According to the New York Times, Secretary of State John Kerry is hoping for a cease-fire to "open the door to Israeli and Palestinian negotiations for a long-term solution." President Obama has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have an "immediate, unconditional humanitarian cease-fire" -- again, with the idea of pursuing some long-lasting agreement.
If this was the first outbreak of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis, such hopes might make sense. But where have the U.N., Kerry and Obama been during all these decades of endlessly repeated Middle East carnage?
The Middle East must lead the world in cease-fires. If cease-fires were the road to peace, the Middle East would easily be the most peaceful place on the planet.
"Cease-fire" and "negotiations" are magic words to "the international community." But just what do cease-fires actually accomplish?
In the short run, they save some lives. But in the long run they cost far more lives, by lowering the cost of aggression.
At one time, launching a military attack on another nation risked not only retaliation but annihilation. When Carthage attacked Rome, that was the end of Carthage.
But when Hamas or some other terrorist group launches an attack on Israel, they know in advance that whatever Israel does in response will be limited by calls for a cease-fire, backed by political and economic pressures from the United States.
It is not at all clear what Israel's critics can rationally expect the Israelis to do when they are attacked. Suffer in silence? Surrender? Flee the Middle East?
Or -- most unrealistic of al -- fight a "nice" war, with no civilian casualties? General William T. Sherman said it all, 150 years ago: "War is hell."
If you want to minimize civilian casualties, then minimize the dangers of war, by no longer coming to the rescue of those who start wars.
Israel was attacked, not only by vast numbers of rockets but was also invaded -- underground -- by mazes of tunnels.
There is something grotesque about people living thousands of miles away, in safety and comfort, loftily second-guessing and trying to micro-manage what the Israelis are doing in a matter of life and death.
Such self-indulgences are a danger, not simply to Israel, but to the whole Western world, for it betrays a lack of realism that shows in everything from the current disastrous consequences of our policies in Egypt, Libya and Iraq to future catastrophes from a nuclear-armed Iran.
Those who say that we can contain a nuclear Iran, as we contained a nuclear Soviet Union, are acting as if they are discussing abstract people in an abstract world. Whatever the Soviets were, they were not suicidal fanatics, ready to see their own cities destroyed in order to destroy ours.
As for the ever-elusive "solution" to the Arab-Israeli conflicts in the Middle East, there is nothing faintly resembling a solution anywhere on the horizon. Nor is it hard to see why.
Even if the Israelis were all saints -- and sainthood is not common in any branch of the human race -- the cold fact is that they are far more advanced than their neighbors, and groups that cannot tolerate even subordinate Christian minorities can hardly be expected to tolerate an independent, and more advanced, Jewish state that is a daily rebuke to their egos.
Might does not make right, but neither does impotence or relative weakness. That weakness does not justify strikes me as an important principle, but I have never seen it articulated. The Left tends to assume the opposite. They tend to assume that mightlessness makes right. I'll dub this the Converse Callicles Principle.
The power I have to kill you does not morally justify my killing you. In a slogan: Ability does not imply permissibility. My ability to kill, rape, pillage and plunder does not confer moral justification on my doing these things. But if you attack me with deadly force and I reply with deadly force of greater magnitude, your relative weakness does not supply one iota of moral justification for your attack, nor does it subtract one iota of moral justification from my defensive response. If I am justified in using deadly force against you as aggressor, then the fact that my deadly force is greater than yours does not (a) diminish my justification in employing deadly force, nor does it (b) confer any justification on your aggression.
Suppose a knife-wielding thug commits a home invasion and attacks a man and his family. The man grabs a semi-automatic pistol and manages to plant several rounds in the assailant, killing him. It would surely be absurd to argue that the disparity in lethality of the weapons involved diminishes the right of the pater familias to defend himself and his family. Weakness does not justify.
The principle that weakness does not justify can be applied to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict from the summer of 2006 as well as to the current Israeli defensive operations against the terrorist entity, Hamas. The principle ought to be borne in mind when one hears leftists, those knee-jerk supporters of any and every 'underdog,' start spouting off about 'asymmetry of power' and 'disproportionality.' Impotence and incompetence are not virtues, nor do they confer moral justification or high moral status, any more than they confer the opposite.
The principle that mightlessness makes right seems to be one of the cardinal tenets of the Left. It is operative in the present furor over the enforcement of reasonable immigration laws in Arizona. To the south of the USA lies crime-ridden, corrupt, impoverished Mexico. For millions and millions it is a place to escape from. The USA, the most successful nation of all time, is the place to escape to. But how does this disparity in wealth, success, and overall quality of life justify the violation of the reasonable laws and the rule of law that are a good part of the reason for the disparity of wealth, success, and overall quality of life?
