Ted Honderich: This is the 20th of May, 2011. A good day for various reasons. It’s my wife’s birthday and I remembered. But it’s also a good day for I think three larger reasons. One is that the Queen of England is in Ireland, recognizing at the behest of a British government the atrocities we British have done to the Irish. Croke Park and all that. It makes one feel a little better about being British.
A larger thing is that the President of the United States has reaffirmed again this morning that there is to be a Palestinian state, a state of the Palestinian people. It’ll happen, I think. At least I so hope.
The third thing is that the Arab Spring has happened. And it continues to demonstrate the possibility, the real possibility, of change brought about by popular action; essentially civil disobedience, but what goes with it.
It’s a good day also to admit the great problems that attend to thinking about large questions. Large questions such as Palestine, and 9/11, and a number of others. We need to try to approach these problems in some sensible and rational way. We must not in the course of being rational lack all conviction while the worst are, as Yeats says, full of passionate intensity.
It’s a day to face the problem of words. That is, how to discuss and consider the large questions at which I will be looking. A day to consider the thrall of convention, and how to deal with it. Should the likes of me be restrained and restricted to academic or parliamentary language. That is a question that troubles me. But in a way I give an answer to it in a principle to which I will eventually get round, the principle of humanity.
I said our subject is large questions. And the first of those is Palestine. And Palestine is a question because first of all of Zionism. Zionism as I define it. And that is the founding, or was the founding, and it is the necessary defense of Israel within roughly the 1948⁄1967 borders. And I mean that course of action by Zionism, whatever the larger intentions that might have been had by some of the protagonists. Zionism, right or wrong; Neo-Zionism, right or wrong. Neo-Zionism is something different. It’s the taking from the Palestinians, at least their freedom, in the last one-fifth of the homeland of which they are indubitably the indigenous people. The first question then, Palestine, and Zionism, and Neo-Zionism.
And the second question, Palestinian terrorism. Call it if you want Palestinian liberation struggle, but I shall stick to the ordinary usage.
A third question, 9/11. We’ve had some time to think about it, what should we now be thinking? Is there a moral responsibility shared by it by more than the terrorists.
Fourthly our war in Iraq and the aftermath.
Fifthly, such other terrorism as 7/7 in London.
Sixth, the assault, if that is not too mild a term, on Gaza.
Seven, the war on Afghanistan.
And eighthly, the Arab Spring.
You will guess that to do so many things will be to touch lightly on many of them. But to touch lightly from what I hope is a better foundation than some reflection. It seems to me that there is a division of intellectual labor with respect to these very large questions of right and wrong. And I have in mind that there is a contribution to be made to these questions clearly by historians, say historians of population. Equally I suppose, although it doesn’t come happily to me, a contribution to be made by economists. Thirdly, a contribution to be made by journalists, good and bad journalists.
It seems equally true, or at least this is my hope, that a contribution can be made to the consideration of these questions by my line of life, which is analytic philosophy. And I understand it not as a matter of great depth, or a matter of mystery, or a matter of ingenuity or cleverness, but as a concentration on the logic of ordinary intelligence. That is a concentration on clarity, usually the clarity of analysis, the analysis of notions and contentions. And secondly, consistency and that sort of thing, logical virtues. And thirdly completeness. Is it the case that analytic philosophy so understood can make some contribution to the consideration of these great questions. That is a dream I have and it’s a dream that I’m always sad to think that I may awake from in the course of one of these talks. Let us see.
You might think, being outside of philosophy and analytic philosophy, that it is rather too elevated and ivory tower a subject to take forward reflection on these questions. It seems to me that many people suppose that even if philosophy has a contribution to make, it should proceed by some other way of thinking, some other discipline, some other practice. And there are many of these that are suggested. It is suggested for example that we should be guided by a principle of negotiation, always, rather than a principle which allows for recourse to force and indeed violence.
Let me make a comment on this of a very brisk nature, rather like the comments to be made on other things. Does anyone think that there is a principle of negotiation, as against the use of force or violence, that is general and overcomes everything else all the time? Does anyone think for example that the Russian tanks, as they entered Germany to end the Holocaust, should’ve halted for a while and called up a conference in Geneva instead? Does anyone think that the woman in the course of being raped, if you can hit him on the head and stop him, should instead remonstrate and put considerations to him? No one thinks either of those things. No one on reflections thinks that there is a principle of negotiation of peaceful conduct of disputes which overcomes on every occasion the use of force or violence.
