The 8th Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture 4 November 2002

‘Ethics and the National Interest — Is there a Contradiction?’

by Rt Hon Chris Patten C.H.
Report by ©Eunice Burton
January 2003

The eighth Annual Lambeth Tyndale Lecture was held in the historic Guard Room at Lambeth Palace on 4 November 2002. Archbishop George Carey, our host since 1994, was absent, having retired on 31 October, but he had sent a letter of good wishes. The Chair was therefore taken by Professor David Daniell, who explained that Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop Designate, had sent greetings and expressed his wish to continue his association with the Society. (He had delivered the 5th Lambeth Lecture in 1998.) Professor Daniell felt gratified that William Tyndale had featured as No. 26 in the recent ‘Great Briton Series’.

In welcoming the speaker, the Right Honourable Chris Patten, now Commissioner to the European Union, Professor Daniell reminded us of the wonderful service in Antwerp Catholic Cathedral on 2 September 2002 (see Tyndale Society Journal no. 23 December 2002 for an account). Then, the Bishop of Antwerp had asked for the forgiveness of his Protestant brothers and sisters for the unjust death of Tyndale in his country, and as a sign of reconciliation had shared his throne with the Anglican Bishop in Europe for a service of Choral Evensong with appropriate 16th century music.

Professor Daniell spoke of Chris Patten’s experiences of sectarianism and difficult situations during his service in Northern Ireland and as the last Governor of Hong Kong, so he was eminently able to talk to us on ‘Ethics and the National Interest — Is there a contradiction?’ — a topic which has challenged Church and State for centuries past.

Chris Patten opened with a graphic description of the historic ceremony when Hong Kong was ceded to China and he relinquished the Governorship: he and Prince Charles were on the Royal Yacht Britannia as she sailed through 18 ships of the line with a RAF flypast — a poignant farewell to both Colony and Ship.

In the complex relationship between ethics and foreign policy, definitions are difficult and we have to ‘spin and weave’ in circumstances that are opaque and confusing, and shadowed by doubt, denial, ignorance and misunderstanding. In the real world, there are more grey areas than black and white, and it is hard for both individuals and governments to put into practice Kant’s advice that we should ‘act so that the maxim of our will could always hold at the same time as a principle establishing universal law`. Also, Kant postulated that a moral action does not apply to just one person or one circumstance, but to everyone everywhere, regardless of who, what, where, when and why: also it commands a certain immediate action, not influenced by any purpose to be attained by it. Hence the problems!

The atrocity of 11 September 2001 resulted in almost universal condemnation, and policy makers are now challenged to fight terrorism and make the world a safer place. But how far can civil liberties be restricted in this effort to preserve freedom? Do I.D. cards and ‘tapping’ of emails constitute curtailment of the freedom of the law-abiding majority? It is difficult for governments to strike a balance and match the ‘Ethical’ with the ‘Popular’, especially if considering the future effect on the ballot box. We are seeking to destroy Bin Laden, but took little action in Rwanda, which must count now as a moral failure. Ethical policy-making demands that a comprehensive and objective appraisal be set against any short-term pressure for action.

Regarding immigration, for example, it is necessary to look at the root as well as the impact of the problem: why do desperate people leave homelands embarking on costly, hellish journeys, only to be greeted as unwelcome aliens on arrival in Europe? It is not the decision, so much as the failure to explain how the conclusions were reached, that arouses suspicion and antagonism. Transparent motives and openness are the key to successful policy-making. If we wish to act morally, the reactions and opinions of other communities and countries must be considered, and at the moment the consensus of the United Nations is the best arbiter.

