TED HONDERICH INTERVIEWED for the book Weapons of
the Strong: Conversations on US State Terrorism, edited by Cihan
Aksan and Jon Bailes, Pluto Press 2012.
book also contains interviews of Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Marjorie
Cohn, Edward Herman, Judith Butler, Richard Jackson, Patrick Bond,
Isael Hossein-zadeh, Gilbert Achcar, Norman Finkelstein, Greg Grandin
and Daniele Ganser. Cihan Aksan and Jon Bailes are the founding editors
of the online political journal State of Nature (www.stateofnature.org)
Q: You make a clear distinction between legality and what is
right, and also insist that terrorism is violence that is ‘not according to
international law.’[i] Could you clarify why
it is necessary for you to define terrorism in part by its illegality if that
does not have direct bearing on its morality?
A: Terrorism has been defined by me as (1) destructive
violence or force usually including killing, (2) smaller in scale than war, (3)
with a political and social aim such as the aim of an indigenous people with
respect to a homeland, (4) not according to national or international law, and
(5) prima facie wrong because it is destructive violence, but not necessarily
wrong all things considered. The definition certainly includes state-terrorism,
considerable amounts of it by the United States in Latin America over decades,
and arguably the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
Are you implying in your question that it is odd or maybe
mistaken and in any case not necessary to include in my definition of terrorism
its not being according to law -- because I take the illegality not to entail
that terrorism is wrong? Well, there are lots of questions about definitions
and their kinds -- those aiming to capture primary ordinary usage, and those
that are adequate initial clarifications or preoccupied or prescriptive or
persuasive or loaded or lying definitions.
But I hadn't thought until now that anybody's definition of
anything about which a moral question arises should have in it only what they
or anybody else takes to have a direct bearing on its morality. Maybe that is
arguable, but I don't quickly see how. Still, I do see that all the elements in
my definition of terrorism can be thought to have such a bearing.
I defined terrorism as its being against national or
international law in order to distinguish it from other uses of violence --
somehow official ones by somehow authorized armies or security forces or
police. I defined it that way partly in to be in decent accord with one primary
ordinary usage, part of one such usage. Also, of course, I didn't want to beg
the question at issue by defining terrorism as wrong or implying that, but I
did want to register something of the fact that terrorism is ordinarily thought
of not as action carried out by a somehow accepted government or regime -- a regime, by the way, being an imposed
form of governing in the concealed interest of a minority, smaller or larger,
maybe as large as an economic and social class.
You say I don't take the absence of legality to have a
direct bearing on terrorism's morality -- I take it you mean on the question of
right or wrong. Well, I do indeed think and declare that the illegality of
terrorism cannot in and by itself make it wrong. That seems to me obvious.
There is terrorism now revered in many national histories, maybe as glorious
revolutions. There was terrorism in the understandable and defensible founding
of the state of Israel within its original borders in 1948, Zionism as I
understand that term that is in several other ways used or abused or left
There has also been terrorist war, the latter being the same
as terrorism in my definition except larger in scale. Its illegality doesn't
make it wrong either. But of course it can be wrong. The American and British
invasion and occupation of Iraq is of course a recent case of terrorist war,
grisly in its hypocrisy and in the effects of its hypocrisy.
The subject of definitions in serious discussion and to a
lesser extent in ordinary propaganda is itself a problem, and you make me want
to think more about my definition of terrorism. But let me end here by a bit of
self-defence with respect to my definition. It is, I submit, superior to much
In distinguishing terrorism from somehow standard war and
the like, it is better than the definition in The New Oxford Dictionary of English, which says terrorism is just
the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. In
effect, given the definition of violence as physical force, that makes any
effective nation state terrorist. Denmark is made terrorist, not to mention
Somerset. I have lately been informed that Oxford has caught up with reality in
this regard if not in all others -- Oxford
Dictionaries online defines terrorism as 'the
unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of
political aims'. Glad to see it.
