The tyranny of conscience

Umberto Galimberti has an interesting piece in today’s Repubblica, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to appear on the paper’s website. He talks about the way people claim to be unable to do certain things or behave in a certain way because it would go against their conscience. The cases he mentions are Italian, and recent, but the issues his argument touches on – euthanasia, abortion, civil unions – reach far beyond a single country and time. I’ll translate a bit for you. (I hate translating, so I hope you appreciate the sacrifice I’m making on your behalf.)

So what is this ‘conscience’? It is the tyranny of the principle of subjectivity that refuses to accept any form of collective responsibility and the consequences that derive from it. The doctor who, as a “conscientious objector” refuses to perform an abortion on a woman living in absolute poverty with too many children already, on a barely pubescent child, on someone whose foetus is deformed, refuses to take responsibility for the condition of the mother and the future unhappiness of the child, considering nothing but his principles, which allow him to feel comfortable with his ‘conscience’, precisely because they suppress, deny, refuse to see the consequences of his decision. […]

If the tyranny of the subjective ‘conscience’, which in the name of its own principles is incapable of mediation and takes no responsibility for social issues (such as civil unions and the right to die), becomes an absolute principle in politics, […] we need to make it very clear that those who bow to this tyranny have no place in politics, because their conscience ignores collective responsibility in favour of individual principles.

The essence of politics is ‘mediation’, not ‘bearing witness’. There are other more appropriate places, such as one’s private life, in which to ‘bear witness’. […] As Kant said: ‘Morality is made for man, not man for morality’. This is even truer of ideology.


Crikey, Kant. Twice in one day.

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