The Collective Dimensions of Political Morality

Michael L. Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Collective moral action is analysed using two models: a deontological, non‐strategic model emphasizing right moral judgment and individual action and a rational, strategic model emphasizing the need to overcome free‐rider problems. While these models fail to explain satisfactorily collective moral action each provides valuable insights which are used to examine three case studies: successful collective action to rescue Jews in Europe and failed action to confront Japanese‐American persecution during World War Two. Several striking conclusions emerge. First, enlightened moral judgment is not a necessary condition for collective moral action. Instead a complex structure of action emerges in which organizational leaders acting within parochial groups manipulate incentives and substitute public goods. Second, enlightened political actors are very often the most politically impotent. This emerging paradox severely attenuates the moral basis of political action which underlies normative theory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-61
Number of pages22
JournalPolitical Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1994

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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