Why We Need to Put Morality Back at the Heart of Politics

The U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed at the U.N. in September 2015, together set out a vision of a more peaceful, equitable and sustainable world.

The vision is of a world in which no one is poor or hungry, where a sustainable model of economic growth benefits everyone and combats climate change, where there is greater equality within and between nations, and where every individual is treated equally regardless of gender, race or religion. Achieving such a vision will, in turn, require national and global institutions that are capable of delivering greater equality and fairness for all.

Unfortunately, however, our major political and economic institutions have been moving in the opposite direction for decades. As a result, inequalities have increased and self-interest now dominates societies, to the neglect of the common good.

A central challenge posed by the SDGs is to shift the cultures of our political and financial systems from self-interest to concern for others, and demonstrate once again that morality is a viable option in the modern world.    

Today’s Crisis of Morality

The crisis we face today is as much a crisis of morality as it is a political or financial crisis.

For decades now, our major political and economic institutions have fostered a culture of selfish individualism and greed. The largest institutions that make up our societies have all failed the most basic test of morality.

The global financial crisis which began in 2008 was the result of political systems which prioritised the interests of financial institutions, and rewrote laws to enable reckless and predatory behaviour. The dominant culture in many of these institutions is blatantly exploitative, rewards narcissism and disregards any long term consequences.

Religion too has proven itself to be an unreliable basis for individual and collective morality. Selective quotation from the sacred texts of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism continues to cause much war and suffering, while belief in the supernatural has become untenable to many.

And as inequalities have increased, our political systems have too often sided with wealthy interests and have failed to protect the overall coherence of society.

A Two Way Street

Changes in our political, economic and religious institutions are therefore urgently needed if we are to create a better world.

However, this is not just a matter for those with power. It concerns us all. As ecologist Robert Hinde has argued, the influences run both ways. The greed and selfishness that is evident in our societies is not only encouraged by current political and economic systems; greed and selfishness on the part of citizens also supports those systems.

Our individual morality must come to place a greater emphasis on the common good if values of caring and concern for others are to be reflected in our politics, economics and religion.

Putting Morality Back at the Heart of Politics

Just as politics played a decisive role over recent decades in creating selfishly assertive societies, politics, under the influence of public opinion, will also have to play a critical role in redressing the balance.

Robert Hinde again has written that moral rules and values are necessary because we need to preserve a balance between the propensities of individuals to look after their own interests and their propensities to care for others. Balance between these two propensities is essential if a society is to be stable and harmonious. The role of morality is to preserve that balance.

A crucial role for politics, at both national and international levels,  is to ensure that this balance is struck.


Changing How We Live: Society from the bottom up, Robert Hinde, Spokesman, 2011


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