Political moralization is not the way

Published: March 17, 2012

A more critical approach is necessary to move past indoctrinated rhetoric and moralizing which avoids debate on the nuances and subjectivity of the state.

A politician will stand on the pulpit and thousands of people will watch, as he or she weaves a story about the past. For some, it will be Ayub Khan’s decade of development, for others it may be an issue or a cause like Kashmir or Balochistan. Regardless, the gestures and punches that will be emphasized will all constitute an act of moralization. For democratic societies, political moralization, in its greater sense, undermines democratic political culture because it discourages debate and discourse.

Democratic systems are based on the concept of competing ideas and institutions against a moral framework that allows for a system to adapt according to the needs of a nation. A functional democracy has the capacity to deal with competing moral codes and ideas. When one idea or code becomes predominant on moral grounds, discourse and more specifically democracy stagnates.

Jane Bennett and Michael J. Shapiro’s book, Politics of Moralization, explains that by taking the moral high ground:

“Moralistic discourse gives license to the ignoble human emotions of self-aggrandizement, cruelty and punitiveness… ultimately moralisms demands for unity and certainty are at odds with healthy democratic politics.”

Political moralization is typically dispensed in a language of guilt and innocence that points to a pre-existing code of right or wrong.  In Pakistan, volatile and moralizing discourse is used to temporarily connect with the masses. By approaching arguments with such confidence and purity; moralizers pry on the aesthetic and human search for clarity. The phenomenon can be assessed by three points, one is the refusal to intellectual questioning, secondly its aversion to alternative viewpoints and thirdly the fact that it’s anti-political.

For example, the ‘rule of law’ preachers or Difa-e-Pakistan moralizers have started to cloud the political sphere without room for reason or debate. It creates a narrative that supersedes any morality but invokes a form of moralism. And when one talks of corruption or even the Indus Water Treaty answers will always be attached with a pre-packaged array of ‘national values’ and ‘honour’ rhetoric. A more critical approach is necessary to move past indoctrinated rhetoric and moralizing which avoids debate on the nuances and subjectivity of the state.


Sher Khan

A Lahore based reporter for The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • A

    So u read a book and u wanted us to know u read it.. Great job tribune as always great job u guys! Recommend

  • http://lonepkliberal.wordpress.com Loneliberal PK

    It always creeps me out when one group is appointed to establish a moral code for everybody to follow. They refuse to acknowledge that different moral codes are followed by different cultures, and a modern nation being a constellation of many cultures and religions, cannot abide peacefully by a single code.

    Some morals make good sense in terms of science or socioeconomics, which is why they are upgraded to the status of law. Others are based on tradition or religion, offering no better reason to adhere to them than, “My abbu and my dada taught me it’s bad, so I guess it’s bad.”Recommend

  • DPC

    Morals are a politicians scapegoat when it comes to debating.

    I get what you are saying but this is going to stay for long.Recommend

  • saba

    beautifully saidRecommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    I understand what you are saying but human beings are not rational decision makers to the core. Emotion has always played a significant impact in all decisions whether those are social, political, or economical. It is only after the evolution of emotional maturity across major segments of the population that this will be possible.Recommend

  • Parvez

    It would have been nice if you had said this in an easier more understandable way.Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    “Liberals” also do the same thing.Recommend

  • Mustafa Moiz

    The “liberals” are no different.Recommend