Honderich: After the Broadcast

by Chris Bertram on September 19, 2006

Well now the Honderich’s The Real Friends of Terror has gone out, I’m free to post, and, to be honest I thought it was simply awful. The whole thing was a showcase for Honderich’s fatuous “principle of humanity”, as called in aid of the proposition that the Palestinians have a “moral right to their terror”. This “principle”, which is presented as a pathbreaking step in moral philosophy, is basically just Honderich’s pet list of 6 essential components of human flourishing coupled with the suggestion that we have duty to take all rational steps necessary to bring them about. So think Sen and Nussbaum (similar list) plus a heavy dash of consequentialism. The programme consisted largely of archive footage of the aftermath of terrorist acts coupled with Honderich interviewing a few talking heads: Jenny Tonge (the Lib-Dem peer), Brian Klug, Helena Kennedy, Riz Mozal and a UK-based Palestinian academic (Ghada Karmi). The central theme was that all recent terrorism, 9/11 and 7/7 included, were basically caused by the failure of the US and UK to restrain what Honderich calls “neozionism”. The whole shoddy programme was further worsened by Honderich intoning portentously in his Canadian baritone “this I believe” in connection with a series of eminently dubitable propositions.

(Update: slight edit in the light of email.)

One member of the public is filmed objecting to Honderich’s connection of 9/11 to Palestine. A reasonable point, one would have thought, given the more obvious “root causes” in Afghanistan and the Cold War. But the poor questioner is simply dismissed as “absurd” by Honderich and deemed not worth arguing with. Having asserted that the Allies set up Israel as “compensation” for the Holocaust (a move of which he approved), Honderich then tells the viewers that the Palestinians have a right to resist post-1967 expansion but the “only means” available to them, namely terrorism (including suicide bombing of civilian targets). He never subjects the proposition that terrorism is the “only means” to any serious examination, despite the fact that some of his interlocutors object. He brusquely rejects the notion that if a goal is only achievable by such means then it ought to be abandoned. The only engagement with the morality of killing civilians that goes on in the film is where Tony Benn is wheeled on to point out that US and Israeli pilots kill civilians too. Indeed they do. Why it should follow from that that it is therefore OK for others to act similarly is something Honderich doesn’t deign to explain.

Honderich repeatedly tells the viewer that 9/11 was a crime, but rather gives the impression that this is because people were killed without his pet principle being advanced. (It was wrong, on his view, because it was an “irrational” means to a partly justified end: the liberation of Palestine.) The whole thing ended up being rather a gift to the Euston Manifesto crowd. God knows whether any of them watched it, but it will have given them no end of material to moan about: endless whataboutery and apologetics for appalling acts. Just what we don’t need, in fact. Still, they’ve got Aaronovitch doing a reply in a week’s time. Hard to imagine how he’ll be worse that Honderich, but I expect he’ll manage it.

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1

Ben 09.19.06 at 3:30 pm

I share your disappointment.

I didn’t really know much of Honderich before, other than he was a conservative. Is this ‘principle of humanity’ something he’s been peddling for years? It didn’t seem very revolutionary – reminded me rather of Finnis (though I’m no expert on the details of either) – and seemed more than a little vague in application.

At least Aaronovitch won’t be tarring philosophy in the public eye, whatever he says.

2

asg 09.19.06 at 3:38 pm

Honderich a conservative? I thought he was one of the foremost proponents of liberal egalitarianism.

3

Ben 09.19.06 at 3:45 pm

As I said, I don’t know much about him – maybe less than I thought. (Perhaps I’d jumped to conclusions, having seen him writing on conservatism).

That said, there are many types of conservative – even Jerry Cohen claims to be one. As a general point maybe it is possible to be a sort of conservative and a sort of egalitarian liberal, if you say we live in a liberal egalitarian world and that’s what we should conserve…

4

Anderson 09.19.06 at 4:05 pm

So, is Honderich such a great philosopher that I should read him regardless of his political & moral stupidity?

5

Chris Bertram 09.19.06 at 4:10 pm

No, he’s not a conservative and never has been (though he’s the author of a rather silly book on conservatism). And imho he’s not a great philosopher, though he’s sometimes touted as such.

6

Seth Edenbaum 09.19.06 at 4:16 pm

It may be thought better, in view of the allegations of ‘barbarity’ of air attacks, to preserve appearances by formulating milder rules and by still nominally confining bombardment to targets which are strictly military in character …to avoid emphasizing the truth that air warfare has made such restrictions obsolete and impossible. it may be some time until another war occurs and meanwhile the public may become educated as to the meaning of air power.
Rules as to Bombardment by Aircraft, 1921. In Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Extremes.

The targeted killing of civilians is one of the hallmarks of modern war.

Are settlers imported from foreign lands civilians? Were the easterners moving into Indian lands in the American west in the 19th century “civilians?” Are the settlers on the West Bank civilians?
Your famous philosopher sounds like a pompous ass, but to think Israel is not a symptom of a general problem of post colonial racism is fucking absurd. England stopped moving Scottish Presbyterians into Ireland a long time ago, but the practice continues elsewhere.

7

abb1 09.19.06 at 4:17 pm

United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2649
November 30, 1970

The General Assembly[…]
Affirms the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples under colonial and alien domination recognized as being entitled to the right of self-determination to restore to themselves that right by any means at their disposal;

Instead of trying to figure out how to restrain peoples under colonial and alien domination, why not just accept this and concentrate on removing and not allowing colonial and alien domination? What would be wrong with this philosophy?

8

kid bitzer 09.19.06 at 5:10 pm

re: assessing Honderich–

what you are seeing now is largely a very old, very cranky, OAP’er. He is how many years post-retirement? At least a dozen.

Fairly clever bloke back a few decades ago–already cantankerous and self-righteous, yes, but not as appalling. All that has been much exacerbated by age.

