Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The President of Good and Evil – The ethics of George W. Bush

While reading the book I was at turns horrified, amused, and constantly informed – but then again my starting point was one of general agreement with the writer. The danger with a book of this sort is that while it's well researched, and cuttingly well written, at the end of the day it's preaching to the converted. &ldquoI hope not. The New York Times said in its reviewer that this is a book to give to your in-laws – assuming, that is, that your in-laws are Bush supporters and you are not. I hope a lot of Americans will give my book to their in-laws, and that it will shift a few people who might have voted for Bush into thinking differently about the President”.

Much of the book examines consistency in Bush's approach to issues. Is it fair or desirable to hold a politician to consistency? Surely, the role of the politician, and in particular a President, is to adapt to situations… &ldquoAdapting to situations is not inconsistent. You can, for example, always try to do what will make people better off. That is entirely consistent, and would change with the situations. But Bush's inconsistency is not like that at all. Consider his position on federal funding for research on stem cells. He has refused to adapt to the situation, saying that it is wrong to destroy embryos, no matter what the benefits. On the other hand, in Iraq, he has said that the benefits justify the deaths of civilians caused by U.S. bombs and guns. I argue that that is inconsistent”.

American politics seems increasingly partisan and polarised, and the charge is easily levelled that a book like this is simply a political propaganda exercise. Surely a similar result would be produced placing any President under the moral microscope. ”No, it wouldn't” argues Singer “precisely for the reason you mentioned: unlike Bush, most Presidents and Prime Ministers do adapt to situations, and don't take claim a moral justification for everything they do”.

Some of the arguments chosen by Singer will be easier to agree with than others. Perhaps the most controversial is his examination of the war in Afghanistan, a war which, unlike that in Iraq, had a widespread support both in Europe and America. Singer argues that using accepted ethical rules (for example those formulated in The challenge of peace issued by the American Catholic Bishop's conference), the war was unjustified. At the same time he contentiously likens America's demands on the Taliban to those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on Serbia at the outset of the First World War, an ultimatum that plunged Europe into four years of horror. Something that many will find difficult to fathom – does he stand by this? &ldquoAbsolutely. You're not the first to question it, but no one has ever shown that there is a significant ethical difference between the conduct of Austria-Hungary in 1914 and that of the U.S. in 2001. Of course, that doesn't mean that we have to condemn the U.S. war on Afghanistan. We could re-evaluate Austria-Hungary's attack on Serbia. That gives us an interestingly different perspective on the origins of the First World War.”

Not wishing to leave the conspiracy theorists out, Singer goes, to my mind, somewhat off track to detail the philosophic concepts of Leo Strauss. Strauss was an Holocaust survivor, who developed a political philosophy much beloved by certain conservatives. Shadia Drury, of the University of Calgary, described his political philosophy: &ldquoStrauss was neither a liberal nor a democrat… Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical (in Strauss’s view) because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what’s good for them… The Weimar Republic (in Germany) was his model of liberal democracy for which he had huge contempt”. A number of Bush's advisors have been described as Straussians. Singer devotes little time to the argument, but does explain it convincingly, allocating Bush the Straussian title &ldquoGentleman”, almost a frontman for the philosophers in the background. Surely, while interesting and plausible, it holds no place in a discussion of Bush's personal ethics? If he's being manipulated – it makes for a wholly different argument in relation to his ethics?

” True. It's not part of the main line of argument of the book. But I thought that the possibility that Bush is being manipulated needs to be raised. It's another way of explaining the inconsistencies in his ethics that I discuss in the book – but not one that leaves Bush looking any better”.

  • Pages: 1
  • 2
  • 3

Leave a Reply