THE ARAB SPRING, OUR AIR WAR IN LIBYA, AND WHAT IS TO BE DONE IN ENGLAND AND AMERICA
by Ted honderichThe thoughts in this essay are those touched on in a public conversation with Tariq Ali in The Gower Street Lecture Series, arranged by Waterstones Bookshops and held in University College London. Tariq's knowledge of the societies of the Arab Spring is wonderfully greater than mine. His judgement of their likely futures is better too. His audacity, indeed his proper arrogance, is a way to truth. They were a way to truth in the student occupation of the London School of Economics in 1968. They are recommendations of his books. I will be spending more time with two of those, The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity and The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad. In our conversation, we did not disagree about much. But if I am indeed tempted to join him in a judgement on Obama, I am not quite so confident that Obama is already to be damned forever. Nor, with respect to what is to be done by us in the current state of the world, did I get a hold on why Tariq asserts there can be no real alternative, including civil disobedience, to what he called 'broad social movements' like those in South America.
Analytic philosophy, including moral and political analytic philosophy, is not deep, airy or arcane. It has nothing to do with such performers as Ludwig Wittgenstein in Cambridge past, or French self-publicists of the present day. It is just a concentration on the logic of ordinary intelligence.
That logic consists in three things -- clarity by such
means as analysis,
and consistency and validity, and completeness. Analytic philosophy of
course doesn't own
this logic -- what it does is concentrate more on it than on questions
propositions of fact. Say questions of probability, say the probability
of different outcomes of political action, maybe of civil disobedience
Analytic philosophy is my line of life, and so, as you guess, I'm shorter on factual knowledge than political scientists, labourers in institutes of Arab and Islamic studies, historians, and good journalists.
But I am reassured a little by the lack of logic, as it seems to me, on the part of most adversaries on the Right in politics. I am reassured too by what is in fact the mixed nature of some supposedly factual disciplines. Almost all economics, to take the outstanding example, is in fact is no pure science. It is more than half morals and politics, in fact a pompous politics of capitalism that in 2011 is helping to drag down the world. It includes the illusion or delusion or indeed grandiose disorder that is the conviction that our capitalism is the only possibility.
It would be inane to take the utterances of our George Osborne, our Chancellor of the Exchequer, our elected economist-in-chief, as factual utterances as to what is necessary and what is impossible. For him to appear on the telly is for me to remember a story, no doubt true. As an Oxford undergraduate he switched to the B.A. course in Modern History rather than plough on with PPE -- Philosophy, Politics and Economics -- because he couldn't understand the economics.
RIGHT AND WRONG, A LIST OF FAILURESWe all need a general principle of right and wrong in order to keep ourselves from self-deception on any subject, to keep ourselves from failing to see that we are cheating on behalf of ourselves, or a social class, or the political class.
HIERARCHIC DEMOCRACY, PUSHERS' DEMOCRACY
The refrain of our politicians is that in deciding on right and wrong for our society, we must go by our democracy.
The fundamental and plainly absolutely essential justification for all democracy must be that this decision-procedure's outputs are better than those of any other decision-procedure, say dictatorship -- better in terms of laws, policies, institutions, whole societies, the state of the world.
The argument in support is that two heads are better than one and more heads are better than two. Or more wants expressed in a decision-procedure are better than fewer. The argument obviously depends on equality and freedom in the democracy. That is, the argument depends on the heads having the possibility of equal expression of what is in them.
But our particular democracy is hierarchic or pushers' democracy. In it the highest economic tenth of population has more than a thousand times the political power and influence of the bottom tenth.
It is another glory of our science of economics, by the way, and of our political science, that it goes in for a lot of quantification, but not quantification of political power and influence in relation to economic power and influence. We don't have to join our betters in this reluctance. A thousand to one is about right. Remember the wealth of the bottom tenth is about zero.
Is our democracy, if absurdly unequal, still a decision-procedure of freedom? No. Not at all. Important freedom requires and varies with equality. If you and I are in dispute, and we become unequal in that you have a gun and I don't, my freedom reduces to zero. Something the same is true with money. The argument for our hierarchic democracy that two heads are better than one and more heads better than two is just an indicator of the level of public intelligence and moral intelligence in hierarchic democracy.
