Leadership Ethics Online is concerned with American leadership values. We proceed to address these within a nonsectarian theistic framework. We really do believe there is a God, that God is moral and demands moral values, thinking, speaking and behaviors.
However, because we are more concerned with moral leadership, and leadership ethics which produce moral organizations–with morality succinctly defined as united effort for the Common Good, harming no person in the organization, society, or world–we are united with anyone, theistic or not, who shares our principal concern: our nation and world are being destroyed by immoral unethical leaders and followers driven by private goals and self-interest.
There is no doubt that the United States is suffering a meltdown in leadership values and practices. From recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, such as Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (where the Court ruled corporations are “people” and campaign finance money is “speech” protected by the First Amendment), there are repeated, persistent events pointing to a moral vacuum and moral lostness among U.S. leaders in government and corporations.
The U.S. Constitution‘s Prologue sets forth the legal purpose of this nation. Though many persons never have considered this, each clause is a different legal purpose built on the Golden Rule; that is, the Common Good.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Mutual respect, if not love, for the American fellow citizen and neighbor, are contained in this short but expansive series of legal purposes. They all are moral purposes, framed in a national constitution, which presuppose strict legal and regulatory laws aimed for the Common Good, which includes both The People and organizations–like corporations–subservient to the U.S. Constitution.
Democracy Based in Theism
Let us return to our American Constitution. Most of the Founders were Christians of some kind, with men like Thomas Jefferson being Deists. When they wrote that Prologue above, the Common Good was expressed, though not in religious sectarian terms. Democracy earlier had been expressed by Jefferson and Madison in the Declaration of Independence‘s opening, as a theological premise:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
“All men,” the term then used to describe all human beings, “are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights….” Of course, the entire history of the United States is an illustration of the often-violent struggle between this ideal of human equality, with the reality of human (often overtly “Christian”) drives for political hegemony, wealth, and power. Women were not given the vote until 1920, against the opposition of Christian (and other) American men. However, it was the resistance of united women (and a few men) that enabled that principle of inclusion to achieve victory.
General Religious Principles have been pushed to the sidelines today in public discourse. If one were to quote any religious text’s moral principle, such as “You shall not lie”–not as religious proof-texting but as an ancient and time-honored principle, some people would be outraged. Yet if one were to quote the filthiest, vilest statement from an intellectual, a sports figure, a music performer, etc., then “freedom of speech” would render the citation all good and proper. Do you understand what is being addressed here?
Christian fundamentalist haters aside–and there are plenty of those–there are many who resist, oppose, and mock any citation of religious values in the public forum. In our opinion, the Common Good can benefit from the very best in selected religious values, and give support to what Jean-Jacques Rousseau called the “social contract.” The social-ungluing, the moral-ungluing of the United States, and other nations, is partly related to an over-reaction against the worst forms of religion by throwing out the socially-cohesive, best elements in religion.
There are surely some very healthy forms of secularism, which uphold the Common Good. Yet there also are profound problems with secular atheism, which is just as susceptible to drivers for human selfishness, egocentrism, hedonism, and moral relativism. Moral relativism “sounds good” to people who want to assure complete freedom for everyone to live out their values. That sounds quite democratic.
Nevertheless, when secularism, in various expressions of atheistic materialism, takes the position “the survival of the fittest” or the “rightful success of the most cunning over both weak and strong with fewer wits,” Jungle Law of the Individual, or Jungle Law of the Gang–even expressed in U.S. Supreme Court rulings on behalf of powerful corporations–then what we have today in the United States, and other nations, is a predictable result.
We despise Inquisitions, witch-hunts, and hate campaigns. Yet, is there anything to fear in reflections on religious ethical principles such as “Love your neighbor” and “Defend the widow and orphan”? There are some people today whose pure materialism would say, “If the poor are not contributing, then let them die.” We despise that too.
Social Darwinism is a problem today, though not many discuss it in the public forum. Human beings are considered merely as one species of animal among all others. Some are strong, and will overcome weaker persons. Some are intellectually brilliant, and capable of manipulating or controlling mentally slower persons with their cunning. This idea is not unfamiliar to readers. We hear it echoed–without citing Social Darwinism–among many Americans who speak of the “just due of the Producers” and the “self-earned condition of the Non-Producers.” Though America has not yet descended to the Nazi regime, Social Darwinism was a foundation stone for the systematic removal, suppression, enslavement, and final destruction of “inferior races.” There is a parallel.
To uphold our Constitution’s Common Good, and to cite a Universal Love for all persons, we hold to be absolutely superior to Social Darwinism. What we do here is to address every American leader who understands what we have said above, and who seeks to benefit from a restoration of the Common Good, and a Universal Love, for all Americans and–also unpopular today–all people in the world.
We ask YOU, leader, to look within; to examine yourself; and to consider the BEST you can do with your authority. If you believe in God, add this: “What does God expect from you?” If you are a secularist, we ask you this: “Is there anything wrong in learning principles proven true when they were obeyed?”
While Leadership Ethics Online speaks within a theistic context, we address any who share our concerns for a world consumed in amoral, immoral, unethical values and acts arising from atheism, mechanistic materialism, human egocentrism and hedonism, which lead some human beings to believe themselves “more valuable than others.”
We want to unite with you, theistic or not, if you are as concerned about the cancer of moral relativism as we are. Yes, we understand the “subjective construction of knowledge and the subjective nature of ethics” (before and after Immanuel Kant). However, we do not believe that ethics are so subjective that one can put a knife in another human being, “because this is my ethics…Jungle Law…the Strong over the Weak.” Sorry. We believe there is truth, truth has consequences, and that even biology itself teaches Love and Interdependence……
Invest in Healthy Leadership Ethics
There are thousands of corporate entities teaching ethics in business, ethics linked to legal compliance (aimed for risk management), and performance-profit benefits of educating and training an entire corporate culture in ethical values.
Most of these ethics-packages are designed to capture particular market segments; to meet the core needs of clients; and also, to ensure clients are pleased for repeat business. However, based on a comprehensive overview of these client-driven packages, and monitoring the field of ethics education, many of these offerings do not touch, let alone penetrate, into the deepest areas of organizational issues: the ethical values and practices of leaders themselves.
In biology and medicine, we all understand analogies of systemic disease, as well as specific areas of injury and infection. Just as human beings sometime recoil from effective treatment for health, this also is true in the case of leaders of organizations.
The question we pose to you as a leader of your organization is, “Will you invest in becoming a better person, a better member of your family, a better professional at work, a better member of American society, a better member of global society?” The evidence in the United States, and other nations, points to a generally negative answer to that question. We hope your answer will be positive; that you will risk health-for-growth; and that you will join us in the ever-diminishing circle of Outstanding Ethical Leaders.
John D. Willis, PhD, President