Political Accountability and Moral Pollution: Defending Democratic Dirty Hands

Anno XLIX, n. 209, gennaio-aprile 2014
Centro Einaudi
Articolo completo/Full text
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In this paper I explore a relatively under theorized but important aspect of the dirty hands problem; namely, the issue of how the constraints and duties of democratic governance affect our understanding of the problem of dirty hands (DH). Most of the analyses concerning the problem of DH, with a few notable exceptions, explore the moral conundrum it poses and give little emphasis to the kind of political system within which such scenarios occur. Critics of the DH problem argue that understanding DH scenarios as a type of Machiavellian means/ends problem in politics involves problematic assumptions, and additionally fails to give credence to the crucial and particular moral constraints placed on political actors in democratic societies. I argue that the introduction of democracy does not change the core aspect of what it is to get DH. Machiavelli’s insight that rulers need to learn how not to be good remains sound advice for politicians in a democratic society and we ignore this at our peril. What does change in the democratic context is the nature and form of accountability for getting DH. The paper also examines the extent to which moral dirt devolves to citizens in a democracy who are the ultimate source of legitimacy for politicians and their actions.