Why democracies need morality

An election poster for the party The Greens with its top candidate for the election in Berlin, Bettina Jarasch, taken on 25 January 2023.

When do societies function best? When the rules are set in such a way that decisions for one’s own benefit are also for the benefit of others. 

The farmer who produces milk does so to earn a living; simultaneously, this makes (milk-drinking) customers happy.

In contrast: If the manure of the farmer’s cows degrades the quality of the groundwater, and if this hasn’t negative consequences for the farmer, then the rules are set insufficient. Good coexistence is disrupted. The rules need to be set better.

This is how regulatory policy thinks. This is how I think. Good rules create good societies.

But even the best regulatory policy has its limits.

There are situations in which personal and social self-interest cannot go together. The difference is so inherent that rules cannot resolve it.

For those cases, morality was invented. Moral behaviour is needed to save societies. 

At its core, moral behaviour means to behave in such a way that it is detrimental to oneself but beneficial to others (society). The trick: Morality makes you feel good anyway.

A simple example is elections.

From an individual point of view, there is no point in voting. A single vote has no effect on the outcome of elections. On the other hand, it takes a lot of effort to form an opinion. So why should you do that if the benefit of doing this, namely to influence politics, is close to zero? 

The problem with this individually logical train of thought: If all people think this way, democracy would not work. Cause no one would form an opinion, and no one would vote.

So morality is needed. It drives us to the ballot box. Good democrats vote; that’s the imperative. Even if it is of no personal use. Except for a clear conscience. 

Bottom line: No matter how well-organized a society is, without the moral behaviour of its fellow citizens, it will not be successful.

PS: On Sunday, elections took place in Berlin. I voted (of course). What was said above would almost not have been correct for this election. Because only a few votes decided whether the governing mayor of Berlin, Franziska Giffey, could remain in that position since Giffey’s party, the SPD, has a lead of 105 votes ahead of her coalition partner, the Greens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.