The moral dilemma of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The importance of honesty in politics and morality

Akademische Arbeit, 2013

14 Seiten, Note: 1.7



Preface: Realism as basis for morality

1 In causa Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg
1.1 Ideal advancement in politics
1.2 Accusation of plagiarism

2 The importance of honesty

3 The value of trust and trustworthiness

4 Distrust in political figures

5 Possible political participation

6 The dilemma of moralizing politics

7 Lesson for the future

8 References

F or the electorate, morality of politicians is important. Honesty is the principal character trait of politicians to gain trust and to give the impression of being trustworthy. Regarding politicians, a solid reputation of honesty is even more important than one of being hard working. Loss of trust can be fatal for a political career, but benefits for society can evolve from distrust, too. Political participation in an active way or with increased civic morality is encouraged through distrust. The main example throughout the thesis deals with the downfall of Mr. Guttenberg, a former German politician. Publicity felt let down by his mistakes in a new dimension. Plagiarism and dishonest behaviour in a conflict with manners and the desired honesty taught German policy landscape a lesson. To avoid prospective disappointments, citizens need to look behind the façade of politicians.

"Travaillons donc à bien penser : Voilà le principle de la morale.”1

- Blaise Pascal

Recent cases in politics concerning morality have left citizens disappointed, as in the Cabuzac affair in France. A similar moral failure, plagiarism in a dissertation, came about in Germany. While priding himself as new advocate of morality and decorum, Guttenberg2 stumbled over his own inconvenient shortcoming in realism.

The downfall of Germany’s new political whiz kid aroused public interest and broad attention in the media. How Guttenberg disappointed the voters with offending honesty, the most basic column of moral integrity, and how trust and political participation are connected with this important character trait, shall be outlined in the following thesis using the cause of Guttenberg as an example for the loss of trust.

1 In causa Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

Once completing an unprecedented sprint ascent in German politics and occupying a seat in the German Bundestag for the first time in 2002, the CSU politician stumbled over his own trap. Laid in 2006, his dissertation in law was meant to be an additional impetus. But it failed and ran him down, due to a lack of moral sportsmanship and honest obeys of the competition rules.

1. 1 Ideal advancement in politics

After different stations in media, chambers and the family enterprise, Guttenberg followed his vocation into politics comparably late, using the constituency Kulmbach as springboard to Berlin. According to his entourage, not only being a member of the conservative party did shape the peculiar aspiration, but also especially the role he was born into. Explicitly high virtues and values, élitist thinking and the burden of an engaging family tradition shaped his perception of the right conduct in politics and therefore contributed to his episteme. What started as a promising journey through politics soon reflected how thoughts for society were outweighed by certain personal career goals and personal interest in power.

The appointment as Minister of Economy and Technology in 2009 was surprising, as there has never been a younger minister in this field before.

However, his preceding publications and utterances in questions of foreign policy endorsed him the respect of conservative voters. More than liberals, they tend to appreciate the politician’s performances in foreign affairs very highly.3 Notwithstanding, hopeful voters awarded him certain political talent, but a lack of sufficient preparation for occupying such an important department depicted the source for disability.

Additionally, taking office during the tough times of crisis must have felt like being thrown in at the deep end. These unpleasant times brought him to the United States in order to discuss Opel’s future with leaders of US investment banks. But instead of solutions, Guttenberg brought home an evidence snapshot of his sentiment in a “My word goes around here”-pose, which went all over the media. He quickly advanced the most popular German politician, as publicity was not only impressed by his invariably morally impeccable appearance but also by distinctive statements bucking the trend. Nevertheless, presentable achievements were missing and overwritten by political mise-en-scène, promises and show for the media. The boarders between actual realization of his vocation in politics and the public display of the same started to blur. Riding the crest of a wave, Guttenberg misjudged the mirage of cooperating with boulevard medias, protracted by veneer, which he wanted to provide himself with. Collaboration with Germany’s most read boulevard newspaper “Bild” and sharing the stage with his wife in exclusive cover stories printed by “Spiegel” seemed like the ideal way. When turning the youngest Defence Secretary in German history in Oct 28th 2009, one group stood out in appreciating his commitment. The soldiers in Afghanistan, serving the Federal Armed Forces were thankful to be finally represented in an appropriate way. Having completed military service himself, Guttenberg was merged up in declaring the soldier’s situation, which esteemed him highly. Reckless political manoeuvres in the Kunduz-issue and the Gorch Fock affair mirrored his drive. It seems like insufficient agreements with associates and impetuous decisions contributed to doubtful arrangements.

