I. On bourgeois freedom, its limits and how morality affirms them
The few things that really matter in capitalist society and its democratic state are not made dependent on the subjective views of the people, on whether they agree with them or not. Nowhere is it written, neither in the institutions of the democratic state or anywhere else, that the obedience of the population and the many tasks demanded of them can be performed in a calculated and conditional manner, and thus can be rejected at any time.
In the companies of a modern nation, “work ethic” has become a foreign word: The work that make wages pay off for a company is programmed directly into the means of production; it forms a kind of technical “objective constraint” that leaves little room for decision on the part of the workers. People nowadays do not have to decide for themselves whether they should put themselves completely at the disposal of the “labor market” and “employers”; the objective necessity of earning money and the alternative of impoverishment set up by the welfare state make sure of it. The state, whose laws establish all these economic constraints by force, does not leave it up to people’s private opinion whether they should obey them or not. A life and a livelihood outside of the state’s determinations on rights and duties is made impossible by government officials and the police; the state does not put its services to the bourgeois livelihood of all individuals up for a vote. A modern state power does not compete with its citizens’ alternative preferences, but regulates everything through acts of sovereign force. The whole thing functions without politicians ever having to persuade the enfranchised masses that they have to perform the services demanded of them. Not even politicians themselves, not to mention managers, have to be sincerely convinced of their “tasks” in order to ensure the accumulation of wealth and the political subordination of the people. The competition among the movers and shakers ensures that none of the important purposes are thwarted by the lack of a “work ethic” in places where it counts. Rather, the political power in the modern state and the social interests it establishes determine the will of the affected subjects in a way that they no longer appear as the effects of domination, but as indispensable conditions for the life of the masses. The dictates of state power and the constraints of the capitalist economy are as unquestionable as the laws of nature; that, of all things, is what gives birth to the freedom of the individual to take these living conditions for granted as means that “one” simply has to make use of in order to get by. They present themselves as suitable tools – for living a bourgeois lifestyle subject to no other excessive restrictions. The democratic authority doe not dictate specific jobs, homes or family relationships to its citizens; arbitrariness on the part of the rulers has been replaced fundamentally by the certainty of law. Each person decides what really matters to him and does not need any further orders. Money and the permissible forms of earning it, the housing market, including social assistance, the registrar general, and the income tax code with its various rubrics such as “married” and “children” are offered to people as means for exercising their individual freedom. In this respect, everyone in the bourgeois class state and its economic institutions are faced with a world full of opportunities – unequally distributed at most.
These opportunities, however, have the small disadvantage that people cannot decide whether and how to take advantage of them; all too many are familiar with the experience of not attaining their small and big goals in life. And an objective look at these “opportunities” could easily teach them that the opportunities offered to them are just the way people are made serviceable for the purposes of class society and its public power. Money and competition, rental apartments and pay slips, identity cards and social security numbers are quite convenient things – just not for the free ambitions of a free subject, and certainly not for the material needs of people who live a comprehensively supervised life as exploited earners of wages and salaries. They are the instruments of business and state power, which thwart the materialism of the masses – who are therefore called the “little people.” The conditions of a bourgeois existence in no way “entail” success, but guarantee the rule of capital and the sovereignty of the law. And that means adversity for wage workers and other ordinary citizens. People are indeed free to make use of the economic and political “means of subsistence” available in modern society is indeed free, but for most people that is ruinous.
That these opportunities for success hinder and prevent their success in life is a contradiction people need to cope with. Of course, those affected by this contradiction could – and should – draw a conclusion about the ruling purposes inherent in these living conditions that are supposedly so objectively neutral. Because that would put the class antagonism organized by the power that installs and enforces the law on the agenda, and they would only need to win the class struggle. But of course, that would only get rid of this strange paradox instead of “coping” with it constructively.
