Compromise with Character: An Integrated Framework to Assess the Moral Quality of Political Compromises

Dr Patrick Overeem


The aim of this project is to develop an integrated ethical framework for the assessment of the moral quality of political compromises. Such a framework is needed, because in times of polarization and populism, political compromises are particularly vital, but also increasingly unpopular and difficult to achieve. While academic ethicists have often abstract debates about the nature and impact of (hypothetical) compromises, media and citizens criticize the very game of striking political compromises, making politicians even more are embarrassed to admit them. Thus, we seem to have difficulties understanding what achieving a good compromise could be like.

The framework to be developed is intended as a conceptual instrument to improve on this. It will pay attention not only to the moral principles a compromise does or does not violate (deontology) or to the practical results it yields (consequentialism), but also to the role of moral character in the process of striking the compromise itself (virtue ethics). This is a frequently neglected element that should, however, be central to our assessments. To develop the framework, philosophical conceptualization and normative analysis will be combined with interactive empirical research on three concrete cases from Dutch national politics in the tumultuous period 2002-2012 (two in which stable compromises were reached – the directly elector mayor in 2005 and pensions in 2011 – and one in which that did not happen, resulting in a political crisis – the Afghanistan mission in 2010). Using interactive consultations, in-depth interviews with key players and other experts, and document study, the ethical framework will be iteratively constructed, validated, and further refined. Ultimately, the project has the goal to assist both academics and practitioners in seeing better how politics as ‘the art of compromising’ can be conducted with virtue and how this art could be further improved in present-day circumstances.

Patrick Overeem is an assistant professor at the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam. His specialization is in political theory and government ethics. Broadly interested in the quality of and interplay between what Aristotle called politeia (form of government) and politikos (politician), he has published on, among other things, public values (especiallyconstitutional/regime values), statesmanship, integrity, and virtue ethics. Currently, he is conducting his ISRF research project on the practice and ethics of political compromise-making, specifically in multi-party democracies under conditions of polarization and populism. Besides research and teaching at the Department, Patrick is coordinator for Political Science at the VU’s newly started bachelor program Philosophy, Politics, Economics (PPE). Until recently, Patrick has worked at Leiden University, where he co-founded the Centre for Public Values & Ethics, a platform for research on public sector integrity. He has taught courses in political philosophy, government ethics and public values, and the philosophy of social science and was awarded a fellowship at the Leiden Teachers’ Academy. In his doctoral dissertation (2010), he provided a theoretical analysis of the historical meaning and constitutional relevance of dividing between politics and administration in modern states. Patrick holds degrees in both Political Science and Public Administration.



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