I don't believe I have ever read a column by Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club that is more penetrating, thought-provoking, or chilling than his Seven Gambit. Excerpts:
Just as soon as Israel accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire Hamas fired 47 rockets killing one Israeli citizen. Anyone who has followed the conflict could have predicted this with certainty; the point of a ceasefire — for a terrorist organization — is to break it for exactly the same reason it purposely attacks women and children.
Dr. Anna Geifman tried to explain that the reason why innocents are selected as terror targets is because “children are the last consecrated absolute”. That is just why they must be killed in the cruelest way possible. For “militant nihilism strives to ruin first and foremost what their contemporaries hold sacred”.
Nihilism isn’t the absence of a belief. It is something subtly different: it is the belief in nothing. The most powerful weapon of terrorism is therefore the unyielding No. “No I will not give up. No I will not tell the truth. No I will not play fair. No I will not spare children. No I will not stop even if you surrender to me; I will not cease even if you give me everything you have, up to and including your children’s lives. Nothing short of destroying me absolutely can make me stop. And therefore I will defeat you even if you kill me. Because I will make you pay the price in guilt for annihilating me.”
It’s an extremely powerful weapon. The Absolute No is a devastating attack on the self-image and esteem of civilization. Hamas will demonstrate the No, the Nothing. It will show that deep down inside Israelis — and Americans — are animals like them.
[. . .]
The power of Hamas lies in that they will never stop hating. No ceasefire, concession, negotiation or entreaty will move them. That is their inhuman strength. The Jews can even exterminate them, but only at the cost of destroying all the ideals they hold dear. If the last Hamas activist could speak he would say this:
“Shoot! I am the last. Carry out your ethnic cleansing, just as the Nazis tried with you. You will never be able to look yourself in the mirror again. The price of victory is to win on our terms. Nothing will remain of your precious Jewish self-esteem, of the illusion that you are a civilization dedicated to morality. What will you do after you kill me? Go to your synagogue and a hymn of praise to your God?
“At that moment your faith will desert you. For you claim your God does not desire blood, that yours is a God of love and I say therefore He is false. The only real Gods are those of Hate. A God that does not live by blood does not exist as my God who lives by blood exists; and when you pull the trigger you will be worshipping at my altar! I have won at last. Come to prayer. Come to Islam.”
[. . .]
Wars through history have exacted an irreparable spiritual price from its [their] combatants.
[. . .]
It’s not an original thought. William Tecumseh Sherman knew before Collins that War is Hell; that the only excuse for it was the belief that you could in the subsequent peace, chain up the devils. He wrote in his letters, “you cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it … If the United States submits to a division now, it will not stop, but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war.”
Nor has its character changed much. Curtis LeMay, during what we remember as the Good War, shared his formula for defeating the enemy. “If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting.”
Human beings are remarkably good at calling up the devil in their fellow human beings. They start out Christian enough, but give them time. In the first Christmas of the Great War, when fighting was but a few months old, there enough fellow-feeling among the combatants remained to spontaneously create what is now remembered as the Christmas Truce.
Through the week leading up to Christmas, parties of German and British soldiers began to exchange seasonal greetings and songs between their trenches; on occasion, the tension was reduced to the point that individuals would walk across to talk to their opposite numbers bearing gifts. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, many soldiers from both sides—as well as, to a lesser degree, from French units—independently ventured into “no man’s land”, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs. As well as joint burial ceremonies, several meetings ended in carol-singing. Troops from both sides were also friendly enough to play games of football with one another.
By the next year they were modifying their bayonets so it would hurt more when you stabbed the enemy. When we look at Hamas we are looking at some[thing] very old and ancient. Does the devil win in Seven? For that matter does he win on earth?
Say no if you can. For Hamas is determined to prove that you too are like them. Just like them.
Fr. Robert Barron here fruitfully compares the Catholic Church's rigoristic teaching on matters sexual, with its prohibitions of masturbation, artificial contraception, and extramarital sex, with the rigorism of the Church's teaching with respect to just war. An excellent article.
Although Fr. Barron doesn't say it explicitly, he implies that the two topics are on a par. Given that "the Catholic Church's job is to call people to sanctity and to equip them for living saintly lives," one who accepts just war rigorism ought also to accept sexual rigorism. Or at least that is what I read him as saying.
I have no in-principle objection to the sexual teaching, but I waffle when it comes to the rigorous demands of just war theory. I confess to being 'at sea' on this topic.