This more productive alternative begins with a mistake on the part of those affected by this contradiction. Subjects who fail to achieve their freely chosen aims in the face of the available opportunities do not question the dubious nature of the “means” available to them, but their own materialism. They do not call into question the unmanageable conditions of their existence, but their own way of dealing with these opportunities that are anything but boundless. The same is true for how they view other people and their interests, which stand in the way of one’s own. They, too, get to face the exciting question of whether their successful or failed efforts are really acceptable and admissible.
This question does not concern the content of one’s own endeavors and the life aims of others. It looks for a justification beyond that content, one that might or might not apply to all possible acts. Beyond all specific determinations of a business transaction, a job, a wedding, a political measure, etc., this manner of investigation always discovers the same quality: a good or a bad purpose. It finds a single distinct purpose apart from these purposes, one that is taken to be decisive for every act that is, or is not, performed in the world. The standard applied by this kind of judgment is called value, and it has very little to do with the hard economic measure of material wealth that goes by the same name.
It is not hard to identify the need that motivates the application of this ideal criterion for any and all behavior. Here we are dealing with upright citizens who act and judge the world according to what is allowed or not allowed, who struggle to succeed while keeping strictly to the obligatory means – and notice that they thereby come into some conflict with their contemporaries. The ideal they concoct out of such antagonistic dependencies is that of a common good, to which each conflicting and yet so interdependent interest has to make a contribution. According to this ideal, by being willing to submit to the “rules” dictated by the state and the market, ones earns the right to demand that everybody else do their same duty. This is how modern people, against all experience to the contrary, assume there to be a positive relationship between everybody’s concerns and demand respect for this “ought” from themselves and others, because they want to accommodate themselves to the real conflicts that they get to experience.
The role model for this strange sort of (self-)criticism is found in the demand and practice of the constitutional state, which asserts its legal authority to allow, or forbid, any and all interests and needs to compete over the necessary means, thereby exercising its power against some and lending it to others. Everyone must consent to being treated as a merely individual interest and to submitting to the overriding interest imposed by a ruling authority. But modern citizens do not let themselves be treated as subjects of the law so easily. They take the liberty of outdoing the external restrictions imposed on them and adopt their own inner standards of what is right and wrong, thus playing their own supervisory authority.
That is how free people consent to view their servitude as the paragon of their free will. After all, to act according to the aims set by other interests is to be a servant. And doing that voluntarily, respecting these interests as a matter of principle, signifies servitude. To question whether a person truly aims to conform to the aims of (all) others is to assume that a free will is only worth something if it professes its subservience.
Regardless of whether one demands it of oneself or others, or whether others demand it, this avowal is the opposite recognizing that by freely making use of the living conditions guaranteed and enforced by the state, modern people are subservient. They maintain the course of making money and turning over commodities, a system of wage labor, a state apparatus that deploys its sovereign power at home and abroad, and other such “institutions” in which everything has its useful function, long before people come along with their life plans – and fail to achieve them on a massive scale. To take questions like “What do people live for?” or “What are my purposes good for?” seriously; to take them as a theoretical inquiry and to answer them by analyzing state power and the market would be beside the point. On top of that, it would have to put up with the accusation of cynicism. After all, this kind of analysis would lead straight back to the downsides of the actually existing antagonisms and constraints, whereas these questions are getting at the exact opposite. These questions search for an ultimate answer to the question of “why,” one that goes beyond any actual failures in life and co-opts every last poor wretch as a free advocate of values that cannot really fail at all.
The proper skepticism about one’s own needs and desires, and that of others, thus requires a very fundamental “ought” without which free people cannot dare to act. It is with this auxiliary verb “ought” that morality comes into the world.
II. On the hopeless efforts to use morality as a lever for failing interests
A person with morality has neither new needs nor – at least not immediately – other practical concerns than before. He has an additional concern: he does not want to hear that his interests and hardships are “only” his. Instead he puts his needs into a critical relation to a fictitious universal which ought to correspond to them. In other words, he interprets them as rights and duties.
