Who has ‘moral authority’?

I was listening to the news about Tibet this morning and one line from Nanci Pelosi jumped out at me. It was this: “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights.”

Leaving Tibet aside, do you believe in the notion of ‘moral authority’? Are some people or countries morally superior to others?

Are there some countries or people who do behave in a way that give them an ‘authority’ to pass comment on the actions of others? Or do we all have our hands dirty, and to take a stance about someone’s conduct is to embrace hypocrisy?

I’ll write more when I’ve got my prep for today’s show done. But I’d be curious to get your reaction.

32 Responses to “Who has ‘moral authority’?”

  1. 1 Robert
    March 21, 2008 at 13:30

    Yes, some countries are morally superior to others. A government that suppresses freedom of speech, religion, and the press, e.g., China and Cuba, are morally bankrupt. The basic function of any government is to serve the people, not itself.

    The U.S. does not have a perfect record for protecting any of these freedoms, but it aspires to protecting these rights as do many other countries. Countries that do not protect these freedoms, e.g., the Arab nations treatment of women, have no basis for objecting to the failings of human rights in other countries.

  2. March 21, 2008 at 13:57

    I do not think a country can be morally superior over another. All countries have ‘baggage’ from the past that one would deem as immoral. US had segregation for 2 centuries almost. Nobody is perfect. If we learn from our past mistakes that will be good. But that should not stop US from condemning China on its human rightsviolation in Tibet andelsewhere inChina. The actual reason in this case is trade and economy.

  3. 3 Dan
    March 21, 2008 at 13:58

    Of course there is moral superiority of one country over another.
    Can one equate the moral depravity of Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Hitler’s Germany or the Soviet Union to that of any Western Democracy? Of course not.
    What about any Arab Muslim nation that murders women or anyone because someone THOUGHT that Islam was insulted. Not only is that a clear demonstration of moral inferiority but moral depravity.
    This is not to say that the West holds the sole title of moral superiority but we have the mechanism to make correction when we go astray.

  4. 4 carlos King
    March 21, 2008 at 14:18

    Hi Ros & WHYS crew,

    Only one person has moral authority and He expresses his wishes through the word. His name is God and the word is the Bible.

    No man, woman, pope, archbishop, president, government, administration, culture/civilization, country etc. not even church/denomination in this world has moral authority to dictate what is right or wrong because we are all corrupted in heart and deceptive and deceitful above all things! We don’t even know our wicked hearts.

    This does not mean that the notion of right or wrong is irrevelant. But what is the standard of moral authority? If it is not the Bible then what? Atheist, Agnotics etc. cannot comment on this subject because they don’t believe in a superior moral power.

    What a dilema we have placed ourselves in. The one redeeming moral authority God/Bible is despised and rejected and we are in “hot water” because there is no other viable alternative.

    I am sorry but the Tibetans are in a pickle, their legitimate cry for freedom will not be answered by the sole superpower on earth because it has squandered its moral authority by invading Iraq and engaging in the most unjust/ inhumane war ever fought. By so doing, the USA has lost it moral authority and internation prestige and respect.

    What a travesty and tragedy when the big brother who we depended on starts to take advantage of the little ones, what hope is there for the future?

    Carlos, Kingston-Jamaica

  5. 5 Niall
    March 21, 2008 at 14:50

    If we take the definition of morality as: principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour. (Oxford English Dictionary)

    What about the Aztec belief about sacrificed hearts and the rising sun? Was that not merely a delusional belief that had social currency? Objectively you could say the same conclusion can be made about the ‘moral authority’ stated above. Let’s not forget Nazism had its own ‘moral authority’ and acted accordingly.

    Morality belongs to an insular cultural experience that no longer exists. There is no universally agreed upon morality and morality itself could be said to have been the single greatest cause of the loss of human life on this planet. Countries are no longer completely isolated entities, and the individualistic moral constructs that are being violently and passively acted out in the world today are showing their strain. People must die so we can know we are right (moral).

    A world humanist treaty, like the Humanist Manifesto seems to be the most obvious way forward, but also a very hard pill to swallow, considering the implications for religion and culture.

