The CDA dilemma
Last weekend I was busy preparing lectures on ethical dilemmas. Still I could not help watching TV to follow the exciting debates at the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal) congress in Arnhem. My two different activities caused an interaction. What I saw on television was a nice illustration of what I contemplated on in my preparation of the dilemma lectures.
Geert Wilders succeeds in causing discord not only between parties and persons, but also within parties and persons. It is understandable that CDA members are strongly divided about the question whether or not to vote in favour of a government coalition of CDA and VVD, which makes itself dependent on tolerance support by the PVV (Party For the Freedom). The PVV labels the Islam a backward belief and stigmatizes a million Dutch Muslims as fool and inferior citizens. Dependence on tolerance support by – and cooperation with – such a discriminating party seems difficult to reconcile with the Christian attitude of respect and love for all human beings irrespective of their belief and background. This causes discord not only between, but also within CDA members, who are torn by doubts. There are at least two CDA members – two members of the Lower House – who experience this intra-personal disunity: Kathleen Ferrier and Ad Koppejan. They experience and reflect the ethical dilemma in which the CDA party as a whole seems to find itself.
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong explains an ethical dilemma as follows. It concerns a situation where (1) an agent has an ethical requirement to do each of two acts but cannot do both; and (2) neither ethical requirement overrides the other. The latter would mean that there is no right answer to the question what ought to be done. The possible non-existence of a right answer is an interesting but underestimated problem in ethical theory.
One horn of the dilemma in which Ferrier and Koppejan seem to find themselves is the requirement to be loyal to their party, especially at this advanced stage of a coalition agreement. The participants to the CDA congress supported this agreement with a majority of votes. The majority of participating CDA members concluded that the achieved coalition agreement largely reflects the CDA party programme. In the weighting of requirements they think that the possibility to carry out this party programme outweighs the disadvantage of being dependent on tolerance support by the PVV. In addition, for the sake of the country’s interest, it seems hardly acceptable to further delay the start of a new government.
The other horn of the dilemma for Ferrier and Koppejan is the requirement to follow their conscience which rejects ‘cooperation’ with a party that discriminates and despises a substantial part of the Dutch population. The fact that these two conscientious CDA members have not yet taken a decision seems to support the idea that neither requirement clearly overrides the other and that there is no determinate right answer to the question what is the right thing to do. In virtue of Sinnott-Armstrong’s definition, they find themselves in a real ethical dilemma. It is possible that Kathleen Ferrier will ultimately take a different decision (for instance, not supporting the coalition) than Ad Koppejan (for instance, supporting the coalition). If it concerns a real ethical dilemma and if this means that a right choice does not exist, these divergent choices would not mean that either Ferrier or Koppejan must have made a wrong decision.
Interestingly, the relevant ethical dilemma seems to be time- and situation-dependent. Before the CDA started the negotiations with the PVV, it would have been easier, and probably no ethical dilemma, for Ferrier and Koppejan to follow their conscience, because it would not yet – or at least to a lesser extent – have caused a conflict with the requirement to be loyal to the CDA. In that case the requirement to follow their conscience would override the requirement to be loyal. In the course of the negotiations with the PVV, the chance of a dilemma increased to the extent to which the negotiations yielded positive results and reached a stage of agreement. This may explain why Ab Klink, the outgoing CDA Minister of Health, who left the negotiations in an earlier stage, may have experienced a less serious ethical dilemma or no real dilemma at all. For him there may have been a single right answer: following his conscience and expressing his concern with the chosen course. This would probably have been different if he, like Ferrier and Koppejan, had postponed his decision until now, because the opposite requirement increased in weight during the process of negotiations.
If the above reasoning is correct, the question whether the CDA has to participate in a government that is dependent on tolerance support by the PVV may have different, time-dependent, answers. Before the negotiations between CDA, VVD and PVV started, there was, I think, a single right answer: any political party, and especially the CDA, has to avoid cooperation with, and tolerance support by, a discriminating and disrespectful party like the PVV. However, given what happened between the start and the end of the coalition negotiations, the relevant question may have become an ethical dilemma for Ferrier and Koppejan. Still, I am not sure, because I myself think that there is still always one right answer: it is wrong to cooperate with, and to be dependent on, the PVV. I have a great admiration for Ab Klink and the outgoing CDA Minister of Justice Ernst Hirsch Ballin who unambiguously reject the coalition agreement. I have the same admiration for Joris Voorhoeve, a former VVD Minister for Foreign Affairs, who left his party because of its cooperation with the PPV.
Re-reading my text I appear to contradict myself. If one requirement clearly overrides the other, there is no ethical dilemma, because then there is a single right answer.