9

Alderman 09.19.06 at 5:14 pm

Does he really say that terrorism is the “only means” to effect political ends? Now that may well be “absurd”. I somehow doubt that he sees the only legitimate response to terror as more terror. Are you being entirely fair, Chris? Are you really going to be able to do justice to a half hour of Honderich’s arguments in two paragraphs?

10

PersonFromPorlock 09.19.06 at 6:06 pm

…why not just accept this and concentrate on removing and not allowing colonial and alien domination?

Because the idea that Radical Islamic violence is driven by anything besides Radical Islam’s own doctrinal primitivism is nonsense. Women aren’t being stoned to death in Iran today because the CIA backed the Shah fifty years ago, but because the current Iranian government is using a playbook written in the Seventh Century.

11

rented mule 09.19.06 at 6:14 pm

That was fast.

12

Seth Edenbaum 09.19.06 at 9:29 pm

I was waiting for someone else to respond to Proofrock’s stupidity.
The PLO is not a religious organization, asshole. And the occupation of Poland- oh I’m sorry The West Bank- has gone on for 40 years. People get frustrated.

Will one of you fucking Goyim tell me again why I have a right of return?

13

Seth Edenbaum 09.19.06 at 11:29 pm

How many Israeli civilians did Hezbollah kill between 2000 and the present debacle? Depending on whose number you like the range is between 0 and 6.
How many Palestinian’s have were killed in the week of Sept 7-13?
read it yourself asshole, or do a little research. You want to be a fuckin’ wise-ass. answer my god damn question: Why the fuck do I have a right of return to a place no one in my family has ever been?
I’ve known killers who could put a gun against your head and pull the fucking trigger who are more honest.

14

Seth Edenbaum 09.19.06 at 11:45 pm

I’m sorry, but I’m not sorry. If you think I’m a fucking communist, I’ve got a quarter million dollars in oil rigs, pipelines and shipping that say otherwise. When I’m not following the market I’m buying art from Nazis. The least I can do is shove a little honesty down the throats of you self-absorbed motherfuckers.

It makes my day that every time Josh Marshall is forced to defend Zionism as an ideal and not Israel simply as a fact on the ground, he gets his fucking head handed to him by 80 percent of the commenters at Starbucks. I take some credit for that. I’m given some credit for that.

I don’t defend terrorism any more than I defend “the strategic interests of the United States” I try my damnedest not to give a shit one way or the another. But rank hypocrisy pisses me off.

That, academic philosophy, political ‘science’, libertarianism and a few other things.

I’m bored. I’m drunk. I’m not poor anymore.
goodnight

15

thetruth 09.19.06 at 11:47 pm

Way to use little kids as human shields, Dan. Nice tactic.

16

Bobcat 09.20.06 at 12:30 am

Honderich is not a conservative. I believe he wrote in his book that in the end all conservative political movements–or perhaps philosophies–boil down to justifications for selfishness.

He also wrote a pretty scathing critical review of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice around when it first came out. See Mind, vol. 84, pp. 63-78, January 1975, the last paragraph of which reads:

“We have seen that the basic proposition is thought to provide an argument, or part of one, for the two principles of justice. It is thought, secondly, to illustrate or make vivid in a unique way the argument for the two principles. It is thought, thirdly, to explain features of the principles, and also to explain our ordinary morality. It fails in each of these things. The conception of an imagined contract remains as otiose as it first was when it arose out of speculations about an actual contract. At bottom, in my view, it is muddle.”

Surely there’s more to be said for A Theory of Justice than that?

17

abb1 09.20.06 at 1:22 am

Dan, if you’re driving your family car with your children down the hill and suddenly you discover that you have no brakes – your children are likely to die. I’m not justifying it, it’s just the fact of life. You don’t want this to happen and you inspect your car regularly.

Well, another thing to inspect regularly is whether your government is carrying out a colonial domination somewhere – it’s also dangerous to your children. And – just like gravity – it’s also a fact of life that doesn’t need any justifications nor does it care about any condemnations.

18

Chris Bertram 09.20.06 at 1:23 am

Are you really going to be able to do justice to a half hour of Honderich’s arguments in two paragraphs?

Oh yes. Not that there were half an hour of _arguments_ , anyway.

btw, he didn’t _argue_ that terror was the only means to achieve political ends, he _asserted_ that it was the only means of resistance available to the Palestinians.

19

Doctor Memory 09.20.06 at 1:43 am

(Meta-note: perhaps CT should make it visibly obvious where a deleted comment once was? Reading one side of a heated argument is a little disorienting.)

[Fair enough – though neither side is worth reading imho : but Dan knows that he’s banned for previous bad behaviour, and the easiest way for me to implement this is just to “unapprove” his comments. CB]

20

Steven Poole 09.20.06 at 4:06 am

btw, he didn’t argue that terror was the only means to achieve political ends, he asserted that it was the only means of resistance available to the Palestinians.

I didn’t see the programme, but this unevidenced assertion is also the major problem with his recent book, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9-11, Iraq, 7-7 (as I said in my review).

On the other hand I think qua philosopher Honderich is bracing and very interesting on such matters as consciousness and determinism. Also his book on punishment is rather good.

21

Thomas 09.20.06 at 5:22 am

If you think that the statement that terrorism is the only way of resistance for the Palestinians is wrong, then what other suggestions do you have? Pelase, don’t tell that you believe negotiations will work, as history has shown Israel has been more than willing to negotiate and make promises while at the same time expanding their settlements. Gaza was evacuated not because of any negotations but because it became too expensive to protect the 6000 settlers there from attacks, nor was it part of any general retreat, at the same time settlements on the West Bank continued to grow.

You can claim that attacks on civilians are never justified, but desperate people will use desperate means. The current suicide bombers in Palestina were born and grew up during an Israeli occupation and have known no other life. Is it strange that some people crack under such conditions?