On the one hand, I am quite sensitive to the moral force of 'The killing of noncombatants is intrinsically evil and cannot be justified under any circumstances' which is one of the entailments of Catholic just war doctrine. Having pored over many a page of Kant, I am strongly inclined to say that certain actions are intrinsically wrong, wrong by their very nature, wrong regardless of consequences and circumstances. But what would have been the likely upshot had the Allies not used unspeakably brutal methods against the Germans and the Japanese in WWII? Leery as one ought to be of counterfactual history, I think the Axis Powers would have acquired nukes first and used them against us. But we don't have to speculate about might-have-beens. The Catholic doctrine implies that if Truman had a crystal ball and knew the future with certainty and saw that the Allies would have lost had they not used the methods they used, and that the whole world would have been been plunged into a Dark Age for two centuries -- he still would not have been justified in ordering the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Indeed, if the killing of noncombatants is intrinsically evil and unjustifiable under any circumstances and regardless of any consequences, then it is better that the earth be blown to pieces than that evil be done. This, I suppose, is one reading of fiat iustitia pereat mundus, "Let justice be done though the world perish."
This extreme anti-consequentialism would make sense if the metaphysics of the Catholic Church or even the metaphysics of Kant were true. If God is real then this world is relatively unreal and relatively unimportant. If the soul is real, then its salvation is our paramount concern, and every worldly concern is relatively insignificant.
But then a moral doctrine that is supposed to govern our behavior in this world rests on an other-worldly metaphysics. No problem with that -- if the metaphysics is true. For then one's flourishing in this world cannot amount to much as compared to one's flourishing in the next. But how do we know it is true? Classical theistic metaphysics is reasonably believed, but then so are certain versions of naturalism. (Not every naturalist is an eliminativist loon.)
If the buck stops with you and the fate of civilization itself depends on your decision, will you act according to a moral doctrine that rests on a questionable metaphysics or will you act in accordance with worldly wisdom, a wisdom that dictates that one absolutely must resist the evildoer, and absolutely must not turn the other cheek to a Hitler?
An isolated individual, responsible for no one but himself, is free to allow himself to be slaughtered. But a leader of a nation is in a much different position. Anscombe's case against Truman does not convince me. Let the philosophy professor change places with the head of state and then see if her rigorism remains tenable.
To sum up these ruminations in a nice, neat antilogism:
1. Some acts, such as the intentional killing of noncombatants, are intrinsically wrong. 2. If an act is intrinsically wrong, then no possible circumstance in which it occurs or consequence of its being performed can substract one iota from its moral wrongness. 3. No act is such that its moral evaluation can be conducted without any consideration of any possible circumstance in which it occurs or possible consequence of its being performed.
The limbs of the antilogism are collectively inconsistent but individually extremely plausible.
At a bare minimum, make the case to the American people and consult with congress.
A simple question that John Kerry does not address in his case for intervention is the one posed by Hanson: "And what of the irony that Assad is probably no worse a custodian of WMD than is the opposition that we would de facto [be] aiding?"
. . . is like going hunting without an accordion." A line from Mark Steyn's brilliant column, An Accidental War.
Liberating Syria isn’t like liberating the Netherlands: In the Middle East, the enemy of our enemy is also our enemy. Yes, those BBC images of schoolchildren with burning flesh are heart-rending. So we’ll get rid of Assad and install the local branch of al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood or whatever plucky neophyte democrat makes it to the presidential palace first — and then, instead of napalmed schoolyards, there will be, as in Egypt, burning Christian churches and women raped for going uncovered.
Didn't we learn anything from Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan? Prudence dictates that we stay out of Syria, or at least that we look very carefully before we leap. Here is a balanced treatment of the pros and cons by Ron Radosh. And this guest post by William Polk at Robert Paul Wolff's place is well worth reading.
The soldier's operations in the field are often encumbered by the presence of civilians and considerations of 'collateral damage.' The seaman's is a purer form of combat. Ships far out at sea. All hands combatants. No civilians to get in the way. Less worry over environmental degradation. The 'purity' of naval over land warfare. Bellicosity in the realm of Neptune must breed a brand of brotherhood among the adversaries not encountered on terra firma.
Kevin Kim has been following me since late 2003 before I was a proper blogger commencing 4 May 2004 and only a mere slogger (slow blogger without the proper software: I'd upload batches of short posts to a website that I have long since taken down).
Well, I didn't for a second think that there would be a landslide in favor of Romney, and I was puzzled by the cocksure pronunciamentos of Dick Morris and others who made up for their lack of crystal balls by displaying their brass balls. But no, I didn't think the Obama win was inevitable, especially after his miserable showing in the first debate. I thought Romney had a good chance of winning given all the objective considerations that condemn Obama, the litany of which I will not again recite. If I was naive, it was because I foolishly underestimated the foolishness of the electorate and how it has been dumbed-down and stupefied by the flim-flam man and his empty rhetoric and outright lies and promises of all sorts of goodies that he is going to get the rich bastards to pay for.
Bill Keezer, whom I have met in the flesh a couple of times and who truly deserves (as does Pollack) the epithet 'gentleman,' speaks in his post of civil war:
If you go back through my blogs for the past few months, you will see the prediction of a coming civil war. The differences in the red vs. the blue states is now so fundamental, that I think civil war is quite possible. I also think the red states will win, hands down. They still have the values that make for effective soldiering. Imagine street gangs against disciplined, seasoned fighters. There will be no contest, and if the red states take mercy on the blue, woe to both. It is time for justice. (A concern of the last couple of blog posts, which is not moot.)