I myself say three cheers even for pushers' democracy when compared with an authoritarian state of the Right. I say no cheers for pushers' democracy when compared to a democracy of equality and freedom, a possible democracy we are not right now in sight of having.
I don't know how many cheers to give pushers' democracy when compared with some actual or possible authoritarian states of the Left.
Cuba still exists. They live longer there. They all have healthcare. They are all full members of their society. They can read. Cuba is in such ways unique in that part of the world and elsewhere. Denmark is relevant too, if differently relevant. That Cuba and Denmark are small does not detract from their great achievements.
The Soviet Union existed in an unprecedented extent of fairness until a leader lost his moral nerve and lost the Cold War, which was not in itself an argument in which the other side was better. It was nothing of the sort. A battle is not an experiment either.
I have never been any kind of Marxist, Green or otherwise, having been put off Marxism by the high Hegelian theory, including the theory of history in my old colleague Jerry Cohen's defence of it. So I have been saved from doctrinal commitment to the Soviet Union.
I am not saved from the difficulty of thinking about its recommendations by the ignorance, passion, lies, propaganda and of course statistics of those who condemn it -- in blinded America above all. There the sludge of manufactured convention fills and stops the stream of intelligence.
At the least the Soviet Union raises an awful question about the necessity of means to ends. The necessity of terrible means to ends. It also raises a question about the moral guilt of those opponents of the Left who make the means of the Left irrational. The opponents of what is not rational force or violence are as responsible for it as its agents.
What is needed in place of dim incantation in favour of hierarchic democracy, or any of the other stuff of most politicians, certainly the economic wisdom, is a clear and arguable principle of right and wrong, a determinate principle, not any kind of metaphor. Nothing else but such a principle will make for consistency and hence intelligence. Nothing else will make for the defeat of selfish self-deception.
This has to be the case with any conclusion on the Arab Spring as well as on everything else -- say what is happening now in England. Is there a principle that issues in or anyway contributes to the proposition that an economic depression is being converted into a vicious immiseration of the poor and a victimization of all the poorer? Is there a principle that supports the proposition that we live in an historic period of awfulness as certain to be recorded in future history books as its awful predecessors are recorded in decent history books now, say the enclosures of common land and massacres and then the genocides?
THE PRINCIPLE OF HUMANITY
I repeat that an explicit principle of right and wrong is absolutely necessary -- with unvague central concepts and other necessary strengths. A principle therefore resistant to self-deception -- and of course resistant to the deception of some by others.
Start towards such a thing with definition of bad lives.
Bad lives, in a sentence, are lives of deprivation or frustration in terms of six great human goods, the fundamental desires of human nature, of course interrelated. The great goods in one arguable list are (1) a decent length of conscious life, (2) bodily quality of life, (3) freedom & power, including political freedom and power, (4) respect & self-respect, (5) the goods of relationship, (6) the goods of culture.
The Principle of Humanity is that the right thing as distinct from others -- the right action, practice, institution, government, society, possible world -- is the one that according to the best judgement and information at the time 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.
It is the only content of real fairness, of real justice. It is the principle of the Left in politics whenever the Left is true to itself. It gives actual content, so often missing, to thought and talk of human rights.
It escapes the objections to the traditional principles mentioned earlier. It is a very long way from what it is closest to, which is traditional Utilitarianism. If the principle calls for equalities that serve its end, which it most certainly does, its end is not equalities. Plainly it is not cant, not public relations, not party-political advertising.
The principle is beyond piety and spiritualism and most religion about morality too, some of which turns up in talk of desert. It recognizes that all moral principles are attitudes, including desire and in particular empathy. They are not factual or logical truths. No alternative to the morality of humanity is a higher thing, has any innate superiority.
The principle is not all of a morality. For one thing, it understands the relation of any principle to particular cases, e.g. the sexual torture of a child, or the rape of a people, as in Palestine. For a principle to excuse or justify these things would be for the principle to be refuted. There is a relation of mutual support between a principle and its particular consequences, as John Rawls saw in A Theory of Justice, despite his mere liberalism.
