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LUISS Guido Carli


The moral question between politics and anti-politics

In his book, Professor Pellegrino reads recent Italian history from the perspective of public sector ethics

Gianfranco Pellegrino

"We may judge politicians’ behavior morally, however, this doesn't mean that politics is reduced to morality, or is subject to it." Public sector ethics, the most recent work by Gianfranco Pellegrino, LUISS professor of Political Philosophy, deals with the moral issue in politics from a historical and philosophical point of view, attempting to avoid the traps of moral and political realism.

The book, published by LUISS University Press within the Short Introductions series, considers the boundaries between ethics and politics by analyzing some events of Italian recent history, from the kidnapping of Aldo Moro to Tangentopoli, the judicial investigation into political corruption held in the 1990s.

"There are specific political reasons in favor for certain behaviors, but there may be specific moral reasons that are against those same behaviors - professor Pellegrino argues. At the same time, certain moral features are more relevant for politicians, such as being unbiased, and features that are less relevant, such as offspring affection. The public sector ethics is the belief that moral reasons are not silenced by political reasons, but that those reasons count as much as political ones and may arouse electoral and practical behaviors against some politicians."

His analysis gives an alternative interpretation of recent Italian history: "Some people think that Italian political issues, at least starting from the end of the 1970s and most of all during the 1990s, have been defined by anti-politics, a critical attitude towards politics as a profession which often gave voice to moral judgments against politicians. Others believe that the inability for the extremist and radical parties to win elections, such as the Italian Communist Party or the Italian Social Movement, was the key factor that characterized the period from the end of World War II until the fall of the Berlin Wall. I believe that we need to add to these interpretations the profound disagreement that divided Italians on the idea of public sector ethics, which was adopted by some and refused by others."

Etica PubblicaPellegrino traces the Italian public opinion of those years, starting from the positions of intellectuals such as Italo Calvino, Leonardo Sciascia and Alberto Arbasino, who defended the idea of public sector ethics as the foundation of democratic legitimacy. "No one wants to be forced to perform or allow immoral actions, but given that in democracy everybody is responsible for the actions of its leaders (that is, they allow or contribute to those actions by voting at elections), citizens may see leaders who are guilty of immoral behaviors as illegitimate."

Therefore, according to Pellegrino, public sector ethics does not depend on the political spectrum and it is normal that this affects citizen's approval. "Moral judgments may determine voting behavior, even if we cannot say that they undo all the other important factors that affect the vote. In this sense, public sector ethics is not just an ingredient, but a foundation of democracy."