God help us if Bill is right and the present war of words and votes ramps up into a shooting war. Leftists need to be careful. If push comes to shove, and shove to shoot, the Red Staters will clean your clock. After all, they have the guns.
How can we avoid tearing ourselves apart? My recommendation is a return to federalism. But of course the Left, which is totalitarian from the ground up, won't allow that. And so we may be in for some 'excitement.'
Some warn of the militarization of space as if it has not already been militarized. It has been, and for a long time now. How long depending on how high up you deem space begins. Are they who warn unaware of spy satellites? Of Gary Powers and the U-2 incident? Of the V-2s that crashed down on London? Of the crude Luftwaffen, air-weapons, of the First World War? The Roman catapults? The first javelin thrown by some Neanderthal spear chucker? It travelled through space to pierce the heart of some poor effer and was an early weaponization of the space between chucker and effer.
"I will not weaponize space," said Obama while a candidate in 2008. That empty promise comes too late, and is irresponsible to boot: if our weapons are not there, theirs will be.
The very notion that outer space could be reserved for wholly peaceful purposes shows a deep lack of understanding of the human condition. Show me a space with human beings in it and I will show you a space that potentially if not actually is militarized and weaponized. Man is, was, and will be a bellicose son of a bitch. If you doubt this, study history, with particular attention to the 20th century. You can bet that the future will resemble the past in this respect. Note that the turn of the millenium has not brought anything new in this regard.
Older is not wiser. All spaces, near, far, inner, outer, are potential scenes of contention, which is why I subscribe to the Latin saying:
Si vis pacem, para bellum.
If you want peace, prepare for war.
One must simply face reality and realize that the undoubtedly great good of peace comes at a cost, the cost of a credible defense. A credible defense is what keeps aggressors at bay. I mean this to hold at all levels, intrapsychically, interpersonally, intranationally, internationally, and in every other way. Weakness provokes. Strength pacifies. That is just the way it is. Conservatives, being reality-based, understand what eludes leftists who are based in u-topia (nowhere) and who rely on their unsupportable faith in the inherent goodness of human beings.
They should read Kant on the radical evil in human nature. Then they should go back to Genesis, chapters 2 and 3.
Here we have one of those deep defining differences between conservatives and leftists. Vote for the candidate of your choice, but just understand what set of ideas and values you are voting for.
I was a bit surprised to read that in response to your post about tempering one's joy at Osama's demise, "Prager pointed out that the Jews rejoiced when the Red Sea closed around the Egyptians, and that this rejoicing was pleasing to God."
First, I was surprised because a quick look at Exodus 15 does not say that the Israelites' rejoicing was pleasing to God. Maybe this was "lost in translation," but I very much doubt that, since the Bible is the most carefully translated book in the world.
You are right: Exodus 15 does not explicitly say that the Israelites' rejoicing was pleasing to God. But one can infer from verse 25 that God was pleased, or at least not displeased, since God shows Moses a tree with which he sweetens and makes potable the bitter waters of Marah after they make it through the Red (Reed?) Sea and are mighty thirsty (Ex 15: 23-25). I should add that "this rejoicing was pleasing to God" was Dennis Prager's addition, as I understood him.
Second, I was surprised because I imagine that Prager was at some point exposed to a Talmudic story which is often recounted at the Passover Seder. A version that I was able to locate fairly quickly on the Web follows. As evil as Pharoah and the Egyptians were, when it came to their destruction at the hands of God through the plagues (particularly the death of the first born)and at the Sea of Reeds, the rabbis went to great lengths to temper our joy. A famous midrash in the Talmud makes the point:
When the Egyptians were drowning in the Sea of Reeds, the ministering angels began to sing God's praises. But God silenced them, saying: How can you sing while my children perish? We may rejoice in our liberation but we may not celebrate the death of our foes. To underscore the point, and re-enforce the value, the rabbis instructed that ten drops of wine be spilled from our cups [at the seder] diminishing the joy of our celebration, as a reminder of those who peished in the course of our liberation. It is said that this is also the reason why a portion of the Hallel (the great songs of praise) is omitted on the last six days of Passover.
By the way, I would like to question your agreement with Prager that pacifism is "immoral." Is it really immoral, or just not morally obligatory? Or perhaps it should be approached as part of an aspirational ethics. While I'm not a pacifist, I think it's something to which I ought to aspire. Perhaps one is less guilty for aspiring to, but not realizing pacifism, than for not aspiring to pacifism at all.
