Volume 34, Issue 1, Spring 2020
Virtues for the Vocation of Politics
Clean Hands, Not Tender Hearts
This article aims to rebut the claim about Dirty Hands (DH) in politics and reorient the issue. Allegedly, decent politicians must sometimes do what is right by means that are deeply wrong and they are morally tainted as a result. DH is here rejected as contradictory since there can be no dirtying or guilt given the presumption of ultimate rightness, and politics is demeaned by supposing otherwise. DH is not entailed by moral complexity or conflicting duties or circumstantial regret, and does not hinge on utilitarianism versus deontology. A significant real-world case is explored where DH might seem manifest but is not. With DH dissolved, the refocussed and urgent question involves discerning apt personality-types for politics and its hard cases. The ideal: persons exceptional in being morally conscientious but more tough-minded than tender-hearted.