The Principle of Humanity does not leave the justifications of killing or starving to any state, hierarchic democracy, or political class. It is a principle of independence, not a principle of respect to betters. It leaves deference to others. Is it a principle of envy? No, it understands the rudimentary distinction, lost on conservatives, between envy and a rational awareness of real deprivation.
The principle is of course what moral philosophers call consequentialist. It judges actions by their consequences, as in fact all moral principles do, despite selfishness, illusions and subterfuges. But it is not the principle that the end justifies the means. It is that the ends and the means justify the means.
Of course it is a maximizing principle. It does not contemplate for a moment the unspeakable proposition that 1000 people dying is only as bad as one person dying because no one person suffers more than one dying. Anything that does not count lives taken or wasted by different courses of action, different governments, is not worth considering and is not considered outside of a seminary in Wales or a recent college in Cambridge left over from an earlier century.
The Principle of Humanity has more general support from us than any alternative, more support in terms of both fact and logic. It is uniquely consistent with the realities of human nature and also the generalness or universal application or universal commitment of all reasons. It has the Golden Rule in its past. There is also the relevant fact of our human convergence on the principle when our own self-interest does not distract us. We come together about great natural disasters elsewhere. It has happened a lot lately.
The Principle of Humanity is in fact easier to argue for than for than answers to factual questions that it raises. The factual questions are far harder than the question of what is right and wrong in general. These are factual questions, say, about the probability of courses of action, say civil disobedience or terrorism, having certain consequences. Anyone confident about these judgements of probability is likely to be something like a politician in a pushers' democracy.
There is also a smaller question raised by the principle. It is the question of the rational choice of a mode of address on any occasion, or a particular occasion. A mode of address in advocating the principle and its consequences. Parliamentary language? Academic restraint? Tolerance? Civil speech? Or a proper contempt for the contemptible?
You have heard a thing or two illustrative of my own tentative answer these days. Here is some more.
OUR COALITION GOVERNMENT
When your subject is the level of intelligence of our public discourse in England, our discourse now and since Thatcher and Blair, it is hard to think of our coalition government of conservatives and liberals, anyway when they are on the telly, as other than the new Teletubbies.
The new Teletubbies are the Westminster successors to those creatures in that children's telly program of the past, the program that kept the kids quiet for their parents, not in trouble or asking questions, not thinking. The new Teletubbies are the Westminster successors to those four round, pudgy, large-eyed, brightly-coloured inhabitants of that cartoon landscape, getting messages from somewhere else and making those funny noises. They too are amiable, uttering things in a kind of gurgling baby language. Never actual answers to questions, of course, never actually relevant replies to such an interrogator as Jon Snow or Jeremy Paxman on a good evening, but reassuring all the way.
There on our screens, for a start, is the new Tinky Winky. He is matey, but still in royal purple, as befits the majesty of a graduate of the public relations industry. Otherwise known as Dave Cameron. He is the pre-eminent Teletubby, the leader, full of new and very little ideas, fresh from the Creative Department of the advertising agency that is now the Conservative Party. He says there is The Big Society that will take care of us all when the social services are cancelled, and that we're all one family. And, about the challenge of the depression, that he is really our Winston Churchill come back, and that it's not the size of the dog in a fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
The new Dipsy is there too. In green, from the liberal side of the coalition, serving as deputy prime minister to Tinky Winky. Also known as Nick Clegg, and as Once-The-Great-Debater, and as the maker of coalition out of rational necessity and perfect decency, and as Mr-Always-True-To-My-Word unless the word was a solemn undertaking in the election.
Thirdly there is Laa-Laa, in yellow, second in Tinky Winky's own Conservative party. George Osborne when off the screen. He of whom you heard earlier, in connection with problems with PPE in Oxford. In charge of the economy now, and the great truths of economics, and the deficit, and the financial recovery, the latter now widely known as his absolutely necessary job of robbing the poor to feed the rich more tax relief.