Also, my definition and the new Oxford one stand above the
stupidity and the moral stupidity that terrorism and presumably state-terrorism
is or includes the intentional killing of the innocent. The principal aim of
that definition of terrorism is to distinguish it from somehow official war and
the like by a government, by implication to distinguish terrorism from
respectable war. But of course by any defensible idea of what it is to act
intentionally, necessarily an idea of acting with foreseeable consequences, in
fact the idea of any decent legal system, almost all war includes the
intentional killing of innocents, more than terrorism, usually overwhelmingly
Q: Does the way international law is set up by you not cause
problems? For example, you describe what
you call Israel’s ‘Neo-Zionism’ as ‘terrorism by a national state’ [ii] but many UN
resolutions brought against Israel have not been passed, despite overwhelming
international support, due to the US veto (fourteen-to-one votes in the
Security Council). The point is
therefore, whatever people may think of it, this Israeli violence against
Palestinians is not technically illegal.
Does your definition of ‘not according to international law’ account for
A: This good question again takes me aback. How much should
it do that? Maybe not much. One thing it makes clearer is that what is against
international law is unclear and up for dispute -- but we knew that. The
murderous war criminals Bush and Blair, as they are in my view, invented
international law with respect to the aggression against Iraq. They got corrupt
and toadying lawyers, notably one Goldsmith, Attorney General of England, to
declare what they wanted. But surely the one and only test of international law
cannot be Security Council decisions?
I take it that there are other grounds, precedents and
sources of judgement. There is the UN Declaration of Human Rights. There are
many resolutions of the UN General Assembly. There are the inclusions of the
defensive principle of the just war in agreements of law.
I take it those grounds must include something that amounts
to a people's right of self-defence -- say the self-defence of the Palestinians
against neo-Zionist rapine, the taking from the indigenous people of Palestine
at least their autonomy in the last one fifth of their homeland.
But might it be the case that I have to retreat in a new
definition to an admittedly vaguer idea? That terrorism is violence that is
against a certain international consensus of judgement, against an
international fact of accreditation, beyond official tolerance? That, of
course, could not and would not be an idea to the effect that states in their
activities cannot engage in terrorism.
Such a new definition, of course, would face the problem of
further specification. But, to come back to my main point, certainly there is
sense and a need to distinguish terrorism from the actions of somehow
established governments or regimes.
Q: Can it ever be right, given the existence of
international law, for a nation such as the US to unilaterally use military
intervention? What about covert support for terrorism abroad, whether state or
non-state? Or aggression that is, violence against a state other than in direct
self-defence? Are such actions wrong because they are unilateral, covert or
A: My way of thinking about terrorism, war and so on is by
way of the principle of right and wrong that I call the Principle of Humanity
and of course also by way of what has to be added in any use of it, difficult
or nearly impossibly difficult premises of fact, most saliently premises to the
effect that particular action is a
rational means to the end of the principle. This way of proceeding must leave
open the possibility or at least the conceivability of rightful unilateral military
intervention by a nation -- or of course any other entity or organization, say
a resistance or liberation movement. The same way of thinking applies to
support for terrorism abroad, aggression, and violence against a state other
than in direct self-defence.
Q: I am interested in your idea that, in regards to, say,
military intervention, that ‘the right thing can be done with vicious
intentions’[iii], and also that ‘the
ends and the means justify the means.’ [iv] Using such ideas, one can perhaps morally
justify a regime-change being forced on a country from outside, even if the
motives behind that are not altruistic, that is, the aggressor has something to
gain itself (the installation of a government more favourable to its political
or economic aims). But what counts as
the ‘ends’ in such a situation?
Arguments attempting to justify interventions tend to accept the
regime-change as the end, but should it not be considered as means? Does this affect the possible justification?
A: It seems obvious to me that the right thing can be done
out of bad motives. It seems obvious because what philosophers call
consequentialism is true -- actions, policies, institutions, societies, are
made right or wrong by their probable consequences, nothing else. The
alternative to consequentialism, that intentions make actions right, or that
some things are right on account of the agent's integrity, or on account of
personal relations, or or virtues detached from consequences, or Kant's pure
good will, or whatever -- those suspect ideas are rightly in decline. Can you
really dispute consequentialism? Even if you think, rightly, that intentions
are among the guides to who needs punishment or the like, and of course guides
to probable consequences?
Surely, to take even an extreme case, a child might rightly
be saved from slavery and torture by someone moved only by sexual desires and
intentions -- rightly saved as a result of being far less badly off, in a life
far less bad? As I say, that is not to say that the agent's desires etc are
irrelevant to one's judgement of him, maybe action against him, and relevant to
comparing the possible alternative consequences. I happen to think myself that
all our justifications of action are consequentialist, some of them pretending
to be otherwise. It is absurd to say, as non-consequentialists do, that a
mother cares for a child only or even essentially because it is her child, because of that relationship
that is not a consequence of her action, meaning thereby that her care is not
motivated and defended by its consequences.
