Is Politics Good or Evil?

It is natural to think is politics good or evil?

“We hear about politics all the time, but is politics good or evil?” asked Dr. Amani Moazzam.

She is a bespectacled, studious looking professor with an aura of a headstrong woman which many of her students find intimidating initially. In reality, she is a sweet and kind at heart teacher whose concern for her students gradually manifests itself rather involuntarily. She is taking our “Human Behaviour in Public and Non-Profit Organizations” course, one of the last courses of our MPhil coursework after which we are expected to be working on our individual dissertations.

She structures her classes mostly on the seminar format, unlike the usual Pakistani Higher Education style where professors mostly just come and read out presentation slides that they prepared once very long ago in their teaching careers. She encourages everyone to reflect upon their experiences and knowledge, and thus ensues a healthy academic debate where every opinion is respected and valued.

The topic of our class this week was “Power and Organisational Politics”, where each of us discussed various theories; the sources of power and their effects on organisational culture, decision-making, employee motivation and leadership styles.

The discussion turned very interesting when Dr. Amani asked us whether we thought politics was something inherently good or evil. The question brought us to the critical evaluation of power and politics through a moral and ethical standpoint. The class was almost unanimous in their view that particularly in Pakistani context politics is an evil; through and through.

What Dr. Amani didn’t know is that one of our class fellows, Zaman, is an aspiring politician. He found that near consensus of the class rather very disturbing, and so the aspiring politician thundered beginning with a quote from Aristotle;

Man is by nature a political animal”

Aristotle taught us that man is political but even he could not tell was politics good or evil
Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC; the alabaster mantle is a modern addition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He went on saying that politics is natural to man, it is inevitable. It begins with conflict and wherever there are two or more human beings, there will always be conflict and so there will be politics. He stressed that politics is only a vice or virtue in the intent of the person involved or the consequence of that person’s manoeuvring; itself it is inherently value-neutral.

Awestruck, our kind professor could only say, “you are absolutely right!”.

Nayab, another class fellow referred to the legendary “The Prince” by Niccolo Machiavelli and argued that the ends justifies the means implying again that there is nothing inherently good or evil in politics. The objective of a leader is to maintain power and keep his subordinates, or subjects for that matter, in line no matter how ruthlessly or cunningly.

As my more bright and young class fellows, and our energetic professor, engaged in a healthy argument, I slipped into my slow thought process to chew upon their intelligent arguments, half asleep on the back seats.

On the face of it, Zaman and Nayab were arguing for one and the same conception of politics. However, the two were poles apart in the logic of their arguments. What Zaman was trying to say essentially belonged to a moral standpoint, Nayab, on the other hand, was in agreement with Machiavelli’s complete disregard of morality in politics.

Machiavelli promoted the kind of politics which is abundantly visible today in American foreign policy, Pakistan’s domestic politics and the Game of ThronesCersei Lannister. I am entirely sure what Zaman likes about the Game of Thrones and that is not politics. I am not so sure about Nayab if she likes the Game of Thrones at all. But Dr. Amani Moazzam agreed to both their views nonetheless, she is so magnificently kind.

Niccolò Machiavelli also deliberated was politics good or evil
Famous posthumous portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A question that involves classification of anything as good or evil is morally loaded in my opinion because the concept of good and evil has its root in moral philosophy. Philosophers since time immemorial have borrowed the idea of the dichotomy of good and evil from religion, where evil is a necessary antagonist to good. In fact, these philosophers argued that god has created evil in his vast kindness to allow for goodness to be complete because it is only in dark that you value light. Though Pakistani politicians have put even Machiavelli to shame in their total disregard for ethics and morality, but they have masterfully taught this basic concept of moral philosophy to the people of Pakistan; it is only in load shedding that you value electricity.