22

tom hurka 09.20.06 at 6:10 am

Honderich qua philosopher? Four years ago he gave a talk in my department on the philosophical justification for the basic ideas behind his defence of terrorism, which as Chris says are straightforwardly consequentialist, i.e. a good end justifies any (effective) means. But the argumentation in the talk was pathetic, something like ‘All desires are for some state of affairs, therefore the right act is always the one that produces the best overall state of affairs — any other view is illogical/flies in the face of the basic nature of human desire and action.’ Even those in the audience sympathetic to consequentialism thought that was feeble. It was like a parody of the worst of 1950s/1960s philosophy.

He has, shall we say, an ego. His recent autobiograpy (I forget the title) is fascinating for the extent of self-delusion it shows.

23

Chris Bertram 09.20.06 at 6:22 am

“Philosopher: A Kind of Life” is the title, and it is all searchable at amazon.com.

24

Mike 09.20.06 at 6:39 am

Women aren’t being stoned to death in Iran today because the CIA backed the Shah fifty years ago

Actually, yes — yes, they are.

25

Steve Fuller 09.20.06 at 6:47 am

For people who have not watched the programme, or perhaps forgot its context, it’s in a series entitled “Don’t Get Me Started.” It’s not meant to be ‘fair and balanced’ (assuming that phrase has meaning in a Foxified universe). It’s meant to be strongly opinionated. I’m actually a bit disappointed that David Aaronovitch has been brought in to do a counter-programme next week because that seems to undermine the spirit of the series. But at least people who find Honderich’s views so abhorrent should be pleased.

I made a point of watching the programme because I’ve read a variety of things Honderich has written over the years, which range virtually over the entire discipline of philosophy, as Steven Poole mentioned earlier. And I generally like what I read, in the sense that is relevant for philosophy to be liked — namely, it provokes you to respond with something other than indifference or marvel at how clever the bloke (typically) is. If I marvel at anything concerning Honderich, it is his ability to provoke while still writing in that scholastic 50s/60s analytic philosophy style.

The only real problem I saw with the programme was that it equivocated between two positions: (1) Palestinian terrorism is the moral equivalent of Israeli self-defence (and perhaps other related violent acts). (2) Palestinian terrorism ought to be allowed in a way one might not otherwise license other acts of terrorism. In other words, the programme did not clarify the normative standard on the basis of which Palestinian terrorism was being condoned.

The stuff about ‘humanity’, while interesting in its own way, only served to obscure the locus for the relevant normative discussion. I believe that Honderich’s considered view is (1) not (2). In other words, beyond saying that the end justifies the means, he is also saying that we live in a moral universe where we ALREADY condone morally equivalent acts to Palestinian terrorism. And so, a principle of fairness demands that we condone it as well — ASSUMING we are politically unprepared or unable to stop, say, Israeli, US, etc. aggression. In other words, Honderich is introducing what used to be called ‘political realism’ as a constraint of normatively permissible practices. (This is why, by the way, he found Rawls’ A Theory of Justice such a ‘muddle’ because it refuses to get that close to real politics.)

26

Daniel 09.20.06 at 7:02 am

Surely the successes of Hezbollah in fighting the IDF and Hamas’ own kidnap of Gideon Shalit provide practical refutation of the idea that they have no alternative to attacking civilians? As far as I can see, Honderich’s underlying assumption is either that the Palestinians are poor little puppy dogs who are not really capable of fighting and so regrettably all they can do is put bombs in nightclubs, or, equally inaccurately, that the IDF is such an incredibly efficient and ruthless killing machine that there is no possibility at all of being able to fight against it.

We now know that the second of these isn’t true, and the first is implausible; of course the Palestinians are capable of fighting against the IDF. The fact that they have historically been too badly organised and politically fragmented to do so surely shouldn’t count for much morally. There’s a sort of analogue of the “Bush incompetence” issue here; if you are going to lead a national independence movement and a guerilla army, then there is a positive duty upon you to be good at it.

The point I’m trying to make here is that there seems to be a confusion between the question of whether the Palestinians have a right to fight a guerrilla war of national independence (which would make them “terrorists”), and whether they have the right to commit war crimes. A lot of the political thinking on this one seems to take it as a fact of nature that the Palestinians are unable to fight against the IDF, rather than a sad indictment of the quality of their commanders (one also has to take seriously the fact that the use of stone-throwing children as the front line of Palestine’s armed forces was a tactical decision and a very bad one, although this of course does not make it OK to shoot them).

27

rana 09.20.06 at 7:08 am

A brief comment on a first visit to your site…

I came in too late to read the offending words by “Dan”, so thanks. But, IMHO, we could also have been spared the wild profanities of “Seth Edenbaum”. Who knew that the academy could generate such vituperation?

28

abb1 09.20.06 at 7:13 am

two positions: (1) Palestinian terrorism is the moral equivalent of Israeli self-defence (and perhaps other related violent acts). (2) Palestinian terrorism ought to be allowed in a way one might not otherwise license other acts of terrorism. […] I believe that Honderich’s considered view is (1) not (2).

Your (1) doesn’t sound reasonable to me: first – there is no moral equivalence and second – it leads to an endless escalation of violence.

Your (2) is better: special extreme circumstances clearly do exist there.

29

franck 09.20.06 at 7:45 am

It is a clearly established principle that a state can control who it allows to immigrate into the country and become a citizen. In that sense, the right of return is unexceptional – other countries had and have similar rules. That’s why New Zealand can operate a points system and why Irish people so easily become British citizens and Hong Kong residents don’t.

There is no UN convention or accepted international human rights convention that the right of return abrogates, as far as I can tell. Jonathan Edelstein has written extensively on this at his blog.