I note in passing that much
regime-change is importantly change in the direction of what is too
mildy called our hierarchic democracy -- including its monstrous denials of
equality and hence including for a start, far more importantly, violations of
various kinds of freedom. A question has to arise, whatever its answer may be,
of whether a regime-change to hierarchic democracy may in fact serve the end of
the Principle of Humanity less than certain alternatives to it. There are more
freedoms than political ones. I make bold to say that it is not yet settled
that the overthrow and murder of Colonel Gaddafi by means of our air war will
turn out best for Libyans.
This isn't idle wondering about hierarchic democracy and
alternatives. For a start, the Cuban regime has done better for Cubans than the
American regime has done for Americans.
Q: When a country such as the US has a history of (directly
or indirectly) enforcing regime-changes, or propping up dictatorships, does it
make sense to try and justify each case in isolation, that is, whether Bosnia,
or Iraq, or Libya were ‘right’? Is it
not more important to examine the continuity of motivating interests – the
ideology – behind such acts, and their aggregate results? So if US interests coincide with humanitarian
goals or the opinion of the international community and save lives in one case,
that is not to their credit if the policy destroys more lives overall.
A: You may anticipate that I certainly agree with the
tendency of this question. Anybody must agree who has actually read the books
of Noam Chomsky, the greatest judge in history not only of the nature of human
language but also of the American regime's relations to the rest of the world.
But I hope we agree that the matter is not about motivation, intention or the
concealment of it or self-deception in and so on. Of course there must be more
than suspicion of every single American so-called humanitarian intervention,
and now every British one -- certainly every British one since the period of
Blair and the New Labour Party, whatever is said of our earlier engagements in
Q: You explore the possibility that terrorism can be
justified, using such criteria as the impossibility of negotiation, realistic
chance of success, and killing civilians only because no other means are
available. And you say that, ‘Some [...] terrorism, if very likely none of it
by national states, can be regarded as directed to the end of getting people
out of wretchedness and other distress’. [v] Are such
justifications the preserve of the weak against the strong? Could the US not
also apply these criteria to justify its War on Terror – claims that
negotiation appeared pointless, killing civilians was unavoidable, the intended
ends were to stop suffering, and it was reasonable to anticipate success?
A: I can give a decent answer to the question about the
preserve of the weak only by saying something of that principle of right and
wrong according to me, the Principle of Humanity. In my opinion it's the
principle of the Left in politics when the Left is true to itself. In brief it
is that we must get and keep people out of lives of deprivation and suffering
-- out of what you can call bad lives.
Those are lives denied or deprived of the great human goods,
frustrated in the fundamental desires of our human nature. These six great
goods or desires, in my judgement, are for a decent length of conscious life,
bodily well-being, specified kinds of freedom and power, respect and
self-respect, the goods of relationship, and such goods of culture as literacy
The Principle of Humanity, fully stated, is as follows. The
right thing -- 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 one end -- the end of getting and keeping people out of
bad lives. Certainly a consequentialism.
No metaphor there, no ambiguity, no oratory, no help with
evasion, no cant about the American Way of Life, no tripe of the low English
prime minister Cameron about The Big
Society, nothing about undefined 'freedom', no inane pretences of economic
necessity and impossibility, no ignorant and dim piety about desert, no stuff
from a wretched political party's advertising agency. Nothing vacuous or absurd
about socialism or capitalism. No pretence of avoiding the question of right
and wrong, say by talking of the acceptable and the unacceptable. No leading of
the innocent into thinking they know the answer to the question of right and
wrong without thinking about it. No avoidance of the true proposition that the
aim of selling is never truth. Maybe as important as anything else, no invitation
to the self-deception in which conservative governments live and breathe.
As I say there is nothing in the principle about desert,
that falsehood of such use or rather misuse by the money-grubbers. It is not a
principle of equality either. Its end, whatever side effects there would be of
achieving its end, is not the end of making people equal, getting them into a
relationship, making them the same. Its end is getting people out of misery,
whatever role can be played in that by practices and institutions of equality,
and, as I say, whatever side-effects of equality go with achieving its end. It
is, I suppose, a necessary articulation of the Golden Rule, and of the best of
private religion, and of other great instructions in the highest human culture,
those declarations of sympathy, empathy and generosity.
