Moral philosophy's firebrand Ted Honderich was on the telly last night (on Five's Don't Get Me Started). The programme was entitled The Real Friends of Terror and it rehearsed the arguments in his recent Continuum title Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9-11, Iraq, 7-7. Honderich argued clearly and convincingly that Blair's moral barbarism is atrocious, and that the real cause of the 9-11 and 7-7 attacks is the ongoing situation in Palestine. The programme was good polemic and it is always nice to see Blair (and Bush) condemned so trenchantly. But Honderich's argument is maddening.

If you jettison politics in favour of "moral philosophy" and the (very questionable and hubristic) "principle of humanity" (the principle Honderich uses to ground his argument, a principle, in short, that everyone should have "good lives") you concede to politicians the very ground you should be fighting them on. Politicians aren't (just) morally stupid; they are also CEOs of countries that have political and strategic ends to follow by whatever means. Throwing politics out of the window, and blaming politicians for moral stupidity, means no questions are asked about oil and arms, about realpolitik. Engaging with Blair's arguments as a moral philosopher flatters a politician's spin as somehow worthy of being taken seriously. There is a spurious War on Terror and tens of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians because of oil, power and money. Moral failings may certainly stem from the hunger for these "resources", but they are not the cause of the wars fought to capture them.

Readers Comments

  1. Nicely put, Mark, if I may say so. I notice more and more that people are opting for this essentially abstract idea, that if only 'we' or the 'west' or 'the government' would get their moral compasses set right, they would see the Palestine question as immoral and hey presto the whole Middle East, war on terror thing etc would be solved. As a way of highlighting the persistent refusal to apply human rights to the Palestinian question, it's fair enough, but as you say, it is up in the clouds as far as addressing real reasons for western meddling in the area.

  2. I agree entirely, Mark. Thanks for this wise post. I also want to thank Michael Rosen for pointing out the added complexity of the way that, despite the urgent human rights violations which must be addressed and resolved, a broader situation of the West's presence and meddling in the Middle East is, indeed, left "up in the clouds "

  3. Chris Bertram, over at Crooked Timber, has more on this broadcast:

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