30

Steve Fuller 09.20.06 at 7:50 am

Abb1 says:

“Your (1) doesn’t sound reasonable to me: first – there is no moral equivalence and second – it leads to an endless escalation of violence.

Your (2) is better: special extreme circumstances clearly do exist there.”

I say:

Well, I don’t know if a principle of ‘fair violence’ leads to escalation but it certainly leads to a tolerance for a certain level of violence. My guess is that, generally speaking, you think we already live in much more just world than Honderich thinks we do. You write as if the Palestinian situation is very extreme, whereas he probably thinks (and I tend to agree), it’s not so extreme in today’s world.

But again, the need for such tolerance of terrorism follows ONLY if we continue to inhabit the current political reality. Honderich’s final advice at the end of the programme is that we should remove the warmongers from office, wherever they may be, which presumably would then create a new level playing field for morally permissible action — which might make terrorism completely intolerable. (Admittedly, he talked about this in terms of ‘civil disobedience’, which probably didn’t help the credibility of his proposal.)

An interesting follow-up t.v. programme could be made focusing on how we manage to make judgements, given these imperfect times and the realistic prospects for political change, that this form of violence is the moral equivalent to that form.

31

Donald Johnson 09.20.06 at 8:39 am

The one useful thing about people like Honderich is that you can point to them and say “This guy is no worse than the mainstream NYT editorial writer–he’s just being stupid on the other side of the issue.”

Case in point–the NYT had an editorial on Monday where they take for granted the right of Israel and the international community to cut off aid and steal Palestinian taxes until Hamas says it recognizes Israel’s right to exist. So it’s okay to target civilians and cause extreme suffering if it’s for a worthy cause. Glad to have that cleared up.

32

Anderson 09.20.06 at 8:44 am

If the Palestinians had been blessed with a Gandhi instead of an Arafat, they would have a viable state today.

33

Chris Bertram 09.20.06 at 8:50 am

Anderson’s statement at #31 may or may not be correct, but I couldn’t help imagining it as a question on some “Politics of the Middle East” exam paper, followed by “Discuss”.

34

abb1 09.20.06 at 8:56 am

It is a clearly established principle that a state can control who it allows to immigrate into the country and become a citizen.

True, but the word ‘state’ in this statement usually implies indigenous population exercising their right to self-determination. And in the case of Israel the word ‘state’ means something else – and this is the whole point of the controversy here.

35

Daniel 09.20.06 at 9:04 am

with respect to 31 and 33, Gandhi’s answer to that exam question was not actually all that different from Ted Honderich’s:

I am not defending the Arab excesses. I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.

(yes, by the way, this is the infamous letter where Gandhi recommends satyagraha to the Jews of Germany in 1938 and says “The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the god fearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep.”)

I think an equally interesting exam question might have been:

“If the Palestinians had been blessed with a Guevara instead of an Arafat, they would have a viable state today.”

36

Seth Edenbaum 09.20.06 at 9:22 am

Q: Is migration into occupied territory a weapon of war?

Q: Has Israel used “civilian populations” as a weapon?

Q: Are the Israeli’s living on the west Bank in armed encampments civilians?

Q: (Harder one) With the population of the refugee camps at over three million, can the three million Russians who’ve immigrated since 1990 be called civilians?

I don’t expect much of people. I don’t expect much of criminals. I don’t expect much of their victims. But all things considered, noting the amounts of death and destruction meted out by both sides, is there anything close to a balance? You’re weighing the morality of the actions of an army in support of a state as against the actions of a gang of thugs. In the middle east terrorism began as just war on a budget against a unified enemy. And you give credit to the state because it is a state. as if that were anything other than a linguistic device,

If you want to argue that Hezbollah and Hamas are successful more as a result of their social services than their attacks on civilians I’ll listen. I might even agree. Hezbollah might agree too, since its military operations had been directed against military targets for years until this summer (when they responded in kind to Israeli asaults on just about everything in the south.)

But what we have here is a bunch of men talking about the anger of women; a group of whites worrying about the behavior of blacks: moderate jews and their supporters talking with right wing jews and their supporters about arabs.
The Asshole of the TeeVee is pontificating great moral statements for his own aggrandizement, and the academics discuss among themselves the merits of the great man’s argument.

I asked questions. Were they rude? I thought that was my manner, not the questions themselves. Are you only craftsmen within the limits of your own knowledge? You claim to be more. That’s why it’s political ‘science’ rather than political history or political ethnography. But you talk within the limits of accepted discourse, limited by tropes and taboos. Scientists with slabs of wood inserted their tongues.

What do we call civilians who are used as migrants as tools of war? What is their designation?

37

abb1 09.20.06 at 9:37 am

Had Gandhi offered the British 78% of India, his followers would’ve probably torn him into small pieces right there.

38

franck 09.20.06 at 9:42 am

No abb1,

The international definition of state is pretty clear. A state is something recognized as such by other states and typically the United Nations. Since Israel is a member of the United Nations and recognized by most countries of the world (including some Arab states), it has the legal right and, in fact, obligation to decide who may become an Israeli citizen. These legal rights predate significantly the legal ideas established in the 20 century about self-determination.

39

abb1 09.20.06 at 10:14 am

Franck,
true, but if you insist on international legalities, then recall that long ago they have been ordered to repatriate a large group of indigenous population, its size being at all times larger than size of the constituency for the current repatriation laws and practices. I don’t think you can win here; no matter how you slice it – something unseemly is going on there.

40

Chris Bertram 09.20.06 at 10:20 am

Daniel wrote:

“If the Palestinians had been blessed with a Guevara instead of an Arafat, they would have a viable state today.”

No, I’m not buying. What you want is an effective military leader who is willing to bargain hard but compromise when they have to. Michael Collins gets my vote.

