Tuesday 28 January 2020

Power play

• There is something deeply frustrating about the fact that public outrage at the way politicians and other public servants systematically pocket the country's wealth falls on deaf ears. Politicians' defence is that they are not in breach of the law. This defence is sometimes upgraded to the claim that they have done no wrong. This subtle shift from a legal justification to a moral one is rarely challenged. We can prove illegality. However, when it comes to immorality we are on less secure grounds.

Is the law the final court of appeal in determining what we ought or ought not to do? Clearly not; we make claims on one another that are not embraced by the law. These claims do not have the force of law yet they are experienced as binding. This comes from an awareness of the golden rule that we do to others as we would wish to have done to us.

Immorality arises from a breach of what we have mutually come to understand as a reasonable expectation. When it comes to morality, the law is incapable of embracing all that arises in our lives. There is no finite set of rules that can determine how we ought to live or of how politicians ought to conduct the affairs of state. It is for this reason that politicians must bow to the will of the people, or at least seriously attend to it.

The self-authenticating nature of political life leaves little room for moral considerations. Politics is shot through with a form of self-replicating virus that kills the search for truth and decency. One might cynically conclude that power is delightful and absolute power is absolutely delightful.

Philip O'Neill
Oxford, OX1 4QB

Irish Independent

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