Even after pouring through dictionaries, for lay-minds like mine, it is very difficult to comprehend the difference between ethics and morals. The lines dividing them are too murky. So, I am resorting to quoting the words of a better mind than mine; which says, “while ethics studies the spirit governing behavior considered to be “good” [such as justice, charity and generosity], morals adds a tinge of duty to them so as to derive the rules which make an individual an ethical person or not”.
The online dictionary adds that, “neither metaphysics nor ethics is the home of religion”. I find this inaccurate. I am in no doubt that all religions [and students of metaphysics] seek to define morality and make their followers morally [and ethically] superior. History can testify that neither religions nor metaphysics has succeeded, at least never for long but, that is another subject.
However, as the study of morals and ethics continued, realization dawned that, not only were the two intertwined [therefor, hitherto we will refer only to morals], they were also not absolutes. Individuals could be highly moral in one sphere and unaware of other spheres, or less moral, or even immoral or amoral in others. Even within the same sphere, judgment is difficult.
With the passage of time, this resulted in referring to morals in accordance with the vocation. Financial morality of bankers [and others], medical morality of doctors, judicial morality of the judiciary and, of course political morality of politicians.
Like all others of our era and background, our study of history was confined to [Anglicized] Indian History and British history. In time, I found myself fascinated by the nouveau-riche country, USA. At birth, this country was blessed by [perhaps] the greatest political minds ever gathered together at one short period in history. [One might well inquire; why have the mighty fallen? That too, is another story].
Widely divergent they were, including British loyalists, Republicans, Democrats, Elitists, and Socialists but, all of high political and financial morals. And yet, you would have to search among them for sexual moralists. Most interesting is, however, how to judge political morality.
Let us look at some more recent examples of individuals who are, hopefully, better known to readers. Abraham Lincoln, 16th US President, was so desperate to win his election to the presidency that he promised [and later, gave] the most coveted cabinet positions to the most corrupt of the political leaders he could find; which was how he won the election. Having done so, he kept them on as tight a leash as he could. Often not tight enough.
Nonetheless, he led his country through its greatest moral, constitutional, and political crisis during the American Civil War. And, not only did he hold the Union of the US together, he abolished slavery [if not quite successfully, he began the process], strengthened the federation and rebuilt a tattered economy.
How should he be judged as a moral politician?
Or Franklyn Delano Roosevelt, FDR, the 32nd President [coincidence? 16th and 32nd?]. WW 11 had begun in Europe as well as the Far East. FDR was desperately looking for a chance to join the affray [by 1941, Europe was teetering and, only UK holding on desperately. Unless the US joined the Allies soon, they were more than likely to be overrun]. Wary of joining another [European] War, so soon after WW 1, Congress was holding back. Fortuitously came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, costing almost 2,500 lives; after which congress was wholeheartedly behind FDR.
Long have suspicions been voiced that FDR knew of the Japanese attack and permitted it to happen, so as to sway congress to permit entry to the war. Recently released documents by the US government confirm that FDR was aware but, was unaware of the exact location. Personally, I side with those suspicious of him.
Had the US delayed further what would have happened? “Ifs” can’t be answered with any certainty. But, rational surmise could lead one to the conclusion that it might have been disastrous for the world, the casualties in both sides might have been millions more and also that, the US might never have emerged as the most powerful military and economic power of the world—–another subject that we will advert to, subsequently.
Assuming that FDR permitted the Pearl Harbor attack for devious reasons, how would he be judged for political morals?
Finally, Winston Churchill. A racist, White Supremacist, and bigot. And yet, not only the staunchest monarchist but one who, as PM, poised to give in to the parliament’s demand to accept an alliance with Hitler, came to realize that the ethereal concept of the “people’s power” could be stronger even than monarchy.
On a train ride to Whitehall to address the Cabinet, Churchill consulted commuting commoners as to whether he should or not and, drawing strength from them, addressed the full house instead, which was cast live on radio and, chose to publicly challenge Hitler. After which his position was never again under threat, until the war ended.
Apart from the fact that this subject is integral to the study of political science, there is, to my mind, another significance for us. When I look at the top tier of the politicians in our checkered history, I find only two names who could be viewed as politically of high morals: M. A. Jinnah and Air Marshal Asghar Khan.
The first got a few months rule; not enough to even right his own wrongs. The other was never electable—his simplistic integrity disqualified him. I am hoping our youth can harness some from their compatriots. Without them, there may be little hope.