  6. 6 Will Rhodes
    March 21, 2008 at 15:00

    Atheist, Agnotics etc. cannot comment on this subject because they don’t believe in a superior moral power.

    I have to say that I utterly disagree with this point! I am shocked in fact. I am Christian and I would never leave a persons opinion out because they do not believe in the same holy book as myself!

    You, by that statement are silencing millions of people – and I find that morally unacceptable.

    The US is not the big brother you speak of. What she is is a country that has become the most powerful nation through the need for economic growth in other nations that use capitalism as its base. This is show when the stock market falls in the US so do others – that is trade.

    Miss Pelosi’s comment is almost laughable. Her government utilises torture as a way of extracting information, they imprison people for years without trial, sentence people to death without fully disclosed evidence which would prove their innocence, invade countries illegally, supply arms to one nation so it may start a war with another nation to safeguard its own interests, leave millions of people destitute internally, will not provide healthcare (pet peeve) for its own countrymen, the list can go on.

    You can only have moral authority when you have the moral high ground, and the US doesn’t.

  7. 7 Ros Atkins
    March 21, 2008 at 15:10

    Hi Ros,
    My thoughts could bring in endless talk.,but read this reference:’No country should exclude itself from the international human rights development process or view itself as the incarnation of human rights that can reign over other countries and give orders to the others,’ declared an official statement from Premier Wen Jiabao’s cabinet.
    In English: The United States has no business commenting on what happens in other

    Togo Kasoro

  8. 8 Brett
    March 21, 2008 at 15:22

    Yes, because the US is the authority on moral-authority. Ha!
    This claim is that people are going ‘lose their authority’ if they do not back what Nancy wants is a poor, poor way to get people on your side.

    Judge not lest ye be judged

    Its a 2 way street America, its a 2 way street.

    Brett ~ Richmond, Va.

  9. March 21, 2008 at 15:22

    If U S of America had not misused/abused its moral authority, by disobeying the Global guide to Moral authority i.e. The UN ,by invading Iraq for a five year war,abugraib prison,media rumour mongering about WMD that never existed the world could have listened.Lets stop wasting time blaming each other and instead clean our own houses.Human rights cannot be categorised.

  10. March 21, 2008 at 15:42

    Noone has a “MORAL Authority” over ANYONE ELSE. Ever. Granted, some of us are pretty perverted in our ‘moral beliefs,’ but that doesn’t make them wrong. Not to mention, that in our (the U.S.) presant state of affairs, we have NO-o-o-o-o, business preaching maorals to anyone. Should we protest? Yes. Not because we have some alleged, self-appointed, and self-proclaimed, “Moral Authority,” but because something is WRONG, and we’d like to try and fix it.
    thank you-

  11. March 21, 2008 at 16:02

    Hey Dan… How are you doing today ?! I’m a practicing Muslim, and let me ask you not to make very broad generalisations just like those you made in your post. You have to differentiate between TRUE ISLAM and WAHABISM. Wahabism is a corrupt, deviated and very extreme version of Islam that’s being applied in Saudi Arabia and other countries. Al Karradah neighbourhood in Baghdad lies on a tiny piece of land, and it’s predominantly a Muslim Shiite neighbourhood. But still, there’re six churches and many Muslim Sunni mosques in Al Karradah. And you’d hear the Muslim calls for prayers alongside with rings of the churche’s bells. All Karadis live together side by side in a marvellous harmony. Since 2003 and till now Karradi churches were targeted by the terrorists, Karradi Shiite mosques were targeted by the terrorists, and Karradi Sunni mosques were targeted by the terrorists. But has all that affect the marvellous harmony that dominates the atmosphere in Al Karradah ?! As a proud Karradi I raise my chin and say NO! Never! Al Karradah should be a moral example to the rest of Iraq and may be to the rest of the World ! With my love. Yours forever, Lubna.

  12. 12 viola anderson
    March 21, 2008 at 16:36

    Never mind the moral authority bit. That sounds like an emotional rather than a reasonable thing to say. A good argument is not canceled out because the person who makes it is unlikeable or has made errors in the past. That’s like saying, “Shut up! You already made some mistakes. Now it’s my turn.” The only people who never make mistakes are those who never do anything.

