The Way Things Are


1. Britain, America, Africa, Palestine, Iraq

How are things in England, Scotland and Wales? Well, there is pretty much the same dark summary as with Thatcherism before the glorious election of 1997 that brought in government by the New Labour Party. The rich are getting richer and the poor certainly aren’t getting much less poor. That is, there is an overwhelming inequality in incomes.The current figures, on what is probably the most authoritative reading, show that there is no clear trend. [1] Things are as likely to get worse as get better.

No doubt you know about the Gini Coefficient, which gets its name from an Italian statistician. It measures inequality on a scale from 0 to 100, where 0 is perfect equality in a society and 100 is one person having all of whatever it is. It’s not what you could call humanly informative, but it tells you something. Income inequality under Thatcher governments averaged 29 or 30. The average under Blair and Brown is now about 35. Those numbers are about real things we all want and need, like life, of which money is the best measure.

How are things in America? Well it’s still ahead of England, Scotland and Wales in inequality. Things are more dismal, but they’re used to it. The Gini number for income inequality is around 44 or 45. It’s not a shock that you get turned away from a hospital if your breathing’s getting worse and you couldn’t afford health insurance. Maybe it’s better to be in prison, anyway a good prison. America has 2,100,000 people in prisons now. A quarter of the world’s prisoners for a twentieth of the world’s population. They’re overwhelmingly disproportionately black. [2]

It’s not because it’s a fair society. For president, America is getting a choice of millionaires at this election. It won’t be as clear this time as last election, though, that it doesn’t matter who wins. Last time America proved that, by not really trying to find out who won.

How are things in Africa? Well, there is that thing in the Sudan in this summer of 2004 — people in the food camps and the rapes and the children dying from diahorrea. It doesn’t come to much, really. Another larger sample of Africans, alive now, the bottom tenths of population in four African countries, are losing a lot more of what just about all of want above all — living time, time in the world, being here. The sample, each of them with a name and hopes, is losing 20 million years of living time. [3]

How are things in Palestine? The taking of the land from its people goes on. The bulldozers aren’t crushing the houses of the people at the moment, but more houses are being built on the land for other people. It is carried on by what you can call creatures of America. The neo-Zionists, as distinct from Zionists like me, and maybe you, are still killing the passers-by while aiming at the terrorists. The terrorists have been killing the occupiers of their homeland, trying to save a little more of it for its people. If you talk about the state-terrorism of neo-Zionism, and assert the moral right of the Palestinians against it, you’re an anti-Semite. [4]

How are things in Iraq? If you turned on the web yesterday morning, you could find out that the civilian deaths are between 11,609 and 13,591. [5] The dead ones are a definite number between those figures of what were actual people. In each case there was a world of perceptual consciousness, something outside a head, that isn’t there anymore. One of the non-civilian deaths, by the way, was that of Private Marc Ferns, aged 22, younger than my son, of Fife here in Scotland, who may not have signed up for an American war. There is at least uncertainty, no agreement, about why another homeland is being occupied and these personal worlds like his are ending.

2. Conservatism, New Labour, Liberalism

So there are some facts. That you rightly hear I have a kind of attitude to them, as you too may have, doesn’t make them any less than facts. If we all start again, how are we to think and feel about them? Maybe by seeing that they aren’t all of the facts? Could be. But by way of what morality or realism or whatever are we to consider these and any other relevant facts? That is the main question for this occasion.

We can try to do it in terms of the political spectrum, starting with the right end of it, conservatism. I have in mind not a particular party, but a political tradition that includes the Conservative Party in Britain, the Republican Party in America, almost all of the Democratic Party, and maybe New Labour. What is the rationale or underlying principle or aim in life or summary of conservatism?

It certainly isn’t that we ought to conserve everything, go against all change. That would be irrational to the point of battiness. Anyway, we know Thatcher changed things. So did Reagan. If you say conservatism isn’t for change, but rather for something called reform, that doesn’t help, since we need to know the difference. Edmund Burke was the first of Conservative thinkers, and he didn’t say. Neither has anybody else, right up to Robert Nozick and the neo-cons.

Certainly conservatism is for some freedom or other, like every other political tradition without exception. It is for a private-property freedom. But that doesn’t give us a general principle of judgement. We need to know why private-property freedom is good or right, why it’s better than freedom of higher education or any other social or civil freedom. [6]

A seemingly better idea is that the general principle or rationale of conservatism is desert — everybody getting all that they deserve and nobody getting more than they deserve. The better idea doesn’t work, however. It doesn’t work because there isn’t actually any principle of desert — as is illustrated, incidentally, in the best book on the subject, by a professor at Rice University. [7] To say everybody is to get what they deserve is in effect to say that they are to getthe right amounts, not to say what the right amounts are.