And then there is Po. Vincey Cable, in there elbow-to-elbow with Dipsy in the liberal side of the coalition. Po in cunningly deceptive scarlet, also known as Vincey from Shell Oil, of course unfamiliar with that company's depradations in Nigeria. Po was to be the great hammer of Rupert Murdoch, that greatest servant or master of Tinky Winky, but boasted early to a comely journalist with a tape recorder and was relieved of his duties as Business Secretary by the wise Tinky Winky.
But leave for a while all that proper and necessary condescension. Anyway leave it as long as I can.
The coalition government is indeed choosing to visit a depression on the poor and the poorer. It is doing its very best to save Greece, it says, by this wholly unavoidable policy for the dragging down of lives. Stay in the streets, Greeks, as long as it takes. If ever a demonstration of the viciousness of conservatism and to a very slightly lesser extent of liberalism was needed, here it is. Here we have a proof. Wait no longer.
There is the nonsense, the drivel, of the analogy offered in justification of the English economic policy for England, cutting public expenditure on the poorer, the analogy so clear to Tinky Winky. That is the analogy of a family needing to take care about expenditure so as to pay off a deficit, a family needing to balance its income and its expenditure, balance the books.
What we have as a society is in fact precisely not a family. It is not a family for an overwhelming reason. The society's state or government makes law. It can determine the society's income, decide on the income. That happens by way of what is called taxation. It can happen by really acting, not pretending to act, with respect to the scrounger-corporations arranging not to pay their taxes by having a brass door plate on a fake office in some island somewhere else.
Also, in so far as any metaphor or simile of family is to to be a guide to us, it must be a decent family. What decent family, when times are hard, when money is short, deprives its worse-off and worst-off members before its better-off, penalizes its weaker before its stronger members, looks after the well before the sick?
In the last few weeks in England there has also been a rare moment of exposure of some of our inspiring democracy, if no real news about it.
That was the fact of a coalition government minister -- Fox of the Ministry of Defence -- being found to have been involved in typical money-grubber corruption. More precisely, involved in corruptly inducing sleezy corporations to give bribes in order to get defence and other contracts, the bribe-money going to the financing of organized political cells whose conservative reality is exactly opposition to humanity.
But forget England for a while. Think about Tunisia, Egypt, and the rest.
THE ARAB SPRING GENERALLY
Certainly the Principle of Humanity supports all national liberation movements, struggles by a people to win liberation from oppression by another people, as in Palestine. The worst of these movements are superior to the lying rapes they replace.
And the Arab Spring? The aim of the Arab Spring is a low or lower form of part of one of the six aims of the Principle of Humanity -- not all of freedom and power, but freedom and power of the political kind. So I know the Arab Spring must of course be supported by the Principle of Humanity. Supported despite thoughts having to do with other kinds of freedom and power -- and with the other five great goods lacked by bad lives.
Another thing I know is that the Arab Spring has the fine recommendation that it must strengthen the position of the Palestinians in their liberation struggle against neo-Zionism. The latter thing, neo-Zionism, is the taking of at least their autonomy from the Palestinians in the last one-fifth of the territory of which they are indubitably the indigenous people. Neo-Zionism is not Zionism, which in my sense is the founding and actually necessary defence of Israel within its 1948-1967 borders.
Whatever is to be said of Zionism, which I myself persist in justifying by means of the Principle of Humanity and some factual premises, there is another truth.
The Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism within all of historic Palestine against neo-Zionism. Their terrorism, which is also their liberation struggles and their self-defence, is no less to be reverenced than the fact of Jewish lives now rooted in Israel. On another occasion we can talk about (a) moral rights on the model of legal rights, with the fundamental moral principle in the place of the law of the land. We can also talk about (b) the proposition that to have a moral right to X is to have a moral right to the only possible means to X. Certainly I believe it, and I suspect you do. You have to. If you give up either right you have to give up the other.
I know little about Libya, and admit it. There should be more of us doing so.
