January 6, 2010


Margalit, Avishai, On Compromise and Rotten Compromises (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2010) (Read this very thoughtful book based, in part, on Margalit's Tanner lectures delived at Stanford University in 2005. "This book "is about peace and compromise." "More specially: what compromises we are not allowed to make for the sake of peace." "The short answer is: rotten compromises are not allowed, even for the sake of peace. Other compromises should be dealt with on a retail basis, one by one: they should be judged on their merits. Only rotten compromises should be ruled out on a wholesale basis. . . . The book is in pursuit of just a peace, rather than of a just peace. Peace can be justified without being just." Id. at 1 (italic in original). "The compromises discussed in the book are political compromises, rather than personal ones. The distinction is not always clear." "I see rotten political compromises as an agreement to establish or maintain an inhumane regime, a regime of cruelty and humiliation, that is, a regime that does not treat humans as humans." "Inhuman regimes erode the foundation of morality. Morality rests on treating humans as human; not treating humans as humans undermines the basic assumption of morality. I draw a distinction between morality and ethics. Morality is about how human relations should be in virtue of our being human and in virtue of nothing else." "Ethics, in contrast, is about what relations we should have with other people in virtue of some special relationships we have with them, such as family relations or friendships." Id. at 2-3 (italics in original). "The idea of political compromise is caught between two pictures of politics: politics as economics and politics as religion. Roughly speaking, in the economic picture of politics everything is subject to compromise. Compromise is not always desirable or prudent, but it is always possible. In the religious picture, there are things over which we must never compromise." Id. at 24. "[W]ars and emergencies are extreme situations from the point of view of peace. But they are not abnormal in the freak sense of the term, even if metaphorically we tend to describe them as such. Rules, moral rules included, can apply to war as well as to compromises made in times of war. The whole idea of a just-war theory, which advocates justice in the conduct of war, is that the open violence of war can be regulated and subjected to constraints. War is a different phrase in human existence from peace, but not a mode of existence that renders morality irrelevant." "Even in war we are required to treat humans with basic dignity. . . ." Id. at 132. "There is, however, a further distinction between an active partner and a passive one. We have heard reports of cases of extraordinary rendition agreements whereby the CIA kidnapped and transferred more than one hundred suspects to other countries (mainly Egypt, but also Syria, Morocco, Jordan, and Uzbekistan) for interrogation. According to those reports, 'torture by proxy' was used systematically. If true, we should regard the United States not as a silent partner in such rendition agreements, but as an active one, in spite of the fact that the infliction of torture, cruelty, and humiliation was outsourced. The instigator, the United States, and the subcontractors should both be considered an active side." Id. at 92-93.).