The guideline for this view of the world is provided by the law – not the letter of the law, but its principle. The conflicts of interests and the clashes between individual interests and prescribed rules are not slugged out and put to rest, but are to survive under a binding decree “from above” and continue on. The ruling authority over the parties in dispute demands that the law be recognized as the inviolable precondition of the contentious interests themselves. When it dictates victory and defeat, this cynicism of the law finds in the morality of those affected the most generous practical application. Nobody dares to speak up for his interests without simultaneously claiming to be an advocate for all the purposes and institutions with which he comes into conflict, without posing as a neutral authority who only wants the best for all concerned. At the same time, that is how everyone seeks to present his needs and concerns in a more convincing – and more successful – way. Modesty demands viewing each interest with suspicion as a lowly desire, as long as no universal value has been found in whose service it stands. The flip side of that modesty, however, is the pretension to demand that all others willingly comply with universal value to which one’s own interest is claimed to correspond. In their well-considered – that is, likewise moralistically considered – self-interest, they should consent to and be interested in the purposes of their opponent. Landlords raise the rent so that they can further offer every possible amenity to their tenants. Decent tenants refuse by insisting on the benefits that the landlord supposedly derives from their first-class behavior. Unions demand higher wages – if at all – only to help entrepreneurs sell their goods by increasing purchasing power. Entrepreneurs lower wages and the number of workers so that some can keep their jobs, while the others can someday earn a wage when the economy booms again. Individual employees remind their superiors of the extravagant benefits that the department and the company get from their work, while management responds with the same lie, saying that one cannot earn more than one deserves. Politicians cut pensions to preserve them, while those affected by the cuts insist on their previous selfless services, as if they have to allay the suspicion of greed if they do not want to have to pay for health insurance out of their monthly check on top of everything else. Everybody appeals to the common good – the fundamental methodological category of morality, which does not have any content, but is instead a technique for giving one’s own particular interest the appearance of universal validity or concern.
The clashes of interests, so firmly denied in this manner, thrive magnificently under the banner of the common good. To deny these antagonisms and to constantly seek to co-opt one’s competitors is not to give up one’s own aims; and that has nothing to do with addressing the substance of a conflict, settling one or another point of contention after recognizing some minor dumb mistake in order to move on to dealing with the more important conflicts in the manner required by the real relation between people’s interests. On the contrary, by dealing with conflicts morally, one raises them to a new level. Morality then offers plenty of tools for continually attempting to fight fire with fire, that is, giving one’s one interest the appearance of universal validity, which one’s opponent respects just as much and, just as morally, attempts to apply to his own interest. The fact that the opposite side is making a false claim to universality and thus disqualifies his interest is proven by the mere fact that one has made the same claim oneself. After accusing the other side of hypocrisy, each side demonstrates the honorability of its own interest, and vice versa. Because this goes back and forth, each one takes turns accusing the other of hypocrisy, thus moving further and further away from the rather obvious insight that hypocrisy is always and on all sides in play – because it is not at all the opposite of morality, rather it is the demand that the other side be moral. Instead, everyone wants the other side to believe what one oneself doubts about the others – just because they are to have it somehow believed what is clear to himself about the other – after all, it’s the opponent! So one paragon of virtue accuses the other – which makes each side more committed and more bitter, though not making success any more likely in either case. After all, in bourgeois society, what decides the outcome of a dispute between antagonistic interests depends on the means each side can bring to bear and the weight that the real “referee,” the state power, attributes to a social interest according to law and political expediency. When it comes to the interests of state power and the business world, they don’t bother resorting to moral claims and they don’t make their success dependent on their own skills in self-representation, to say nothing of others’. And as much as possible, the “commoners” carry out their conflicts in the same way. And just like in sports, spectators have long become accustomed to distinguishing real success from whether the victory was deserved or not.
But this doesn’t mean that people stop asking that question. On the contrary, a person’s failures and the demonstrative uselessness of moral claims when it comes to advancing one’s interests merely spurs on the continual question of whether one’s failure is actually justified or unjustified. This might not explain one’s failure, but it somehow makes it justified if one has neglected one’s duties and the proper concern for the common good. By converse, if one’s soul-searching reveals that all values and methodological rules have been met, an unsatisfied interest is confirmed in spite of failure; it might not really count for anything, but it is at least worthy of recognition and “actually” persists as a valid claim.