There are lots of other aids that the analytic philosopher might be told that he needs to make use of. Let me mention a couple of them rather quickly. It’s of course said that international law is a recourse we ought to have in considering Palestine and various other things. International law, as we know in the wake of Iraq—the Iraq war, is made up on the hoof by so called Democrats. That instance is enough to put in question any general reliance on international law.
What about the doctrine of the just war. The doctrine of the just war has certainly been made use of, and good use of, by some persons. What it comes down to at bottom is the war or other hostility or other violence is justified if it is self-defense. And what is self-defense? Well, it used to be tanks coming across your border, infringing your sovereignty. But now, of course, even in the UN it can also be self-defense where that is a matter of the defense of a people from the infringement of human rights. It’s therefore the case that one has to decide when human rights are infringed. And to come round to a further method of guiding our thoughts on these great questions, it seems to me that while reliance on human rights has been valuable and has advanced argument in many ways, it has never arrived at the necessary proposition as to what is to be done when claims of human rights conflict. It is, truly and perhaps notoriously the case, that both the Palestinians and the Neo-Zionists claim human rights are on their side, or that the infringements of human rights by the other sides, say the killing of innocents, is such as to decide the matter.
I want to suggest that these common ways of attempting to deal with these large questions are all of them in need of some principle of right and wrong. You need some articulated and clear principle of right and wrong in order to decide which claims of human rights are defensible and which are not.
But let me come quickly to the last of these, so to speak, helps that may be offered the philosopher thinking about these matters. And that help, of course, in this day and age is democracy. We ought to turn to democracy to settle these large matters. We ought to be guided by democracy above all.
Let me say again just a word about that. Just a word. There are many weak and silly arguments for democracy. There is one argument at bottom which is fundamental and if successful is strong. And that is the argument would you can boil down into a simple bit of English, as any good argument can be boiled down. And the simple bit of English is, “two heads are better than one, and more heads are better than two.” With respect to judgments of right and wrong, with respect to personal or public or national or global policy, what you need is a consideration for more persons than a dictator or anything of that sort. Two heads are better than one, and more heads are better than two. And it is readily assumed you have that recommendation in the verdicts of the democratic process.
Let us look at that just a little while, a little while. Very clearly, the recommendation of a decision procedure, which is the recommendation that two heads are better than one and more heads are better than two. There’s a recommendation that depends on there being equal and free expression of the opinions or the judgments or the desires of the persons in the decision procedure. Nothing else will do. If of course the decision procedure is overwhelmingly weighed toward the whites or the blacks, or a class or anything of the sort, then the upshot cannot have the recommendation of two heads better than one, more heads better than two. Is there an equality of participation in our democracies? And I have in mind those of England, France, America, and so on. Is it the case that there is some approximation to equality.
There are many shortcomings of the social sciences, but one of the greatest shortcomings of the social science of say economics and politics is that there is no effective consideration of a particular question. Take the top decile, the top one-tenth in terms of wealth and income in our three societies, and the bottom tenth in terms of wealth and income, and ask yourself what is their relative economic power, their power in terms of wealth and income. And what is the political influence and power that flows from the difference between them.
Now as I say, our economists and our political scientists haven’t to my knowledge boiled down to really answering that question. I fortunately am a philosopher, but a philosopher I hope of some sense and judgment. And it’s clearly the case that the disparity in terms of wealth and income between the top tenth and the bottom tenth is such that there is a certain upshot with respect to differences in political influence and power. The differences in wealth between the top and the bottom are as good as a hundred to zero, since the bottom tenth or effectively a large part of it has zero significant wealth. Let me come around to the conclusion rather quickly. It seems to me that an adequate inquiry by our social scientists who have not got around to it is likely to produce the upshot that top tenth in our societies in terms of social political influence and power has at least a thousand times of the influence and power of the bottom tenth. Remember that the bottom tenth has effectively no money to spend on politics, and the top tenth if you look at American figures has amazing amounts.
Well you might say it is true that there is this striking inequality, or some approximation to it. But still this decision procedure has the other recommendation. You’ll remember I said that effective decision procedures have the recommendation first of equality in the forming and expression of judgments and opinions and desires, and secondly there is freedom. There is freedom about the expression of all that stuff.