41

soru 09.20.06 at 10:32 am

Had Gandhi offered the British 78% of India, his followers would’ve probably torn him into small pieces right there.

You are aware India used to be rather bigger than it is now?

42

Donald Johnson 09.20.06 at 10:38 am

The partition of India was a big mistake, just as arguably the partition of Palestine was a mistake.
Don’t know Gandhi’s responsibility.

Another common comparison is Arafat and Mandela. But the people who insult Arafat with that one probably aren’t thinking through the whole bantustan vs. one man one vote issue.

43

soru 09.20.06 at 10:52 am

dj: I don’t follow you. Mandela, using the same tactics and luck, might well have got the big win of a single and peaceful unified nation.

Arafat failed to even get a bantustan.

44

franck 09.20.06 at 11:33 am

abb1,

You’re conflating different issues. Israel’s government is perfectly within international law to have a right of return. As was Britain in refusing most Hong Kong British subjects the ability to emigrate to the UK and allowing Irish citizens to gain British citizenship easily. You consider the first unseemly, just as I considered the second unseemly. That doesn’t mean it is against international law.

I’m not trying to win here – I’m just saying that the “right of return” to Israel proper (excluding the Israeli-controlled West Bank) is both perfectly legal and in concordance with international human rights standards.

45

Seth Edenbaum 09.20.06 at 1:09 pm

Law is not morality. Lawyers are not judged on their morality but on their ethics, as defined by their adherence to a code of formal conduct that is by necessity amoral. Morality is metalegal. Experts debate legality or it’s equivalent. Morality is best left to amateurs.

46

Sam Clark 09.20.06 at 4:38 pm

Is this still a thread about Honderich’s programme? If so:

1. Kudos to Steven Poole for saying something informed about Honderich’s philosophy: he’s done brilliant work on free will, and good work on a number of other problems. The recent ‘principle of humanity’ stuff strikes me as interesting, although I’m not looking to get into a fight with Tom Hurka about it (I will say that judging anyone on one seminar performance is… hasty).

2. I watched the programme, unlike quite a few commenters above. I enjoyed seeing some actual philosophy done on television, even if constrained by time, even if too much interrupted by former libdem shadow cabinet members with not much to say. I’d like to see some criticism of arguments instead of Honderich’s personality (I’ve read his autobiography, too… but since when was being a nice person a requirement for being a good philosopher?). Perhaps we should also note that what Honderich was doing was, roughly, a half-length first-year lecture, and think about how much we’d manage to do with the same brief.

3. Honderich’s central arguments seem to me to have been:

a. that whether or not terrorism is legitimate depends on its goals and on the alternative possibilities available;
b. that moral responsibility does not attach entirely to the person who pulls the trigger, but also attaches, to some extent, to the people who put that person in a position where there are few other options; and

c. that the situation of the Palestinians is such that terrorism is legitimate (because there are no other realistic options); and that the continuing support of George Bush and Tony Blair for what Honderich calls ‘neo-Zionism’ means that they share moral responsibility for that terrorism (because they help maintain the conditions for it).

The factual claim c. may or may not be true – I don’t know. The normative claims a. and b. seem to me worth considering, and I’m glad they’ve been aired in a public forum.

Cheers,

– Sam Clark

47

Tracy W 09.20.06 at 4:59 pm

It is a clearly established principle that a state can control who it allows to immigrate into the country and become a citizen.

True, but the word ‘state’ in this statement usually implies indigenous population exercising their right to self-determination. And in the case of Israel the word ‘state’ means something else – and this is the whole point of the controversy here.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA do not meet this definition. Usually they are accepted as states. So I don’t think that ‘state’ ususally implies an indigenous population exercising their right to self-determination.

And, depending on how far you want to go back in history, it’s arguable a lot of other states don’t meet that definition either. Eg are the descendents of the Normans who came along with William the Conqueror indigenous by now? How about the descendents of the Celts? What exactly happened in Thai history at about 10th century AD? Do the Han Chinese count as indigenous? How much Spanish blood in a South American country renders it not a population controlled by its indigenous people?

48

Brendan 09.20.06 at 5:24 pm

“dj: I don’t follow you. Mandela, using the same tactics and luck, might well have got the big win of a single and peaceful unified nation.

Arafat failed to even get a bantustan.”

Er…yeah I wouldn’t emphasise that point too strongly. Part of the reason that Mandela won (apart from his acts of terrorism, of course) was the fact that he fought for, and got, an international sanctions regime, as well as other non-violent methods of protest (e.g. boycott of South African sports teams). My recollection of Euston Manifesto types is that they aren’t too keen on that sort of thing either.

Part of the problem here is that those who argue (rightly in my opinion) against (e.g.) Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians fail to suggest OTHER, non-violent means by which the Palestinians might achieve statehood. People who talk about Gandhi in this context are generally talking about a cartoon Gandhi who exists only in the minds of liberals. Gandhi didn’t achieve Indian independence by sitting around writing letters to the Guardian: he chose non violent protest that hit the British economy (cf on the issue of salt): hard.

So, one might think that those who most strongly opposed suicide bombings and armed resistance would be the ones who most strongly proposed, for example, economic sanctions on Israel, or Palestinian crippling of the Israeli economy (via strikes, and other means), or a sporting boycott. But they don’t. How strange. It’s almost as if they don’t care if the Palestinians get their own country (back) or not.

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soru 09.20.06 at 6:49 pm

brendan: And mandela got to a place where his proposals won a whites-only referendum.

There’s a legendary poster from a West African election, ‘He killed my ma, he killed my pa, I will vote for him’.

Mandela is no pacifist, but he was smart enough to realise that’s not much of a campaign slogan.

Given the fact that, having avoided large-scale killing of his electorate, he could win, sanctions were a sensible strategy.

For Israel/Palestine, that’s a road not taken.