You might, having thought about that, and remembering private property, come to the conclusion that conservatism is just selfishness. That would be a mistake. What distinguishes conservatism is not that it is self-interested. It is no more self-interested than any other political tradition, indeed any of the rest of humanity. It is not as if the English poor or the firemen brave enough to think about another strike were not out for themselves to an ordinary extent.

We will come back to what distinguishes the tradition of conservatism — what its rationale is, but glance now at New Labour. I have spent some time with its philosophy, called The Third Way. Blair gave a lecture on it. [8] It’s a basinful of reforms without any change in Labour’s fundamental values, in fact a basinful of contradictions. A main one, not new, is that New Labour is both for some real equality of opportunity, which unfortunately results in inequality in the possession of things, like property, and also for something or other like equality in the sharing out of these things, called social inclusion or whatever else.

It’s impossible, given ordinary intellectual standards, to find a rationale for New Labour in the philosophy, or in any of the sincere stuff on television, or the speeches to the annual conference. In the end, it seemed to me a better idea, indeed necessary, to look at upshots of its nature. That is to use a behavioural criterion of what a bunch of people is up to, the test of what they do, dear to our politicians in other selected circumstances.The main upshot was one mentioned earlier. Since 1997 and New Labour’s arrival in power, something has been pretty much the same as it was before: the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, by official figures.

We don’t have to answer the question of whether New Labour is in fact a conservatism in order to draw another conclusion. [9] New Labour for whatever reason, it has been unclear in what it says it is up to, unclear in saying what a government should be up to.

This may be partly because New Labour is not very bright, which idea has been creeping up on me. A lot of them only been to law schools. It may be because like no British government before us, it is engaged in selling us stuff. To sell is never to aim at clarity and truth, however useful some of this may be from time to time. Anyway, for whatever reason, we can’t here find a determinate, consistent and articulated principle to consider making use of in considering the facts about our own people, America, Africa, Palestine, and Iraq. New Labour is at least like the conservative tradition in respect of keeping its aim in life obscure.

Still thinking of the political spectrum, we could have a look at the tradition of liberalism, in a wide sense that includes British and American liberalism. We can go right to the top, at least the intellectual top, and consider the large book by John Rawls of Harvard, A Theory of Justice. [10] It is unique, an American political philosophy, the most developed there is. It advances some principles that it says, very rightly, would be chosen in a carefully imagined situation by some carefully imagined people making a social contract — setting up a society.

The main one of the principles is one that says what socio-economic inequalities or socio-economic differences there can be in any just society. The principle is pretty simple at first sight. What it says is that you can only have inequalities, and you must have inequalities, that have the effect of making a worst-off class better off than it would be without the inequalities. You can have, and you must have, whatever upper class makes the lowest class less badly-off than it would otherwise be. What lies behind this is of course a familiar notion. It is that a society’s having incentive-rewards, favourable inequalities, helps everybody, not just those who get the rewards. Wealth at the top trickles down, we used to hear from Thatcher. A rising tide lifts all boats, they say in America.

The Difference Principle, as it is called, contains a question. What inequalities are needed to make the worst-off class better-off than it would be without them? It gives no answer to that question. It leaves it possible or likely that the inequalities are the ones demanded as incentives in certain circumstances by those who will benefit from them. It leaves it as possible that the inequalities are the ones favoured by some kind of consensus among people with more economic and thus political power. It leaves it possible that the inequalities are the ones deemed to be necessary by rich Americans.

To my mind this is an excellent illustration of the nature of liberalism. It has good intentions about deprived people, and somehow fails to carry the intentions through into practice — by first carrying them forward into clear thought. There was the same problem with that first liberal, John Stuart Mill, in his essay On Liberty. He said each of us is to have the fullest liberty that does not result in harm to others, but didn’t say what harm is. [11]

3. Hierarchic Democracy

In glancing at conservatism, New Labour, and liberalism, have we missed the most obvious answer to the question of how to think of Britain, America, Africa, Palestine and Iraq? Is the answer democracy? Should we take the view, roughly, that what we should do in and about those five places, starting with the United Kingdom, is what democracy says we should do? That is the thinking of almost all of those self-interested individuals who are our democratic politicians, of course. Blair says so often, probably on holiday, but not why.

Those who have had the benefit of more than a legal education, and not fallen into the habits of thought and feeling of business schools and businessmen, will say in effect that democracy is the government of freedom and equality. Some of them are not still promoting the old idea that there is a general conflict between liberty and equality, and so they should say democracy is the government of equal freedom. That, whatever the rest of the argument is, is why we should go along with democratic thinking about those five places.