  13. March 21, 2008 at 17:01

    America did not go from thirteen little states to a superpower with 700 military bases by exercising any moral authority. It has a terrible record of trampling on other people for power and profit.

    Lord Acton said it best: “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The US is a superpower. No surprise to find it super-corrupted.

  14. March 21, 2008 at 17:08

    Wake up China!!, the world knows that you occupied Tibet to inlarge your territory which you found very very easy to do and that there could be little or no resistance from the Tebitins who were poorly armed with out dated hand guns and rifles. You had some dispute with what was the Soviet Union several years ago, nothing came of it, quite simply you knew better because the Soviet Union were strong militarily and would not be a push over like Tibet.
    The stores and shops are filled with goods made in China and most of the goods on sale are made in your country, I for one avoid buying anything made in China and so should all the shoppers do the same. How can people the world over support the economy of a ruthless regime that acts and behave in a primitive and uncivilised way. To allow you to stage the Olympics is a gigantic mistake.

  15. March 21, 2008 at 17:25

    To some people what is morally superior, to others its morally inferior. It all depends on the culture of a people.

  16. March 21, 2008 at 17:33

    Countries are amoral. It’s values (or you could argue, sets of values that people of certain nationalities or backgrounds claim to ascribe to) that are either moral or immoral. I contend that moral values are those that consider the well-being of people other than those who hold said values. And that immoral values don’t take into account the consequences of actions on others. Moral authority is expressed not just by words but by actions and inactions and the specifics therein.

  17. 17 melinda
    March 21, 2008 at 18:02

    Ros – Good morning again. i think this question is the same as the one where you asked if you should share your opinions with your public.

    Yes, i believe that wherever a person or a spokesperson perceives injustice, they not only have the moral authority to speak out but a moral duty as well. The Bush administration has proven that no matter who tells whom to do what, even if it is the UN, to whom the world has granted a certain moral authority, the recipient of the moral advice can ignore it entirely. But at least the whole world knows that their own opinions are not invalid, that they do understand the situation, and that they are right to object to and condemn such a thing as the Iraq invasion of five years ago.

  18. 18 Xie_Ming
    March 21, 2008 at 20:09

    Those indoctrinated by organized religion, either supernatural or secular, are convinced that only theirs is the “true” morality.

    Moderators and others wishing to get into this area should obtain “Ideology’s Handbook”, a broad and marvelously condensed review of the history and techniques involved.

    Generally, the Zorastrian (Abrahamic)-based religions are the most intolerant and assume a teleological development leading to the Kingdom of God on Earth.

    China has historically been the “three legged stool”- a mixture of Tao, Confucianism and Buddhism. Whether Marxism is still an influence is open to question.

    This general area is one in which questioning premises is at once required and most difficult- for we do not recognize our primary beliefs as beliefs, but assume them to reflect reality.

  19. March 21, 2008 at 23:34

    Nancy Pelosi’s comment on the subject: “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China and the Chinese in Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak out on human rights.” Right on, Ms. Pelosi! Your words are an inspiration! They sound morally upright, seem politically correct, and are downright hypocritical. You witnessed a session of water-boarding torture, didn’t you? And were sickened by it yet approved of it, didn’t you?
    Now, kindly review the history of American ‘interventions’ and foreigh policy, of the last 200 years, in all Central American nations but one; also in Chile; in Cuba; in Haiti; in Afghanistan; Kuwait, and now Iraq. China invaded Tibet the same year, 1959, that Castro ousted Cuba’s dictator, Fulgencio Batista, imposed in 1952 through an America/CIA coup-de-etat that removed Cuba’s duly elected president.
    Next, kindly review America’s secret prisons and its other not-so-secret prisons; and America’s current practice of water-boarding and other such tortures of prisoners carried out with your personal knowledge and consent and that of the US Congress.
    Given America’s “human rights” domestic and off-shore record, where’s the ground of being for yours or America’s “moral authority?” Ever heard of “The Law of the Funnel?” It is the law that determines America’s foreign policy: the broad and ample topside for us, the narrow and squeezy downside for all others! In America’s neighborhoods youngsters call it the bully’s law.
    In China or in America, no “moral authority” exists as long as double standards and de-facto ‘might makes right’ runs government policy and actions. No “moral authority” exists where politicians and law-makers speak with forked tongues and speech is innocent of truth. One and the same tongue cannot serve both God and Mammon, not at the same time, Ms. Pelosi!

