A Lack of Moral Authority?
Over the last week the Daily Telegraph has revealed the details of the expense claims made by British Members of Parliament. The claims have ranged from the petty, such as 88p bath plugs, to the outrageous, such as the upkeep of a “pergola cross beam”. It is an understatement but the public’s respect for our elected representatives has dissolved. The House of Commons is now perceived as being full of arrogant and detached individuals who, due to their position, feel that they are entitled to milk the tax-payer for as much as possible. In most cases, House rules have not been broken. It is quite obvious that whilst the letter of the law has been followed the spirit has certainly been ignored. Expenses are available so that citizens may be served as fully as possible by their representative to parliament. It is very difficult to see how having a sauna installed or a moat cleaned enables this.
Stephen Fry, commenting on the recent scandal, said “it’s not that important, it really isn’t.” He argued that being imaginative with expenses is a reality of life and normal behaviour. The problem with this however is that Mr Fry forgets that our earthly authorities have to set a higher standard. Governing is a sacred duty. St Thomas, writing on kingship, compares the role of the authority in society to that of the soul in the body and of God in the universe. It is the head of a body and has a duty to lead it to its end. The end of human society, which our government should be leading us to, is the virtuous life. The higher end of the virtuous life is to attain the happiness of God which is the ultimate end. However, if the head of the body-politic is not leading by example, if it is rotten with greed and arrogance, this will pollute the whole society.
The vocation to public office is built on service; serving God, society and our fellow human beings. If our representatives lose sight of this and adopt a perverse self-serving attitude how can citizens find any moral authority in their leaders? How can an authority, lacking this moral authority, lead society?