Humanity, Terrorisms, Terrorist Wars: A Philosophical Perspective 

Ted Honderich     Frankfurt     20 July 2010    Audience handout for a talk

Some Large Questions of Right or Wrong (1) Zionism: founding and actually necessary defence of Israel within original 1948-1967 borders. Right or wrong? Neo-Zionism: project since 1967 of taking from the Palestinians at least autonomy in last 5th of their historic homeland? (2) Palestinian terrorism? (3) 9/11? Moral responsibility for it shared? (4) Our war in Iraq and the aftermath?  (5) Such terrorism as 7/7?  (6) Gaza?  (7)Afghanistan?

Division of intellectual labour with large questions of right and wrong, and of moral responsibility and moral credit? Analytic philosophy's concentration on the logic of ordinary intelligence: clarity of analysis; consistency and validity; completeness. Hence against convention in thinking & feeling. Progress in moral philosophy beyond piety.

Proceed, however, by way of some other thinking or practice? Principle of negotiation? International law? Human rights? Just war theory? Politics of reality? Economics?

Above all, proceed by democracy? Main justification must be its outputs: laws, policies, institutions, societies. Argument of 2 heads better than 1, more better than 2. Or more wants in decision procedure as against judgements. Argument depends on equality and freedom.

American & British hierarchic democracy. Gross inequality of top economic 10th having  1000 times the political power and influence of bottom. Still a decision-procedure of freedom? No, freedom requires and varies with equality. Level of public intelligence in hierarchic democracy. Conventions of necessity & impossibility.

An explicit principle of right and wrong necessary -- unvague central concepts, resistant to self-deception, manipulation etc. A principle of Equality or distributive justice? Retributive justice? Kantian respect? Unprincipled self-interest of conservatism? Mess of liberalism, including Rawls? Utilitarianism and Principle of Utility superior to all that, but both a victimizing principle and in its decency ineffective.

Start again, with bad lives. Deprivation or frustration of six great human desires or goods: decent length of life, bodily quality of life, freedom & power, respect & self-respect, goods of relationship, goods of culture.

Principle of Humanity:  The right thing as distinct from others -- action, practice, institution, government, society, possible world -- is the one that according to the best judgement and information is the rational one, in the sense of being effective and not self-defeating, with respect to the end of getting and keeping people out of bad lives.

Nature of Principle  Consequentialist -- ends and means justify means. / Maximizing. / Beyond piety: all moral principles are attitudes, including desire. No alternative to the morality of humanity has innate superiority. / More general support than any alternative in both fact and logic -- facts of human nature: great human desires & general reasons. Also convergence on the principle. / But understands relation of any principle to e.g. sexual torture of a child -- relation of mutual support. / Justifications of killing, not left to any state, hierarchic democracy, political or other class. / Relativity of rightness.

Terrorism: (1) killing and other violence, (2) smaller-scale than war, (3) political and social aim -- the aim of a people? (4) against national or international law, (5)  prima facie wrong. Includes state terrorism. Terrorist war: same but larger-scale.

Unimportance and importance of definitions of terrorism. Pure inquiry & advocacy. Cf defining it as the intentional killing of  innocents, & causing fear. The implied contrast with war wholly false. Intentional action in general. / Factual questions harder than moral -- harder than defending a principle of right and wrong. E.g. judging probable effects.

Zionism was and is right. In 1948, by argument via Holocaust, the judgement that the Palestininians were not fully a people, unthinkableness of the rightness of founding Israel in a part of Germany. Now, Zionism justified separately by the existence of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A fact to be reverenced.

Neo-Zionism, the depriving of the Palestinians of at least their autonomy in the last 5th of historic Palestine, certainly terrorism. The rapacious violation of another people in their homeland. No complex problem in Palestine. Simple. Not two sides to a real rape.

Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within all of historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. Their terrorism also to be reverenced. (a) Legal and moral rights -- and the Principle of Humanity. (b) To have a moral right to X is to have a moral right to the only possible means to X. (c) Intifadas falsify 1948 judgement that Palestinian not fully a people.

9/11 had as part of its end opposition to neo-Zionism, wholly justified. But 9/11 wholly wrong as a means to that end. Nothing like a rational means to the end of the Principle of Humanity. Iraq a result. Moral responsibility shared by a political class in America.

War on Iraq a terrorist war. But the definitional fact important only in countering propaganda. War wholly wrong in terms of the morality of humanity. Moral barbarism of fully intentional since foreseen killing of innocents.

7/7 and related terrorism. Being selective in horror. Tavistock Square and Abu Taleb Street. 7/7 partly against neo-Zionism and the Iraq War. Good ends. 7/7 as wrong as 9/11. Terrible irrationality. Cf other terrorism outside historic Palestine.

The effective enemies of such terrorism as 9/11 and 7/7? Those who act against both it and also its causes -- neo-Zionism, Iraq. Cf. New Labour's 'Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime'. Not heard after 9/11. Effective friends of terrorism include the criminals against humanity Bush, Blair, Brown, and now the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition.

Gaza. Aim of Israeli terrorism, massacre not war, was not saving lives of its own citizens from rocket attacks. Could have achieved that immediately by embracing the simple solution to the simple Palestinian problem. Withdraw, without condition or negotiation, from the remaining homeland of another people. The preponderant aim of neo-Zionism in Gaza was neo-Zionism.

Afghanistan. The Principle of Humanity supports all national liberation movements? Resists our pretences of international charity, necessary self-defence. Condemns the Afghanistan war.

What to do? Mass civil disobedience. Gestures too. Remember Col. Rainsborough of the 17th Century civil war in England. "For really I think the poorest he hath a life to live, as the greatest he...."  Another colonel today? The gesture of a tank in Parliament Square. Return to barracks without violence and accept penalty for civil and other disobedience.

Reading: Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7... (Continuum, 2006); After the Terror (EUP, 2003); On Political Means & Social Ends (EUP, 2003); Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy (Pluto, 2003); Conservatism: Burke, Nozick, Bush, Blair? (Pluto, 2005);  Stephen Law, ed. Israel, Palestine, and Terror (2008); papers etc at

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