Such questions of conscience can by no means be decided by a look into the law books. Above all, moral people are interested in justifying their interests to their own “inner self” in accordance with their own chosen and willingly accepted obligations. This private imitation of civil law even claims to be the actual prototype of the real law; the latter, along with the actual administration of justice thus becomes subject to one’s own imaginary court decisions. This is all the more true the more the real law proves obstinate to one’s own interest and one’s own sense of justice.
Judging oneself a case of undeserved failure, which is rather customary, moves few people to pursue a career as a world-improving politician. Far more frequently, this represents the beginning of a “criminal career” – and without this sense of undeserved failure, hardly anybody can become a decent outlaw. A good number of honorable members of society gain some material consolation by stealing some things that might be out of their price range, but to which they are, at least according to their own fair judgment, entitled by a higher law. Some take revenge, not just theoretically, on a company or a loved one, if the latter are judged, according to one’s own conscientious verdict, to have prevented them from attaining some treasured goal in a legal fashion. The “criminal energy” thus set free feeds on disappointed and insulted feelings of justice, and a materialism that has degenerated to the decision to get one’s own reimbursement.
Even, and perhaps especially, when one gets caught, the experience with the law and the hypocrisy of others primarily reinforces the art of moral reasoning, bitterness and edification.
III. On the compensatory need for morality: about conscience, responsibility and resigned disapproval of the world and oneself
Everybody admits a character flaw which especially he has become accustomed to. Otherwise uncomplicated minds present themselves with this self-incrimination; however, this regularly happens so that there is no mistaking the but from the outset. Without fail, it drives at those moral offenses which the person concerned certainly is not guilty of: one has never asked for a handout all his born days, on the contrary worked hard for everything and in doing so has remained unbowed. Somebody else is up to all possible pranks, but can’t stand dishonesty and is proud of being able to look anybody in the eye. The whole working class praises itself – in the form of the union press – even for industriousness full of privation in building the nation; many a grandma never wanted anything at all for herself, but only always gave. A clumsy braggart: nobody wants to be this.
Among the masses in a class society, the interest in their own morality seems to be so alive that it separates itself from material interests and even the most false calculation of a benefit and becomes a distinctive matter close to their heart. Honest people conduct themselves – or do so on demand – as if they had to constantly enact the realization of a values program that in the end really has nothing more to do with despicable calculations of advantage. For each activity, they know how to give an honorable principle that they fulfill – or for that matter violate; and that should then be the conception of their activity.
Except for an image of themselves that comes close to the highest personal ideal of human excellence, the activists of honorable life maxims get nothing from it but just that. If one stumbles over a need that destroys this strange use value, the voice of conscience speaks up so very sensitively; once they have come to terms with themselves, they are content, and serene feelings emerge. Modern citizens do not just occasionally conceive pious thoughts and let them go again – they become moral people.
This of course applies all the more to their diplomatic relations with the rest of the world. The interest in the morality of others also heavily tends to forget the materialism for which the honorary title of the common good should take in all well-meaning people. In place of the claims that thus didn’t get a chance either, steps the gestus of a responsibility which stops at nothing. Absolutely everything and everyone is measured by the standards which make sense to them as a higher viewpoint for the setting of purposes – no longer for the sake of the purposes at all, but only for the sake of the standards themselves. No matter what other people do and why: the things they do and don’t do are set in relation to moral values and taken as the program to correspond to or contradict just these values. There needs to be no actual effects on his own well-being that are credited to its author as good or evil intentions: as the will for wickedness or goodness.
