To make sure we are all on the same page the following definition of Moral Relativism is used: “Moral relativism is the view that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, that of a culture or a historical period) and that no standpoint is uniquely privileged over all others.” Moral relativism has carved it’s path through history guiding the actions of leaders and followers alike and has been brought to the attention of philosophers since the dawn of thought itself. The most recent philosopher that has been brought to my attention is Henry David Thoreau and his “defense” of Captain John Brown.
This (in)famous gentleman is known for a few things but the most notable are his attack on Harpers ferry and the Pottawatomie Killings. In the eyes of most it could be called appalling and gruesome but for some, such as Brown himself and Thoreau, it was valorous, heroic and righteous. In his writing A Plea for Captain John Brown, Thoreau goes on to state that “When I reflect to what a cause this man devoted himself, and how religiously, and then reflect to what cause his judges and all who condemn him so angrily and fluently devote themselves, I see that they are as far apart as the heavens and earth are asunder.” essentially defending the man who was more than likely a large part of the start of the Civil War, which as we know was a large political dispute. Another great instance great instance in which American Politics fell victim to moral relativism is a story of one of our very own presidents, James K. Polk. The prelude to the Mexican-American War begins with Polk trying to negotiate with Mexico about the boundary of Texas. Negotiate is a very loosely used word in this context because it is believed that Polk didn’t really want to work anything out but rather take the land by force. In his mind he was doing the right thing in expanding America’s borders and establishing a powerful image. In the end a group of American soldiers were attacked and killed by Mexican forces giving Polk the excuse to start the war he thought was right. The Mexican-American war did break out, it may have been what Polk wanted but many Americans thought it waste a waste of lives and resources.
The point in bringing up these two gentleman is showing the power of moral relativism with individuals (Brown) and with someone who has power over many individuals (Polk). In a long round about way it brings me to my questions regarding the mixing of moral relativism and politics: Should political leader’s actions and policies be guided by Moral Relativism (doing what they personally believe is right or wrong be it for themselves or the country) or should we as a singular community come together and create a template of preset protocols our leaders must follow while in power (for the sake of argument it should be assumed that if a problem came about that was not mentioned in the protocols that either moral relativism may take over or as a community we will once again convene to address the issue)?