Can there be freedom when there is not equality? Let me be very quick with another vignette, if you like. Suppose you and I are in serious conflict about something. Really serious conflict about something. And we become startlingly more unequal as time passes. And we end up in the situation where I have a gun and you have no gun. And so our equality with respect to power and influence is extremely large. What has happened to the freedom of the person who’s on the wrong end of that equality? The freedom has reduced to zero. Equality and freedom run together. They run together. And if there is the startling inequality in our democracy, there is equally the startling want of freedom.
I call our democracy “hierarchic democracy,” which now seems too mild a term. But nonetheless, what I want to say is that it is not a decision procedure to which we can look in arriving at an answer to our fundamental questions of right and wrong. There are things to be said for democracy, hierarchic democracy even, to which I will return in connection with the Arab Spring. But to think that one should be guided with respect to the fundamental question of right and wrong, the finding of a principle of right and wrong, by our democracy, is almost mad. Our democracy after all, to take simple instances, elected Hitler. It produced the war on Iraq, the war on Iraq. A savage war in which untold numbers of innocent persons were intentionally killed. I shall come back to that.
Let me now say that these aids or recommendations for our reflections are not of great value to it. And we need to start straight in and attempt to find a principle of right and wrong. And I want to propose one to you. It’s great recommendation to my mind is I suppose that it is true, morally true, but a prior recommendation is that it is not metaphorical. It is not rhetorical. Nothing of that sort. There’s no vagary of respecting each person as not only a means but also as an end, Kant’s great principle of right and wrong. There’s nothing of the mere chatter, the mere public relations chatter, of the principle of conservatism in this country as of this day. The big society, understood by no one and of course intended to be understood by no one. We need a principle which is effective and clear. Unmetaphorical, unelusive. We need something that stands in the way of self-deception. And it’ll be a principle, as it seems to me, that begins with plain ideas of bad lives and good lives. And I shall define for you, or other gesture at a definition for you, of what it is to have a bad life.
A bad life is one that is to some extent deprived. You’ll notice I’m not going to slow down to specify the extent. A bad life is one that is to some extent deprived in terms of what I take to be the six fundamental human goods, the six fundamental human desires. People have made lists of these desires, and there is a certain congruence about most of them. But mine is simpler than some, and it says that these fundamental human goods, these fundamental human desires, are first of all life of a decent length. Life of a decent length. That means no more than ongoing consciousness of a decent length. Seventy or eighty years rather than thirty-five, for a start.
A second of the great human goods is for bodily well-being. Not being in pain. Not being blind.
Third is for freedom and power. Freedom and power in many settings. Now, one of them is going to be within a society or within a people. And I’ve touched on that matter in connection with hierarchic democracy. But there’s also freedom and power in lesser settings, right down to the personal. Relationships between men and women, say, individual men and women.
A further great good or fundamental human desire is for respect and self-respect. It seems to me that few things are more important than it. Few things are more important than escaping the condescension and vile feeling of those who regard you as a ‘nigger,’ or a ‘Paki,’ or a ‘Jew,’ or whatever. Respect and self-respect in many forms.
There are the goods of relationship. Being a member of a society. Being together with one person at the other end of that scale.
And finally there are the goods of culture. Being able to read, if you know the value of being able to read.
These it seems to me are the great human goods, a specification of them. It won’t trouble me a lot if you think that my list is in some way inadequate since the one that you provide in place of it cannot diverge greatly from it.
We come now to the principle which is based on this conception of the great human good,s and more importantly on the construction of bad lives. Bad lives, as I said to you, are bad lives which are deprived to some extent. That is going to be a matter of decision rather than discovery. We’re on about the formulation of a principle of right and wrong. Bad lives our lives that are deprived to some extent, in terms of the six great human goods. And what the principle of humanity says effectively is this: that the governing principle of right and wrong is that everything should be directed to the getting and keeping of people out of bad lives. Everything should be directed to the getting and keeping of people out of bad live.
A slightly fuller statement of it, indeed a full statement other for present purposes and one that contains a detail or two that will be important to us later is this: The right thing as distinct from others in any context, private, public, whatever, the right thing is distinct from others. The action, or the practice, or the institution, or the government, or the political action, or the society, or indeed the possible world. The right thing is the one that according to the best information and judgment at a time, the right thing is the one that according to the best available information and judgment at a time is rational one. Is the rational one. By which I mean the one that is effective with respect to securing an end and does not defeat the securing of that end. The right action is the one which according to the best information and judgment at a time is the rational one in the sense of being effective and not self-defeating with respect to the end, as you will anticipate, of getting and keeping people out of bad lives.
