The President and the Pope
MGRABER at gvpt.umd.edu
Thu Jun 17 06:04:40 PDT 2004
Suppose President Bush bribes a few legislators in order to get the last
votes necessary to pass a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to
one man and one woman. Could he defend his actions by pointing out that
Seward may have used briberty to procure the last crucial votes
necessary to get the 13th Amendment out of Congress.
1. A certain kind of Formalism. Bush and Seward stand and fall
together. If the one can use bribery, the other can.
2. The issue matters. Bribery is justified only for particularly
overwhelming causes. History is the ultimate justice. We think Seward
behaved correctly because we think slavery a sufficient evil as to
justify some bribery to procure abolition. Whether Bush would be right
to bribe depends on what you think of his stance on cultural issues.
3. Sincerity matters. Seward was right because he was committed to
abolition. Whether Bush is right depends on whether you think he is
truly passionate about one man/one woman marriage, or whether he is
hoping to gain votes on cultural issues to help the tax cuts, etc.
Of course, the claim that persons may violate certain norms in great
causes seemingly privileges extremists, who think they have a monopoly
on rectitude. But there is also a sense in which the law of
self-defense will inspire more paranoids. At bottom, whether Bush (or a
claim of self-defense) is justified depends on whether we think the
cause was great enough and whether he sincerely thought the cause was
Mark A. Graber
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