Listening In preview: Peter Wehner

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: politics and morality. 

Peter Wehner is a veteran of three Republican administrations—Ronald Reagan and both George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush. Currently he serves as a senior fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He also writes for The New York Times and The Atlantic.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Wehner believes politics plays an important role in society—especially when it works together with positive culture-shapers. Listening In host Warren Smith spoke with Wehner earlier this year in Washington, D.C. Here’s part of their conversation.

WARREN SMITH, HOST: The law performs a restraining function. It creates, you know, justice and the opportunity for sort of ordered Liberty, but it also performs a didactic function as well. And laws of course, are functions of a political process. So it’s inevitable that, that those two are related and can’t be extricated for moral concerns.

PETER WEHNER: Well, that’s right. I mean, laws are often, usually in fact the manifestation of a certain moral view in our moral lives. That’s exactly what it was. It’s essentially putting into legislation, saying there’s certain things that we affirm and certain things that we discourage. And sometimes they’re legal, sometimes they’re civil, but it is an expression of a kind of moral life. And that’s really all the way down. Whether you’re talking about things like laws against murder to, you know, drug use and prostitution, what priority you give to you know, to the environment and the care and protection of the environment, welfare reform, a certain view of individual responsibility, you know, all of those things. 

So there’s no way that you can, in my mind, separate politics and morality. I have felt that politics has that capacity to shape our moral sensibilities, not all the time. There are times of great moral urgency where some issues are more important than others. Some moments are more important than others. The obvious ones would be would be slavery, and the segregation and the abolitionist movements, the pro life movement and others. 

Most of our moral lives are shaped beyond politics. They’re shaped in our families, our churches, our schools, communities, neighborhoods, affiliations. Our life experiences are huge. So what goes into the shaping of a person’s moral architecture and the shaping of their soul is, is of course very complicated. But I do care about politics because I think politics while it involves a lot of things is finally and fundamentally about justice. And you can’t be indifferent to justice.

(Photo/Ethics and Public Policy Center)

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