You do indeed know more of a thing, know more of a principle
of right and wrong, by knowing what it is not. What is the tradition of
conservatism, originally the tradition of a political party in England, now of
both the Republican and the Democratic Party in the United States?
Both American and British conservatives used to say they
were against change but for reform, which they never distinguished. Even their
main and almost only thinker Edmund Burke didn't do it. Anyway they're patently
not against change when it suits them, as Reaganism and Thatcherism and
Britain's New Labour Party demonstrated. Or against revolution, obviously. The
very short story of conservatism is not that it is selfish but that it has no
principle of right and wrong at all to defend the self-interest it shares with
the rest of us. Who can see this and feel able to learn from what conservatism
says of terrorism or state-terrorism?
And what is liberalism in both England and America? What is
this politics that is making possible the conservative and liberal coalition
government in Britain as we speak? What is this politics that may actually be
allowing the party of conservatism to be more vicious than it would be without the
fig leaf provided by their coalition partner?
Liberalism is good intentions without resolution, maybe not
so much intentions as just an uneasy conscience. It lacks the resolution of a
determinate principle. It is true to its principal founder, John Stuart Mill.
His politics are summed up by the fact that he most famously declared in On Liberty that there is to be no
state-intervention in the life of an individual against his will unless he
harms another individual not an agreeing partner -- and then failed to say what
harm is, even to try. A thing I seem to have learned lately from the coalition
government and its further violation of the poor and the weak is that
liberalism has had too much respect from the likes of me in having been given
very little of it.
Partly because the coalition government in question, like
conservatism in America and elsewhere, is relevant to matters of terrorism and
state-terrorism, let me say a word more of comparison. The Principle of
Humanity has in it none of the lying by culpable self-deception on particular
issues that is part of the tradition of liberalism. I have in mind in
particular a muddied lie (The Guardian,
17 March, 2012) by the Baroness Shirley Williams, one of the gang of four who
tragically weakened the Left in Britain by leaving the Labour Party. The lie,
in discussion with the exemplary perceiver of reality Polly Toynbee, was that
the greatest achievement of civilization in British history, the National
Health Service, is well enough preserved by opening up to 49% of it to
But to come round at last to your question, that was whether
the Principle of Humanity is the preserve of the weak against the strong, and
whether this makes it useable against me and others like me on the Left. In
effect, since bad lives are in general those of the weak as against the strong,
the principle will indeed make its justifications the preserve of the weak
against the strong. So, you ask, can American imperialism make use of the
It is unlikely, to say the very least, that the principle
could justify US actions as we know them -- the actions of what is dignified by
being called hierarchic democracy in and outside of the United States. That
democracy is in fact not only a regime but also truly described as the
organization of the strong in America against the weak. There seems to me no
chance that the Principle of Humanity and well-argued minor premises, factual
premises, could give a general justification of, say, America's War on Terror.
It is all-important to me that the principle is not plastic rhetoric, not
plastic in the contemporary sense of the word and also the original one --
easily shaped to whatever end.
But I admit that your question is one that brings into focus
the difficulty of arguing not for for the the rightness of the Principle of
Humanity itself, but for the necessary further factual premises in any case.
Most relevant in the present discussion, there is the factual question of
whether terrorism or terrorist war or other action is in fact rational with
respect to the end of the principle. The factual questions are much harder than
the principal moral question, the general question of right and wrong.
There is another hard question, smaller, which this
discussion between us brings to mind. It is the question which someone will
have called a choice of rhetoric, a choice of a mode of address. The Principle
of Humanity calls for a rational decision in this matter as well. How in these
darkening days should we supporters of the principle talk, talk in different
places? Parliamentary language? Academic restraint? Tolerance in speech of all
opinions? Mutual respect? According anonymity to the adversaries of the
principle, adversaries by commission or omission? Or the expression not only of
condescension but also contempt?
I find the answer difficult, even for this very interview.