This type of judging, which is based on the fiction of universal nagging on principles as a cause and content of human action, becomes so much second nature to modern man that it even gets stamped in his emotional life and puts all the materialistic distinctions between important and unimportant upside down. Parents, for example, are famous for readily being ashamed for their children – the children thus taken responsibility for then get to feel this shame! Intellectuals are often ashamed of their countrymen abroad just as honestly; there a morality is at work that has taken up the abstraction of the nationality in the image of their own respectability. Indignation is however also indicated if an attack is committed by a guerrilla commando on the wrong side, whose purpose one does not know and with whom one most certainly has nothing to do; and this noble feeling is not only required, but indeed felt. The virtue of envy, which finds nothing but undeserved advantages where they do not at all go at one’s own expense, includes even the renunciation of one’s own betterment as an essential condition – it can almost be humiliated through donations. People and interests, to which one grants no noble motives but imagines them driven by wickedness, fall prey to contempt, an ideal lynch justice which in the constitutional state may not always become practical except out of the exhilaration of righteous indignation – thus the interest (having become selfless) in other people’s decency even causes pleasures. One is ready to feel affection and compassion for innocent people, best of all children, who with their big eyes embody the moral principle of innocence. Honest admiration is rarer if somebody is shown around as a recognized monument of altruism – this touches too much the moral self-image, creates a bad conscience; however, the value of role models is indisputable for adults who behave as fans of approved purposes and its successful representatives. The self-satisfied comparison of one’s own morality with the ways of a world lacking in virtue is complete when it totally concentrates on pride in not letting itself be fooled any more by hypocrisy, rather in seeing through everything: a disinterested condemnation that quite goes with the willingness to find every new case of immorality interesting. This willingness to do so is called curiosity.
With all practical anti-materialism, moral people end up with one claim on the society, its authorities and its members, one indeed self-produced practical need: they demand recognition – if not of their interests, then all the more of their morality, with which they deny these interests and instead show responsibility. However, because all strive for the compensatory satisfaction of distinguishing themselves in matters of virtue, responsible citizens reproduce in spheres where material things are no longer involved, a performance comparison between people which is not even done by capital. The conflicts of the third kind, which completely normal people open against each other and tenaciously fight, are again won in meanness by being complemented by a hypocrisy of the most unselfish compatibility of interests.
With the competition in questions of moral competence, modern people tend to completely exhaust each other and themselves. Here the fight for self-confidence takes place on which, as is well known, everything else depends, from touchdowns to orgasms and from the professional career to test scores. Where pride in oneself fails to find any positive echo and defeats in the fight of comparisons are added to it, the affected person may ever so much despise the incompetence and unworthiness of his contemporaries who do not appreciate the best among them – doubts about one’s own personality remains. Vice versa, the standards grow with the success which a paragon of virtue by no means wants to fail at; and because the competition never sleeps, sometimes the fall first comes, of which it is afterwards said pride would have come before. The everyday cheering up of civilized humanity, to be easygoing, relaxed and happy for a change, does fit – including Christmas and Carnival – the moral basic state of mind, slouching through daily life offended by others and discontent with oneself. It sets yet another new standard which is not easy to satisfy. I can’t laugh light-heartedly! – already teenagers are capable of and ready for such self-accusations, along with the calculation on a bit of consolation, in a morally fully developed society.
No wonder that for many a member in this circus, the tangible brutalities of the capitalistic world of work, which do not give a damn about the pitfalls of moral self-consciousness, seem almost like a relief from the mental cruelty of private life. The stupidity is only that right here the rejection of the normal human materialism takes place whose compensation fails so fantastically.
IV. On the use value of morality for the leaders of the society and public life, the mood of the country and the business of criticism
The delusion that moral images would be an offer of compulsory life programs which would have to be observed for their own the sake is strongly promoted from above in modern democratic class society. The general public and culture have no other subject than the morality of all participants and their deeds: and they allow from the outset no other interest than that in extremely clean conditions.
