2004 01 12
This is a long, interesting, and sensible guest-post on the topic of evil over at Normblog.
I was thinking about this subject the other day as I read over an old Hitchens article in Slate criticizing people for sneering at Bush’s use of the term “evil”. Whether deliberately or not, Hitchens seems to miss the point. When people like myself sneer at Bush for using the term “evil”, we’re not sneering at the term “evil”, we’re sneering at Bush-using-the-term-“evil”. I agree with Garrard that the term “evil” is an indispensible part of our moral vocabulary and that objections to it are usually misguided. The problem with Bush’s use of the term include, but are not limited to, the following:
a) We feel that it is connected intimately with Bush’s moral arrogance, his refusal to examine his own behaviour. And we see that as dangerous.
b) We feel that, however justified the use is in a particular case, Bush comes by the application of the term dishonestly. For Bush, it is a symptom of lazy thinking (which we righly see as dangerous), even if many uses of the term aren’t a symptom of lazy thinking.
c) We feel that in the wrong hands the term functions (and is intended to function) as a debate-stopper rather than part of an attempt to inform or articulate a principled position. We can’t help noticing that many people who use it in the current political climate regard themselves as exempt from the need to defend their position in any detail, when in fact their own favoured position is not the only response to the evil we both recognize. The objection, then, is not to the use of the term “evil” – it is to the mere use of the term evil in contexts where more desperately needs to be said.