Dirty Hands

Are “Dirty Hands” Necessary in Politics?


In the study of politics, “dirty hands” is a term that refers to politicians who opt to make decisions that go against the morals or laws of the society so that they can serve the interest of the public. An immorally corrupt politician does not feel guilty of moral wrongdoings while the one with dirty hands feels guilty for going against the morals. It is commonly perceived that the problem of dirty hands looks at the dilemma and the immediate choices that politicians have to consider. This problem focuses on the moral situation and the responsible moral actor. The nature of politics is compromise. Politics is based on making decisions, sacrifice and compromising the moral authority so that one can be able to take part in political activities. According to the theory of utilitarianism, it is best if a politician considers the greatest good for the majority of persons. This should be the most important thing when making a decision. In this theory, the solution will always justify the means. It is important for the public to understand that political leaders have to break the rules that prevail outside the sphere of politics. This essay justifies the necessity of dirty hands in the politics of modern day governments.

Niccolo di Bernado dei Machiaveli (1469-1527) was the main founder of modern day political science. Machiavelli was an Italian writer and philosopher and a municipal servant of the Republic of Florence. Machiavelli proposes that in politics, a leader has to compromise. He has to use the theory of utilitarianism to govern his electorate. In the first place, for a person to become a politician, he or she has to sacrifice his personal or private life. He then goes into the world where the “good of the whole “takes the center stage (Machiavelli, 1984). Political rulers and private citizens live the same life. However, the private citizens demand that their leaders follow the moral code to the letter. This is where the problem of dirty hands begins. The private citizens live their lives away from the “public eye.” In their daily lives, they also encounter temptations and many a time they succumb. Hypocritically, they are quick to judge the politician who got tempted once. This leader’s act in the face of temptation and the public is what will label him clean or dirty.

Machiavelli states that the politics is a very challenging especially when a leader has to observe a moral code (1984). At times when the lives of the citizenry are at risk, it is legal to commit immoral acts like deceiving, betraying, cheating, or even murder and torture where these acts violate the moral laws that bind everyone. For instance if a leader tortures a suspected terrorist, that is violation of the moral code. However, if  the suspected  terrorist reveals information that will save the lives of citizens then that will be sacrificing for the good of the whole nation. In politics, immorality is a both a virtue and an evil (Khawaja, 2004). Any man in politics, who does not want to harm anything, will ruin almost everyone at the end. In politics, one has to have the knowledge of how not to be good. At certain instances like that of the suspected terrorist, moral reason does not prevail in the choices that leaders make. In spite of such powerful reason, leaders must not be immune from the requirements and needs of morality. They should use morality so that they can lead their followers well. Thus for any person to be a good and effective leader, they should be well prepared to renounce morality and live within its truest nature (as an evil and as a virtue). Michael Stocker says that the actions of man are not fresh moral starts (Walzer, 1974). Their moral nature relies on us, what we do at the time of action and our past deeds. Our morality both as private citizens depends on what we do and what other people do. Thus at a certain point in life, using “dirty hands” is inevitable.

The media plays a great role in amplifying the use of “dirty hands” in politic. Once a leader gets into power, he is within the public limelight. Any deed or decision they make is subject to public criticism. The public lays judgment on how they conduct themselves. The public lays the standards that a politician should meet. They feel that their interests should be looked after in the most moral way. The average population will always consider a democratic leader to be worse than them. This is owed to the fact that they live their lives in public. They do not stop to look at themselves and what they could have had done in situations that needed compromise (Tanaka, & Marilyn, 2009). This act of judging the leaders using double standards reveals the hypocrisy of the people who are bound by a moral code.

In life, man acts for his own interest and the interests of his fellow men come later. Businesspersons offer goods and services because they want to make money so that they can satisfy their needs. In satisfying this motive, the business dictates him or her to serve people. Politicians too are motivated by that fact. People elect them so that they can represent their diverse views. The politician will go into the seat of power to satisfy his needs first and that of the citizens later. When they make compromising decisions that do not satisfy the diverse thoughts of the public, they are labeled as people who use “dirty hands.”


In conclusion, decisions that affect the public are very different from those that affect the life of an individual. In most situations, a decision has to be made for the good of the majority of the citizens. Such decisions involve many people, and mostly they deal with weighty matters. On most occasions, force has to be used in making the right decision. This decision will go well with others and for the losers it will be of negative consequence. In the end, politics is connoted as the vocation where “dirty hands” are used. Difficult situations and crises have to be handled with hard headedness, violence, and falsehoods. These situations require that leaders have to be cunning and callous while serving the interests of the public. In our minds, we tend to expect them to be clean after such committing acts that are not based on principle. The circumstances of politics are what make the good people who get into it to be dirty. Leaders have to meet the ideal; the real reasons of the public and at the same time serve their citizens in the most effective manner possible (Coady, 2008). People should accept that there is no perfect solution and nobody is perfect. In leadership, the theory of utilitarianism has to be adhered to or else everyone stands to lose or gain depending on the decisions that the leaders will engage. Citizens should avoid using double standards because in leadership, morality has two main facets-evil and virtue. It takes sacrifice and compromise to choose between the two facets of morality and this is what overrides moral reason in certain powerful situations. Therefore, people should understand the necessity of using “dirty hands” in politics. Politics cannot adhere to the requirements of theology and moral codes (Machiavelli, 1984).

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