In this ministration to the sentiments of the nation, the small minorities of class society whose members do not at all need morality as a false emergency program for coping with the inevitable failure of their freedom are quite included in leading positions. Exactly the people whose materialism is served very well by the objective compulsions of political power and the free market competition are called on to take a reserved position towards their successful interests and to avow universal higher purposes which they in truth would serve with their machinations. The private wishes of the people with the right means and the virtually objective laws according to which these yield their benefits are distinguished clearly enough in capitalism that space remains for a plausible interpretation of the higher handiwork as a service quite full of self-denial which in the end permits no private life.
Such avowals and the corresponding self-stylization have in the higher spheres of society something quite luxurious about them. They are not the expression of embarrassing efforts to undo or sugarcoat everyday defeats by complaining to a fictitious higher authority. The hypocrisy and the intended interests are indeed no less obvious. However, where the real means for material success are no problem, where it is not necessary in principle for people to have moral posturing as a hopeful and hopeless substitute means for their advancement, the cheap suspicion that it would be a hypocrisy and would only be employed out of calculation does not hold much water. There one is so free to start with the self-defined problems of self-consciousness – and that have more to do with self-indulgence than with failed compensation. They are presentable, interesting and in the newspapers for the common people worth their own society column. There is nothing more edifying than failure in freely chosen tasks, before luxurious standards and without poverty, and nothing is as exemplary. For them, even suicide is called taking their own life.
In their relations with the class-wise orderly and regulation-needing world, the interests, for whose success moral legal titles should not even be of imaginary compensatory importance, step without ado under the same title under which everyone displays interest in the morality of the world in his own way, only much more aggressively and much more credibly: as responsibility. Without restrictions and conditions, the asserted ruling interest falls within the duty of looking after everything – and the actual dependence of the rest of the people on the ruling purposes proves that this responsibility would here be more than a gestus full of hubris. The brutality that some people really have to decide over the livelihoods of lots of employees, over the poverty of entire areas, over the contributions and official duties of their people, over the creditworthiness of whole nations, even over war and peace, is readily counted as a moral burden that the little man is lucky to be spared – theoretically, he may take part in it all the more.
On the basis of this lie, all public voices in democracy work harmoniously together on the never-ending definition of the common good, the rights and duties which would arise from it for the movers and shakers and other people, as well as the moral standards that the ones like the others would have to meet quite personally. That nothing at all practically depends on this discussion just makes for its inexhaustible charm. Freedom rules in constructing values whose realization should raise the problems which are then said to be the society’s, the state’s, the parties’ and generally everybody’s real ones. One crisis after the other is attested to a nation whose capital triumphantly steps up to conquer the world market and whose political power ensures just as triumphantly the necessary security, because the return flow of capital or legitimization would come off badly. Others bring up the slogan optimism and confront a people, which they are just using for some remarkable progress in the preparation for war, with congratulations on the good mood that they don’t let themselves spoil.
Meanwhile, the church subsumes all world events under its diagnosis of disregard for unborn life. A peace movement contributes insights about the inner peacelessness of modern man which has affected all social institutions, even the national defense system. And over it all is enthroned a President who talks at length about the methodological principle of the whole debate: the lie of the responsibility of everyone for everything, summarized in the classic linguistic monument to the most brutal distinctionlessness and national distinction, the we that no faction in the society has been able to discover friction in; the campaign for patriotic morality suiting all tastes.
Under such auspices, public opinion busies itself with a lot of competing value-conscious blueprints for the world that do not want to be obliged to any special material interest, but arise rather from the free desire of different social factions and authorities to display responsibility and an ennobling influence on people and circumstances. The interest in the morality of all, self-expression as a universal conscience and competition for respect for it, is simply not just a private pastime, but the delight of the public – and there an important instrument of democracy: each citizen full of skepticism and life experience is allowed to judge which competitor for the functions of rule whose presented hypocrisies he most wants to believe. The competing opinion makers themselves provide the standards under which serious contributions are to be distinguishable from the unscrupulous. The former are characterized by a principle that has nothing at all to do with its content: they reveal that they are not honest quirks – the likes of that fall quickly to ridicule – but calculated on propaganda effects. Even the churches pick out dogmas with which they want to make an effect – they have plenty of them; otherwise they would be sects that they can’t despise enough.
