Thursday, March 13, 2008

March 2008 Book Club Selection: The Politics of Moral Capital, John Kane

John Kane reveals how moral capital is key to political reform

In the immediate wake of scandals involving Elliott Spitzer and alleged bribery offers to Chuck Cadman, there's no better time to think about political moral capital than the present.

In The Politics of Moral Capital John Kane offers varying profiles of political reformers, including Abraham Lincoln, Charles de Gaulle and Nelson Mandella, and uncovers the importance of moral capital to politics.

Kane splits the use of moral capital down into three "phases". In the first phase, moral issues are used to legitimize a political movement by drawing attention to moral situations that affect -- or at least can be argued to affect -- the whole of the polity.

Once a movement is legitimized, support must be mobilized. For Kane, this is phase two. Demands are made that the moral issue be resolved, and a political program is promoted that offers a solution.

Kane's third phase the issue is used to highlight strategic opportunities. Current events are siezed upon as an opportunity for activism, which is then used to bolster political support.

Kane's book refines the use of moral capital into a fine art. His book esentially outlines a program by which political activism can be transformed into political capital. It often seems almost Machiavellian, until one considers that those who have most successfully harnessed moral capital for political gain have been those who had the most legitimate grievances, and who believed in their causes most deeply.

Kane also pays close attention to the American presidency, and uncovers the pivotal importance of moral capital to that particular office. Political offices, he notes, tend to come imbued with a certain amount of moral capital, which can either be enhanced by the office holder, or squandered for future office holders through poor conduct.

Moreover, Kane theorizes that the moral standing of the office of president -- as well as whomever may hold it at any particular time -- is crucial to a country's self-respect and morale.

Times when leaders fail to meet the moral standard their citizens expect of them tend to be very troubling for a polity, and it's at times like this that we need to reevaluate the moral cogency of our societies. Kane's theories can be helpful but ultimately it's up to individual citizens to decide whether or not they're satisfied with the moral standing of their society.

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