Reflections on Martin Diamond’s “Ethics and Politics: The American Way”

Robert A. Licht. "Reflections on Martin Diamond's "Ethics and Politics: The American Way"" Publius 8.3 (Summer 1978): 183-211.


There can be no question but that the theme which is addressed by Martin Diamond in his article, “Ethics and Politics: The American Way” is an area of considerable intellectual confusion. Politics, it is generally believed, should of course be “ethical” but ethics, or morality—they are distinguished or considered synonymous at the convenience of the writer—dare not be political. There cannot, or more precisely “ought” not be a legislative or governmental concern with the morality of the citizenry. It is properly a concern of government only when it is forced to police itself. The view is amply expressed in the commonplace—and dominant—opinion, “you can’t legislate morality.” To the extent that both “right” and “left” share a radical individualist or “libertarian” view they are in agreement with this commonplace. This should not be taken as a sign that the individualism found in liberal democracy is amoral.