Also, his assertion in the abolition of the conscription contributed to this.

His ambition to pursue the common good can be extracted from this reform of the German military system. Fundamental aspiration of his action is declared to be accomplishing contribution towards future generations.4

There is no attempt here to subsequently cast Guttenberg’s decisions in a negative light, rather than constituting the doubts in common sense at that time. Of course, much can be said about his armchair decisions but this is not the point I want to exaggerate.

Objectively seen from a positivistic point of view, contributing to society seemed not to be the only motivation for Guttenberg. Initiating a large-scale reform of the Bundeswehr as a Defence-Secretary rookie is coming it strong. The entire reform documents were completed long before Guttenberg took them from a drawer.5 Taking account of this whole action forms the impressions of pathetic strive for recognition.

Nevertheless, it worked. The public admired the rock star in Merkel’s cabinet as long-awaited politician with character while political opponents and frenemies from the own party felt threatened by his growing popularity.

He seemed to combine what Kinder et. al. describe as what public expects from a modern potential president. Firstly personality and what he should be like as a person, and secondly the professional performance in office. Needless to say that public’s expectations outstand what a human being can deliver in politics. Every voter hopes for pure honesty and sensible decisions at all times, also does each individual want to be democratically represented and have a voice through the chosen politician. However, expierence has shown that this is impossible without at least dirty hands. But public opinion, Guttenberg appeared to come close to that ideal politician in his best days.6 Comprehensive admiration was given to him as the incorruptible saviour, a new oasis of charisma in the desert of paper jam-removers.

1.2 Accusation of plagiarism

When in February 2011 the accusation of plagiarism came up, common run of mankind still stuck by him. In a new dimension of public self-organisation, the Internet community “GuttenPlag Wiki”7 identified “1218 fragments of plagiarism from 135 sources on 371 of 393 pages”8. Feeling secure and well advocated by Guttenberg, German population was not ready to dump their political guiding figure all of a sudden.

Although the accusation of cheating was not far to seek, a large party of the population became conscious of one’s own moral preciseness. In general opinion, mistakes appear to be committed by every imperfect human being. It was not his political opponents’ achievement to see him go. In fact, immediate medial bashing, mainly in the Internet, of Guttenberg’s misconduct framed the public image and defrauded him of a possible second chance in the end.

Forced to give interviews immediately after the first accusation lead to false statements, and pressure from all over the medial world left him time for action but not for taking-the-inward- turn. Instead of admitting mistakes in a salami-slice strategy, he might have come to the resolution, everyone was normatively hoping for: genuine confession of conscious deception in pure honesty. Being honest is the Achilles’ heel of every publicly operating person. The state of research concerning honesty as the most valued character trait shall be elucidated in the following.

2 The importance of honesty

Two fundamental dimensions, honesty and competence, constitute the quality of political performance.9 Of all positive character streaks, honesty is seen as most valuable for a good politician.10 According to a statistic by Allen and Birch concerning citizen’s outlook concerning political misconduct, the majority of voters relatively prefer honest politicians to hard-working ones.11

Moreover, the wide divergence between the different expectations of politicians themselves and those who elected them explains why the competence is often disappointing. Evidently, no human being can act in a perfect way, whether the importance of the job necessarily demands it or not. Closing the gap between expectations and reality would implement to change our perception of interpreting the public representative’s role, approaching the dirty-hands argument.12


1 “Be good in thinking, it’s the main principle of morality.”

2 Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, short: Guttenberg.

3 Cf. Kinder 1980: p. 19.

4 Cf. Guttenberg 2011: p. 126.

5 Cf. Guttenberg 2011: p. 93.

6 Cf. Kinder 1980: p. 316.


8 Cf. Guttenberg 2011: p. 20.

9 Cf. Allen 2011: p. 69.

10 Cf. Kinder 1980: p. 8.

11 Cf. Allen 2010: p. 21.

12 Cf. Birch 2010: p. 5.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 14 Seiten


The moral dilemma of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The importance of honesty in politics and morality
Universität Bayreuth  (Philosophy and Economics Chair)
Politics and Morality
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
Trust, Politics, Honesty, Morality, Guttenberg
Arbeit zitieren
Margarethe Steffens (Autor:in), 2013, The moral dilemma of Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. The importance of honesty in politics and morality, München, GRIN Verlag,


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