Now, I see I’m in danger of not finishing in an hour, which I propose to do. So if you think I’ve been moving at some speed up until now, things are going to go a little bit quicker.
Let me make some remarks about this principle of humanity, which I am needless to say going to wield, if that is the verb, in dealing with the large questions we have in front of us. The end of the principle of humanity is not equality. It is not relational. It is getting people out of a certain absolute state, the state of bad lives. Equality has never been a fundamental human principle. No one thinks that an quality where everybody is in a state of denial of the great goods, an equality where everybody is in a state of denial of the great goods would be better than an unequal distribution where everybody is a lot better off. The principle is not one of the quality. It is one of what comes with equality. Something to which equality is a means. And it is that condition of life of not being in a bad life.
Another remark or two. It’s of course a consequentialist principle. It says that what is right is what has certain consequences. And in this it seems to me it is the only kind of serious moral argument there is. The only kind of serious consideration as to right and wrong. It is not, obviously, the principle that the end justifies the means. It is not the principle that the end justifies the means. It is a principle to the effect that what justifies the means is the end and the means. The ends and the means. The means must be according to the best available judgment and information, the rational means, the unself-defeating means, to the end of getting more people out of the state of being in bad lives.
Let me say finally that it is clearly true that this principle is one for which a great argument can be presented but it may fall short of proof. I’ve sometimes thought there is a proof possible for it but I won’t attempt that at this time. Let me merely say that it has I think much to be said for it. And one secondary but tremendous recommendation is that it is relatively speaking clear as a bell. If you consider other moral principles, they are by comparison wanting indeterminateness. And they thus also allow for the possibility of even people of reasonably good intentions deceiving themselves, deluding themselves, into what they ought to be doing. It’s a little hard to delude yourself about what you ought to be doing if the principle you are considering is getting and keeping people out of bad lives, literally defined.
There’s no tripe about freedom generally in there, as in the case of conservatism. There’s no tripe as with liberalism of some kind of reasonableness. I should say, since we are now in a period of coalition of conservative and liberal government, that liberalism ran true in forming its coalition with the conservatives rather than with a half left-wing party. And that is because it has always been faint-hearted. It has never had a resolution to go with what it has somewhat has, somewhat better impulses than the impulses of the conservative tradition.
I might say that it runs true, absolutely true to its founding thinkers and documents. You might think liberalism, at least in the English tradition, is owed most importantly to John Stuart Mill’s essay on liberty. And that essay on liberty said at its center that everybody is to be left at liberty within a society, at liberty within a society to do anything they want so long as they did not harm any other individual. And it’s wonderfully and absurdly true that Mill offered no effective definition of what it is for A to harm B. He didn’t for example say, as you might have thought, that what it is for A to harm B is for A to do something which offends against the principle of utility, the principle of utility. He didn’t say anything. Liberalism, like conservatism, has no clear and determinate principle. A secondary thing to be said for the principle of humanity is that it has this strength.
Let me just say one thing about utilitarianism while I am near the subject. I said the principle of humanity has superiority over all other principles of right and wrong. And you’ll remember the principle of utility is this one: That we ought always to choose the action or have the policy or have the society which produces a greater total of satisfaction, a greater total of satisfaction, over any other alternative. It’s been obvious from the beginning that the policy that produces the greatest total of satisfaction, may be a policy which rests on the victimization of a minority. It may turn out that you have a choice of societies which is such that the society with the greatest total of satisfaction has within in a slave class. That objection to utilitarianism has never been adequately met.
But let me mention another one. What is this happiness, or satisfaction, or well-being? What is that generic stuff which we are to guide ourselves by, as distinct from the great human goods, those clearer things, like a decent length of life? Well of course, no one has ever said very much about what happiness or satisfaction or whatnot is, and we now have utilitarianism taken further into the future with the help of the London School of Economics, where a chap whose name fortunately I’ve forgotten had said utilitarianism comes to this: we ought to attempt to make people happier. And we can do this amongst other things not by changing the world, not by giving them longer lives, or food, or relief from pain, even, but by changing their attitude to their circumstances by way of neuroscience and indeed by way of Freud, it seems. Well, that is to me a grotesque and silly policy. But I mention it to you know not to disdain it but to disdain utilitarianism, which is sufficiently vague as to allow for this sort of nonsense.