Or rather that is what we hear from these theorists when they are on the telly and thus engaged in selling to the most credulous. When they are giving lectures to enlightened audiences got together by the Fabian Society, they will of course say that democracy is the government and society that approximates to equal freedom on the part of a people and a government. It is a lot closer to equal freedom that what they had in Iraq, or what they had in the Soviet Union before it was privatized, and what they now have in Cuba.

Having had some unreflective moments myself, while writing books, I have to admit to having myself thought about our democracy in terms of an approximation to equal freedom. [12] Itisn’t a good idea, for several reasons. In fact, as it seems to me, it’s an absurd idea. Let me leave out contestable reasons for saying so, say about equality and the Soviet Union. Never having been a Marxist, and not having been hit on the head when a wall fell down in Germany, I am not committed to the received sanity that the United States is more equal than Russia was. But, as I say, forget about that.

Political power and influence in our democracies is a function, not very complex, of economic power — income-and-wealth power. We all know that. Economic power is distributed as unequally as anything is. There is a result of this that can be stated by updating a proposition of the greatest student of American democracy, no Leftie. What we get is that Murdoch of The Sun in England has a thousand or ten thousand times greater control over the alternatives scheduled for debate and decision in a national election than you do. [13] He is about that much more free to get what he wants for himself and the people with whom he identifies. You can safely say that they, some millions of them, are at least 100 times freer than the rest of us.

The absurdity of just talking about equality here becomes clear as soon as you think of other contexts where equality comes up. Say one person one vote, or the same pay for women doing the same job, or employees having options to buy stock in the company, or zeal in looking into your income tax figures, or sharing out food among the hungry or the starving, or being fair between your own children. Would we talk of equality in these contexts if the proportions were 10,000 or 1,000 or 100 to 1?

The short story is that our democracy is just hierarchic democracy. [14] You get that conclusion by keeping in mind that it needs to be thought of in terms of more comparisons than one. It is as reasonably described as government and society approximate to zero equality and freedom as government and society approximate to real equality and freedom. Which comparison you take, if you take only one, may depend on something else, which anyone who has escaped innocence in these matters will want to know about. One thing it could depend on is a clear moral commitment, an articulated principle, including an openness to real possibilities — as distinct, say, from the irresolution of liberalism and the verbiage of New Labour.

It would be good to say more about another idea in the theory of our democracy. It is also the very basis of Rawls’s argument. It is that you can recommend a decision-method more or less independently of the decisions it makes. But if hierarchic democracy in itself, its internal kinds and degrees of equal freedom, is open to positive and negative recommendations or judgements, it is what it gives rise to that is of greatest and perhaps overwhelming importance. Maybe I’ll come back to that.

Let us end here with what seems to be a cast-iron conclusion. It is drawn from the fact that indubitably there is this dispute about the standing of hierarchic democracy with respect to itsapproximation or lack of approximation to equal freedom. Equal freedom is what is supposed to validate democracy’s decisions. That’s what recommends them. If there isn’t anything like it, the conclusion is that there can be no confidence that what we ought to think about those five places is what democracy decides about them.

4. Terrorism

If we are not to think in terms of conservativism, or the contradictions of New Labour, or in terms of liberalism, or democracy, what about thinking by way of terrorism? Like democracy, it is a method of securing decisions. It may have just as much theory or talk of equal freedom attached to it as hierarchic democracy. Also, for what the point is worth, there is terrorism aimed actually at getting democracy for people, killing and maiming with reason can be called democratic terrorism. [15] You say, of course, that terrorism killing people, a long way from voting. Well, democacy does a lot of killing too, indeed an awful lot more.

But I do not advocate terrorism in any general way in its place — I intend only to provide a sharp reminder that it is not a good idea to suppose that decision-methods rather than outcomes are what we need to have in mind.

This is as good a place as any, however, to get a little clearer about terrorism. By the decree of convention in our societies, partly a consent manufactured by democratic politicians, terrorism is by definition wrong, to say the least. This conception of it has certain obvious consequences. One is that the idea just embraced, that it is wrong generally to advocate terrorism as a response to our problems, becomes the useless idea that it is wrong to advocate something that is wrong as a response to our problems. Another different sort of consequence, with counterparts in the histories of most nations, is that the founding of the state of Israel came about partly by means of at least a moral wrong.

Putting aside the convention, as all must do when they are not on the telly or in the papers, terrorism is easily defined. As Noam Chomsky points out, it is even easily defined by the American Army. [16] In my own version of the definition, it is killing, maiming and other violence for political and social ends, illegal in terms of national or international law, smaller-scale than war, and, as violence, such as immediately to raise a question of its moral justification. [17. You can go further in the last bit and say that terrorism, unlike hierarchic democracy as a response to our problems, is prima facie wrong. [18] That is consistent with something else, the possibility that terrorism like democracy is finally to be judged in terms of all its consequences.

