Sir Issac was writing from the viewpoint of a physicist. But the metaphysical philosophers were quick to apply the rules of the natural world to the philosophical and political realm, especially Newton’s contemporary John Locke who coined the phrase “unintended consequences.”
The ethics of consequentialism go back to 5th Century BC Chinese philosopher Mo Di. In the West, they were later picked up 100 years later by the Athenian Demosthenes. Basically, they argued that the consequences of one’s actions are the ultimate basis for political action and that the action should be based on the amount of good created by the consequence of that action.
Another way of putting it is that our political leaders have a responsibility to carefully examine every conceivable intended and unintended consequence of their thoughts, words and deeds before opening their mouths, despatching a tweet or issuing a military command.
Unfortunately, there is scant evidence to indicate that most of today’s politicians are bothering to even consider the consequences of their actions beyond the publication of the next opinion poll, although sometimes their time horizon extends to the next election.
The two current best examples of consequential failure can be found in the Anglo-Saxon world on either side of the Atlantic. President Donald Trump is notorious for dashing off explosive tweets without giving a moment’s thoughts to the consequences. This week he has told the world that America is “locked and loaded” and that war against Iran is an option following
On the minus side, a war with Iran would make the Afghanistan or Gulf War look like a walk in the park. There would be a probable retaliatory attack on Israel; total disruption of world oil supplies; possible Russian intervention on the side of Iran; a split with America’s allies in Europe and the possible break-up of NATO which would strengthen Russia’s position in Eastern Europe.
On the plus side, Trump will have shown that he is tough; that America’s Middle East allies can count on the US to come to their defence; an anti-American Jihadist-motivated Iran will, hopefully, be eliminated from the Middle East equation. The embarrassment of the 1979 US Embassy hostage crisis will finally be expunged. America, if it wins, will emerge as
It is now clear from David Cameron’s memoirs that he failed to think through the consequences of calling a referendum on continued British membership of the EU. He simply assumed that the vote would be remain. Assumptions are one of the most dangerous of political actions. Cameron failed to take into account the divisive nature of the debate and as a
The Leave campaign lied and cheated without any regard to the facts and certainly without any plan beyond winning the referendum campaign. It is now clear that the
The world is, of course, quite a bit different from the days of the Zhou Dynasty or the Athens of Demosthenes. Both regimes existed at a time when communications moved at the speed of a slow horse. Information was communicated orally from a podium and extended as far as the speaker could be heard. The population of Athens was 300,000 but only 30,000 citizens could vote, and in
Today’s 24/7 interconnected world has multiplied the competing voices and ideas and the consequences of pursuing an ill-considered political path. Success
Tom Arms is a regular contributor to U