On Philosophy

December 26, 2006

Lawyers And Politicians

Filed under: Political Philosophy — Peter @ 4:12 am

People like to complain about lawyers, about how they lie and do their best to let guilty people go free, often on technicalities. And admittedly this behavior, in most situations, would be considered decidedly unethical. But for lawyers, while fulfilling their roles, such behavior is actually to be encouraged, because a system in which both sides are doing their best to win, by any means necessary, is one in which the laws that are designed to protect our rights (those “technicalities” criminals go free on occasionally) are followed. (At least this is how we would justify it under a consequentialist view of ethics, and if it can’t be justified under other ethical outlooks so much the worse for them.) And so we are led, almost paradoxically, to endorse what would normally be considered unethical behavior. Now another profession we all like to complain about is politicians, specifically corrupt politician, or politicians who are “gaming” the system. Can a similar defense be constructed for their behavior?

Of course, since there are two ways in which politician “misbehave”, we need to construct two defenses. First we have corruption, which I will define as being unduly influenced by special interest groups (usually corporations) as a result of financial contributions. This behavior might be defended if corporations, were they not allowed to “donate” to politicians, would have too little say in the government. And certainly it seems like they might; even though the corporation is made up of many people only the people at the very top will vote (elect representatives) based on what is best for the company, everyone else will vote for whomever seems best for them, and will assume they can get other jobs if their employer suffers as a result. And companies do deserve some representation in the government, because ideally companies make money by selling products, and when you have sold an item you have done something good, because the buyer obviously valued the product more than they valued their money, and so they have left better off. Therefore (if corporations really were such ideal entities) passing laws that allow the company to make more money (by selling more items) would be a benefit to everyone.

Now let me turn to the case of politicians “gaming” the system, which I take to be telling the people what they want to hear, and doing what the people want, and not what they honestly think is best. This goes against some of the ideas of the founding fathers, who thought that in a representative system the people put in charge would be better qualified to make decisions, and would thus go against the wishes of the majority when it was necessary. To defend this fault we might argue that, even though the politicians who act this way are being dishonest, they bring our government closer to pure democracy, and thus are doing us a service. This is of course to disagree with the founding fathers, but just because the started the country doesn’t mean that they were right. Thus if one believes that pure democracy is best system of government then such dishonest behavior could be seen as resulting in the best political situation, just as dishonest lawyers result in the best judicial situation.

But, compared to a defense of the seemingly unethical behavior of lawyers, these justifications of politicians’ faults are weak. Although it may be true that corporations need more representation then they would get in a pure democracy, systematic corruption is not the way to do it. Certainly if they deserve to be represented more there is some fixed amount their representation should be increased to. Corruption will not help this problem, it may still insufficiently represent them, or it may vastly over represent them. The correct solution is to have honest politicians in a system that gives correct representation to corporate interests from the start. Now as for the argument for politicians who “game” the system, well it rests on the belief that pure democracy is better than representative democracy, which I don’t think is the case. So the behavior of politicians cannot be defended as we do lawyers. Still, an interesting idea.

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