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Do Politicians Have a Right to be Morally Corrupt?

January 30, 2011

As I read “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands,” I found myself wondering if politicians really do have a right to have a different, more lenient, moral compass than us everyday American citizens. Walzner points out that politicians represent us—they speak for us, tax us, and take risks for us. With this responsibility comes a lot of power—do we want a good man to lead us or do we want a man who will do wrong in order for us to succeed and live the life we want to live?

Walzner says, “it is easy to get one’s hands dirty in politics, and it is even right to do so” (174). Yet, on the other hand, he also says, “if it is right to break the rule in some hard case, after conscientiously worrying about it, the man who acts…may properly feel pride in his achievement” (170). So, if I interpret Walzner correctly, he is saying that it is totally fine to do wrong as a politician only if that specific politician thinks what he is doing is wrong, yet still continues. I’m not sure if I completely agree with that statement. Someone cannot justify something morally wrong they are doing by just saying, “hey, you know what, I thought about it and I know what I’m doing is wrong…but after long consideration and struggle I decided it needed to be done.” Whether one is a politician or not, one cannot feel pride on an action they take just because they deliberated it for a long time. Walzner also quotes The Discourses and says, “when the act accuses, the result excuses” (175). Walzner obviously has been taking notes from Machiavelli and agreeing with many of his ideals. This quote is basically saying that a politician’s deceit and wrongdoings are justified if the good that comes out of his actions outweigh the bad; one can be immoral if there is good to come out of it.

A clear example of this ideal can be seen with former President Bush and his choice to accept waterboarding as a means of torturing Iraqi prisoners. When deciding whether to use this horrible torture method, Bush said, “I thought about my meeting with Danny Pearl’s widow, who was pregnant with his son when he was murdered. I thought about the 2,971 people stolen from their families by al Qaeda on 9/11. And I thought about my duty to protect my country from another act of terror.” Bush clearly thought that the good that came out of torturing prisoners outweighed the horror of the terrible act. Yes, waterboarding can be seen as morally corrupt, but is it worth it if they obtain information from the torture method and save thousands of American lives? Was Bush right to give a go to this horrendous act?

Both Machiavelli and Walzner agree that a good leader doesn’t always choose the “morally correct” path. Walzner makes a good point: good politicians don’t just do bad things, they do bad things well. In that case—is it acceptable for politicians to be, in some cases, morally corrupt?


  1. Justin Kucera permalink
    January 31, 2011 12:50 PM

    Yes I believe that politicians do have, not just the right, but the duty to be morally corrupt. In a world full of immoral people, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire and that falls in the leaders hands. In the case of George W. Bush, the prisoners at Gitmo were threats to our national security and our safety, so I have no problem with the water-boarding that took place. Some of the information attained through the water-boarding has kept us safe for years. Politicians know that they are going to “dirty their hands’ when they go into the political world, especially when their positioin is as high up as the president of the United States. Usually the most important decisions are the hardest decisions.

  2. John D'Adamo permalink
    January 31, 2011 12:57 PM

    There exists a very fundamental truth that politicians are trying to please a lot of people at once, and must satisfy special interests to gain money to win elections. In some instances, they must execute laws that are considered by some to be morally bankrupt. I believe it is very difficult for a leader to stay squeaky clean morally because of this. Your example of Bush giving the green light to waterboard terrorists is a good one because many view torture as a violation against human rights- yet the prevailing thought among supporters of this was a Machiavellian principle of the noble ends of preventing terrorism justifying the means.

  3. Layne Simescu permalink
    February 2, 2011 7:33 PM

    While I do understand the use of methods such as torture in EXTREME cases of national security, I don’t believe that torture should be used as the main method of obtaining information. I think that it is the president’s job to come up with as many effective methods as possible to get important information besides torture. Torture should be the very, very last resort if all else fails. It is the leader’s job to strategize and problem solve and be as creative as possible in keeping the nation safe. I don’t think torture should be the “go to” method. I think that President Obama is right to try to find other ways of keeping this country safe other that torturing people. He says that he doesn’t believe water-boarding is the “most effective means of interrogation” and I agree with him. Former President Bush says that by using the method of torture, he protected America. Bush stated that because of water-boarding, attacks at Heathrow Airport were prevented. British intelligence never confirmed that statement. Where is the hard proof that torture, water-boarding in specific, has saved American lives? Does the information obtained from torturing a human being save American lives by itself, or are there other methods of getting such information?

  4. Pierre Gerondeau permalink
    March 6, 2011 12:24 PM

    Although it is a slippery slope to travel on, I believe that politicians have the right to be morally corrupt in some cases, as long as they contemplate their actions and refrain from rash decisions. People elect politicians to make the hard decisions, even if we don’t always agree with them, or say that if we were in the politician’s position we would make a different decision. In terms of the main post, I am not capable of torturing someone, and don’t necessarily agree with torture, but I can see the benefits and potential rewards for the US is terrorist attacks are averted. It is the job of politicians to make the tough decisions, even if it means torturing people. We the people, or general public, are outside observers. We may not agree with the decision, but since we are not in the position of power making the decision, we cannot pass judgment. When I think of cases such as Gitmo, I think of the show “24,” with counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer. The show glorifies torture for the most part, as Bauer usually gets the information he needs with violence to stop attacks on the US. Bauer is sort of like a politician, and he has a right to go against his morals to save the country for the greater good. In later shows, Bauer thinks more about the magnitude of his decisions and even refrains from using excessive violence, but he still realizes that it is his duty to save American lives. In summary, I believe that politicians have the right to go against their morals if it means helping people for the greater good. In cases involving torture, politicians such as George Bush take a huge risk. If they torture and receive information to save lives, they are heroes, but if they end up torturing innocent men, they are cast as the bad guy. If politicians can deal with the magnitude of their decisions, they have the right to be morally corrupt.

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