A little thing I know is about something said by a London professor on television, a fellow taken by the British Broadcasting Corporation to know about Libya but no apologist for it. When asked who the supporters of Gaddafi could possibly be, he replied that they fell into three categories. Tribes, regions -- and the poor. Gaddafi's Green Book, at which I have glanced enough in order to see that it is among other things a condemnation of pushers' democracy, is not on the side of the rich. What about the now victorious counter-revolutionaries supported by Tinky Winky? Tinky Winky is not on the side of the poor.
But there is no doubt whatever that the Libyan regime violated the Principle of Humanity, to whatever extent. It did some or many of the things with which it is charged. Our air war in Libya -- our 20,000 of what are called sorties by our lethal aircraft, and the 5,000 successful attacks -- is against a culpable government and its supporters.
And Gaddafi himself, his death celebrated on the telly by Tinky Winky?
If it is our concern to find moral monsters in the world, to find war criminals, to find butchers, do we have in our Blair and Bush two stronger candidates than Gaddafi was? I am talking about killing and who gets killed. I am talking about the intentional killing of innocents. The numbers count. Great numbers in Iraq count. We have no need of either the gurgling baby-thinking on the subject or the celebration of killing.
A lot of other things also come to mind about the war in Libya, about the attacks by our air forces, the horrible deaths. Let me enumerate some of these other things quickly.
Is our war in Libya a humanitarian intervention? Have our planes been engaged in killing in Libya only in order to protect civilians from attacks by their regime? The answer Yes is childish. No human or social or political action is so simple. None has but one cause or other necessary condition. It is in fact ludicrously false that our government's motives were only as they said. Causal explanation of things is not this kind of childish simplicity, indeed this idiocy, whatever is mouthed by ad men in Westminister and New York and Washington.
Our war in Libya, whatever is to be said about protecting civilians, is also ideological war. It is a war for pushers' democracy. It is a war for the capitalism that goes with that democracy, is inseparable from it. Tinky Winky would not have supported any other revolution. No revolution against a conservative despot.
As for America's record of intervention and terrorism in South America, read the histories and analyses of the greatest of realist authorities on the relevant international relations, Noam Chomsky. Look at What Uncle Sam Really Wants for a start.
Our war in Libya, too, is what you heard of a while back. It is a war that includes the intentional killing of civilians. That is to say it includes what reasonable foresight settled in advance for everybody beyond doubt, that civilians would be killed by our war. It is true of all wars. It is nonsense to assign the intentional killing of innocents only to terrorism by way of the usual loaded and thus feeble definition.
Do you say that my comment above about moral monsters, and Blair and Bush as against Gaddafi, and now the comment just made about our intentional killing of innocents Libya, are so extreme as to discredit themselves? So extreme as to discredit me?
Well, truth and argument are not a matter of popularity, as decent philosophers and scientists and almost all reflective persons are ready to agree, however inclined they may be to keep their heads down. The aim of selling is never truth, but I am not selling. Still, let me say a word more about intentional killing, give you an example, an example that might come from your newspaper.
A man's wife has an affair, and then leaves him. He cannot handle it. He eventually goes to the house she is in with petrol and matches. He knows she is in there. But he now sees the cleaning woman go in. That does not stop him from putting the petrol through the letter box and throwing in the matches. Two people are burned to death.
In court, he says he did not intend to kill the cleaning woman, only his wife. He had nothing against the cleaning woman. He is guilty of only one murder. The court, like any decent court, disdains this. He is convicted of two murders, not one, of course on the ground that he did something of which he knew or could be expected to know a possible or probable outcome.
So with killing of innocents
in wars. But there is still more to say of our air war in Libya.
The nature of agents is not irrelevant to the judgement of their actions, not irrelevant to seeing more fully the probable consequences of those actions.
Terrorism and terrorist war come to mind. Yes, terrorism needs defining. My definition of it is (1) killing and other violence, (2) smaller-scale than war, (3) with a political and social aim rather than personal gain -- maybe the aim of a whole people, (4) against national or international law, and (5) prima facie wrong. Terrorism includes state terrorism.
There is also terrorist war. It is same as terrorism except with respect to (2). That is, it is larger-scale than terrorism.