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snuh 09.20.06 at 9:05 pm

ABB1: Had Gandhi offered the British 78% of India, his followers would’ve probably torn him into small pieces right there.

SORU: You are aware India used to be rather bigger than it is now?

gandhi was actually killed by a hindu nationalist who held him responsible for partition. so you can sort of see abb1’s point.

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Seth Edenbaum 09.20.06 at 9:25 pm

brendan, well said.

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abb1 09.21.06 at 1:17 am

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the USA do not meet this definition.

Well, you seem to be substantiating my point, by presenting examples where successful colonization was achieved by a genocide of the indigenous population.

Do you really think that this principle of yours “that a state can control who it allows to immigrate” is so awesome that it should be facilitated by any means including a genocide if necessary? If so, I’ll have to disagree.

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Brendan 09.21.06 at 2:35 am

“And mandela got to a place where his proposals won a whites-only referendum.”

True but they did that not out of the goodness of their hearts (Eustonites and similiar types gloss over this point) but because they had been persuaded that it was in their interests to vote for majority rule because the alternatives were (economically) too awful.

The reason that even (some of) those who allegedly back the 2 state solution never come up with an coherent proposals for solving the problem (although they are quite good at sniggering at Hamas) is because they don’t see the problem clearly. The (post ’67) problem is very simple: Israel stole land that didn’t belong to them, and the reason why they don’t give it back is very obvious: they don’t want to. In actual fact, states that seize land rarely give it back (ceteris paribus) because it’s rarely in their economic (or political) interests to do so. Gandhi understood that. That’s why his strategy in India was to make the alternatives to independence so unappealing to the British that they would have to grant independence.

Eustonites act as if the Israelis are simply desperate to give Palestinians their land back and the only thing that stops them is the awfulness of the Palestinian leadership but simple common sense will tell you that can’t be true. The reasons the Israelis are in the West Bank are precisely the same as the reasons why Morocco is in the West Bank, or the Chinese are in Tibet, or why Russia was in Poland, or why Britain was in India or…well I could go in. And in each case the occupation continued (or will continue) until the states saw that it was no longer in their political and economic interests to hold on to the land seized.

Which means that simply appealinng to Israel’s better nature won’t work. Pressure has to be brought to bear on the Israeli state. The ONLY question is: what kind of pressure and by whom?

And since you,and those who think like you, are so keen to deny the Palestinians the option of violence, its incumbent on you to suggest other, non-violent but nonetheless effective ways to put economic and political pressure on Israel.Like I said, outraged letters to the Guardian don’t count.

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cac 09.21.06 at 2:44 am

This thread has raised an interesting issue, namely what choice do the Palestinians actually have other than terrorism?

As has been suggested above, one would be not deliberately targeting civilians. I understand the Israelis make no distinction whatsoever between attacks on civilians and soldiers, regarding them all as terrorism, but I think a case can be made that hitting purely military targets is much more defensible than suicide bombings in the middle of Tel Aviv.

But another choice would be to actually try and negotiate an outcome. The Palestinians have consistently allowed the world to see the Israelis as the ones prepared to compromise and negotiate while the Palestinians refuse.

I have real doubts that the Israelis would ever have been able to deliver the Barak plan but they didn’t have to. Arafat knocked it back, allowing the world (with some justification) to see Israel prepared to offer a very large chunk of the West Bank and to partition Jerusalem without getting a peace partner in return. I should add this situation this suits quite a lot of Israelis who see retreat to the 1967 borders as too high a price to pay.

Support for this view can be found in Yitzak Shamir’s autobiography which, unlike most terrorist autobiographies (with the exception of the Stern Gang’s attempted alliance with the Nazis) is extremely candid. In it he notes that the Jews would not have accepted the UN partition plan but so confident were they that the Arabs would reject it, the Jews could accept it confident that they would never have to deliver.

There seems to be an emerging consensus that any solution to the Palestinian issue will be along the lines of return more or less to 1967 borders, partition of Jerusalem and no return for the refugees. If the Palestinians make it clear they are prepared to live with this, either they get it or they at least can shed their well deserved mantle for 50 years of being the obstructionist party to peace.

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abb1 09.21.06 at 3:35 am

There seems to be an emerging consensus that any solution to the Palestinian issue will be along the lines of return more or less to 1967 borders, partition of Jerusalem and no return for the refugees.

Well, Yossi Beilin negotiated something like this first in Oslo, then in Taba, and then again in Geneva and he was branded a traitor by the Israeli government and (I’m pretty sure) by Sharon personally. Even the Labour party didn’t endorse the Geneva accords. So much for this idea.

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Brendan 09.21.06 at 5:46 am

‘There seems to be an emerging consensus that any solution to the Palestinian issue will be along the lines of return more or less to 1967 borders, partition of Jerusalem and no return for the refugees. If the Palestinians make it clear they are prepared to live with this, either they get it or they at least can shed their well deserved mantle for 50 years of being the obstructionist party to peace.’

Yes but the Palestinians havemade their acceptance of these terms clear. For example:

‘1988 – Yasser Arafat announces that the PLO accepts UN Security Council Resolution 242 which recognizes Israel’s right to exist….

1993 – PLO and Israel sign the Oslo declaration of principles, which recognizes the right of Israel to exist…

2005- Mahmud Abbas becomes President of Palestine, and the two-state solution becomes Palestinian policy in fact as well as in name….’