We agree that being a pacifist is not morally obligatory. So the question is whether it is morally permissible. The answer will depend on what exactly we mean by 'pacifism.' Suppose we mean by it the doctrine that there are no actual or possible circumstances in which the intentional taking of human life is morally justified. Someone who holds this presumably does so because he thinks that human life as such has absolute value. Now if that is what we mean by pacifism, then I think it is morally impermissible to be a pacifist. Here is an argument off the top of my head:
1. We ought to (it is morally obligatory that we) work for peace and justice and oppose violence and killing. "Blessed are the peacemakers." 2. It is sometimes necessary to kill human beings in order to maximize peace and justice and minimize violence and killing. 3. To will the end is to will the means. Therefore 4. It is morally obligatory that we sometimes kill human beings to minimize violence and killing. Therefore 5. It is morally impermissible that we never kill human beings to minimize violence and killing.
(1) is a deliverance of sound moral sense. The NT verse is a mere ornament. It is not the justification for (1). Examples of (2) are plentiful. (3) is an unexceptionable Kantian principle. (4) follows from the first three premises. (5) follows from (4).
Should we aspire to be pacifists? In some senses of that term, sure. But not in the sense I defined. It's a large topic.
In a comment thread Tony Hanson asked me if I had written a post on cumulative-case arguments. After some digging, I located one that I had written 24 August 2004. Here it is for what its worth.
Suppose you have a good reason R1 to do X. Then along comes a second good reason R2 to do X. Does R2 remove the justificatory force of R1? Obviously not. Does R2 leave the justificatory force of R1 unchanged? No again. Clearly, R2 augments the force of R1. Any additional good reasons R3, R4, . . . Rn, would of course only add to the justification for doing X. What we have here is a cumulative case for doing X, a case in which the justificatory force of the good reasons is additive.
A thorough discussion would have to distinguish between cumulative case arguments in which each reason is sufficient to justify the action envisaged, and cumulative case arguments in which one or more or all of the reasons are individually insufficient to justify the action envisaged.
Suppose each reason in a cumulative case argument is individually sufficient to justify the action envisaged. Then in what sense are the reasons additive? They are additive in that each additional sufficient reason provides an additional fail-safe mechanism. If an agent has many reasons each of which is both good and sufficient for doing X, then, if one of the reasons should turn out to be either bad or insufficient, then the other reasons are available to shoulder the justificatory burden.
Apply this to the Iraq war. One reason for going to war was the widely shared belief that Saddam had WMDs. Another was that he was a known sponsor of Palestinian Arab terrorists and a reasonably surmised sponsor of other terrorists. (On the second point, see Stephen F. Hayes, The Connection: How al-Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America, Harper Collins, 2004) A third was humanitarian: the liberation of the Iraqi people from a brutal dictator and his sons. A fourth was to enforce unanimous U.N. resolutions that this august body did not have the cojones to enforce itself. A fifth was to end the ongoing hostilities, e.g., Iraqi attacks on coalition warplanes. Even if no one of these reasons is sufficient to justify the invasion, the five taken together arguably provide good and sufficient reason for the action.
The strategy of ‘Divide and Conquer’ cannot be used against a cumulative case argument. Suppose Jack has several reasons for marrying Jill: she’s nubile and pretty, moneyed and witty; they are physically and psychologically compatible; they share the same values; she has beautiful eyes, and there is beauty at the opposite pole of her being as well. So Jack has nine good reasons. It simply won’t do to point out that each of them, taken singly, is insufficient to justify the marriage. A good reason is not the same as a sufficient reason. A good reason can be either sufficient or insufficient. What then are examples of bad reasons? A bad reason would be her having a police record, or her having a doctorate in biology when her doctorate is in mathematics.
The point is that several good, but individually insufficient, reasons can add up to a good and sufficient reason. If so, then ‘Divide and Conquer’ is a fallacious form of refutation. But that is what many leftists do when they oppose the Iraq war. Suppose that the cumulative case consists of R1, R2, and R3, each of which is insufficient by itself to justify doing X. The ‘Divide and Conquer’ objector wrongly infers ‘no reason’ from ‘insufficient reason.’ Thus he thinks that if R1 is insufficient, then R1 is no reason, and similarly for R2 and R3. He then concludes: no reason + no reason + no reason = no reason. He fails to appreciate the additivity of individually insufficient but good reasons, just as the typical poor person fails to appreciate the additivity of the small amounts of money he throws away on cigarettes, lottery tickets, and overpriced convenience store items.
For example, if a conservative gives liberation of the Iraqi people as a reason for the invasion, the leftie is likely to object: "But then why don’t we liberate the North Koreans?" This is an asinine response since it it is based on a failure to appreciate that the liberation reason is only one part of a cumulative case, not to mention the fact that an attempted liberation of the North Koreans could easily lead to nuclear war. Granting that liberating the Iraqi people is an insufficient reason for the war, it does not follow that it is no reason at all. It is a good reason which, though insufficient taken by itself, is part of a cumulative case which amounts to a good and sufficient reason for the war.