What is more in need of keeping in mind, now, is that terrorism is in main respects on precisely the level of most or much war. If war is always larger-scale than terrorism, at least much of it is not also distinguished from terrorism by being legal. The American war in Iraq, to say the very least, is not known or widely judged to be legal. Like terrorism, this war is prima facie wrong. Like terrorism, it is to be judged by all its consequences. In sum, there is no large generalization to the effect that terrorism is worse than war, less wrong.

It needs remarking, seemingly, that the plain definition of terrorism, which essentially take it to be a kind of illegal political violence, cannot but include terrorism by a state, state-terrorism. Do you now have an impulse to operate with a different definition? In short, are you inclined to say terrorism is a kind of illegal political violence not by states?

Certainly you can move to such a definition. You are in accordance with an ordinary usage, which is at least desirable. But you do no more than with any other definition to advance any substantial question in the slightest degree. It’s just television-talk. Where before you had the problem of terrorism to be wrong, you now have the problem of showing something actually to be terrorism, which includes showing it to be wrong. You also face a question. Why do you favour this definition? What reason do you have for it? Might that reason be a morality? Let us have that morality spelled-out.

The upshot of these reflections, on conservatism to terrorism, is that they do not give us what we need in order to think about the five places, a decision-principle, an explicit principle of right and wrong. It has always been obvious that we need such a thing. Not the fundamental obscurity of the ideology of conservatism, or the necessarily empty contradictions of New Labour, or the congeries of values dear to liberals that conflicts in itself and is bound to be used in self-serving ways. Not an unreflective reliance on democracy, either, or on any method at all other than what you can call an inquiring moral intelligence.

5. The Principle of Humanity

My principle is the Principle of Humanity. It has to do with the great goods, our great desires. These in my reckoning are for (1) a decent length of life, say 75 years rather than 35, (2) the further means to bodily well-being, (3) freedom and power, including freedom and power as a people, (4) respect and self-respect, (5) personal and wider human relationships, (6) the goods of culture, including knowledge and religion. Bad lives are defined in terms of the denial of these goods, the misery and other distress of that denial.

The Principle of Humanity is that we are to take actually rational steps to get and get people out of bad lives. Rational steps, first, are effective ones, not pretences and the like. Secondly, they are humanly eonomical — they do not cost too much in terms of the great goods. The principle gets filled out by way of certain policies and prescriptions, several having to do with transfers of means to well-being, one large one having to do with equalities. We’re enough alike so that prctices of equality are fundamental. The concern with equality, however, is consistent with the end or aim of the principle being not relational at all, but rather getting people out of bad lives. [19]

There is, I propose, a proof of the inescapability of the Principle of Humanity. We are all committed to the principle on account of the two main facts of our human natures. We are desirers first of the great goods, and we have and use reasons. I believe that I should not be deprived of a great good to increase the satisfaction of of someone already in possession of the great goods. You believe this of you. To have this reason favouring oneself is is necessarily to have the same reason favouring others. [20]To deny help for others is to deny help for ourselves, which we cannot do. A selfishness will not save us from the proof.

The Principle of Humanity judges actions and other things by certain of their consequences. It is therefore what some philosophers call a consequentialism. Others say that it takes the end to justify the means. That common utterance is unthinking, here as elsewhere. The Principle of Humanity takes the good of the end, sometimes, to justify the bad of the means. It takes the good of the end, sometimes, not to justify the bad of the means. It takes into account both sorts of consequences. To my mind there are actually no reasons for actions, and hence no moral reasons, that do not have to do with consequences. Moral non-consequentialisms, so-called, are consequentialisms of self-interest or selfishness. [21]

What is more important is that clear-headed consequentialist morality, which is to say all morality worth the name, issues in plain propositions of several sorts. The main one is that omissions with certain consequences are as wrong as certain positive acts. A lesser proposition, although of an important kind, is that the idea of ‘double effect’ is a nonsense. That is the idea, applied in one case, that firing a rocket from a helicopter gunship, thereby killing a Palestinian terrorist, and also killing some innocent passers-by, is not made wrong by the latter deaths, of thepassers-by, because they were, as the doctrinalists say, only foreseen consequences and in some sense not intended or desired. [22]

So much for a sketch of how not to think about those five places, starting with the United Kingdom and ending with Iraq, and a sketch of how to think of them instead. The recommended principle and attitude, if there is a kind of proof of it, also has a kind of generality that puts it where very few moralities are, which is above suspicion as to self-interest.

That also distinguishes the morality of humanity from the tradition of conservatism, by the way. It was remarked earlier that conservatism is not unique in being selfish or self-interested. What is unique about it, in short, is that it is not also informed by a moral principle. It is just selfish, nothing else. You can say that is also pretty nearly the situation of New Labour. It is a situation different from that of the Left in politics, which adds to its self-interest the Principle of Humanity.