Certainly our conventions of speech and discussion are of wonderfully more use
to some of us than others. They keep truth and moral truth quiet if heard at
all. One quick thought in this neighbourhood is that there must be contexts in
which propositions about what is in fact stupidity and moral stupidity are to
be preferred to quiet allusions to class-government, self-deception, and
Q: In trying to justify any terrorism – state-terrorism,
non-state-terrorism, or what you call ‘terrorist war’ – it has to be taken into
account that the death of ‘innocents’ will be a consequence, whether directly
targeted or not. The question is how to judge (and who has the right to judge)
at what point such deaths, as part of the means, become too great for the
desired end. However, does it not simply become relative according to one’s
perception of the end, which, as Igor Primoratz argues, being ‘the ultimate
goal’ for the potential terrorist, by definition ‘overrides all other values
that might conflict with it, all considerations that might stand in the way of
its realisation’? [vi]
A: Maybe there is something about the question that I don't
get. Maybe I misunderstand it. I take it that the question presupposes that a
moral position, mine in particular, may involve a single principle of right and
wrong that overrides all other considerations. Indeed a moral position,
certainly mine, may do that. So does such a principle of anyone else. Moreover,
it is my confident conviction that it is exactly such a principle, an
overriding principle of the kind attempted by Plato, mediaeval Christians,
Kant, Mill and so on, indeed attempted by all reflective moralists, that is an
absolute requirement both of morality and of rational reflection. There is no
decision procedure worth the name without such a principle.
It is exactly the absence of a principle, and of course also
a principle of such literalness and determinateness as to prevent or at any
rate resist self-deception and worse, that is the failure of most thinking
about right and wrong. It is the absence of such a principle, most importantly
in conservatism and liberalism, that has contributed so plainly to the
viciousness of American foreign policy -- and, to take another salient example,
the barbarism of neo-Zionism in its ongoing rape of the Palestinians. It is the
absence of a principle that has contributed so much to failing to see that the
Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism against neo-Zionism within
all of historic Palestine. It is the absence of such a principle that helps so
much to make for an absence of discrimination with respect to terrorism and in
Nothing in all that excludes secndary considerations that
turn up elsewhere in good thinking, including that of Igor Primoratz. You will
remember that I do not take such a principle to make things easy. It doesn't.
Above all the facts are harder to judge.
Q: But, to return to the US, even if some utilise wars and
terror for pure cynical economic expansion, for others is there not genuine
belief in the righteousness of what they are doing – a sense, no matter how
delusional, that they are bringing the world freedom and opportunity, based on
a moral principle?
A: Again I agree. So what? There is no doubt that our
wretched coalition government here in Britain, in which I cannot resist saying
again that the main sham of the tradition of liberalism is exposed -- our
coalition government is persuaded of its own rectitude, rationality, etc. Even
of its humanity. Even its humanity in terms of the clear-headed Principle of
Humanity. I remember being on television once with a dim minister-to-be who
pretended he would embrace it when put in charge of the universities -- David
Willetts. When such things are said, they are half listened to. This is a
further proof of the lowering of the level of intelligence in public debate
first achieved by Thatcher.
It seems to me possible that if you take into account
relative good and bad, which is certainly yet more important than absolute good
and bad -- remember freedoms for a start -- there is about as much argument
now, in so far as the existing state of a society is concerned and nothing
else, for violent revolution against hierarchic democracy -- as much argument
in this respect as there was for revolution in the circumstances of, say, the
English Revolution of the 17th Century such as it was, and the French
Revolution, and the Russian Revolution, and the Cuban Revolution. That is,
there is as much argument in terms of inhumanity in the existing state of a
society -- the denial of the great goods and great human desires, the making of
Of course, as you have heard, that cannot be the end of the story. There
can be no justified violent action that is not rational -- not rational in
terms of means and ends, certainly the costs of means in terms of humanity. To
a judgement of the state of a society you must add what is harder, a judgement
of whether an attempt at revolution will work. It does not matter that
governmental and class resistance will of course be what will make the
revolution wrong, that this resistance will be more responsible for the wrong
than the revolutionary action of the revolutionaries. What matters is that the
governmental and class defence with its great costs is likely to be successful.
Q: In the Arab Spring, it seems that the demand for
democracy encapsulated all needs, including basics such as food and jobs, which
initially triggered the strikes and protests. Effectively then, democracy
anticipates the opportunity to determine society as a whole. Your Principle of
Humanity is about taking decisions to help realise the goods of life as widely
as possible. Do you think democracy has the power of a single good that
contains within it the possibility of realising all other goods, and is
therefore a worthy overriding cause in itself?
