The Shifting Moral Compass

by George Hatjoullis

This weekend the BBC, a publicly funded broadcaster, aired an interview with Marine Le Pen, conducted by Andrew Marr. A few years ago this interview would not have been possible because the moral compass was less accommodating of the views expressed by Front Nationale. The moral compass appears to have shifted somewhat.

The justification for conducting and airing such an interview must be the ‘public interest’. This interview has been justified in the interest of ‘balance’. The concept of balance however only applies between opposing legitimate views. The implication is that Andrew Marr and the BBC regard the views of Marine Le Pen and Front Nationale as legitimate. By conducting and airing the interview they have thus signalled this acceptance. If a public broadcaster airs views it legitimizes the views. Legitimizing does not mean agrees with but rather acknowledges these are socially acceptable views to hold.

The basic justification for the BBC to see Marine Le Pen’s views as legitimate is the popularity of these views among the French electorate. Le Pen is to stand as a candidate for the Presidency and she is viewed as having good chance of winning. The principle of moral legitimacy applied by Marr and the BBC is thus popularity. This is quite obviously a glib and dangerous principle and not one any moral philosopher would endorse.

What if a majority of the population supported the idea of removing the left hand of all left-handed people once their ‘infirmity’ was identified? This may sound like a shocking and absurd example but once the principle of popularity in determining moral legitimacy is applied it is quite plausible. Politicians advocating this idea could get air time on the Andrew Marr show and explain their ideas. Right handed people could support this view openly and press for a referendum or lobby their MP to legislate on this idea. I trust my point is made?

If morality is purely relative then all views are potentially legitimate. This is very dangerous for all in society. It is necessary to have some universal principles to anchor our moral compass. Unfortunately there is no universal agreement on what these principles should be. I would suggest one. No one should be socially penalised for an unavoidable characteristic. Left-handed people are born as such so to penalize them is immoral. Only when genuine choice is involved should it be possible to impose social norms though this does not mean I support full cultural homogeneity. I am merely saying it is, arguably, a legitimate point of view. To discriminate against people on the basis of gender, ethnicity, or infirmity is thus universally illegitimate. Discrimination on the basis of cultural practice is a grey area but may be a legitimate area for discussion and difference.