None of that is near to saying that the principle issues in automatic, quick, simple or indisputable conclusions. Anything that does do that is thereby shown to be not worth our attention. We know that the main problems we face are hard. Anything that makes them easy is not a solution.

As it seems to me, so to speak, what is hardest about morality is not morality. What is hardest is not what is right but what the facts are, including facts about what is probable and possible. There is, I think, a kind of convergence on the Principle of Humanity, owed to our human natures and also involving the proof and its generality. What is hard to see is whether this or that, say hierarchic democracy or some terrorism, will actually have certain effects. Better, what is hard to see is the probability that democracy or terrorism or whatever will issue in certain outcomes.

But we do not have a certain option, the option of not judging. There are too many people judging with real or pretended confidence already, notably our democratic leaders. That we do nothave the option of letting things go is part of the spirit of the Principle of Humanity, as it is of other decent moralities. So too is the obligation to give force to the expression of the applications of the principle.

We began with glances at England, Scotland and Wales and also other places. You will gather that the attitude implied in those glances, my attitude, is one that is to be defended on thebasis of the Principle of Humanity — by it together with the large policies and prescriptions that fill it out, and also, as important, essential factual premises. Let us now glance again at those places, perhaps with a different and more resolute eye.

6. Britain, America, Africa Again

In England, Scotland and Wales, as a result of your purchasing power, you may die early, early as compared to your betters. If you are of Social Class 5, recently replaced by a more emolliently-named category, you may be deprived of what you could have, more of the great good that we all desire from the beginning to the end. That is being here. If you are a father with a son you like the look of, you will see less of him. You will have less of the other great goods. [23]

This comes about not because of natural causes, whatever those might be in this day when intervention in nature and against nature is common stuff of our lives. It comes about because a distribution of things measured by income and wealth, which distribution is owed most importantly to and almost written into our hierarchic democracy. That democracy, in this day as weak in its language as it is in moral intelligence, finds this and that to be unacceptable. The pompous predicate, that good little instance in its ambiguity of the absence of actual reflection about what ought to be the case, is not what we need in speaking of dying early, early leaving, and the wretched system of government that brings it about.

Partly these things are the result of something mentioned before, convention, the body of convention that rules this place despite an array of studied facts that does not weaken it — study of the naturalizing of dark facts, their legitimizing and sacralizing, all of it more by complicity than conspiracy. [24] There is the old convention that the poor are always with us. To such falsehoods about inevitability, we have added propositions and attitudes useful to a society made increasingly suited to sellers of things. One of these conventions is the falsehood that economics tells you how to run a society.

In that connection, put aside the extent to which the dismal science, the main stream of it, is in fact disguised conservative politics and ideology. Put aside too that it is informed by no effective analysis of of what it depends on in its political use as much as anything, which is a concept of efficiency wide and inclusive enough to matter. Put aside as well the ignorance of businessmen, owed to insufficient awareness of a culture and its history, including the novel. Put aside, as I can add without a tinge of embarrassment, the insufficiency of intellects not much touched by the moral and other logic that is the stuff of decent philosophy. There is something yet more basic that we have fairly recently been led to overlook.

Economics is not the answer we need to the largest question. It is not so unless you confuse the question of what to do with the money, which is to say what to do with goods of which money is the measure, with the question of how to get more money, more of the goods. Our history in Britain been one of increasing material goods, with only one period of effective concern with those deprived of them, which was in the years after 1945. This is itself a demonstration that focussing on increasing Gross Domestic Product or the like will not serve our proper end to any great or even significant extent. I refer, of course, to the end of the Principle of Humanity, getting people out of bad lives rather than making their lives worse.

It is in the United States, to turn to that place, that the principal piece of moral stupidity of this time is most undisturbed. After 9/11, hideous and monstrous in a way that is best understood by the Principle of Humanity [25], a question was asked by some Americans, or rather journalists, with an eye on an answer. It was the question ‘Why Do They Hate Us?’ Post-Modernists had their thoughts published, and the novelist Salman Rushdie ruminated about the Islamic personality. Such reflections were for a time succeeded by some recognition, if only in such places as the opp-ed pages of the very best newspapers, that 9/11 had causes that were other than the depravities of the terrorists. That recognition did not take hold or spread.

America is now engaged, as I say, in the principal piece of moral stupidity of this time. It is effectively that what is needed in response to terrorism is self-defence carried over into preemptive attack. For example, more of the American torture that has been taught for decades at the School of Americas in the state of Georgia. [26] It is as if the causes of terrorism that are neo-Zionism and Palestine do not exist. It is as if the degradation of Africa, that large part of the necessary context for 9/11, was a matter for economists.

