January 22, 2012


Alan Wolfe, Political Evil: What It Is and How To Combat It (New York: Knopf, 2011) (THIS IS A MUST READ!!! "The most important thing we need to do to come to terms with the horrors confronting us is to stop talking about evil in general and focus instead on political evil in particular. Political evil refers to the willful, malevolent, and gratuitous death, destruction, and suffering inflicted upon innocent people by the leaders of movements and states in their strategic efforts to achieve realizable objectives." Id. at 4. "Two factors contribute to the problems democracies face as they try to balance military and political objectives in their response to terrorism. One is that democracies give pride of place to public opinion, a perfectly appropriate thing to do when passing domestic legislation but a far more problematic matter where terrorism is concerned, When attacked, citizens want their leaders to take swift and decisive action against those who would destroy their society, irrespective of whether such action can achieve its goals. Because being soft on terror is as politically effective a charge in the early years of the twenty-first century as being soft on communism was in the middle of the twentieth, leaser who urge nuanced and potentially more effective political responses are likely to be punished at the polls, Relatively transparent, contentious, and media-saturated societies are hardly the best places to hold seminars on political evil, even if i the absence of deliberation the policies are unlikely to work." "In addition, Western democracies find themselves handicapped in their responses to terror because World War II and the cold war were won primarily by relying on the West's military advantages and it would therefore seem to follow that defeating terror will require the same approach, But this as it turns out, is incorrect. . . . In an age of terror, responding with words is likely to wind up saving ore lives than responding with arms. Even when both are required, it is foolish to give up one." Id. at 148-149. "American like to believe that they are governed by laws rather than by men. Precisely because they violate liberal democratic tenets, policies promoting counterevil are fashioned by men rather than by laws. The whole panoply of Bush administration techniques that stood in such sharp contrast to the principles upon which liberal democracies are built--unchecked presidential powers, denial of habeas corpus, rendition to other countries, waterboarding, the dogs and sexual humiliation of Abu Ghraib--came into being because specific people chose them to pursue specific political objectives. September 11 did indeed . . . send shock waves through the American political system. But what would happen in the wake of those shocks was an open question. The fact that Cheney and those like him had preconceived ideas about how the world ought to work helped how it actually did." Id. at 254-255. "Along with [David] Brooks (and even a few other conservative), I believe that there is much truth in the idea that the experience of the 1960s did not prepare us well for the outbreak of political even that followed in subsequent decades. . . . Any nation fascinated by Hair or Jesus Christ Superstar is not one to be taken seriously." "I therefore took it as a good news that as the twentieth century came to its awful conclusion, an impressive number of Western thinkers did in fact turn back to [Arthur] Koestler, the Hungarian-born former communist who so insightfully explored the totalitarian temptation, as well as to such impressive intellectual s as George Orwell, Ignazio Silone, Raymond Aron, Czeslaw Milosz, Simone Weil, Lionel Trilling, and Leszak Kolakowski, all of whom, whether religious or not, knew that Satan still walked among us." Id. at 284-285.).