Another mistake that leftists make is to confuse a reason with a motive. They do this when they say that a proffered reason is not the real reason. A reason is a motive when it plays a motivating role within the psychic economy of an agent. Suppose Jack has available to him an objectively good reason R for marrying Jill. But Jack is not consciously or subconsciously aware of R. Obviously, R can play no role in the etiology of his envisaged action. Yet R remains an objectively good reason for performing the act in question. A good reason need not be a motivating reason, and a motivating reason need not be a good reason. The expression ‘real reason’ should be avoided because it is ambiguous as between good reason and motivating reason.
Suppose Bush II’s sole motive for invading Iraq was to avenge Saddam’s assasination attempt on his father, Bush I. Even on this wildly counterfactual assumption, there were good reasons for the invasion. For an action to be justified, all that is required is that there be objectively good reasons for the action; it is not necessary that the agent’s motives be objectively good reasons. Even if an agent is not justified in doing X – because he is either not aware of or motivated by the good reasons for doing X – the act itself (the act-type itself) can have justification. Our man Jack, for example, may be driven to marry Jill by his lust and nothing besides; but this does not entail that his marrying her lacks justification. Jack’s father might say to him: "Son, you made the right decision, but for the wrong reason." The rightness of the decision is due to the availability of good reasons even if horny Jack did not avail himself of them.
At this point an objector might maintain that what I am calling good reasons are simply ex post facto rationalizations.But a rationalization after the fact is not the same as a good reason that plays no motivating role in bringing about the fact. For a rationalization is a bad reason. Suppose Ali physically assaults Benjamin because Benjamin is a Jew and Ali believes that Jews are the "sons of pigs and monkeys." After the fact, A explains his behavior by saying that B insulted him. Suppose B did insult A. A is rationalizing after the fact as opposed to giving a good reason after the fact. B’s insulting of A did not give A a good reason for initiating physical violence against B.
Now let us suppose that Bush II’s sole motive for ordering the Iraq invasion was his desire to deprive Saddam of the WMDs that he, Bush, believed Saddam to possess. Suppose, plausibly, that the belief is false. In that case, Bush II’s motivating reason was not an objectively good reason – based as it was on a false belief – but it could still count as a subjectively good reason in this sense: he had a reason that was a good reason based on the information he had available to him at the time of the decision. I would then argue that the other reasons, which are objectively good, bear the justificatory burden.
An astonishing number of people, some of them intelligent, believe that the motivating reason for the Iraq invasion was the desire to secure access to Iraqi oil. But if that was the motivating reason, it is was a very bad reason since (i) the oil was flowing; (ii) starting a war with an opponent believed to have WMDs and known to have ignited oil wells in the past is clearly a stupid way to secure access to Iraqi oil; (iii) the projected cost of the war would be scarcely offset by the value of the oil secured; and (iv) deposing Saddam and his sons was not at all necessary to insure the flow of oil. I would argue that since this oil reason is so obviously bad, it is not reasonable to impute it to Bush and his advisers as the motivating reason for the invasion.
To sum up. The case for invading Iraq was a cumulative case. A cumulative case cannot be refuted by ‘Divide and Conquer.’ A good reason need not be a sufficient reason. A reason is not the same as a motive: there can be objectively good reasons for an action even if the agent of the action is not motivated by any of these reasons. To find good reasons after the fact is not to engage in ex post facto rationalization. This is because a rationalization is the providing of a bad reason. But of course, liberals and leftists are so blinded by their passionate hatred of Bush II, that patient analysis of the foregoing sort will be lost on them.
Tony Hanson e-mails from the once-great state of California whose governor-elect is once again Governor Moonbeam:
I see you had Berlin's essay in your library and reread it. I just wanted to say I don't think that we are in quite the bind you describe since there still seems to be a lot of room for some good rationally justified smiting, polemics and general political ass-kicking in spite of value pluralism. I'll make this very brief.
Defense of Polemics. I am sure you would agree that one's opponents may have all sorts of bad reasons for their positions, and (politely?) exposing them can make people more thoughtful, and may even enlighten them to the truth of value pluralism so much so that they may "flinch" too. Could this encourage comity?
That is a good point and I fully agree with it. The pluralistic position, according to which no objective resolution satisfactory to all competent practioners is possible due to irresolvable value differences, is entirely consistent with the possibility of the fully objective exposure of bad arguments and empirical falsehoods on both sides. Take abortion. There are bad arguments on both sides of the debate, and almost everyone will agree that there are. (I won't say what those bad arguments are lest I spark a meta-debate as to exactly which arguments on both sides are bad; but that there are bad arguments on both sides is uncontroversial.) An argument can be objectively bad for a number of different reasons: it is logically invalid; rests on an empirically false premise; involves a weak analogy; commits an informal fallacy; is so murky and indistinct as to be insusceptible of evaluation, etc. The essence of the pluralistic position is that once all the bad arguments on both sides are set aside, one arrives at a set of 'good' arguments which, however, do not resolve the issue for an impartial observer.