In Britain we used to hear the government line about being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime in our own society. We heard those words a lot. The government has stopped saying that now. I fancy that one of the reasons is anticipation of people asking about being tough on terrorism and tough on the causes of terrorism. There is no need for such a government-silence in America, not only because there was no rational government line that needs to be forgotten, but principally because there is no public knowledge that would give rise to a prudential idea of forgetting it.

A word on Africa. Nothing much has one explanation. Everything is owed to some causal circumstance in which, for good or bad or other reason, we single out a cause and give it most attention. There is good reason, the reason of humanity, to say Africa now is what we in the rich world, our leaders at our head, have done. Africa is what we have done, by omission and commission. My confidence of a sharpish distinction between omissions and acts is not what it was, but that is not of the greatest importance. [27] What is of the greatest importance can be given philosophical elaboration, but it can also be conveyed by the plain English that it is we who are letting them die like flies.

Do you say, perhaps in some tolerant way, that evidently they are primitive, and that they contribute much to their own disasters? The reply, which is no condescension to their humanity, and which absurdly forgets our own greater atrocities, is that we have taken from them the means that would have allowed societies of other kinds to develop. Any savages there are, with few exceptions, are not born but made. If Shell takes their oil and Nestle takes their cocoa, Shell and Nestle also take their education, and their means to make AIDs drugs. The means to the great goods are taken by us, some of in the lead and getting the profits, from much of a continent of peoples.

7. Palestine, Anti-Semitism

To come to Palestine, there were 50 times as many Palestinians as Jews there in the last quarter of the 1800’s. After the horror of the Holocaust, it would have been just — in accordance with justice — to carve a Jewish state out of a part of Germany. But, given certain realities, the United Nations was right to accede to Zionism in 1948. That is, it was right to assign a part of Palestine to the Jewish people, injustice to the Palestinian people though it was.

At that time, there were an equal number of Palestinians and Jews in that part of Palestine. Another fact still larger is that there were 80 times as many Palestinians as Jews in the other part of Palestine. [28]

Neo-Zionism is the ongoing rapacity of ethnic cleansing, the violation of the remaining homeland of the remaining Palestinians. It dishonours the great Jewish moral and political tradition of resolute compassion for the badly-off, a tradition now exemplifed by Noam Chomsky. The population figures for Palestine alone overwhelm any other factual propositions. This rape of a people and a homeland is in its wrongfulness a kind of moral datum. It is as much a source of the content of the Principle of Humanity as a conclusion drawn from it. It remains my view that the Principle of Humanity issues in a moral right on the part of the Palestinians to their terrorism. [29]

What is anti-Semitism? Despite the etymology, it is being against Jews, a general attitude, an attitude to most or all Jews. How does it differ, say, from being anti-German? Well, some anti-German feeling is more attached to what Germans have done and conceivably might do again, as against what Germans are. Anti-Semitism has been more a matter of prejudice, discriminating against a people on account of their alleged nature. It has a vile content, about bodies and noses and greed. It is an attitude capable of understanding the Holocaust, where that is a kind of excusing, an attitude of not worrying about the desecration of cemeteries in France.

These simplicities with respect to anti-Semitism in the ordinary or cental conception distinguish it absolutely from being against neo-Zionism. To say of a book that is against neo-Zionism that it is therefore anti-Semitic is at best stupid. It remains so if the condemnation in the book is so expressed as to offend against convention, to seem to be extreme — say expressed in the proposition that the Palestinians have a moral right to the terrorism that is also their resistance against their destruction as a people. [30]

That is not the end of the story of anti-Semitism, of course. A new American dictionary, Mirriam-Websters’ Third New International Dictionary, defines anti-Semitism in three ways. One definition is, exactly, ‘sympathy for the opponents of Israel’. This tells you of the usefulness and the responsibility of lexicographers. The brazenness of the definition calls for a reply. It is that in the sense in question we ought all to be anti-Semites.

The definition also raises a somewhat more difficult matter. Suppose I have an ordinary belief sometimes expressed by saying that Jews in general or many Jews are clannish or that theystick together. They have a loyalty to or solidarity with all other Jews, of a kind that for the most part is humanly estimable. Certainly it is not unique, and it is no surprise given the history of anti-Semitism ordinarily conceived. Suppose I also have the more explicit idea that condemnation of some Jews, any Jews, on account of their actions and policies, is taken as a hurt, conceivably an indication of anti-Semitism ordinarily understood, by Jews in general or many Jews.

If with this knowledge I condemn neo-Zionists, I do indeed have an attitude of some generality with respect to Jews. I am willing to do what I know causes at least many of them at least some hurt. Here we have another kind of what can be called anti-Semitism. Putting aside the question of the propriety of the label, it seems to me that the fact in question is not to be overlooked. Also, it is not to be taken as prohibiting condemnation of the violation of Palestine.