Enough of that. What we have so far is that we have great questions in front of us. One of them about Palestine. We have a division of intellectual labor, or so I hope, where analytic philosophy can play a part. And it can play a part perhaps without the aid, and must play a part without the aid of various things that are recommended to us like say a principle of democracy. It can advance, according to me, by way of the principle of humanity. And that principle is the one that you now have in front of you.
I come toward our questions, our batch of large questions, our large problems. Let me begin by defining terrorism. And maybe it will be simplest to define it first in a way that is now principally accepted in our discourse, including our discourse of intelligence. Terrorism is the killing of innocents, or is centrally the intentional killing of innocents. If you take part in discussion or reflection on the Middle East and in particular on Palestine, you will find this refrain offered by Neo-Zionism non-stop. We, the Israeli state, we are the Democrats and the Palestinians are the terrorists. And what are the terrorists? They are the killers of innocent people.
Consider now for a moment any war. Consider the Iraq War. It’s the case that this definition of terrorism has the intention of putting it out of court by putting it into a favorable comparison or contrast with war. It’s worse than war because terrorism is the intentional killing of innocent people. Let us stop just for a moment and ask what intentional killing is. And let me depend again very quickly on a vignette, a snappy little example. It’s from the English press, it happens every once in a while.
A man’s wife leaves him and he can’t handle it. And he goes to the house she’s in, and he’s got petrol and a rag to put through the letterbox. And as he gets around there he sees the cleaning woman go in. He knows his wife’s in there and he sees the cleaning woman go in. But, in his vile rage he goes ahead, and two people are dead. two people are dead. And he ends up in court and he says in effect to the judge, “I didn’t intend to kill a cleaning woman. That is very unfortunate. I intended only to kill my wife, my terrible wife.”
And the judge in any decent legal system says, “You’re accused of two murders, rightly, because you did something of which you could know that the reasonably predictable upshot was two deaths, not one. You are charged with two murders.”
And of course the family of the cleaning woman, when he sends them a note of condolence and says, “I’m sorry about that but I didn’t intend to kill your mother,” they disdain and loath him and say, rightly, in ordinary English, “Fuck you.”
Now, by that vignette we have a sense of what intentional killing is. It’s killing with reasonable foresight. The Iraq War in particular is a war which involved the intentional killing of untold numbers of people, the untold numbers of people. It is absurd to take up a definition of terrorism which attempts a contrast between terrorism as the intentional killing of the innocent and war as only at worst the unintentional killing of the innocent.
Let me then define terrorism in a way which allows for more effective reflection. And it’s a simple definition which incidentally is shared by such notables as Noam Chomsky and indeed the American Army, as he points out. And what it is really, I think I add one thing to it: Terrorism is killing and other violence. Secondly, it is smaller-scale than war. Thirdly, it has a political and social aim; maybe the aim of realizing the hope of a people. Fourthly, is against national or international law. And fifthly, it is prima facie wrong, since it is of course killing and destruction.
So, terrorism: killing and other violence; smaller scale than war; political and social aim; against national or international law; prima facie wrong. And that’s it. Well obviously terrorism by that definition must amongst other things include state terrorism. There’s no restriction on who does it. State terrorism is part of terrorism as defined.
As for another consideration, it will be clear that there is something related to terrorism, which is terrorist war. And that is the same as terrorism, except with respect to the second clause. Terrorism, the definition of it in its second clause, was smaller-scale than war. All that stands between terrorist war and terrorism is the scale of the activities.
You’ll notice I speak of terrorism rather than self-defense, or liberation struggle, or anything of that sort. It’s not that I think that those terms are out of place. It’s not that I think those terms are out of place. What I hope to do rather by taking up the use of the term “terrorism” that I do, taking up the term terrorism, is to avoid the charge that I am making things easy for myself with respect to the questions that we’re looking at.
Now, let us come on to those large questions. And with the preparation we have, the preparation I hope that will recommend itself to if you like a concentration on ordinary logic, let us consider these large questions.
But let me say one last thing, which is to me a little disconcerting. But to avoid the disconcerting with respect to serious inquire into right and wrong is to fall into bed with our inane politicians. Those lads who spent some time in PPE, which course of action or rather which course of study philosophy, politics, and economics in the University of Oxford has had no discernible effect on either their intelligence or their moral intelligence. There are difficulties about reflection on right and wrong. One I’ve already touched on. It’s hard to prove the principle of humanity that I’ve given to you. But there’s another one that I want to mention now which is equally… Well I wouldn’t say unsettling. But it’s the truth to be recognized.