Without this art of the propagandistic calculation, one would barely succeed in fostering and satisfying the morality of the people as comprehensively as a democratic public does. On the one hand, a government brings up its policy of reforms as a humanitarian system of entitlements and wants to break old habits; at the same time, it would like to have virtues such as engagement and public spirit distinguished in its democratic canon and even therefore sometimes recommends sympathy for demonstrators. Another government condemns such a thing as pressure from the street, demands respect for every bigotry, happily praises self-sacrifice, condemns any entitlements mentality – and can thus provide a suitable echo to a policy which, for example, handles a poverty increasingly over the semi-official charity system. How would a man morally muddling along come up on his own with the idea that economic booms and busts are inevitable? With the recommendation of respectable attitudes towards immigrants, unemployed persons, Chinese businessmen and oil sheiks, etc., the manufacturers of images of enemies and friends may not fall for their own moral artifacts. If they are not calculating to move with the times, they might embarrass the next practical redefinition of what has to be the national interest until further notice.
The other task of public hypocrisy, which requires cleverness, exists in the handling of criticism. This means both: criticism must be applied in the right spirit, and be finished at the right time. The first department is done with a little moral rigor. Any principle held on to with some stubbornness and well-measured unworldliness is always good for ridicule – and criticism is nothing else and must not be anything else in a free public. Whoever is angry at a piece of policy, an effect of the free market business life, etc., is immediately taught that, while he has a point, strictly speaking he does not have an injury from it, but a value which he has to unselfishly serve with his objections; thus discontent is channeled into the constructive art of complaint, into the commitment to make it better; and whoever fails to do this forfeits the right to rant anyhow. Conversely, and this is the rule in mature societies – the annoyances are constructed by the partisan opinion-makers in this very constructive sense, that should inspire nothing but the competition of opinions and moral party lines; whoever wants to may as a private individual use that as an offer to place his private misery into a public scandal and rediscover a bribery of public officials in his highly personal reduction of student financial assistance, or the immigrant problem in his need for an affordable apartment. In the end, the criticized figures have lost some of their credibility – this methodological category, which wants to have judged more the skill in dealing with moral claims than their naive observance, expresses very nicely the calculating character of moralism itself, with which a constructively critical public goes to work.
Subsequently, the public disgrace of important offices and persons is once again restored, and indeed with a differentiation, whose proper use also wants to be learned and looked after: higher figures also have to follow a higher morality. People who use morality to varnish a quite thorough failure let it become quite clear to themselves that success requires a few actually prohibited recklessnesses; and when it comes to the success of morally good things, perhaps the common good itself, then any mess is okay. The platitude that politics is a dirty business wants by no means to discredit this sphere, but grants its organizers a morally exceptional situation. The constant complainer still has to be invented who does not get afflicted by reverence, at the latest vis a vis his authority, the trustee of the dirty business. Educated moralists can condemn the same embarrassment, as required, as a double standard or admire it as a tragedy; and from the long history of morality, they have distilled the fine distinction between ethics of conviction, a kind of mental exercise for observers and preachers without responsibility, and ethics of responsibility, the guideline for the movers and shakers which permits everything.
The one who gets stuck too long in the exposure of public hypocrisy – and even more, who criticizes rather than appearing disappointed and entertaining the audience with scandals – falls under fouling one’s own nest or, the same in a refined manner, the cynic. Because after all one must again accept the hypocrisy, even if it is so unbelievable; the constructive side of morality requires that: the duty to the fiction of a commonality with the disgraced opponent. This duty is called tolerance; and to have violated it is the hardest accusation that a thoroughly moralized free society has – which is why good people immediately rebut it by proving how their cynicism has after all only been feigned and how well it had been intended. The accusation of intolerance excludes the people concerned from the commonality of democrats, who in the back and forth of moral hypocrisies subordinate their power of judgment to the imperative of compatibility. Rarely or at least never as clearly as with this reproach, democrats announce their willingness to destroy the identified enemy of freedom.