8. Iraq, New Labour, Blair

There were four inquiries set up and constrained in their terms of reference by the Blair-Brown government into the Blair-Brown government’s conduct with respect to the second war in Iraq. All four inquiries found the government to be without serious fault, as was the case as well with the compliant civil servants, notably in the security services. The last of these inquiries, by Butler, called up some simple thoughts on our government.

You can lie by arranging for other people to do things or by letting them do things. Vicarious responsibility, notably the responsibility of a master for the acts of a servant, is part not only of the law, but of any realistic morality. Further, you can lie by omission, say by leaving a room without saying something, particularly when there is no record of the meeting.

You can also engage in self-deception, which is no feat of double-mindedness, but a matter of avoiding evidence that may go against what you want. You stay out of places where you are likely to find it. Self-deception may be more dishonourable, may be lower, than lying.

You can be, with whatever responsibility, somehow dim and confused about what you ought to be doing. You can show yourself unfit for an office by not seeing and saying clearly that that is the question — what you ought to be doing. You can foolishly somehow suppose that it is importantly a matter of your wretched sincerity, as if the wrong thing was never done by a hypocrite. What you ought to have been doing, to the extent that your intelligence allows, is judging all the consequences of your possible actions.

You can conduct yourself in a matter of the utmost seriousness, where lives will certainly be lost and children maimed, by the rules of a courtroom, in a courtroom that has no judge. I mean a representative assembly, the House of Commons. You can, that is, be a democratic politician who acts as an advocate who is unscrupulous or worse, counting on not being held to account by a judge, and ready with the pitiable excuse that eventually the people will judge. It does not matter to this excuse if the lives will be lost beforehand. If the governance of a society is not to be placed in the hands of those who remain businessmen, it is not to be placed either in the hands of those who remain in the habits of shysters.

To that can be added the proposition that a prime minister, in a matter of deadliness, where more lives will be lost, can employ the cheap subterfuges peculiar to a politics that has lost what commitment to clear speaking, above all the rational necessity of actually answering questions put to you. When you are faced in the House of Commons by a Leader of the Opposition who on the occasion is appallingly cogent in his questions, and you are also faced by a muddled opponent of another party, you can give all your attention to the muddle.

You are not required, as a prime minister, always to tell the truth. You could lie to save your country. It may rarely be the case, one time in the ten or hundred that is claimed, that you can lie to protect the life of a spy. However, you cannot lie to forward an ideology, where that is a matter of passion or conviction in the realm of ideas. You cannot lie to try to have a place in history, or to suck up to an hegemony stupid in its ignorance. You canot lie about the war-aim of improving the position of those engaged in the rape of a nearby homeland. Palestine. Those are situations in which you cannot lie. They can come together in one. [31]

Blair has lied when there was no possibility of justification. As has now transpired, he is also a liar on a subject. He has kept at it. He is, to revert to self-deception, also more dishonourable than an open liar. He is confused in his thinking about what matters most, does not make necessary distinctions. He has the wrong habits. He has dragged down democratic politics further. All this is true in different ways of those around him.

So much for a tour of a horizon, glances at five places. What are we to do? The answer of the morality of humanity, I think, is that we are to engage in all conceivable civil disobedience and non-cooperation against the governments we have, and against the neo-Zionist state of Israel, of course including boycott and divestment. We need to think up new kinds of civil disobedience and non-cooperation. Those who take this to be in some way unrealistic forget much. They forget two other places, Leipzig and Tbilsi, places of the erstwhile leaders Egon Krenz and Eduard Scheverdnadze. A first step is a new disrespect for our democratic politics, a contempt for those who have been leading it.

TED HONDERICH is Great Britain’s outstanding progressive philosopher, recently interviewed for CounterPunch by Paul de Rooij. One of his past books was Punishment, The Supposed Justifications. Another was the funny and deadly examination of a political tradition, Conservatism, and a third Violence for Equality: Inquiries in Political Philosophy. His new book is After the Terror (Edinburgh University Press, Columbia University Press). He can be reached at:


1. ‘Income Inequality: No Consistent Trend in Last Decade’, Office of National Statistics, U.K. Government website, 6 May 2004. There are more figures for inequality and poverty in my Conservatism: Burke to Nozick to Blair? (Pluto Press, forthcoming).

2. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison Statistics, 30 January 2004.

3. Honderich, After the Terror (Edinburgh University Press, Columbia University Press, 2002; revised and enlarged edition 2004), pp. 16-20.