I would quibble, though, with your use of 'polemics.' From the Greek polemos, it means strife, struggle, war. So we can define polemics as verbal warfare, warfare at the level of ideas. There needn't be anything polemical about pointing out to an opponent that one of his arguments falls short of an objective standard such as the one represented by formal logic. Here there is the possibility of convincing the opponent (assuming he is sincere, intelligent, etc.) because the cognitive values that come into play (truth, clarity, logical coherence, etc.) are agreed upon.
Defense of War and Smiting. You said, "Suppose further ... that this value difference that divides them cannot be objectively resolved to the satisfaction of both parties by appeal to any empirical fact or by any reasoning or by any combination of the two." Say you are arguing with a Fascist or radical libertarian (who thinks property rights are absolute), and no empirical fact or reasoning satisfies them In other words, they are unreasonable.
But if you say that the radical libertarian is unreasonable, what are your criteria of reasonability or rationality? I reject the radical libertarian position on property rights and I get the impression that you do as well. But from his point of view, his stance is reasonable in that it is rationally derivable from certain axioms he accepts. Is there some plain empirical fact that he fails to take cognizance of, or some rule of logic that he flouts? When you say that the radical libertarian is unreasonable, aren't you just rejecting his scheme of values? He places an absolute, inviolable, value on the individual and his property and refuses to admit that there are any competing values that would tend to have a relativizing effect. Consider an eminent domain dispute. Farmer Jones has worked hard all his life and owns 100 acres. The Feds want to buy from him a strip of land for a much-needed road that cannot be placed anywhere else. Jones refuses to sell. Even if he agrees that there is such a thing as the common good, he refuses to concede that it has the power to limit the absoluteness of his property right.
When you say that Jones is unreasonable, what you are doing is pitting your value-based conception of reasonableness against his. But then my point goes through, which was that disputes like this are objectively irresolvable because rooted in value disputes which are objectively irresolvable.
Seems like its time for the Converse Clausewitz Principle [Politics is war conducted by other means]. Well, you can of course work to defeat libertarians in the political arena (though they do a pretty good job of this themselves, which is why I follow Medved in calling them 'losertarians.') But the issue concerns your rational warrant for "unflinchingly" opposing them. What makes you so cocksure that you are right and they are wrong?
Further, it seems a distinction needs to be made between the priority of a value, and the weight (or height?) of the priority. Two people could prioritize security over liberty, but one would be prepared to sacrifice a lot more liberty for security than the other. The extremist gives his value too much weight, obviously; but it also seems one can be objectively wrong about the weight of the prioritized value, and not be an extremist. Invoking Aristotle might be helpful. Though one might not be a complete coward (or extremist), one might miss the mark with respect to courage and be a little cowardly, and so on with the various values. Moreover, it might not be possible to come to an agreement by using facts and reason, to what "hitting the mark" is, but you know it misses. Someone might have a different intuition on what hitting the mark is, or the target might be a large one allowing for disagreement, but it still might be worth trusting your sense of "tone," and fighting for it.
I agree that if value V1 takes priority over value V2, there remains the question of how much higher up in the axiological hierarchy V1 is. Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death." He apparently valued his liberty over his very life. Would you call him an extremist? If yes, then what is wrong with being an extremist? If he is placing an inordinate value on liberty, how do you show that? Or take the Obama liberal who is willing to sacrifice his liberty for (the promise of) cradle-to-grave security and material comfort. How do you show in an objective manner that the liberal places too much value on security and not enough on liberty? You simply assert that "one can be objectively wrong about the weight of the prioritized value." Gratuitous assertions, however, elicit gratuitous counterassertions in response.
Tea Partiers object to the liberty-encroaching governmental overreach of the Obama gang. (Case in point: the 'individual mandate' of Obamacare which forces citizens to buy health insurance.) The political conflict is rooted in a deep value conflict. How resolve it?
I don't see how Aristotle helps in this. I would also point out that he was talking about virtues, not values, which are a different animal entirely and didn't come into philosophical currency until the 19th century. A virtue is a habit (hexis, habitus), a dispositional feature of an agent; a value is . . . well what exactly is a value? An abstract or ideal object of some sort?
The ComBox is open to give Hanson an opportunity to reply. Others may chime in as well, but only if their comments are well-informed, intelligent, and stick precisely to the topic under discussion, what he says and what I say here and in the post that Hanson in replying to. I simply delete comments I consider to be substandard.
This is one of my favorite bumper stickers, and not just because there are all too many motorists clogging the roads who seem unacquainted with the function of turn signals. The sticker is a parody of ‘Visualize World Peace’ (‘Visualize Whirled Peas’). Visualizing something as nebulous and utopian as world peace is about as pointless as the sort of visualizing going on in John Lennon’s silly ditty, “Imagine.”