Chris Patten then listed what he considered to be both ‘ethical’ and ‘in our own interest’ in the conduct of foreign policy.
(1) Free democratic countries make the best neighbours, and are the best with whom to do business. Globalisation of information as well as commerce are grounds for optimism, but accountability is inescapable: the motivation of short term gain leads to unscrupulous dealings and financial collapse, e.g. Asia, Enron, etc. The inclusion of Eastern European countries in the European Union has led to political and economic reform, increasing the stability and security of the Union: this demonstrates the clear correlation between a predictable, transparent business environment and an open, plural democratic society, and such “ethical behaviour” must apply to everyone.
(2) The impact of globalisation on societies is not all gain, and the fate of the losers is our fate too, as alienation and exclusion make grounds for revolt. Urbanisation and modern science can undermine traditional cultures, so that the best of Western culture (individual liberty and rule of law) is overwhelmed by licentiousness, brashness and greed, and religious fundamentalism is the response. Poverty acquires dignity if it can be recast as religious simplicity, and church, mosque or temple provide an oasis of certainty, order and beauty when one is assaulted by alien ideas and temptations. Intolerance is not limited to Islamic fundamentalism — other religions, including Christianity, are not immune. New ideas that question traditional authority and received opinions have a stormy passage, whether the Reformation in Europe or more recent political radicalism, with attendant acts of brutality and vandalism.
(3) The revolt of the dispossessed is closely allied to the revolt of the alienated: there are deep problems of inequality. For example, 10% of the world receives 70% of its income, and more than a billion deprived people exist on less than a dollar a day. We may decry the excessive use of petrol in the U.S.A., but, in London the life expectancy in Canning Town is 6 years less than in Westminster. Prosperity has led to a ‘throwaway’ culture — Europe spends eleven billion dollars per annum on ice cream, fifty billion on cigarettes and one hundred and five billion on alcohol, while it would cost only nine billion dollars to provide water and sanitation to those without, and thirteen billion for basic health care and nutrition. We find it easier to deal with an acute crisis (famine) than to prevent the crisis in the first place. To educate children to read and write provides an essential basis for democracy.
Regarding International Assistance, the European Union is the largest donor (27 billion Euros in 2001, i.e. half of all aid and two thirds of grant aid) and the European Commission’s own programme, for which Chris Patten is responsible, accounted for 10% of International Assistance. He welcomed the increased commitment, including U.S.A., since the U.N. Monterrey Conference in April 2002, and the combination of trade, aid and environmental stewardship reconfirmed at Johannesburg in September 2002: these worked alongside the fight against AIDS, T.B. and Malaria, and exercises in reconstruction and peacekeeping in the Balkans and Afghanistan, sponsored by U.N. and N.A.T.O. Such exercises are vital as failed states harbour terrorists, and lawlessness faraway brings trouble to our doorstep. For instance, 85% of heroin on the streets of London still originates in Afghanistan. Global security is more threatened now than by any Cold War. Robert Kagan in his essay on ‘Power and Weakness’ suggests that Europe exerts its civilian means to influence the world because it relies on the backup of U.S. military power, but Chris Patten stressed the importance of addressing the underlying causes of a conflict such as ethnic imbalances in government, disputes over natural resources and social inequality.
(4) Most importantly, the coalition of nations committed to the elimination of current threats must be global in makeup, if it is to be global in its reach. The founding logic of the European Union was that as economies integrate, so must political decision-making, and this must now apply to the wider international community. Nations pursue their national interests, but is the primary purpose of foreign policy just defensive or to build a system of cooperative global governance legitimised by representative institutions and by rule of law? Although unfettered globalisation is in danger of subverting wide cultural, social and environmental balance global institutions should not be disbanded — the system of international law evolved since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 has ensured more people living in peace and prosperity than would otherwise have occurred. Commitment to keeping the rules is essential in the creation of an ethical foreign policy which will make the world more stable, prosperous, secure and free.

Chris Patten concluded with Thomas More’s dictum in ‘A Man for all Seasons’ — ‘This country is planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not God’s — and if you cut them down... could you stand upright in the winds that would blow then?’ together with a plea that we endeavour to make our world closer to the image and purpose of its Divine Maker.

A time of questions followed, to which Chris Patten applied the above principles: topics ranged from the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church to contraception in an overpopulated world, the Arms Trade, the conflict in Palestine, to the admission of Turkey, a secular Islamic State to the ‘Christian’ European Union. Concerning the last point it was remarked that William Tyndale had included the Turk as ‘our neighbour’ and European science and art owes much to Islamic influences. The most relevant question was regarding the education of a responsible statesman (e.g. Seneca, ‘cultivate humanity’) and Chris Patten suggested that more than competence was required — as well exceeding the ‘average’. The political leader should have
(a) original virtue;
(b) belief in policy, although may change his/her mind in light of experience (e.g. Margaret Thatcher’s passionate beliefs!);
(c) realise that politics is more about ‘ideas’ than ‘power’, (e.g. the low electoral vote is due to disillusionment);
(d) accept the challenges of long-term rather than short-term interests; and
(e) have confidence that politics is an ‘honourable adventure’ (John Buchan).

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