4. The moral right of the Palestinians is to their terrorism is claimed in my After the Terror, and defended further in an additional chapter to the 2004 revised edition.The chapter is essentially the paper ‘Terrorism for Humanity’, given to the 20th International Social Philosophy Conference in Boston and printed in the proceedings of the conference, War and Terrorism, edited by John Rowan. See also ‘Palestinian Terrorism, Morality, and Germany’, Rechtsphilosophische Hefte, X, 2004. This paper was first a lecture to the University of Leipzig under the title ‘Is There A Right to Terrorism?’

5. Iraq Body Count:

6. The political tradition of conservatism was examined in my Conservatism (Hamish, Hamilton & Westview, 1990; Penguin, 1991). As remarked in note 1, a revised edition is forthcoming. See also ‘Conservatism, Its Distinctions, and Its Rationale’, in On Political Means and Social Ends (Edinburgh University Press, 2003).

7. George Sher, Desert (Princeton University Press, 1987)

8. Tony Blair, The Third Way: Politics for A New Century (Fabian Society, 1998)

9. Whether New Labour is in the conservative tradition is one thing about it considered in Conservatism: Burke to Nozick to Blair?

10. Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, 1972. Rawls is discussed in ‘The Contract Argument in a Theory of Justice’, in On Political Means and Social Ends. See also ‘A Theory of Justice, an Anarchism, and the Obligation to Obey the Law’, in Terrorism for Humanity: An Inquiry in Political Philosophy (Pluto Press, 2003).

11. See ‘John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and a Question About Liberalism’, in On Political Means and Social Ends.

12. Violence For Equality: Inquiries in Political Philosophy (Routledge, 1989), pp. 17-8. Cf. the revised edition of the book, Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy, pp. 151-2., p. 211. Cf. also ‘Hierarchic Democracy and the Necessity of Mass Civil Disobedience and Non-Cooperation’, in On Political Means and Social Ends.

13. Robert Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory (University of Chicago Press, 1956), p. 72.

14. ‘Hierarchic Democracy and the Necessity of Mass Civil Disobedience and Non-Cooperation’, in On Political Means and Social Ends.

15. ‘On Democratic Terrorism’, in Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy.

16. See Noam Chomsky, 9-11 (Seven Stories Press, 2001); Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World (Pluto, 2002); Necessary Illusions (Pluto, 1989).

17. Definitions of terrorism are considered in After the Terror, pp. 12, 28, 98-9, and Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy, pp. 4-5, 15-16, 153-5, 193, 207

18. Cf. Vittorio Bufacchi, ‘Why Is Violence Bad?’, American Philosophical Quarterly, 2004.

19. ‘The Principle of Humanity’, in Terrorism for Humanity, pp. 96-100. The paper is also included in On Political Means and Social Ends. See also After the Terror for discussion of the principle..

20. ‘After the Terror: A Book and Further Thoughts’, in On Political Means and Social Ends, pp. 166-9. The paper was first published in The Journal of Ethics, 2003.

21. ‘Consequentialism, Moralities of Concern, and Selfishness’, in On Political Means and Social Ends.

22. After the Terror, pp. 172-4. This chapter 6 of the revised edition of After the Terror is essentially the paper ‘Terrorism for Humanity’ — see note 4 above. The chapter and paper also contain discussion of the killing of innocents.

23. After the Terror, pp. 116-17, 136.

24. After the Terror, pp. 175-6. Or the paper ‘Terrorism for Humanity’ — see note 22.

25. After the Terror, Ch. 4.

26. Dr. Miles Schuman, ‘Abu Ghraib: The Rule, Not the Exception’, The Globe and Mail, 14 May 2004; Doug Ireland, ‘Teaching Torture: Congress Quietly Keeps School of the Americas Alive’, LA Weekly, 23-29 June, 2004.

27. ‘Our Omissions and Their Terrorism’, in Terrorism for Humanity. See also After the Terror, pp. 73-88.

28. After the Terror, pp. 24-29; ‘After The Terror: A Book and further Thoughts’, in On Political Means and Social Ends, p. 159.

29. After the Terror, pp. 150-1; ‘After the Terror: A Book and Further Thoughts’, in On Political Means and Social Ends, p. 155, 163, 172-6; ‘Palestinian Terrorism, Morality, and Germany’.

30. Cf. Alexander Cockburn & Jeffrey St. Clair, The Politics of Anti-Semitism (Counterpunch, AK Press, 2003), and in particular Ch. 1, ‘What Is Anti-Semitism?’, by Michael Neumann. Cf. also Brian Klug, ‘The Myth of the New Anti-Semitism’, Jewish Peace News, and Judith Butler, ‘No It’s Not Anti-Semitic’, London Review of Books, 21 August 2003. I remain of the view that the libel of anti-Semitism, as in my case, so offends against academic principle that a university professor who engages in it should be relieved of his position by his university.

31. Cf. Conservatism: Burke to Nozick to Blair?, Ch. 7, section 7.