(http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000347.htm)

Also: “The Israeli daily Haaretz published an exclusive interview on 18th June 2004 with President Yasir Arafat. In which he explicitly expressed his acceptance of the Jewish nature of Israel. The Palestinian National Council, he explained, had officially and publicly agreed upon this position in 1988. This was subsequently re-emphasized in the presence of US President Bill Clinton in 1996. Arafat said the Palestinian refugees “are living in many places, in Jordan, in Egypt, in north Europe, in Germany. They will not return.””

http://www.prc.org.uk/data/aspx/d7/607.aspx

I find it genuinely astonishing that someone is prepared to opine about the Palestinian situation without knowing (or at least recognising) that the Palestinian leadership have long accepted the basics of the the Israeli/Zionist position. Given this one has to ask: why have the Israelis not responded in kind? The only logical answer is (as I pointed out earlier) that they don’t want to, and the reason they don’t want to is because they don’t want to give up the land they have seized (I know this, incidentally, because Israeli colonists (often wrongly termed ‘settlers’ in the West) are succeeding in taking even more land: a strange thing to do if Israel was simply desperate to leave the West Bank and other places).

Which brings us back to the question: how can we make it clear that it is in Israel’s economic and political interests to leave the land they have taken? And this makes it even more that, yes there must be carrots (peace, security, the end of increasing international criticism).

But there must also be a stick.

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soru 09.21.06 at 6:03 am

because the alternatives were (economically) too awful

Not quite: because the alternatives were perceived as worse than what he proposed.

The options available to Jewish Israelis now are, as they see it:

1. endure terrorism and rockets in a land of X square miles

2. endure terrorism and rockets in a land of X – Y square miles

3. worse things.

To reach the goal of a 2 state solution, the Palestinian leadership need to _use_ violence, not _be used_ by it. That means demonstrating, as Mandela did, the political capability to control violence, to say ‘it will happen if you don’t agree, and won’t if you do’.

The structural problem with terrorism, as opposed to a moral equivalent like using planes to bomb cities, is that it is intrinsically, in its nature, not subject to such political control.

A terrorist liberation movement is like a capitalist trade union, a libertarian dictatorship or a christian torture camp – its nature fights against its ideology.

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Brendan 09.21.06 at 7:49 am

‘To reach the goal of a 2 state solution, the Palestinian leadership need to use violence, not be used by it. That means demonstrating, as Mandela did, the political capability to control violence, to say ‘it will happen if you don’t agree, and won’t if you do’.’

Eh? But that IS how Hamas (and others) use violence! For example, in the run up to the (most recent) Camp David talks, suicide bombing (etc.)went right down. It only exploded (pun intended) when this process died: i.e. the second intifada. Likewise the current low level of violence is because of the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. You act as if Hamas, the Martyr’s Brigade etc. just keep on throwing suicide bombers at Israel regardless but that’s obviously not true. On the contrary there has always been an obvious tit for tat quality about the situation, an incursion by the Israelis leads to Palestinian retaliation which leads to an Israeli response which leads to Palestinian retalation and so forth. It’s true that violence never went down to zero. But essentially, when the Israelis were nice( r) to the Palestinians they got less violence back, and when they were nasty, they got more violence. Or look at Lebanon. When the Israelis invaded they got missiles raining on their heads: when they left, the missiles stopped. Very very simple cause and effect. Israeli governments have always known that if they negotiate Israeli civilians live and if they don’t Israeli civilians die: that Israeli politicans choose not to negotiate regardless of this knowledge says much about their moral qualities (and their ‘deep concern’ for Israeli civilian casualties).

To go back to the earlier posts, the comparison I think you are actually making (as opposed to the comparison you think you are making) is not between the PLO/Hamas and Gandhi but between the PLO/Hamas and the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama has pursued (in relation to Tibet) what I take it is the Eustonite and ‘decent’ approach to Palestinian freedom: ie. holding international conferences, letter writing, ‘soft diplomacy’ (i.e. going to parties with rich and important people and telling them how awful things are your country) and so on. All this has got him (and the Tibetans) the total and absolute achievement of fuck all.

Gandhi, despite his pacifism, would never have been so naive. He knew that if you are going to abjure violence this necessarily means you then have to use other forms of coercion (i.e. economic means, mass civil disobedience, sanctions etc.).

Which brings us back to the problem: assuming the Palestinians should abjure violence (which in my opinion they should) what other methods should they use? i.e. assuming they want to avoid the grisly fate of the Tibetans (resulting from their appealing to the Chinese government’s ‘better nature’)?

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Seth Edenbaum 09.21.06 at 7:58 am

Soru.
You’re comparing and contrasting the victims’ response and find one to be wanting.
Brendan has compared the response of enlightened (white) liberals to both and wonders why they differ (and always have).

Why do the niggers always need the saints?

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Brendan 09.21.06 at 7:59 am

Incidentally, I should point out that my characterisation of the Free Tibet movement is slightly unfair. It’s true that the Dalai Lama has achieved little, but other groups have fought (more or less succesfully) for the boycotting of goods involved in repression in Tibet, the cancelling of controversial loans for dubious projects, letter writing campaigns to free political prisoners and so forth.

But this just proves my point. If one abjures violence one MUST choose (effective) non-violent methods. That means (for example) the boycott of Israeli goods, arms embargoes, academic and sporting boycotts and so forth (not to mention campaigns to free the thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails). But the ‘decents’ oppose these moves just as vociferously!

It’s almost as if they question Palestine’s right to exist.

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Seth Edenbaum 09.21.06 at 9:11 am

My last question needed a conjunction.
“But why do the niggers always need the saints?”

And of course they don’t always, but it helps. And it helps Israel that it’s hard for people to spread their shame and guilt around. Europe owes the Jews something because the Jews were European, and almost white. It was a crime in the household. And South Africa, white or black, is not geopolitically important. De-Beers is still there.
Tibet isn’t important, but China is.

brendan’s comment on the possibility of Palestinian passive resistance without the ability for it to spread: the refusal of liberals outside Israel to countenance economic or academic[!] boycotts was brilliant. And this on a site which railed against such things.

