Spongia: Philosophy Blog EUR

The CDA dilemma

Posted on: 2010/10/04

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.

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6 Reacties to "The CDA dilemma"

I think it may be a true dilemma for any CDA member, because one of the (implicit) tenets of this political party is collectivism/communitarianism, not only with regard to all human beings, but also when it comes to intra-party opinions. This means that loyalty to the party majority is an overriding ideological argument in deliberation. Those who are not a member of this party, however, are not compelled by this principle.

Additionally, a similar ideological imperative is the position to always follow one’s conscience – an imperative inspired from religious tenets and more or less the distinguishing factor of CDA ideology when compared to other political parties. If an individual’s subjective experience leads him/her to conclude an action to be irreconcilable with his/her conscience, then this conscience should be heeded, and no third party has any right to challenge this decision.

For this reason, some CDA members perceive the coalition plans as morally objectionable while others do not, and neither group is wrong. However, the position of the first group conflicts with the loyalty/communitarianism tenet, which causes a moral dilemma, while the second group finds their moral intuition to be in line with loyalty/communitarianism.

Therefore, if you are not a CDA member, then you do not experience this as a true dilemma, whether or not you find dealings with PVV morally objectionable or not. If you are a CDA member, then you will only experience a true dilemma if you find the PVV dealings morally objectionable, otherwise you do not.

This explanation is not able to address the objections by VVD politicians such as Voorhoeve, De Vries, Winsemius and Weisglas, because the VVD party ideology is based on different moral foundations. It would be interesting to investigate this, though.

Thank you very much for your valuable contribution. I agree with your considerations. I only think that the CDA (contrary to the PvdA, D66, SP and Groen Links) committed a vital error by not making clear from the beginning that negotiations with a discriminative and disrespectful party as the PVV is impossible. I think, without this mistake the conscience-versus-loyalty dilemma would not have occurred. But even now, after the negotiations, and despite the resulting loyalty conflict, I think there is only one right thing to do, also for CDA members: to give more weight to their conscience and the disapproval of cooperation with the discriminative, stigmatizing and the freedom-of-religion-violating PVV than to their loyalty to a party that seems to forget its central and Christian principles. If so, there is no real ethical dilemma, not even for members of the CDA.

There is one important aspect of this case study that should not be neglected, and that is that this is politics.

As such, acquiring governmental power is a major consideration for CDA members to support the cooperation, especially those who get to wield this power.

Additionally, it is conceivable that CDA politicians could even support the cooperation for strategic reasons, such as subversively agreeing to cooperate with PVV, and subsequently ending the government at the first (major) PVV provocation, in order to advertise the party’s moral compass with the electorate.

Such political considerations could well contaminate the moral dilemmas experienced by politicians, although this is by no means a certainty. Besides, the non-politician CDA members (as well as those only active in local politics (gemeentepolitiek), and former politicians) at the party convention this weekend are not subject to this caveat.

Dear Sébastien,
Again I agree with you. Of course, political considerations often play a decisive role. But our issue concerns the question whether there is an ethical dilemma (in Sinnott-Armstrong’s sense): neither ethical requirement overrides the other. I do not think that craving for power can be (a part of) a moral requirement. In this context it is revealing that you use the phrase ‘contamination of moral dilemmas with political considerations’. Besides, “supporting the cooperation for strategic reasons by initially agreeing to cooperate with the PVV and subsequently ending the government at the first provocation in order to advertise the moral compass with the electorate” seems an inefficient, implausible and untrustworthy approach; at least much less efficient, plausible and trustworthy than directly and unambiguously rejecting cooperation.

I don’t know how to respond to your second comment (Martijn Boot 21:51), so please forgive me if this ends up in the wrong place in the thread.

You point to a “revealing” phrase in my previous reply (“contamination of moral dilemmas with political considerations”). What I meant to say was that if we have a genuine moral dilemma, then political pragmatism (and no longer moral deliberation) could decide the politician’s choice.

In this way, the dilemma is moral, but the decision is not. Indeed, having made such a decision, the politician will still remain in doubt whether it was the morally correct one, even if it may have been correct in a political sense.

This is what I meant by “contamination”. In hindsight, my phrasing was unclear.

Thank you very much for your clarification. I find your thoughts relevant and interesting. I know you from your contributions on this blog, but further I do not know you. I suppose you are a philosopher and, according to me, a very good one. I very much appreciate your valuable contributions.

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