  20. 20 Robert, Canada
    March 21, 2008 at 23:38

    Who has the mind of all known and yet to be discovered knowledge to be in the position to have the authority?

    What is the word ” freedom’ means for the dead soldiers that is so emphasize that all livings should appreciate? Are they and other dead people involved in conflicts the ones who have achieved ” freedom”, the freedom from living and the freedom from darkness of people who champion for “freedom”? These are people who believe that they have the authority. Unfortunately, they do have the ability to fool others into believe that they have the authority.

    The conclusion is that nobody has the authority. They have the authority only if the masses choose to give it to them.

  21. 21 George USA
    March 22, 2008 at 02:48

    Nancy Pelosi removed forever any moral authority she might have had with the words-

    “Impeachment is not on the table”

    Hypocrisy is selling out your own country and Constitution in a Constitutional Crisis for Speaker of the House- a position,

    then pretending to lecture anyone, anywhere, any time on moral authority.

    Moral Authority-

    Without a fear of God, and recognition of His Word as God’s instruction to men, there is no moral authority.

    The Bible is the definitive Word to man from God, and the basis of moral authority, Western culture,Western law and Western Civilization.

    That said- this applies to us all-

    “Hypocrite. First cast the log out of your own eye to see clearly to cast the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”

  22. March 22, 2008 at 13:16

    None has moral Authority.
    The Bible connot be a ‘moral authority’to or over the Koran.
    There is no country with a higher set of beliefs. Such’higher set of beliefs’or’moral authority’is the very reason for European invasion, partition and colonization of Africa.
    What moral Authority had Europe,then, in invading Africa?
    What ‘moral Authority’enabled Europe to massacre Africans because they were ‘primitive’and thus needed to be civilised?
    The Us connot act to be in possession of such ‘Authority’. Their record for torture, Iraq Invasion, their unqualified support for Israel occupation of Palestine lands, athempts on the life of Fidel Castro,
    etc etc illustrates how countries that perceives themselves as champions of democracy are also morally bancrupt.
    The United Nations is almost in a position to hold moral Authority’were it not being controlled by the same moraly bancrupt nations.
    Nietzche writes Well on the subject. But he is no Authority’on the subject.
    ms Pelosg’s comments are unwelcome & threatening

  23. March 22, 2008 at 13:36

    World peace and order can never be achieved untill we re_access refine and redefine Morality, freedom, and sovereignty.
    How can one corrupt system moralise an equally corrupt system?
    And is there any Universally accepted set of values or beliefs’or is our conception of issues always conditioned by Religious stand points?
    BBC Worldhaveyoursay help engage readers & listeners in redefining there contentious issues!
    Kipsang Kerich in Nakuru(Nyahururu) Kenya

  24. March 22, 2008 at 13:46

    its a pity I did not get the discussion when it was on air. I would have loved to call in!
    I humbly request another round of debate because I feel the Debate was not exhaustive.

    Kipsang Kerich from Kenya.
    Bomet Township

  25. 25 Ingé Eveleigh
    March 23, 2008 at 21:31

    Moral authority seems to me a double sided question. We need to have a definition of morality, primarily on an individual basis. We need to do this because from an individual basis spring all our aspirations, all our thoughts on which we act in the end. Morality surely is based on what you would like to have done To you, so ‘DO as YOU WOULD BE DONE BY’ WOULD BE THE CONCEPT THAT i WOULD HAVE THOUGHT WOULD BE THE BASIS FOR A REAL MORALITY, otherwise, we are just bringing a concept of morality out of the air, with no foundation on anything except imperfect muddled human thinking.