If the door opens and somebody’s got in here and he looks pretty sane, but he says, “Excuse me a moment. Just stop the camera and I’ll give you a little information. The principle of humanity has a considerable shortcoming. It’s not as good as my principle.”
And I say, “Well let’s have a upshot of your principle quickly. I don’t want the full formulation because we’ve got to get on with our business here, but give me an upshot or two of your principle.”
He says, “Well I’ll give you the most exciting one. And it is that in certain circumstances, it justifies the torture of a child by a man for the purposes of his sexual excitement.”
And we get him out of the house fast. But, the interesting point is a logical one. It’s the case that the direction of argument is not always from a general principle which we all use to a particular conclusion. It’s the case that sometimes the direction of the argument is the other way, from a particular proposition to a general conclusion. And we know that this character’s principle, which we don’t have to wait to hear about, is refuted by the fact that it has that one particular upshot. That is true I think of the principle of humanity. I’m comfortable with its upshots myself, but I don’t suppose that it’s an easy matter to draw those conclusions, or that the direction of argument is all one way.
One other thing in anticipation. It seems to me that right and wrong, morality, is easier than the factual world, is easier than factual inquiry. I haven’t got any doubt about the principle of humanity. None at all. I’ve got a lot of doubt about what follows from it. Because judgments of fact, judgments of probability as to upshots of actions, are harder than forming an effective principle of right and wrong. And the central case, to get the story into view very quickly, is that judgments as to the probable success, the probable effect of terrorism, are harder than establishing the principle of right and wrong.
Let me nonetheless go on and say things about our eight at least large questions. The first of those I said was Palestine. And the first of several questions there, three to be exact, is Zionism, which was defined for you as the project, the project of establishing Israel within its 1948⁄1967 borders, and the perpetual necessary defense, the perpetual necessary defense, of Israel within those borders. It seems to me that that project was justified and right on the basis of argument from the principle of humanity by way of several factual premises. Zionism was right then, and remains right now.
The secondary premises, which you may anticipate, are first of all the Holocaust. First of all the Holocaust. It was the case that some compensation was owed to the Jewish people as a result of the Holocaust. The correct compensation would have been the carving of a state of Israel out of Germany, indubitably so. It wasn’t then, so to speak, a possibility within what I laid some stress on: possible information and judgment at the end of the Second World War. It wasn’t then a possibility, a realistic possibility.
Another consideration, more important with respect to Zionism, is that whatever you think of the foundation of the Jewish state in 1948. It’s now the case that the Jewish people have their lives deep in too much of Palestine. However it began, it’s the case that the principle of humanity will respect that engagement with that place. I’ll come back to this justification of Zionism a little later on.
But I turn now to something else which is Neo-Zionism. And that as I said in the beginning is the taking from the Palestinians, the indigenous people of Palestine, the last one-fifth of their homeland. That is Neo-Zionism. And effectively, there is nothing more vile than Neo-Zionism. I use that term partly because that is the perception of the world. And lately, as indeed of this day, the repeated perception of the President of the United States. It’s an incredible idea that you have a difficult case in Palestine. That there’s right and wrong on both sides between the Palestinians and the Neo-Zionists. Nothing like that. Nothing like that at all.
And to come now thirdly to the third matter in connection with Palestine. That is Palestinian terrorism. And it seems to me not merely arguable but open to being established that Palestinian terrorism, within historic Palestine, Palestinian terrorism within historic Palestinian, which obviously includes Israel, is right and justified. And more than that, the Palestinians have a moral right, a moral right, to their terrorism against Neo-Zionism within historic Palestine.
My defense of Zionism, as you may know, has gotten into me into trouble with Palestinians, some of whom have managed to stop a lecture or two. And it’s got me into a lot of trouble of course with Neo-Zionists. But, it’s the case that it seems to me that both of these things are obviously true, all three of these things are true. Zionism has a justification; Neo-Zionists is vile; Palestinian terrorism under the circumstances described is their moral right.
Let me say just one or two things about a moral right. What is it to have a moral right? Well we can answer that question, I think this is not all that unusual, by reflection on a legal right. What is it to have a legal right? To have a legal right to the getting or the keeping of something is to have the support of the state, to have the support of positive law, in the getting or the keeping of things. What is it to have a moral right to something? It is to have the support, in brief words, of the moral law, of moral decency, of in my view the principle of humanity. That is a part of the argument for the moral right of the Palestinians to their terrorism.
