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Commentary: Does the Caribbean need a political philosophy?
Published on January 30, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Oliver Mills

Is it really true, that ‘the more things change, the more they remain the same?’ On the surface, this seems to reflect in a major way what is going on in the Caribbean politically. According to Caribbean News Now, in one Caribbean country, there are allegations of misconduct in public office by some top officials. In another, the Integrity Commission is requesting the appointment of a tribunal to enquire into allegations of fraud by a former government minister.

Oliver Mills is a former lecturer in education at the University of the West Indies Mona Campus. He holds an M.Ed degree. from Dalhousie University in Canada, an MA from the University of London and a post-graduate diploma in HRM and Training, University of Leicester. He is a past Permanent Secretary in Education with the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands
And in yet another Caribbean country, a minister of government gives assurance that crime is not out of control, but admits it is a serious challenge.

Again there is the issue in at least two other Caribbean countries of illegal immigrants from a neighbouring country, with sometimes catastrophic results at sea, followed by the repatriation of the others, with great cost to the island treasuries. This continues despite negotiations between the countries concerned.

Why is it that the Caribbean seems to be developing an image of the ‘wild west in the way political governance is conducted?’ What is it about Caribbean society as a political institution that gives it the impression of being rogue in its conduct? Where are the restraining values? Where are the Christian principles that are supposed to influence our thinking, and behaviour? And where is the self-correction that traditionally pervaded our culture, where conscious citizens held each other’s behaviour in check, through rebuke, shame, and the appeal to conscience and gratitude?

All of the above values seem to be replaced by ‘anything goes,’ and, ‘once I get away with it, it’s okay.’ But if Caribbean political society is to build a sense of trust, self-belief, and foster an ethical sense of mission, then it would have to seriously develop a moral political philosophy which acts as a guide to how we think, what we think, and one that governs our efforts towards making the best, and wisest choices for ourselves, and our political systems.

A clear, coherent, and self-checking political philosophy is the GPS that would ensure integrity, decency, and honourable conduct in our public and private lives. An intelligently constructed political philosophy, will make us more human, and humane, and foster a sense of equality, justice, and social peace within our societies.

The philosopher Plato states that justice is the foundation of a good political order, and concerns the common good of the entire political community. It provides a sense of unity, and is a condition for the political health of the community. He adds that the best political order promotes social peace in a context where there is co-operation and friendship among different social groups, each benefitting from, and adding to the common good.

Here, political philosophy is about justice as fairness, and reconciling different interests. It fosters communitarian instincts, and a consciousness of all being involved in a sacred mission to benefit each one. The political health of the community is therefore sustained, and there is no place for political piracy or buccaneering.

Aristotle, another philosopher, sees politics as being concerned with the noble action and happiness of the citizens, and its purpose is the human good, and constitutions that aim at a common advantage are correct and just. Here, politics and governance are people oriented, and aimed at their common welfare. It is not a divisive war between two political entities for the control of state resources, rather politics, and the political philosophy that influences it, seek to enhance the public good through honourable and ethical means.

Where is the Caribbean political philosophy which fosters, and promotes such ideal political values? Is there not a need now, more than ever before, to avert the activities mentioned at the beginning of this article, by crafting a political philosophy based on the values espoused by the political thinkers mentioned?

Our political behaviour, despite rules, laws, and institutions to formally govern it, bypasses, and skirts around endeavours scripted to rein our most extreme behaviours in. Many of us think of ways to reinterpret, or deliberately ignore institutions designed to enrich our lives. We scorn measures designed to make our societies orderly, and foster good citizenship, and frown on the few who speak about having a society of merit, and of being patriotic.

St Augustine states that people were created good, but by exercising free will, became sinful. This is because of the desire to dominate each other. The Caribbean needs a political philosophy that will either check our uncontrolled need to prey on the society and its institutions, or that will completely eradicate such orientations, so that they do not emerge in the first place. We should therefore foster an ethic of service, equality, of doing no harm, and one which seeks to promote the public good.

A Caribbean political philosophy should aim at creating moral citizens through its educational institutions. Thomas Aquinas says that political society is necessary for the perfection of the existence of human beings, and to be fully human is to live in political society. He states further, that political society enriches the moral and intellectual lives of human beings, and exists for the sake of living well, and that the full potential of the good citizen will never be realised unless he lives in the best of all possible regimes. And most profoundly, he adds that only in the best regime do the good citizen and the good human being coincide.

Should this not be the best cue Caribbean political society can take in formulating a political philosophy that really works?
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