Our air against Libyans verges on terrorist war -- or at least a war not demonstrably or even clearly otherwise than terrorist. This is a matter of legality. What the U.N. sanctioned, in common understanding of its treacherous motion, is not what has happened. To say otherwise is to lie about the implication of a piece of the English language. But what is important about wars is not their legality, or pretence of legality, or near-illegality. It is their humanity or inhumanity.
There is more to say about Libya. We
are to support the anti-Gaddafi
people because they are fighting to achieve one form or part,
admittedly the most important form, a political form, of the great
of freedom and power. You will remember there are other forms of freedom and power, one
of them being the having of a job, another having a future for your children. And all freedom and power, as you
have heard, is
one of the six great human goods. It is also good to live decently
long, not to
be in pain, not to be personally disdained, to be an accepted
member of a society, to
be able to read.
Could the good of freedom and power in its political part, certainly not all of the good of freedom and power, ever be outweighed by other freedom and power and the other five great goods? Could that be the case despite political freedom and power being a kind of means to the other things? Could there be a society that is better than another despite having less political freedom and power, less of the political kind? The question, which takes us back to Cuba and Denmark and the Soviet Union, isn't easy outside of Teletubbyland.
Do you say, if less hopefully than you might have five years ago, that the political freedom and power of hierarchic democracy is indubitably always the best means to the realization of the rest of freedom and power, sometimes called social freedom, and the other five great human goods? Do you live in America? In England? Have you been in Texas for a long time riding the range? Or in a London postal district looking out of a hedge fund?
The government or regime being brought into being in Libya will not be better than our hierarchic democracies. If there were any prospect of that, Cameron and the poseur of France, Sarkozy, would not have supported the Libyan revolution. Cameron would not have taken us into an air war likely to contribute to anything better than the society which he leads.
That is a society, incidentally, whose
present nature he would in certain circumstances indubitably defend by force, defend
by violence, no doubt
defend by terrorism -- and defend by attacks against certain civilians.
Do you say stick to the facts, give up low speculation about hypothetical cases? Well, you cannot be optimistic about the society to come in Libya given that the war has been taken forward by the leader of a party engaged in a certain project at home in England. That is the project, of course a lying project, of destroying or dragging down the greatest work of civilization in the whole history of what was a great country. I refer, of course, to the profitization of the National Health Service.
WHAT TO DO, CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, GESTURE
The future in the world is not so settled as it seemed to be. Things have in a way changed. If the authoritarian regimes in the Arab societies can be brought down, so can the conservative regimes of hierarchic democracy be changed. That is possible. Actually possible.
Civil disobedience works. Remember the fall of a Wall and an empire after it. Remember the numerous successes of civil disobedience in the more recent past.
We in English lecture halls ought not to be here. We ought to be somewhere else . We ought to be outside St. Paul's Cathedral, with those occupiers who are following the example of others in Wall Street. Can we learn at last from America?
Yes -- the
response of moral and other intelligence to inhumanity anywhere in the world must be mass civil disobedience. New
ideas of it. New kinds of it. Gestures too.
Remember Col. Rainsborough of the 17th Century civil war in England, and what he said. Remember the greatest of utterances in English political history. "For really I think the poorest he hath a life to live, as the greatest he...." Shall we have another English colonel today? The gesture by a colonel of the British army who takes his tank from a barracks in Pimlico to Parliament Square, right outside the Houses of Parliament, and parks in the road there to stop the traffic? No shells in the guns, though. No violence. After the television cameras get to the square, there is a return to the barracks by the colonel, and acceptance of his penalty for civil and military disobedience.
24 October 2011
Ted Honderich relevant books: After the Terror (Edinburgh University Press, 2003); On Political Means & Social Ends (Edinburgh University Press, 2003); Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy (Pluto Press, 2003); Conservatism: Burke, Nozick, Bush, Blair? (Pluto Press, 2005); Punishment: The Supposed Justifications Revisited (Pluto Press, 2006); Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7... (Continuum, 2006), published in the United States as Right and Wrong: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7... (Seven Stories Press). Also Stephen Law, ed. Israel, Palestine, and Terror (2008). And papers, chapters of books etc listed in the index of a website.