Conscience and Power

An Examination of Dirty Hands and Political Leadership
Garrett, Stephen
Date published: 
July 1996

Powerful political leaders are often forced to make difficult decisions concerning the lives of large groups of people. In making such decisions it has often been suggested that these leaders, especially when dealing with foreign policy, have to `dirty their hands.' They are forced into decisions tactics and methods (such as deception, brutality, and an indifference to the concerns of others) that would generally be considered morally repugnant, if used by individuals in their private lives. Stephen Garrett's Conscience and Power considers whether leaders do sometimes have to dirty their hands and, if so, how we can arrive at moral judgments regarding their actions. To arrive at an answer, Garrett looks closely at two case-studies from World War II that illustrate the complexity of the problem: the Nazi destruction of the Czech village of Lidice in 1942 and American contacts with Admiral Darlan, a pro-Nazi sympathizer in the wartime French Vichy Government. Conscience and Power is the first full-length study to systematically consider the problem of 'dirty hands' among political leaders and will be of interest to students, teachers and researchers in the fields of history, philosophy and international relations.