A: I don't know the ideologies, loyalties, ambitions and
self-interests of the protestors and fighters of the Arab Spring. I don't think
you do either. We are not told by even the decent part of our press. And
frankly, I am tired of thinking of adding excuses of any hierarchic democracy,
American and British and any other, to the condemnation of it that is a
consequence of the Principle of Humanity. I am more than tired of contemplating
the value of what is simply called 'democracy' without consideration of what
thing is being contemplated, let alone the trivial and dismal incantation of
Hierarchic democracy in America, Britain and elsewhere, as I
should have said before, and am free and obliged to judge in the absence of
work by those economists and others who should have carried it out, is such
that the top economic decile as against the bottom has such wealth and income
as to issue in its having more than a thousand times the political influence
and power of the bottom decile. With this inequality, of course, goes exactly
such a disparity in all freedoms and the other great goods.
It is ludicrous to suppose that the American and English
regimes of hierarchic democracy, given their history, and especially the
present response in England to the global economic situation and the national
economic situation, will serve the end you mention of the Principle of
Humanity. Even only a cursory reading of the decent English newspapers, say The Guardian and The Independent, makes the supposition ludicrous.
Those newspapers by their omissions make something else
clear. It is that it can be guessed, despite our ignorance, that it is probable
that the aims of the Arab revolutions
must be judged to have been, in sum or in the main, hierarchic democracy. That
reduces my enthusiasm for the Arab Spring. I admit, however, although without
benefit of knowing anything of Marx, that what I think he properly called
bourgeois revolutions may have in them a little more hope with respect to
humanity than most of the regimes they are replacing.
The general question you raise is maybe the largest and most
terrible question about governments and kinds of democracy. I don't know a
Q: You mention the concept of ‘cowardly war’, where soldiers
are distanced as much as possible from danger with the result that greater
civilian casualties are inevitable. Is it reasonable to expect the leaders,
especially of a democracy, in which they represent only their own people by
mandate, to not put the lives of their own people first in war?
A: I remember the philosopher Richard Wollheim, no
revolutionary he, saying to me in the early 1960's that he was surprised that
patriotism was still considered a virtue -- or anyway so considered among the
members of enlightened people. The philosopher and still Marxist Jerry Cohen
said the same. No doubt there is some reflection about division of labour in
life -- parents having a special obligation with respect to their child and so
on, leaders of a nation having a paternal obligation. But it really cannot be
the case that leaders in a hierarchic democracy, on the premise or rather the
dream that they represent all the people, should put some of humanity first in
the way they do.
There are secondary questions about killing from a great
height, by drone, frying to death the intended victims and the rest We
shouldn't forget, though, that it turns stomachs in a particular way. That it
does so is not irrelevant to further reflection. Horror counts. If the
Principle of Humanity necessarily is general, it is unique in being in direct
touch with such realities.
Q: Regarding the aftermath of 9/11 and the invasion of
Afghanistan, one point you make is that ‘Human nature exists’ and ‘it puts
limits on our reactions to such horrors as 9/11. What we have little choice but
to do, having been attacked, is not all that would be right if we were not so
human.’[vii] However, while of
course mass public anger is expected, is it not reasonable to expect at least
our leaders to not stoke the fires, to avoid a cycle of vengeance? And, in the
case of Afghanistan, given the rational negotiation (which arguably could have
succeeded [viii] and planning of
the invasion that preceded it, is the idea of instinctive reaction even
A: I say thanks for the question. I hereby change my mind
about that excusing of the United States in its war against Afghanistan, and so
I accept your objection. It must remain true that 'ought' implies 'can', that
no person or nation can be blamed for doing what is the only possibility open
-- where that is partly a matter of the limits of human nature. I now take it, in
brief, that two facts about the United States, facts that do not distinguish it
from other hierarchic democracies, are better put in place of my excuse.
One is of course the mass-produced stupidity and the moral
stupidity of the United States, the first of those being supportive and
creative of the second, a stupidity and moral stupidity owed fundamentally to
the inequalities and therefore denials of freedom touched on earlier. The
second is the culpability with respect to those stupidities of deciles towards
the top of the American population.
Q: Although we can question the quality of US democracy
(unequal social and political influence, narrow political spectrum, imbalanced
voting system, lack of engagement), it is still a fact that, simply because it is
democracy, people collectively select their political representatives. Nobody,
for example, has to endorse major, corporate funded parties that are likely to
support military interventions. Given that, to what extent are people, in even
what you call a ‘hierarchic democracy’, responsible for their government’s
state-terrorism, or even terrorist attacks against themselves?
