It is always a mistake to pick fights with people when you are about to be away from a computer and so will be unable to take part in further iterations of the argument. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the position I find myself in with respect to a post from Norman Geras and Eve Garrard responding to my attribution to them of the view that only the immediate perpetrators of bad deeds can be blamed for those deeds. They deny that they hold the view I pinned on them, and say that I should have seen that if I’d read more carefully. I’m happy to receive the correction.
Now comes the “but” bit ….
Nevertheless, my belief that they hold a view like that was not based only on that single post but on many others, especially concerning Iraq. In particular, Norman has often argued against the view that Bush and Blair should be held responsible for the continuing carnage in Iraq, stressing, rather, that the immediate perpetrators of (most of) that carnage, the Iraqi “resistance” should be blamed and that Bush and Blair should not be. Norman and Eve’s latest post quotes an interesting earlier paragraph in this respect, which counts—as they insist—against my attribution.
The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity, doesn’t show that they, as well as the direct agent(s), are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong and doesn’t serve to justify it.
There is, I think, doublethink going on here. Norman wants to tell us that the Iraq war was justified because of the many bad things Saddam did and would continue to do to his people if he remained in power. Critics of the war (like me) want to say that we should also take account of the bad consequences of overthrowing Saddam, including the carnage caused by the “resistance”, the many many thousands of excess dead (see the Lancet report …), etc. Norman and Eve’s restrictive clause enables them to argue that, even if things are actually worse, their worseness can’t be blamed on the initiators of the war, because their actions were not in themselves wrong (because justified by stopping Saddam) and don’t serve to justify the Iraqi “resistance” (agreed, they don’t). In other words, Norman helps himself to an essentially consequentialist justification for the Iraq war, but, faced with bad consequences, uses a non-consequentialist discourse of responsibility to filter them out of the consequentialist calculus. At least, that’s what seems to me to be going on.