And again his comments did not turn on international law but on the human ability to judge. Liberals’ willingness to assume their own impartiality amazes me. brendan nailed it, as a generalist and a skeptic. How do you teach that? How does political “science” teach that?
And I admire his ability to keep his cool. I lost that years ago,

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soru 09.21.06 at 10:23 am

abbi1: ‘torn him into small pieces’

seth: ‘nigger’

where is this coming from? Do you think you can use those words and phrases without them affecting your thoughts?

For example, in the run up to the (most recent) Camp David talks, suicide bombing (etc.)went right down. It only exploded (pun intended) when this process died: i.e. the second intifada.

I’m afraid your cause and effect seems to run backwards in time, which is generally a sign that something is wrong with your logic.

Expressed in forwards time order, first there was relative peace, there there were talks, then there was more violence. Replace _then_ with _then, as a consequence_ and you have the standard Israeli narrative. The Palestinian leadership won’t get anywhere until they can falsify that story.

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Brendan 09.21.06 at 11:08 am

Oh dear, I forgot that I was discussing things with a Eustonite, who by definition are not to be trusted.

‘Expressed in forwards time order, first there was relative peace, there there were talks, then there was more violence. Replace then with then, as a consequence and you have the standard Israeli narrative. The Palestinian leadership won’t get anywhere until they can falsify that story.’

That is total bollocks and you know it Soru (or if you don’t know it you have no right to be talking about this complex issue).

To quote Wikipedia: ‘According to the Mitchell Report, (the investigatory committee set up to look into the cause of the violence and named after the chairman of the committee, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell), the government of Israel asserted that

the immediate catalyst for the violence was the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations on 25 July 2000′

(And yes I know that the rest of that sentence goes on to blame the Palestinians (i.e. from the Israeli point of view). The point is that even the Israelis recognised that the violence began when the talks failed). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Aqsa_Intifada)

The Second Intifada was brought to an end (i.e. the violence was much reduced) NOT by ‘the superior Israeli forces’ or ‘not negotiating with terrorists’ or whatever, but by the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit of 2005 (google it) and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Currently the Israelis continue to reinvade Gaza (and kill within it) with impunity, but violence against Israelis civilians is at a relatively low level (historically speaking).

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Aqsa_Intifada).

You also ignore the various ceasefires by various Palestinian groups (e.g. Hamas: when the Israelis left Gaza they were rewarded by a Hamas ceasefire). When have Israel done anything similar? When has Israel declared a moratorium on the ‘creeping invasion’ of Palestine by its colonists? When have they promised not to reinvade (almost) sovereign Palestinian territory (i.e. Gaza)? When the Israelis do something ‘nice’ they get rewarded by less violence. But when the Palestinians do something ‘nice’ when has Israel ever promised anything similar?

In any case, the question remains: if, as you insist Soru, you abjure violence, what SHOULD the Palestinians do?

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soru 09.21.06 at 12:12 pm

Not sure where you get the idea I particularly abjure violence in general. Stupid, wasteful and ineffective violence is what I dislike.

‘the immediate catalyst for the violence was the breakdown of the Camp David negotiations on 25 July 2000’

As I said, the consequence of the negotiations, as things worked out, was an increase in violence. Perceived willingness to negotiate increased the incentives applicable to the Palestinian leadership to sponsor violent acts, and they reacted like homo economicus. I’m not sure if you are genuinely unable to understand that point, or merely unwilling to admit it.

In general, the Palestinians should do what they have been doing recently, but more successfully. Unity government, recognise the existence of Israel, stop firing rockets and capturing soldiers, in general try to increase the gap between ‘Palestinians trying to be nice’ and ‘angry Palestinians’.

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Brendan 09.21.06 at 12:28 pm

Oh no I understand the point I just think it’s a lot of crap. Your argument incidentally completely fails to explain why the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit brough the second Intifada (more or less) to a halt, or to explain the Hamas ceasefire after the withdrawal from Gaza.

I would be interested to hear what specific acts of Palestinian violence you DO approve of. Examples, please.

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soru 09.21.06 at 12:52 pm

Moral issues aside, it’s true I can’t think of one that has served to improve the position of the palesitinians.

Which specific violent act do you think the palestinians would be worse off if they had not committed?

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Seth Edenbaum 09.21.06 at 12:59 pm

Should I have used quotes?

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Seth Edenbaum 09.21.06 at 1:58 pm

Forests/Trees. Israel is in a crisis that can only end in change. It’s a failed state. There are a lot of reasons for this and the pressure on it, external and internal, is taking different forms, but the opposition to the state as it exists is getting stronger and the state weaker.
As the opposition is moderating Israel is radicalizing.
I wish we were discussing how to respond to that simple fact.

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Brendan 09.21.06 at 3:37 pm

“Moral issues aside, it’s true I can’t think of one that has served to improve the position of the palesitinians.”

Yes that’s not the biggest surprise i’ve ever had in my life. Which brings us back to the question of what SHOULD the Palestinians do, or rather it would had I not just lost the will to live.

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Donald Johnson 09.21.06 at 10:42 pm

I should have come back sooner, Soru. It’s interesting that you think a Palestinian Mandela might have achieved a one-state solution with one man, one vote. I’d like to believe that, but in the real world the Israelis have never shown the slightest interest in such a solution and their American supporters generally treat the very notion as the moral equivalent of advocating a second Holocaust. It’s part of the reason why most people accept something like the Geneva accords as the best achievable solution. More importantly, after decades of mutual atrocities, there’s probably not enough good will or trust on either side to make it work.

Maybe a Palestinian Mandela could have pulled it off at some earlier stage, but it’s hard to imagine. He wouldn’t have had nearly as favorable a press as the real Mandela, and even the real Mandela was regarded as a terrorist by a great many Western conservatives (Dick Cheney being one). A Palestinian Mandela calling for a one man one vote would have been portrayed in the US as a neo-Nazi.

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