But let me say one further thing on and then to press on quickly. Virtually everybody, everybody that it is possible to discuss these matters with…I put aside many Neo-Zionists but I am quite happy to do that. Virtually anybody outside that Netanyahu circle thinks the Palestinians have a moral right, however they express it, to a viable state. That came even to the view of George Bush, not quick learner or a thinker of great depth. So, virtually all of us think the Palestinians have a moral right to a viable state, a moral right to their economy in the last one-fifth of their historic homeland.
Can you accord to someone a moral right to Y, if you don’t according to them a moral right to X, where X is the only means of getting Y? And I put it to you rather quickly that you can’t. You can’t. To assign a moral right to somebody with respect to Y is, to speak quickly, to give your confirmation of support for their getting Y. If it’s the case that the only means is X and you do not give your confirmation and support to the means Y, you cannot in consistency maintain that you give your support to their moral right to the end.
I see that we’re running a little late so I’m going to move with some speed through our remaining large questions.
I turn to 9/11. And let me say that it had as part of its end, a signal part of its end, opposition to Neo-Zionism. And thus it had as a part of its ends an opposition, wholly justified.
I would also like to say, as a decent philosopher should, a philosopher capable of escaping if you like the constraints of convention which drag down and weaken almost all of the reflection on these matters in the world, that 9/11 was owed to a man as honorable in his different rage. 9/11 was owed to a man as honorable in his different rage, his rage for example against Neo-Zionism. Owed to a man as honorable in his different rage as some of his opponents. He’s dead now. But it’s important to think in several ways about him.
I think with respect to 9/11 also that he was wrong. He was wrong. That 9/11 was wrong, indubitably wrong. And it was wrong for a clear reason which can be supplied from the thinking we’ve engaged in. What is right or wrong is what according to the best information and judgment at a certain time is a rational means, that is an effective and not self-defeating means, to the end of getting and keeping people out of bad lives. It was, I put it to you, rationally anticipatable that 9/11 would issue in American revenge. It would issue in something like Iraq. The taking of hundreds of thousands of innocent lives. It was thus an offense. An offense against rightness. An offense against decency. It was as vicious as a thing can be to carry forward 9/11 despite the fact that a man could have honorable impulses in doing so, have an honorable rage.
The war on Iraq…well, was just a terrorist war. The pretense that it was legal was no more than a pretense. The pretense that it was being done by a democracy was a charade. It was done by a hierarchic democracy in the case of England. The war in Iraq was a terrorist war, but that is not a matter of the greatest importance. It’s not a matter of the greatest importance that something is war, or terrorism, by the definitions I have given you. Or a matter of the greatest importance that a war is terrorist or not terrorist.
What is the case is that the war on Iraq was an offense against humanity. It was an inhumanity. It was a vileness [indistinct] an indecency of that kind. We have a trade in the ideas of moral monsters at the moment. And there are moral monsters…there’s one of them in Libya: Gaddafi. He’s said to be a moral monster. I put it to you that by the lights of the principle of humanity, Blair has a greater claim on the name of moral monster than Colonel Gaddafi. People are to be judged by their consequences. People are to be judged…what they can anticipate rationally. The war on Iraq is enough to make a man a moral monster far in excess of Colonel Gaddafi.
I said at the beginning that one problem in discussing these matters is the use of words, the use of language, the use of emotion, or the expression of emotion. Parliamentary language, academic prose, restraint. I don’t know how to deal with that in general. But I do think that avoiding judgments such as the one just made on Blair must be a failing. The answer to the question of how to conduct oneself in terms of the principle of humanity will be the question of whether it is rational to express oneself in certain ways. I think it must sometimes be rational give the full expression to judgments which follow from the principle of humanity.
7/7 and related terrorism, that is terrorism outside of Palestine, I haven’t got a general view about that terrorism. But I certainly hold the view that 7/7 was a mistake. Because it was going to issue in so to speak more bad lives. By a consideration beginning from the principle of humanity and taking into account the factual premises which are more difficult, it is the case that 7/7 wasn’t a good idea, to say the least. It was wrong. I note in passing that the effective enemies of such terrorism are the likes of me, not the likes of Blair. I am against both this terrorism and the causes of this terrorism.
When New Labor came to power, it’s said with respect to crime, it was against crime and the causes of crime. Soon as 9/11 happened, that refrain was given up, it was never heard of again. And it was never heard of again because somebody might say what about the opposition to terrorism and the opposition to the causes of terrorism. But I stray a little bit.
