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Politics as a Moral Problem

János Kis , Professor of Philosophy at the Central European University, Hungary

Translated by Zoltán Miklósi

In a world where politics is often associated with notions such as moral decay, frustration and disappointment, the feeling of betrayal, and of democracy in trouble, Kis examines theories about the morality of political action. Amending the two classical theses of realism and of indirect motivation in politics, Kis argues for a constrained thesis of realism and a wide thesis of indirect motivation. By these means the place of moral motivation and common deliberation can be identified, and political agents can be held morally accountable.

The analysis refers to a broad range of classic and contemproary literature as well as to recent cases from international politics which call for moral judgment.

The Appendix is dedicated to Václav Havel’s seminal essay on “The Power of the Powerless,” which sheds light on the diversity of approaches dissident intellectuals have taken to politics.


1. Introduction 1.1 A first look at our problem 1.2 A political debate 1.3 A brief outline of the argument 2. The circumstances of politics 2.1 Two faces of politics 2.2 Insufficient compliance 2.3 Preliminary remarks on politics as a moral problem 3. Realism: the unconstrained thesis 3.1 Machiavelli’s paradox 3.2 Explaining the paradox 3.3 From explanation towards solution 3.4 Hobbes’ treatment of the laws of nature 3.5 Generalizing Machiavelli’s conception 3.6 The thesis of realism 3.7 Transition to the thesis of indirect motivation 4. Indirect motivation: the narrow thesis 4.1 Hume’s knave 4.2 Kant’s “nation of devils” 4.3 Virtue replaced by self-interest 4.4 Difficulties with the classical theory 5. Outlines of a neo-classical theory 5.1 The thesis of realism constrained 5.2 The thesis of indirect motivation extended 5.3 “ publicly let his opinion known” 5.4 Summary 6. Realism: the constrained thesis 6.1 The ethics of responsibility limited by the ethics of conscience 6.2 A principle of accountability 6.3 The constraint: its content and scope 6.4 Institutional rules 6.5 Willy Brandt’s resignation 7. Indirect motivation: the wide thesis 7.1 Common deliberation and strategic interaction 7.2 Deliberative democracy: its internal limits 7.3 Truth and democracy 7.4 Deliberation in indirect motivation 7.5 Populism 7.6 The Spiegel affair 8. Dirty hands in politics 8.1 A quasi-Weberian argument 8.2 The “Catholic” model 8.3 A fresh start 8.4 “Democratic dirty hands” 8.5 The moral risks from disagreement 8.6 Tony Blair’s war 9. Dirty hands in moral theory 9.1 Moral dilemmas: the tragic account 9.2 The moral doubts account 9.3 The tragic account revisited: moral residues 9.4 Dirty hands 9.5 The dirty hands account of moral dilemmas 9.6 Dirty hands in the absence of moral dilemmas 9.7 Concluding remarks Appendix “Living in truth”, Index

318 pages
ISBN 978-963-9776-22-7 cloth $50.00 / €42.95 / £37.00
ISBN 978-963-9776-34-0 paperback $25.95 / €23.95 / £19.99