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Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Visit by the President of the Republic of Poland to the USA

On 13 September 2005, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski paid a visit to the State of Colorado on the invitation of military and local authorities.
The President of the Republic of Poland visited the Headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) where he held a meeting with the Commander in Chief of  NORAD Admiral Timothy Keating.
Next, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski and the first Lady met at Colorado Springs citizens and representatives of political parties and organizations of the State of Colorado.
The President of the Republic of Poland was also hosted by the University of Denver where he met students and answered numerous questions relating to Polish and European issues. The young Americans asked about the future of the EU, situation in Central and Eastern Europe and in particular in Ukraine, about relations with Russia and Poland’s developmental prospects.
Below is the text of the Politics versus Morality – Lesson for the Young Generation address given by the President of the Republic of Poland:
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am honored to attend this meeting with such a pleasant group of students  and academics. I hope that this short lecture delivered  by a politician with an extensive amount  of practice will be an interesting experience for you. For me, too, this is not an everyday event,  as ordinarily I, like most people in my profession, am dealing with current affairs and rarely have the opportunity to discuss problems of a philosophical nature.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau once said  that those who would treat politics  and morality separately will never understand either of them. In my address I have decided to concentrate on the possibility of reconciling politics with the requirement of honesty. And to attempt to answer these questions: What is honesty or dishonesty  in a politician? What are the social effects and costs of his dishonesty?  And can a politician be honest at all?
These issues are not purely abstract concepts, of interest solely to philosophers, moral philosophers,  teachers and sociologists. Politics are perceived as a murky  and morally ambiguous activity to say  the least, if not downright suspicious. The stereotype that a decent person should not get involved in politics is widely held. This frequently translates into a lack  of trust in those who have decided to make a career in politics.
What are the sources of this problem?  One of them appears to be  the comprehension of honesty  as an absolute value, that is as something self-evident and unequivocal. Everything seems to be straight-forward:  it suffices to want to be honest in order  to be honest. Of course, it is a rational assumption  that one cannot be “slightly honest”  or “slightly dishonest” – just as one cannot be slightly pregnant. However, politics by their very nature are entangled in collisions of interests  and conflicts among various value systems.    That is why politics are often condemned  to morally ambiguous situations, moral dilemmas, conflicts of conscience, compromises that are perhaps not always rotten but that are always painful  and balancing on the edge  of “betraying ideals”. Politics are justly associated with  an equilibristic approach referred  to as choosing the “lesser evil”. This inclines people to making  the simplified and dangerous generalization that it is a given that cynicism and duplicity always prevail in politics.
A realistic analysis of honesty in politics is based on the understanding  that the criteria for adjudging honesty  are not an automatic transference  and application of personal decency  or integrity in everyday life. In this context, I would like to refer, somewhat perfidiously, to an example  of an ambiguous figure:  the Duke of Talleyrand. Indeed, it was said of this corrupt politician, this traitor of his various “employers” that if he failed to sell his own mother, it was only for the lack of a buyer.   But, on the other hand, although he failed  to preserve fidelity to the various rulers, he, in his opportunistic actions, probably never betrayed France. He served the reason of state in a very unethical way devoid of elegance but nevertheless very effectively. That does not mean that one cannot achieve higher aims without breaking the rules and without personal nobility. It merely means that placing an equal sign between personal and professional honesty is a mistake. One may be a crystal honest person while nevertheless being a dishonest person  in a public role and vice versa. Though, to be sure, the concordance  of these two attributes gives the public  the greatest guarantee of security.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Dishonesty in politics has many faces. Properly speaking, who is a dishonest politician?
First of all, a dishonest politician is someone who is a dishonest person. And that person remains dishonest  in his or her professional role as a leader, ideologist or diplomat.
Second, a dishonest politician  is a dilettante. Although he is frequently guided by good intentions and he believes in what he says to other people but he is in fact acting amateurishly, incapably, to the detriment  of others. He lacks not only qualifications but also distance, a self-critical sense, an awareness of the risk being undertaken for which others will perhaps pay the price.
Third, a dishonest politician is a player. Truth be told, this person is competent  but he puts his competence to ill use. He is skillful but ruthless. He lacks humility, intellectual reflection and attachment to any rules whatsoever. In addition, his Machiavellianism serves  no purpose besides the taste  of self-indulgence in his own shrewdness.
A dishonest person is of course  a troublemaker. He strives to satisfy his own ambition and he does not reckon with the risk, the social costs of his improvisations and experiments. Political troublemaking has sundry faces.    A troublemaker is a person who shows volitional behavior and who is inebriated with power and wishful thinking  and who is convinced quite simply that  “to will is to be able to”. A troublemaker is a pettifogger prepared  to ruin everything just to have his way,  to make no concessions to anyone  in any way.
A dishonest person is also a fanatic  - a politician blinded by his conviction  of his own rectitude,  a person who is incapable of compromise. He moves forward like a tank, he pushes  the whole population towards annihilation. Why then do we accuse him of dishonesty  if he is so ideological? Because he orders others to pay the highest price for his ideological mistake without asking them whether they share his obsessions.
Finally, a dishonest person is of course  an ordinary prevaricator. Such a person does not try to achieve  any farsighted vision. He is spineless and devoid of principles. He evades any and all accountability. Since he has no viewpoints, he does not have any scruples.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!
In the age-old dispute on the relationship between morality and politics, two extreme views are ever present.
The first one is cynical pragmatism. This approach means that in a dispute between moral requirements  on the one hand and the requirements concerning the effectiveness of politics,  we always side with effectiveness. In other words,  the “end justifies the means”.
The other opposing view is naïve,  utopian moralization saturated with wishful thinking in which reality is confused with postulates. To the contrary, the history of humanity  is not reminiscent of an idyll,  nor are the biographies of politicians reminiscent of the lives of the saints. Life, unfortunately, is more complicated.
Is it therefore at all possible to formulate a criterion whereby one could distinguish honest politicians?  Immanuel Kant described two types  of politicians: the moral politician  and the political moralist. The latter wants to “hammer out morality” in accordance with the requirements  of politics understood as a cynical game. Upon closer examination, Kants  “political moralist” is the counterpart  of the contemporary demagogue. A politician who extorts others with his declamations of morality. His moralistic platitude conceals cynical pragmatism.
Who then is the moral politician who rejects cynical pragmatism without falling into naïve moralization?  He is a principle-minded person  and a realist at the same time. He is conscious of the dilemmas at hand  and his own fallacy;  he is decisive in action while remaining humble in self-assessment  and the assessment of other people;  he is circumspect. As the great scoffer, George Bernard Shaw accurately warned  “political necessities sometimes turn out to be political mistakes”.
Why do we need moral politicians,  and not just honesty in private life?  Well, speaking somewhat paradoxically  and perhaps venturesomely,  if everyone were honest, then politics would be dispensable. For the law and sanctions of force would not be necessary: every person would spontaneously act in compliance  with the rules. Such a world, however, does not exist. That is why it is necessary for there to be political norms. But also for there to be people to establish and guard them: politicians, who themselves are subject to social control and evaluation. An honest politician then is someone who in politics is capable of noting the possibilities of, and the means for,  achieving the common good. He is not naïve and he knows well that this sometimes requires great patience, compromise, small steps. He does not, however,  lose sight of the fundamental objective.
It is this attitude that appears to me to be the ideal by which politicians should be guided in their day-to-day activity. One could call it principle-based pragmatism. Pragmatism in action does not have  to denote the absence of principles  and scruples;  but nor should a politician  be an unconscious dreamer.
An honest politician is capable of finding the courage to say difficult and bitter things. He does not at the same time fall into  a mentor-like attitude: he is capable  of not just depicting the problem but also  of proposing solution to it. Honesty in politics therefore also entails  the requirement of being constructive. Irresponsible criticism is the cheapest luxury that a politician can afford himself. It is, nevertheless, dishonest - not so much even with respect to his political adversaries as to his electors. This is precisely why the true test  of honesty always turns  out to be the assumption of power,  taking over the government. Politicians who were previously so vehement in their criticism do not always prove to be effective when they take  the helm.
 