Let me come around quickly to Gaza. Gaza was another monstrous attack on humanity. It’s the case that it is a stupid lie to say that it was a case of defending the lives of Israeli citizens. The best means and the obvious means of defending the lives of Israeli citizens, if you offer the pretense that is what you are governed by in what you do, is to abandon Neo-Zionism and give to the Palestinians what is their moral right, a state. Anyone who thinks That the question of Palestine is complex or difficult, and that there’s right on both sides, they ought for example to read a decent book. One that comes to mind as Michael Neumann, The Case Against Israel, one of many honorable Jews perfectly capable of seeing the viciousness of Neo-Zionism and what must be done against it.
Afghanistan, I thought myself that it was an unavoidable response, an unavoidable response on the part of Americans to 9/11. Ought implies can. Ought implies the possibility of being able to do otherwise. I’m inclined to think the Americans had no choice but to respond in some such way. to 9/11. I equally think that the continuation of the war is of course stupid and morally stupid.
Finally, the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring, that good news. It’s a thing to welcome, but a thing not to be thought about simply. We live in a society whose conventions drag down thought and discussion in every way. I want to revert for a moment to the principle of humanity. Which says that there are six great human goods, six fundamental human desires. And they were for going on living, going on being conscious. Secondly not being in pain and bodily ill-being; not being blind and so on. Thirdly, freedom and power. Fourthly respect and self-respect. Fifthly the goods of relationship. And sixthly the goods of culture.
The Arab Spring until now has been directed to a form of one of those goods. A form of one of those goods. The third one, freedom and power within a society or a nation. Nothing is said of the other five. No doubt it is easily and of course falsely assumed that realization of the other of the great human goods will follow on achieving freedom and power in the form of hierarchic democracy. I take it that is the aim. One never hears what they’re in favor of, except it’s freedom and democracy. And I take it since they have the support of Mr. Cameron and Mr. Clegg and the rest of that crew, it is hierarchic democracy that we’re talking about. Well, that can restrain one a little bit. But nonetheless, I take it the principle of humanity must inevitably give us support for the Arab Spring.
And finally to come round to us, what are we to do? Should we think of an English Summer to follow an Arab spring? Should we think of an English Summer some year? And I am one who very much is in hope of that. The principle of humanity gives you the upshot that you should speak, and think, and argue, and escape convention, and engage in civil disobedience, and rise up when there’s any hope of doing so in order to pass beyond hierarchic democracy to a democracy that will have some chance of realizing the end of the principle of humanity. It’s for all rational means to the end. The rational means must include mass civil disobedience.
An English Summer of mass civil disobedience. I’m for it, and you think of course I’m a little unreal. But then, people were all unreal who thought that the Eastern oligarchies and whatnot were solid and secure. The future’s possible. It’s more open than we think. I think myself of a campaign of mass civil disobedience which has in it a colonel of the British Army, and he’s a colonel who follows in the footsteps of a man of whom you may have a memory. And he is Colonel Rainsborough, who said the greatest thing in the history of English political thinking, and that is, “For really I think the poorest he hath a life to live as the greatest he.”
Well, I think we need an English colonel to succeed him. And he should engage in mass disobedience, or promote or stimulate some mass civil disobedience. And he should do so not by leading a revolution or by armed action, by shooting at people, but by gesture. Gesture is the beginning of effective civil disobedience, as in the case of all the successful disobedience we know. Well, he should take his tank to Parliament Square. No doubt he’s in a barracks in Pimlico somewhere around there, and he should take his tank to Parliament Square and park there for a while. Until the television gets there. It would turn out of course that there weren’t any shells in the tank and he didn’t intend to start action, violent action, of any kind. And he would drive his tank back to the barracks in Pimlico and take his penalty for his civil and other disobedience.
We need something like that, as it seems to me. I can’t see that there’s much other chance for the achievement of the end of the principle of humanity, any other chance of something like an English Summer.
Thank you for listening. I always feel that I don’t do very well on these occasions. But I did better writing a couple of books. Let me escape convention in another way by mentioning them to you. Anyway, their titles. Depends whether you’re in America or here in these parts. And it’s a book called, I’m sure, Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7÷7…. Or, if you’re in America, Right and Wrong, and Palestine: 9/11, Iraq, 7÷7… Thank you for listening.