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2004-03-31

Short note on Dying in Politics 

It's one of these thoughts that I assume must be universally accepted and uncontroversial, yet I find it difficult and uncomfortable to deal with when reflecting about many political issues.

What if a public policy risks to kill people to achieve some objective that may or may not be related to these people? How can any policy-making body, even if it is, in the best case, something as universal as the UN, make a claim to the right to kill somebody? I know that in health economics, for example, it is common to assign a monetary value to each human life lost (usually in the order of magnitude of 1 million euros). It seems absurd. The person who's world is annihilated by death would never accept the deal, and who can claim to talk in his/her name?

Yet, if we were serious about this, many political decisions could never be made. Certainly no wars could be declared.

Now comes the bizarre part. Let's assume war is started anyway. It kills ten thousand people. None of these deaths can be justified. Then the fighting stops. Suddenly there is no problem anymore - everybody is at peace, nobody complains. Life is for the living, the ten thousand are not among them. The moral dilemma has disappeared (religious concepts like sin or retribution notwithstanding).

Dying is horrible before it happens, but irrelevant after it occurs. "History will forgive us", says Tony Blair. Is this democratic politics in the post-religious age?


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