  26. March 24, 2008 at 02:26

    “if the standards of the Nuremberg trials were applied [to the u.s.a.], then every post World War II American president would have been hanged as a war criminal.”–Noam Chomsky

    I don’t want to say that the u.s.a. is the “only” immoral state in the world, but in its current position as “global enforcer state” for those whom have used deceit and lies to now “own” the entire world (i.e. through financial hegemony), the country I find myself in is quite the apostle of severe alienation, incorporated. Including the origins of the u.s.a.

    But I think every state is an “immoral” organization, no matter how allegedly democratic. Every state forced, in one way or another, to subordinate to nato and the wto, and so on and so forth. The very idea of entrenchable hierarchy vying for positions of *power over* others! The very idea of *forcing* people to “the will” of the majority or any portion there-of; the very idea of formalized dualities, where people’s humanity gets squashed under the weight of a very alienated idea of “the common good”. And the very idea of war as we have been manipulated to believe is any sort of “solution.”

    States and all the coercions that come with them (i.e. propaganda as considered by Jacques Ellul) are obsolete if we wish to be frank about “morality.” It all comes back to *severe alienation* and the perpetuation of that.

    To evolve beyond the same old again would mean to re-learn the values of living in harmony not only with Mom Earth, but also each of our own powers which scream within us to speak our truths. For me, this would mean exploring “radical” strategies that allow our hearts to speak our depths.

    Others have said that “morality” changes with time and place; but i say that all depends on how the hierarchy (or state) of each era plays its perpetual alienation games. The bottom line goes beyond each era’s propaganda, and settles upon informal humanity’s intuitive longing to speak truths unallowed by whichever hierarchy. For me, this brings us towards societies *wanting* input from its dissenters, say, in the form of the *vision quest* (as articulated by indigenous people the world over) and similar openings.

  27. 27 Selena
    March 24, 2008 at 16:44

    “Moral Authority”? Gee, I wonder what that means.

    Does it mean that the country with the most power has the right to do to others what they wouldn’t tolerate others doing to them?

    Would that “god” the gift he gie us to see ourselves as others see us?

  28. 28 Reader
    March 24, 2008 at 19:54

    I don’t know if the phrase “moral authority” is quite the right one, but some nations do certainly hold the moral high ground when compared to others. They can speak out without it being a double standard or hypocritical. Whether this equates to “authority” I don’t know. It’s more along the lines of whether speaking out is a case of the pot calling the kettle black or not.

    Of course, this is a little unhelpful since America lost “moral authority” years ago. America has supported some pretty nasty regimes in the past, including Saddam Husein and Pol Pot. It’s Middle East policy is so one sided that it’s not funny, and it continues to support China economically by giving it Most Favored Nation (NTR) status.

    America hasn’t placed sanctions on China despite the occupation of Tibet and the numerous crimes committed there over the last 50 years.

  29. 29 parth guragain
    April 3, 2008 at 07:45

    What is the meaning of moral athourity as spoken by american they support Saudi Arabia who doesnt give right to women in their country any revolt against the government is crushed fiercely.if american want to talk about moral authority they should stop all their trade relation to Saudi Arabia

  30. 30 josh
    April 5, 2008 at 23:41

    Moral authority does not exist for anyone. Right and wrong, good and bad do not exist. Remember that history is written by the winners. Moral authority comes from power exercised, therefore truth, good, right, etc., are what the exercise of power defines as such.

  31. 31 Cartwright
    April 6, 2008 at 08:58

    In current usage “moral authority” means either:

    1. The speaker has the power to impose to the results he desires, but needs some manner of fig leaf to justify the public, or fanacial, relations problems that may follow the efficient imposition of his desires; or,

    2. The speaker does not have the power to change a situation with which disagrees and needs a fig leaf to cover his impotence.

    This is curious as the root “moral” or “morality”, in modern usage, indicates both a morbid interest in other persons’ genitalia and a desire to do good by individuals without sufficient wherewithal to become either gynecologists or urologists.

  32. 32 Dennis
    May 11, 2008 at 21:06

    Someone who can back up there opinion in relation to there speciality….

    I am not talking about someone who is does blogging about everything…..

    Dennis~Madrid, U.S.A.

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