Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

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Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby Luke » Thu May 13, 2010 5:18 pm

Most kingdoms and nation-states seem to have committed many atrocities and have been full of social injustice.

I was wondering if anyone is familiar with any government during any period of history which was truly ethical--or as close as any government has ever come to being ethical?

All I can think of are some Native American tribes.

The ethics of government seems to deteriorate as the size of a nation grows. Politicians no longer have to look the people in the eyes whom their decisions are killing or cheating. However, being small in number is no guarantee of ethics either, since there have been cannibalistic and warlike tribes in parts of the world as well.
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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 14, 2010 1:54 am

This is an interesting question.

I think you can have benevolent political leaders, but a leader is only a small part of the machinery which operates a country. There are business interests, ideologies and other factors which dictate what a leader is capable of doing.

The following statement is from Hermann Göring after he was captured at the end of WWII:

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship. ...voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.


That last statement is unfortunately true. You just need to inspire some patriotism in the population and condemn the critics for being unpatriotic and conspiring against the "interests of the people".

I see this kind of "patriotism" with PRC nationals much of the time. They're quite willing to condone violence and brutal violence against those who would "split China". Splitting China is a heresy that must be crushed by any means including murder. They might think Taiwan is a part of China, but they have no problems killing the inhabitants of the island if it means China secures what belongs to it.

They say to me, "Doesn't a country have a right to defend itself?"
Sure, to a certain extent, but that idea of "self-defence" can easily be warped and used to support "pre-emptive strikes" against an "axis of evil" or whatever, when in reality it is business interests behind the attacks.
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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby Astus » Fri May 14, 2010 9:18 am

Perhaps the "United Federation of Planets" could be counted among ethical governments, mainly because it is fictional. Another similar idea is the Wheel-Turning King of the golden era - whose heirs inevitably become corrupt by the time. I suppose there is also ethical government in divine societies like the heaven of the brahmas. As for Planet Earth, the Saha Loka, in the present era I can hardly imagine that. I mean, there clould have been wonderful governments in a land of peace and prosperity. Maybe there are some. Until some bigger tribe, bigger nation came and conquered the land, enslaved the population and moved in their own sons and daughters to rule.

By the way, it wasn't clear what ethics should be used to define ethical governments. Plato? Macchiavelli? Confucius? Cicero?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 14, 2010 12:47 pm

Astus wrote:Perhaps the "United Federation of Planets" could be counted among ethical governments, mainly because it is fictional. Another similar idea is the Wheel-Turning King of the golden era - whose heirs inevitably become corrupt by the time. I suppose there is also ethical government in divine societies like the heaven of the brahmas. As for Planet Earth, the Saha Loka, in the present era I can hardly imagine that. I mean, there clould have been wonderful governments in a land of peace and prosperity. Maybe there are some. Until some bigger tribe, bigger nation came and conquered the land, enslaved the population and moved in their own sons and daughters to rule.

By the way, it wasn't clear what ethics should be used to define ethical governments. Plato? Macchiavelli? Confucius? Cicero?


Is there such a thing as an "ethical government" to begin with? One might first ask that.

The government maintains its authority by having a monopoly on violence. In developed countries it isn't so much about physical violence, but the government maintains an ability to bankrupt and ruin any citizen that fails to comply with the status quo. That's why you pay your taxes -- if you don't, the state will ruin your life both financially and socially. They don't need to employ violent means to do it, but it is in a sense "violence" just utilized in a different fashion.

From that perspective government authority rests on the threat of violence against its citizens.
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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby Astus » Fri May 14, 2010 1:30 pm

Huseng,

You're right. The government is there to keep order. In the Aganna Sutta (DN 27) it is outlined how greed resulted in the creation of the position of a judge, from which the position of a king became, and from vices new laws created. So from this point of view, a government is always a way of oppressing disturbing elements of society. But again, we should define what ethics to use. DN 26 gives a nice description of the perfect ruler, a sort of socialist state.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby Luke » Fri May 14, 2010 2:25 pm

Astus wrote:By the way, it wasn't clear what ethics should be used to define ethical governments. Plato? Macchiavelli? Confucius? Cicero?

The Dharma is the ultimate ethical standard, but we could start with my very simple ethical standards which might be more easily satisfied:

1) The nation never attacked another nation and only engaged in defensive military actions.

2) The nation's government was truly concerned with the welfare of all its citizens and actually put into action policies which significantly benefited them (including the poor).

3) The nation had a small degree of economic inequality. (There have always been richer and poorer people, but I mean a society where this wasn't so grotesquely exaggerated the way it is in the US, Russia, or China where the poor people are as poor as dirt and the rich people are rich beyond all imagination.)
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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby Astus » Fri May 14, 2010 3:58 pm

Luke,

I guess the Vatican fits that three requirements. Perhaps other countries like Luxembourg, San Marino, Monaco too.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby kirtu » Fri May 14, 2010 4:10 pm

Luke wrote:The Dharma is the ultimate ethical standard, but we could start with my very simple ethical standards which might be more easily satisfied:

1) The nation never attacked another nation and only engaged in defensive military actions.

2) The nation's government was truly concerned with the welfare of all its citizens and actually put into action policies which significantly benefited them (including the poor).

3) The nation had a small degree of economic inequality. (There have always been richer and poorer people, but I mean a society where this wasn't so grotesquely exaggerated the way it is in the US, Russia, or China where the poor people are as poor as dirt and the rich people are rich beyond all imagination.)


#2 : never is a long time. In modern times (the later half of the 20th Century) Germany is generally an ethical state (although many Leftists from the 60's and 70's would dispute this since they were attacked by police during demonstrations and were afraid of the resurgence of a form of Nazism). It would be sad if it takes a Holocaust to create an ethical state.

However, what about the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Iceland [and Finland if you count from 1945]), New Zealand (since Vietnam), Bhutan (except that they at least used to discriminate against the Lepcha people), Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein (after about 1835), Costa Rica (after 1948).

Here is a list of countries without a military (although several are in defense agreements with other nations).

Here's the Economist's Golbal Peace Index

and here's the Economist's Quality of Life Index

and finally the UN Human Development Index

actually finally a list of international rankings for Costa Rica that lead to rankings of other nations as well and may prove useful (the actual Wikipedia International Rankings page is less useful than this)

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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby catmoon » Fri May 14, 2010 6:44 pm

An ethical government could only arise from an ethical population, and such a population would need no government at all.
Sergeant Schultz knew everything there was to know.
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Re: Truly ethical governments: Have there ever been any?

Postby Clueless Git » Sat May 15, 2010 10:43 am

catmoon wrote:An ethical government could only arise from an ethical population, and such a population would need no government at all.

Exactly!
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