If you want to improve the world, try visualizing some concrete action that it is in your power to perform such as letting a motorist enter your lane. Better, visualize an entire day in which you gratuitously offend no one in word or deed. Then take the next step: visualize an entire day in which you gratuitously offend no one in word or deed, and entertain no negative thoughts to boot. In the end, there is only one person over whose behavior you have any real control, namely, yourself. So if you are serious about improving the world, you can start with that guy. If you desire peace in the world, begin by making war against your lower self.
I am not saying that this is sufficient for world peace, but it may well be necessary.
Often and thoughtlessly repeated, 'One man's terrorist in another man's freedom fighter' is one of those sayings that cry out for logical and philosophical analysis. Competent analysis will show that clear-thinking persons ought to avoid the saying.
Note first that while freedom is an end, terror is a means. So to call a combatant a terrorist is to say something about his tactics, his means for achieving his ends, while to call a combatant a freedom fighter is to say nothing about his tactics or means for achieving his ends. It follows that one and the same combatant can be both a terrorist and a freedom fighter. For one and the same person can employ terror as his means while having freedom as his end.
Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, tr. Emma Craufurd, Routledge 1995, p. 77, emphasis added.
Non-violence is no good unless it is effective. Hence the young man's question to Ghandi about his sister. The answer should have been: use force unless you are such that you can defend her with as much chance of success without violence. Unless you possess a radiance of which the energy (that is to say, the possible effectiveness in the most material sense of the word) is equal to that contained in your muscles.
We should strive to become such that we are able to be nonviolent.
Required reading from the pen of Victor Davis Hanson. Since I cannot do better than him, I will simply provide excerpts of five key points he makes. Be sure and read the whole piece. Here are Hanson's Gaza rules in his words but with material omitted:
First is the now-familiar Middle East doctrine of proportionality. Legitimate military action is strangely defined by the relative strength of the combatants. World opinion more vehemently condemns Israel's countermeasures, apparently because its rockets are far more accurate and deadly than previous Hamas barrages that are poorly targeted and thus not so lethal.
Second, intent in this war no longer matters. Every Hamas unguided rocket is launched in hopes of hitting an Israeli home and killing men, women and children. Every guided Israeli air-launched missile is targeted at Hamas operatives, who deliberately work in the closest vicinity to women and children.
Third, culpability is irrelevant. The "truce" between Israel and Hamas was broken once Hamas got its hands on new stockpiles of longer-range mobile rockets — weapons that are intended to go over Israel's border walls.
Yet, according to the Gaza rules, both sides always deserve equal blame. Indeed, this weird war mimics the politically correct, zero-tolerance policies of our public schools, where both the bully and his victim are suspended once physical violence occurs.
Fourth, with instantaneous streaming video from the impact sites in Gaza, context becomes meaningless. Our attention is glued to the violence of the last hour, not that of the last month that incited the war.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 to great expectations that the Palestinians there would combine their new autonomy, some existing infrastructure left behind by the Israelis, Middle East oil money and American pressure for free and open elections to craft a peaceful, prosperous democracy.
Fifth and finally, victimization is crucial. Hamas daily sends barrages into Israel, as its hooded thugs thump their chests and brag of their radical Islamic militancy. But when the payback comes, suddenly warriors are transmogrified into weeping victims, posing teary-eyed for the news camera as they deplore "genocide" and "the Palestinian Holocaust." At least the Japanese militarists did not cry out to the League of Nations for help once mean Marines landed on Iwo Jima.
Might does not make right, but neither does impotence or relative weakness. That weakness does not justify strikes me as an important principle, but I have never seen it articulated. The power I have to kill you does not morally justify my killing you. In a slogan: Ability does not imply permissibility. My ability to kill, rape, pillage & plunder does not confer moral justification on my doing these things. But if you attack me with deadly force of magnitude M and I reply with deadly force of magnitude 10 x M, your relative weakness does not supply one iota of moral justification for your attack, nor does it subtract one iota of moral justification from my defensive response. If I am justified in using deadly force against you as aggressor, then the fact that my deadly force is greater than yours does not (a) diminish my justification in employing deadly force, nor does it (b) confer any justification on your aggression.
Suppose a knife-wielding thug commits a home invasion and attacks a man and his family. The man grabs a semi-automatic pistol and manages to plant several rounds in the assailant, killing him. It would surely be absurd to argue that the disparity in lethality of the weapons involved diminishes the right of the pater familias to defend himself and his family.
The principle that weakness does not justify can be applied to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict from the summer of 2006 as well as to the current Israeli defensive operations against the terrorist entity, Hamas. The principle ought to be borne in mind when one hears leftists, those knee-jerk supporters of any and every 'underdog,' start spouting off about 'asymmetry of power' and 'disproportionality.'