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Morality in Politics, Part One


VIdiot the Great

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Morality

1. conformity to the rules of right conduct; moral or virtuous conduct.

2. moral quality or character.

3. virtue in sexual matters; chastity.

4. a doctrine or system of morals.

5. moral instruction; a moral lesson, precept, discourse, or utterance.

For purposes of this essay, I shall concentrate on #4.

Morals

1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong; ethical: moral attitudes.

2. founded on the fundamental principles of right conduct rather than on legalities, enactment, or custom: moral obligations.

So, morality is a system of morals. Morals are principles of ‘right conduct.’ Sufficiently vague for you? Yes, me too.

My last definition.

Politics

1. the science or art of political government.

2. the practice or profession of conducting political affairs.

3. political affairs: The advocated reforms have become embroiled in politics.

4. political methods or maneuvers: We could not approve of his politics in winning passage of the bill.

5. political principles or opinions: We avoided discussion of religion and politics. His politics are his own affair.

6. use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc.

The question has been raised ‘what part, if any, do morals play in international politics?’

Moral Relativism

Many philosophers have defined the above term and given it life. However, what it basically boils down to is morality is determined by the individual or group based on their experiences, belief sets, and often the society of which they are a part.

Moral Absolutism

This concept denotes that there is an objective right and wrong. Either your conduct complies with this objective right or wrong or it does not.

The two concepts above are channeled into practice through politics. Basically, a political ideology is a collection of rights and wrongs. Rights and wrongs are not necessarily applied to an individual, but in CN would be applied to a collection of such individuals, or an alliance.

So what place, if any, do morals have in international politics?

They are fundamental to the political discourse among alliances.

Each alliance has a set of morals. Under a moral relativism analysis, any such actions by the alliance are measured against that alliance’s code. Under a moral absolutism analysis, those morals (and political actions in furthering or implementing such morals) are measured against a ‘theoretical’ moral code with, in the mind of the Absolutist, applies to all equally. An example:

Absolutist: ‘Tech raiding is ALWAYS wrong.”

Relativist: “Tech raiding under certain circumstances is wrong.”

So there is a conflict between the two. In some circumstances, holders of the above ideologies will agree in form but not in substance. For instance, the Relativist may say ‘Tech raiding red is wrong.’ This tenet is probably based on the consequences, and not the substance of the act. The moral absolutist cares not for the consequences, it is the act itself that is inherently evil.

So how does this affect CN and why does it have a place?

Conflict, Not Just For Dinner Anymore.

Many see conflict as a bad thing. I posit that it is not inherently bad or good, but it is necessary. Political conflict can serve very useful purposes. In the above example, the conflict between the relativist and the absolutist will often entail an examination of the actions and thoughts underlying any particular moral code. It is important to see how various alliances deal with such discussions, and what ideology, if any is perceptible, that they ascribe to. Why? To determine if you agree wholeheartedly? No. I am not suggesting that disagreement as to a moral code, or political methods for enforcing that code, must be identical before there can be meaningful discourse (in fact, I would posit that such discrepancies are necessary, because if two alliances are in total agreement about everything, for purposes of a moral code and enforcement thereof, they cease being two separate alliances).

But what role it plays, and how it affects the alliance and individual nation is important.

Let’s say Alliance A has a moral code of ‘we honor our treaties no matter what.’ This would be an absolutist position, at least with regards to this topic (most alliances have ideologies that include absolutist and relativist tenets).

Why would this be important to know? And is that the type of alliance you want to deal with? Maybe.

If Alliance B signs and MDP with Alliance A, they should be able to count on Alliance A’s help should they get into a conflict. This would seem to be a good thing. However, Alliance B needs to keep several things in mind: ‘Who else is Alliance A treatied to?’ This could certainly lead to issues. Let’s say Alliance C, an MDP partner of Alliance A, is attacked by Alliance D. Alliance A, staying true to their moral code, declares on D.

Two variations: Alliance D attacks A. Well, if the MDP is just that, Alliance B has a choice to make. Alliance A has engaged in an offensive action. Therefore, the MDP isn’t triggered. Unless, of course, the wording of the treaty between A and C is ‘ an attack upon one is the same as an attack upon the other’ in which case, it would appear that B is now required to assist (the attack upon C is the same as an attack upon A, ergo an MDP may be triggered).