Any faithful person or a person with some moral integrity will always be morally aware of his or her actions; politics or otherwise. The concept that nothing is inherently good or evil is naturally flawed. The scientific connotation of value-neutrality, if applied to day-to-day life, more often than not leads to absolute lack of empathy and altruism which is catastrophic to social reality. This also explains why the study of social reality, the social sciences, are closely associated with “ethics”. It is imperative to classify what is bad to differentiate what is a good life, and altruism is one of the five types of sociality that differentiates humans from animals.

I thought that Zaman was actually right in that politics is inevitable to man. We have limited resources, and the ends of any political process is the acquisition and use of those resources. It is entirely up to the person exercising power whether his actions are self-serving or for the common good.

This also led me to think that moral character of a leader is not his private matter. In fact, nothing of a “public” leader is private. In purely Pakistani context, it is not without good cause to emphasise the moral integrity of every politician. The people of Pakistan will have to abandon the practice of electing “the lesser evil”, and they need to severely penalize every politician with questionable moralities – but through their vote obviously.

It is only through this that we can ensure that the perennial belief of politics as evil in Pakistan can be changed, we need good politicians at the helm of affairs for an equitable and fair society.

But, as I was thinking all that, Dr. Amani Moazzam took a recess, and Zaman excitedly quoted Cersei Lannister, “when you play the game of thrones, my lord, you win or you die”, to bring me back to the reality of Pakistani politics.

Author: Bilal Khan

I am a Lahore, Pakistan, based researcher in the fields of Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration.

  • Dr.Ahmad Raza

    One can always choose a “misnomer” for politics.But then why sit in judgment?One can not choose again to be good or evil.It is “programmed”(I do not have an alternative word to describe the “essence” of human self or human nature). Iblis said to Jabreel(in Zarb-e-Kalim, By Allama Muhammad Iqbal);
    “Main khatakta hon dil-e-yazdan main kantay key tarah
    aur tu faqt allah ho,allah ho,allah ho!”
    Historical “contradictions” are resolved(or may be transformed to more complex and higher levels of social manifestations),and the “forces” which shape us are more “deeper” and breathtaking.We are “determined” and so are our actions and choices.
    The nature of discourse in a seminar depends on the texts,trappings and past environment of the participants(including the ” headstrong but kind professor”).

    The Mofussa in Lion King retorted to his naive son Simba,when he asked him that father you will always be there to protect me, to which he replied”Look Simba, It a great circle of life and we must perform our role in this circle of life and then part our ways for others to take up their” place”.
    Do you think the naive question asked by your instructor in the classroom has any significance as far as politics and its conduct is concerned,
    My answer is an emphatic know.
    The way you “moralized” the legitimacy of the entire discourse and the characters you mentioned profoundly euphemistic.But that reminds me a great line from “Thus Spake Zarathustra”, written by the mad German philosopher,Neitzche(and i quote from memory!)
    “I have seen enough of these rope dancers”.
    The question is wild goose chase leading you nowhere.You cannot sit and judge the “politics” of Alamgir,Alexander or Churchill.You can either” live it or see it”(unfolding in an Age).

    • Dear Sir, first of all, I am really happy to finally have your comment here 🙂 I know you have been reading my writings through the years, but your comment here has just made my day.

      This comment has made me recall one of your remarks about my analysis of history several years ago, when you said, “your perspective on history is very subjective”, and I remember I replied to you, “Sir, I am a product of the trappings of my time and the environment I have been subject to”…

      Sir, if we leave all to predetermination and being “programmed”, what room is there then for any human discourse, what has to pass will pass, why whine, and what has passed, it cannot be changed, why cry? I am going to have a discussion with you on predetermination face to face, besides I am going to need your counsel and advice before I begin my work on dissertation. 🙂

      Lastly, of course, my “moralisation” of the entire discourse is euphemistic, intentionally using metaphor which I am sure a man of your intellectual calibre can easily decipher why and what. Besides, because I wanted to remain polite. 🙂

      Politics is one thing, but analysis of politics is what makes history; political history that is, don’t you agree? Will discuss it soon with you as well. I need an appointment 🙂

      Thank you very much Sir for sharing your thoughts here,
      With all due respect,