Government Ehtics: If Only Angels Were to Govern!

By Gilman, Stuart C. | Phi Kappa Phi Forum, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Government Ehtics: If Only Angels Were to Govern!


Gilman, Stuart C., Phi Kappa Phi Forum


If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on Government would be necessary. In framing a Government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the Government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the Government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

- James Madison,

Federalist Papers #51 (1787)

Democratic government is always fragile. Yet democratic government is something most Americans take for granted. Through skill, luck, insight, tinkering, and persistence, the United States has become one of the strongest models for democracy in the world. Certainly, geography, natural resources, and the diversity of its people have contributed to this success. However, we often ignore the institutional fabric and the ethical values and structures that under-gird the great American democratic experiment.

For the average citizen, the term "ethics," including government ethics, seems abstract. Punsters even suggest that it is an oxymoron. The reality is quite different. Since the 1970s, ethics systems have become dominant at both federal and state levels in the United States and to some degree have become models for the rest of the world. However, by and large the systems have little to do with imparting values and fundamental ethical principles. Instead, government ethics systems emphasize compliance with laws and regulations. And, the vast majority of these laws and regulations focuses on conflicts of interest.

These legal structures are often based on fundamental principles, codes of ethics, and codes of conduct. However, often little ties the aspirational values in these codes or principles to what is often overly complex legal guidance. For the most part, government ethics is currently a list of "don'ts" with very little explanation as to why government officials should do the right thing. Often, the most complex of legal discussions obscures even the "don'ts." This having been said, our surveying this landscape of government ethics to understand both its potential for guiding ethical conduct and the lurking ethical problems that still confront us as a democratic society is a worthwhile endeavor. The point of all ethics systems is to reinforce the public's confidence in the institutions of government. If such systems fail at this purpose, they are paper structures that can actually increase the public's cynicism.

GOVERNMENT ETHICS

Until the Watergate scandal, government ethics was a hodgepodge of rules and regulations that forbade certain forms of conduct without a reasonable framework or institutions to provide advice or enforcement. However, Watergate was the turning point for ethics in the United States. In 1978, the government sought to implement a compliance-based approach to ethics to prevent the gross misconduct that had occurred during Watergate - when government ethics had not yet been defined - by passing new legislation (such as postemployment restrictions) and creating several new institutions. Within months of each other, the federal government created the first six inspectors general (there are now more than sixty), the provision for appointing Independent Counsels (made famous by Ken Starr), the Office of Special Counsel (to protect whistleblowers), the Federal Election Commission, and finally the Office of Government Ethics to provide interpretation, guidance, financial disclosure, and education on the ethical obligations of all employees.

The U.S. government's own reforms of government ethics implemented in 1978 were designed to be both carrot and stick: some institutions were created to provide guidance and protection for those who did the right thing, and other institutions were created to ensure effective punishment if laws or rules were violated. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Government Ehtics: If Only Angels Were to Govern!
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.