A: To be relevant, there is room for reflection on the
proposition that 'nobody...has to endorse major, corporate funded parties that
are likely to support military interventions'. If there is no party of
intelligence and moral intelligence with the slightest chance of winning the
election, I take it there is some argument for the conclusion that people have
to endorse another party. The least bad. That may be better than not voting, I
Q: What is now to be done by those who are of the Left, are
of the Principle of Humanity?
A: The answer is civil disobedience, any civil disobedience
in accord with the Principle of Humanity, any such civil disobedience in the
hope of being followed by mass civil disobedience. In particular any such civil
disobedience with respect to American and now British state-terrorism.
It is inhumanity that the Occupation movement, most notably
in Wall Street and outside St. Paul's Cathedral in London, has had the great
honour to resist. Do you wonder if the present governments of the United States
and Britain, as against the Occupiers, will maintain a respectability in
future, have a decent place in history, even in the minds of ordinary readers
of history? They will not. The Occupiers will have such a place, as certainly
as one is had now by those who have resisted inhumanity thoughout history. The
Occupiers are not kiddies. They have a rank above money-grubbers, the political
class, right-wing historians, the lesser press, all those kiddies in thinking
and feeling about what is right.
Such civil disobedience is morally necessary. So are further
gestures of it. Speaking of England, maybe one by another English army colonel
today, true to Colonel Rainborough of Civil War in the 17th Century?
Rainborough said, you may remember, the greatest thing in the political history
of England, "For really I think the
poorest he hath a life to live, as the greatest he...." Maybe a tank now
in Parliament Square to support the big strike or the march? No shells in the
colonel's tank. After the television cameras arrive, back to barracks in
Pimlico to accept the penalty for his civil and military disobedience.
Q: You say that omissions, such as not sufficiently
protesting, are to be considered in a judgement of responsibility, even that
‘in connection with the wrongs of September 11, our omissions were a necessary
context for the particular intentions on the part of the killers’ [ix]. Of course, our
intention is key here, and knowledge is related to intention. Is a lack of knowledge and accessibility of
knowledge in, say, the US an excuse for omission? What about feelings of the disempowered, the
inability to affect anything? Where do our obligations to protesting perceived
wrongs, and then responsibilities for violence perpetrated by our states, begin
and end in a hierarchic democracy?
A: Yes, it must be that the omissions in question are on the
part of those who have some level of knowledge and judgement. To take one easy
example, the omissions are paradigmatically culpable on the part of those in
the top economic deciles in our societies. Their responsibility for the
ignorance of a large part of the population, by way of the media, is out of all
proportion to that of those on the bottom. We are not all wretched Murdochs and
New Labour spin-doctors.
At the moment we are having this conversation it is hard to
see that President Obama, that once great hope, so welcomed by the likes of me,
is not among the culpable. It depends on some of those hard premises, one about
getting a second term of office.
Ted Honderich's relevant books: After the Terror (Edinburgh University Press, 2003); On Political Means & Social Ends
(Edinburgh University Press, 2003); Terrorism
for Humanity: Inquiries in Political PhilosophyConservatism: 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), in America titled Right
and Wrong, and Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7... (Seven Stories Press). Papers,
interviews etc at http://www.homepages.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/ (Pluto Press, 2003);
[i] Honderich, Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy
(London: Pluto Press, 2003), p. 155.
[ii] Humanity, Terrorism,
Terrorist War (London: Continuum, 2006), p. 102.
[iii] Jon Bailes and Cihan Aksan, ‘Humanity and Terror: An Interview with Ted
Honderich’, State of Nature, Autumn,
[iv] Honderich, Humanity, Terrorism,
Terrorist War (London: Continuum, 2006), p. 80.
[v] Honderich, Terrorism for Humanity, p. 172.
[vi] Igor Primoratz, ‘The Morality of Terrorism’, Journal of Applied Philosophy,
Vol. 14, No. 3, 1997, p. 223.
[vii] Honderich, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War, p. 141.
[viii] ‘U.S. rejects Taliban offer to try bin Laden’, CNN.com, Oct 7, 2001.
[ix] Honderich, After the Terror
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), p. 125.