The Politics of Morality

Saying “do justice” to a judge is almost as dangerous as saying “be moral,” take for instance the ongoing homosexual marriage debate that is raging in our country. Gay marriage is a rather important debate, even perhaps a watershed issue, because it is contrary to a morality which many in our nation adhere to while at the same time being decided by political institutions. Many Americans view homosexuality as inherently immoral, while political powers seek not to determine the morality of the issue but the financial and legal ramifications of its acceptance.

For the political institutions of our country, the issue is not one of morality but one of popularity and legality. The internet is abuzz with the news that recent polls reveal several states may be ready to legally approve gay marriage and overturn recent bans. But what does that do to moral consensus? Does a populist approval of a practice mean that the moral consensus is that homosexuality is not immoral? Is it popular vote that determines what is and is not moral consensus?

This is perhaps one of the largest challenges in establishing moral consensus because what is popular is not always moral. It was once popular to hold Africans as slaves and drown suspected witches and it is still popular to kill unwanted unborn children. Neither popularity nor politics determine morality, nor should they attempt to do so. While we would wish that politicians recognized certain behaviors as immoral in making their decisions, they should not see their decisions as affecting the morality of an issue. Legalized behavior may still be immoral, as much as moral behavior may be against the law of the land.

So what does all of this do to moral consensus? First, all of this means that it is necessary to determine the group of people with whom we are attempting consensus. Universal acceptance of a given statement of morality is highly unlikely. We cannot have consensus with everyone, but we should not limit the group to people we already agree with or we risk tunnel vision. For instance, our view of the immorality of gay marriage may cause us to overlook the fact that it is quite odd for the government to give tax incentives to people who own a thirty dollar marriage license. We are not creating a cloister but attempting to create change in America. This necessitates other people from different viewpoints being involved.

Second, popular vote may be reflective of moral thought, but people need to be taught that morality and popularity are not the same thing. Most people have no foundation for morality other than popularity. In order to consensus to be reached, moral foundations must at least be similar or of the same genre, such as the belief that moral absolutes do exist. Rather than simply finding the people with similar foundations, foundations can and should be taught in order to create consensus.

Third, in order for moral consensus to have an affect, it must affect the masses and politics. True, politics should not attempt to dictate what is moral. However, the dictates of true politics should be moral. Moral consensus cannot be established to give elites something to brag about or be held in a cultural vacuum. Rather, moral consensus must make an impact upon political institutions in order to cause laws and guidelines which are moral.

The next few years will be an interesting glance into American morality and the political system as Americans attempt to argue the morality or immorality of a political question. Should our country financially recognize an immoral lifestyle? And if it does, what does the task of moral consensus look like when it is in the popular minority.



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