the victory of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) over the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) at the ballots in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern many commentators dealt with the question why more and more citizens turn away from the political organizations (parties, media etc.) of the “mainstream”.
This article explores the role which the increasing lack of ethics in politics might play in this change of loyalties. Could it be that this reorientation is just a natural response to the lack of ethics in politics? Politics without ethics – could it be just incompatible with the inner voice of conscience?
By nature human beings are inclined to live according to their conscience and if they are less and less able to do so this will have consequences: the person tries to ignore his conscience and becomes more and more fatalistic – or she revolts. Particularly revolting is not easy for many people and the broad protest manifesting itself in many places including the ballots suggests that the violations of conscience are already manifest in many citizens who find it increasingly hard to calm their inner voice down.
The (Machiavellian) notion that politics should have nothing to do with ethics but everything with being “successful” in the everlasting power struggles by any means is a fatal error. Political ethics on the other hand, with its influences from both classical and modern natural law as well as Christian Sociology, is not merely some irrelevant pastime of ivory tower pundits, but indispensable for the survival of mankind.

Unscrupulous US acts

Our conscience is stressed day by day. Just one recent example among many: despite being anything but Anti-US, the “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” titled “The war drives Yemen into catastrophe” on 2 September and commented on the situation in the South Arabian country and the daily bombing terror by the Saudi air-force as follows:
“Washington had declared that the fear of the Saudis about Iran establishing a foothold in Southern Arabia was exaggerated. Still the Americans support the air raids by fueling the Saudi bombers, providing intelligence and contributing to ground targeting activities. Washington’s aims are not so much to contain Iran but to improve their relationship with Riyadh, which has been challenged recently, and keep the lucrative arms sales going. Objections have been made against new arms deals with Riyadh, warning against America jeopardizing her reputation if American weapons are used to break international law. However, Barack Obama has just proposed another arms deal with Riyadh worth 1,15 billion dollars and seems unwilling to listen to these voices.”
This lets the voice of the conscience scream. And it gets unbearable if politicians in Europe and Germany keep talking about a “community of values”, the struggle for human rights etc., and the US President is a “Nobel peace prize laureate” on top of that.

Angela Merkel’s dishonest “C”

On many occasions Chancellor Angela Merkel, who chairs both, the German Federal government and the Christian Democratic Union, has declared unconditionally steadfast support of US politics to be German “reason of state”. Her endorsement of such amoral acts as those committed by the US government is of course especially disturbing considering the “C” in her party’s name which bears a strong signal for ethically oriented politics.
Five years ago, in 2011, Pope Benedict reminded his audience in the German parliament of church father Augustine. It was he who said: “Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?” This sentence is quoted quite often, but many people consider it to be a so-called winged word – not to be taken seriously, but nice ingredient for grand opening addresses. However, Pope Benedict was not in a mood to please the parliamentarians. For, above all this sentence is testimony to the inner voice of conscience, and an alarming call of heart and mind today as it was in the times of Augustine, when the Western Roman Empire was crumbling and injustice and lawlessness rampant.

Ethics in politics

Since politics have become a difficult business in today’s world nobody expects politicians to be perfect, not even regarding ethics. In their White paper “In search of a Universal Ethic: A new look at the Natural Law” of 2009 even the International Theological Commission of the Vatican extricated politics from the obligation to be ethically perfect. However, in this paper may be read under the subtitle “Natural law, measure of the political order” that the political order (i.e. “the city”) has to comply with natural law: “This natural order of society at the service of the person is indicated, according to the social doctrine of the Church, by four values that follow from the natural inclinations of the human being and which delineate the contours of the common good that society must pursue, namely: freedom, truth, justice, and solidarity. These four values correspond to the requirements of an ethical order in conformity with the natural law. If one of these is lacking, the city will tend towards anarchy or the rule of the strongest.”
Isn’t it rather the case that more and more people, including those in Germany, had to get the impression that the “mainstream” was shifting further and further away from these foundations? Many citizens, including German ones, hope that certain rivaling powers such as Russia or China will somehow stop our power-craving, ethically negligent politicians. The hope for a multi-polar world has many good reasons. And if the future multi-polar world was to be a world of justice, equality and peace than this would be the best we could hope for. But rivaling powers will not suffice to achieve real progress and step out of the eternal vicious circle of power and counter-power.

Beyond power and counter-power

In addition to that and perhaps most importantly we as citizens need to convince ourselves that the inner voice of conscience, the ethical imperative, may once again gain the power and influence as they should have, before such a new world may indeed become a world of more justice and more peace.
At the end the Vatican paper reminds the reader: “The discovery of natural law responds to the quest of a humanity that from time immemorial always seeks to give itself rules for moral life and life in society. This life in society regards a whole spectrum of relations that reach from the family unit to international relations, passing through economic life, civil society, and the political community. To be able to be recognized by all persons and in all cultures, the norms of behaviour in society should have their source in the human person himself, in his needs, in his inclinations. These norms, elaborated by reflection and upheld by law, can thus be interiorized by all. After the Second World War, the nations of the entire world were able to create a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which implicitly suggests that the source of inalienable human rights is found in the dignity of every human person.”
Human history knows many political and legal achievements such as the Declaration of the United Nations of 1948. This is encouraging and shows that there may be an ethically sound alternative to the current state of politics. Acting upon this firm belief in our personal lives is the order of the day.     •

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