Everyone strives for the good, but no one ever quite possesses it. It is a future project of hope and value. It might even belong to the past, because our striving is unavoidably locked in time. Everything seemed better yesterday, and it will certainly get better tomorrow. Such is the perpetual promise of the politicians, who always seem to be coming to terms with darkness and deliberating with evil.
All of creation strives for its own good – from the flowers in perpetual pursuit of sunlight to the victims of utopian cataclysm in pursuit of justice. Ever since mankind gained knowledge of good and evil, the hope of the good has extinguished the joy of not knowing. The truest vision is no longer that of innocence, but of the avoidance of evil in a world order inclined toward suffering, starvation, conflict and war. Evil opposes the good as lies conflict with truth: our misshapen lives are distorted further by false images and malignant encounters with the agents of corruption. The good that exists in the natural order can no longer be pursued with integrity because we are forced to strike bargains with the world: everything is about the spectrum of compatibility and the extent of compromise. If we find no social compatibility and refuse to compromise, we are excluded from the created good. And it is not good for man to be alone.
To bargain with the political powers runs the risk of losing clear knowledge of the good. But each moral deliberation about each proposed policy demands a degree of accommodation, because one man’s words and actions will not fit perfectly with those of another. If we do not adapt to the constraints of another, we cannot communicate, let alone reconcile. It is a case of finding that much-maligned middle way, which is deplored and despised by the purists and perfectionists. In theology, we might call it ‘realism’; in politics, ‘realpolitik’. We can dream of ideals, but only in our own private worlds can they ever be attained. The best way of passing time upon the earth is to witness to truth in pursuit of the good while discovering the right qualifications for our modes of thought and rules of action.
Ambiguity is perched somewhere between faithfulness and compromise. Every moral decision – especially participation in the democratic process – demands it. Some Christians think and preach that they never compromise, yet they discern situations differently from day to day, deliberating differential justices and discriminating on a case-by-case basis. The Christian is called to be faithful, and that would be no calling at all if there were no competing forms of compromise in public life which demand it. There is not always clarity in community – in the world or the Church – and sometimes our witness must be oblique, if not discursive and indirect, because, frankly, until the Government is upon His shoulder, the best virtue is the legislative moderation which walks the middle path in terms of compromise which are consonant with social norms. At that moment, the good becomes clearer, even if it is not the greatest good which might be attained.
You may despair at the Conservative Party’s Manifesto vision for job creation, welfare reform, home ownership, house building, taxation, childcare, education, defence and healthcare, all shrouded in an economic hall of mirrors which is supposedly balancing the books by increasing the debt. You may deride David Cameron’s notion of British values, and his partial apprehension of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. The Conservatives, it may be observed, are not always conservative. But compare Conservative notions of dignity, security, hope and apprehensions of the good – the worldly good of realism and realpolitik – with the realistic alternatives for the next government of the United Kingdom, and then explain why this vision is not, at least, the best of the realistic goods on offer.