Alliance E attacks A because of an MDP between C and E. Now B is in a real quandary. A’s actions led directly to its being attacked by E, however, A did not directly attack E, unless that pesky 'an attack upon one is an attack upon all' wording is in there, because then A DID attack E by attacking C. Is such enough to trigger the standard MDP? Possibly, and here’s where the relativist and absolutist may digress.

B could clearly take the position, ‘hey A, you caused your own woes, we are not obligated to help.’ Why might B take such a position? Because B’s moral code may elevate security over blind honoring of treaties. Is B wrong in taking such a position?

The relativist could go either way. If B has a moral code that elevates honoring treaties above all else, their failure to do so would be a violation of their own code. However, if the reverse is true, then the relativist would say that B has stayed true to its moral code.

Do you want to sign a treaty with B now?

As to why you might want to do such a thing will be the starting point of the next installment of ‘morality in politics.’

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Your argument for not signing MDP's (or being very wary of whom you sign them with) is not a new one. Sister Midnight, former leader of IRON, maintained IRON's independence for somewhat similar reasons, i.e., didn't want to be dragged into a war that was set off by MDP triggering.

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Your argument for not signing MDP's (or being very wary of whom you sign them with) is not a new one. Sister Midnight, former leader of IRON, maintained IRON's independence for somewhat similar reasons, i.e., didn't want to be dragged into a war that was set off by MDP triggering.

My argument isn't about whether or not to sign an MDP. My argument is that morality, and knowing the morality of others, is a key part of international politics. I will certainly touch on this in the next installment (actually, in the section where I discuss whether or not to sign a treaty with Alliance B). Thank you for the comment, and hopefully my next section will make my argument slightly clearer.

P.S. MDP triggering is a giant can of worms! As such, I'll probably cover it at some point...

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I'm confused by this article. You begin by defining moral relativism and absolutism, and the proceed to completely abandon those definitions in the discussion that follows.

As you correctly point out at the start, moral absolutism is a belief that there is an objective right and wrong, and therefore that every alliance and individual should be judged by this one single morality. Moral absolutism is not the belief that a certain moral must always be adhered to by the individual who holds the moral -- a moral relativist is equally likely to hold this belief, the only difference is that the relativist doesn't believe that everyone else must always adhere to it as well.

In this way the moral absolutist wouldn't say "we honour our treaties no matter what," they would say "everyone honours their treaties no matter what," and then proceed to consider any who doesn't to be immoral. If the former statement is true and the latter not then it would be a moral relativist position.

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I'm confused by this article. You begin by defining moral relativism and absolutism, and the proceed to completely abandon those definitions in the discussion that follows.

Hello Vladimir, good to see you here. I disagree with the contention that I 'abandon' the definitions.

As you correctly point out at the start, moral absolutism is a belief that there is an objective right and wrong, and therefore that every alliance and individual should be judged by this one single morality. Moral absolutism is not the belief that a certain moral must always be adhered to by the individual who holds the moral

I disagree slightly. A moral absolutist would believe that the individual holding that belief should always adhere to that moral. If they believed that there were times that not adhering to the belief were acceptable, they would be a relativist.

-- a moral relativist is equally likely to hold this belief, the only difference is that the relativist doesn't believe that everyone else must always adhere to it as well.

Now we come to the meat of our disagreement. An absolutist does believe that a uniform set of morals and their political enactments should be adhered to by everyone. The relativist would also believe that everyone should adhere to their moral code and that the variation from it would be a violation of the moral code of that individual. In both cases, the concept of hypocrisy is alive and well as far as measuring the actions of others. It is the measuring stick that is used that is different.

In this way the moral absolutist wouldn't say "we honour our treaties no matter what," they would say "everyone honours their treaties no matter what," and then proceed to consider any who doesn't to be immoral. If the former statement is true and the latter not then it would be a moral relativist position.

It is not, in my humble opinion, a reversion to moral relativism for the moral absolutist to acknowledge that others don't honor their treaties. Absolutists can be realists. The difference that I'm outlining is the relativist measures by the code of the person whom they are judging, whereas the absolutist need not know the code of that particular individual or alliance, as there is an objective measure that all should, but don't necessarily, adhere to.

Once again, thank you for the well thought out comment.

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The boxing of the terms realism and idealism is unfortunate here, for the consideration of morality appears in both traditions. Only the most "Hobbesian" realist rejects any consideration of morality in "international realism."

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