Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The ends justify the meanness

by Josh

Everyone who runs for public office believes they know what's best for the greater good. This isn't egotism, per se, although it can easily and often develop into full-blown arrogance. Plato wrote about this in The Republic and believed that society should be run by philosopher-kings who employ logic and erudition as the basis for their decisions.

Today's Congress could learn a thing or two from Plato.

As commander-in-chief, Christopher Keneally was faced with difficult decisions on a daily basis. Yes, he had advisers and experts and confidantes aiding him in these decisions, but the ultimate responsibility was his. The consequences of a wrong choice could be catastrophic. Few of us ever have to shoulder a burden like that, and Christopher did so willingly because of his love for public service and because he believed he was qualified, like one of Plato's philosopher-kings, to decide what was best.

For Christopher, his choices were often influenced by his Methodist upbringing; thus, his views on social issues more often than not skewed progressive. But he also brought to the table an unerring pragmatism rooted in the world-view of situational ethics, itself an extension of St. Augustine's theory of just war. Over a millennium after Augustine, Machiavelli provided us with a more familiar variation on these theory: the ends justify the means.

This is not a doctrine for the wallflower. To achieve a lasting peace between Pakistan and India, he committed billions of dollars and tens of thousands of American lives. This was not a popular war, but, in the end, Kashmir was reestablished as a joint-ownership demilitarized zone, and the vast potential of natural resources in the region could finally be tapped under an umbrella of peace. Christopher offered further tax credits to foreign companies wishing to invest in the infrastructure of the United States. In the short term, this cost the country valuable national revenue and lost him votes, but in the long term, this created jobs and bolstered local economies, which in turn eventually lifted the country as a whole.

These were two of his successes, but even these successes were not achieved without what some might consider to be questionable compromises. Troops on the ground were not enough to stanch the territorial and religious conflict in Central Asia, so Christopher signed an executive order authorizing the implementation of information shading; essentially, the computer networks in both Pakistan and India were infiltrated with pro-treaty propaganda, and the populations of these two countries, falling sway, soon rallied in support the peace resolution offered by the United States.

Pragmatic? Yes. But morally sound? Christopher thought so at the time. But shortly after he left office...

Well, sorry. No spoilers. You'll have to read my new novel The President's Defense to get the rest of the story.


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Sounds like a great read! When does it come out?

I think Douglas Adams had the right idea. In one of the hitchhiker's books he explains that anyone who wants to be president shouldn't be allowed, so the real president was always someone who did not know they WERE president and the universe was run by asking them elliptical questions and acting based on interpreting their answers.

Couldn't be worse than what we have now, and we'd save a fortune on elections!

Lois Winston said...

Since we're talking politics, how about locking everyone in the legislative and executive branches up in a room without food or toilets and make them stay there until they hammer out a deal that keeps the country from defaulting? How's that for a political thriller? Best of luck on your new one, Josh!

Meredith Cole said...

Great idea, Lois! I'm getting tired of this whole debt defaulting mess...

I agree, Josh. Our politicians could definitely learn a thing or two from Plato.

Joshua Corin said...

Thanks, everyone!

Unfortunately, Becky, I think Adams's scenario describes the American presidency from 2000-2008.