Politics For the Greatest Good

In yesterday’s post entitled “Ethics and Government–Solomon’s Request,” (if you haven’t read it you should right now) Steve offers a poignant reminder: Being able to discern what is right from what is wrong and implementing those decisions are at the heart of the political life. Ideally, each decision made in the daily grind must be led by wisdom for the whole cause.

I am reminded of Clark Forsythe’s Politics for the Greatest Good: A Case For Prudence in the Public Square. In it he presents a view that moves beyond typical incrementalism and instead promotes prudentialism (a new word–accept it)—making good decisions and implementing them effectively.

He especially directs attention at those who are both religiously driven and politically interested, Forsythe warns, “One of the main temptations of religiously minded, politically involved citizens is letting their zeal race ahead of realism, obstacles, available resources and other constraints.”  After all, “Prudence requires an accurate view of reality and of human nature, both its potential and limits.”

Forsythe calls upon some poignant historical examples of prudential activists—the American founders, Wilberforce, and Lincoln.  He then offers some critical reflection upon Colin Harte’s position in Changing Unjust Laws Justly, which gives him opportunity to further distinguish between compromise and prudence, as well as to further clarify the difference between incrementalism and prudence.  Forsythe’s final section offers practical applications of his view to abortion and other critical issues in biotechnology.

While I would contend that a great deal of his piece boils down to common sense political and public relations, Forsythe’s effort to revive prudence is crucial in the daily grind of political decision-making.


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