An honest politician is also a professional who comprehends the difference between his own goals and the rules governing cohabitation, guaranteeing mutual safety. He will never sacrifice these rules  on the altar of shortsighted pragmatic profits nor for the sake of ideological obstinacy. He will treat the common principles for all as an untraversable boundary: human rights, freedom of speech, freedom  of conviction, freedom of religion  and respect for the constitution. The spectrum of honest politicians  is therefore the spectrum of people with whom we may contend,  argue and sometimes simply quarrel but with respect to whom we have no doubt that they are ready and willing to defend civil liberties and rights.
Finally, I cannot avoid mentioning the most difficult test for an honest politician. Sometimes he is faced with defending unpopular viewpoints, but which in his most profound conviction are just. This test is the most difficult and not everyone can manage it: voicing unpopular viewpoints does not garner election votes. A person who reduces politics to popularity is certainly not an honest politician.
A moral politician will not manage acting alone. One should rather speak of developing criteria of honesty and enforcing them with respect to the entire political class. Politicians should support one another  in decent behavior and emphasize respect for principles transcending divisions  and prejudices. It is only then, on the basis of mutual trust, that they will be capable of acting together.
We may most frequently count  on the honesty of politicians  and the honesty of politics as an intricate mechanism for the cooperation of different people when the socially-desirable attitude is induced by the pressure of public opinion, the appropriate atmosphere and a culture  of cooperation prevailing in a society. Such conditions hinder the lives of political pests. If, however, the pathologies of politics consolidate collective demoralization,  then we will become entangled in a vicious circle.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
As I emphasized at the outset,  our reflection on the conditions of honesty is not a purely-academic pursuit. As a practitioner, perhaps as a veteran  of politics, I would like to direct a special appeal to the youth assembled here. If any of you would like to sail into the deep waters of politics, then he or she must navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. On one hand, one must bypass the mirage  of a world in which people turn into angels and nothing is equivocal or controversial anymore; while on the other hand one must avoid at all costs the vision of politics  as just dark dealings and clandestine machinations. This would be tantamount to a self-fulfilling prophecy. I advise you not to disavow yourselves  of your ideals, for morality to remain,  also in the world of politics, your bussola. But for you also to remember that you have to realize ideals in the world of people. Among people who as Kant wrote have been made from such a crooked tree that it is impossible to hew anything straight out  of them.
Thus a politician who wishes  to be effective cannot allow himself  to engage in dishonesty.    This does not at all mean that the  “lesser evil” dilemma will pass him by,  that the discord between principles  and interests will not vex him. He will not be socially credible, however, until others are convinced that he is the right person in the right place. He must know what he wants and he himself must direct his own action without allowing circumstances to govern how he acts. For no theory, no expert opinions  and no counsel will release a politician from the necessity of making a choice on a daily basis, of making decisions, of adjudging in his heart and conscience what is, and is not, honest. In life, upon having decided to assume  the role of a politician, we also took up this burden.
I would like to wish to all the politicians in attendance, colleagues plying the same trade, but especially to the young persons who wish to embark on a political career  for your choices, decisions and judgments  to be the correct ones as frequently as possible, for them to be in accord with your conscience and social expectations.
 

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