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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

President Bush: Good v Evil « Previous | |Next »
June 24, 2007

When President Bush acts in the name of fighting The Terrorists, with the goal of battling Evil, what he does is by definition justifiable and Good because he is doing it. Because the threat posed by The Evil Terrorists is so grave, maximizing protections against it is the paramount, overriding goal.

In this extract from Glen Greenwood's book A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency Greenwood explores how President Bush, who believes himself to be leading a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good, is incapable of understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally. Greenwood says this illuminates a central, and tragic, paradox at the heart of the Bush presidency:

The president who vowed to lead America in a moral crusade to win hearts and minds around the world has so inflamed anti-American sentiment that America's moral standing in the world is at an all-time low. The president who vowed to defend the Good in the world from the forces of Evil has caused the United States to be held in deep contempt by large segments of virtually every country on every continent of the world, including large portions of nations with which the U.S. has historically been allied. The president who vowed to undertake a war in defense of American values and freedoms has presided over such radical departures from the defining values and liberties of this country that many Americans find their country and its government unrecognizable. And the president who vowed to lead the war for freedom and democracy has made torture, rendition, abductions, lawless detentions of even our own citizens, secret "black site" prisons, Abu Ghraib dog leashes, and orange Guantánamo jumpsuits the strange, new symbols of America around the world.

The great and tragic irony of the Bush presidency is that its morally convicted foundations have yielded some of the most morally grotesque acts and radical departures from American values in that country's history.

So we have the never-ending expansions of executive power that overrides due process, the rule of law, that is justified in terms of the terrorists are waging war against tae Us and and so the overarching priority -- one that overrides all others -- is to protect the US, to triumph over Evil. There can never be any good reason to oppose vesting powers in the government to protect US citizens from the terrorists because that goal outweighs all others. There is no good reason to affirm the foundational American value that imposing limitations on government power is necessary to secure liberty and avoid tyranny even if it means accepting an increased risk of death as a result.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:19 AM | | Comments (7)


dubya hasn't changed american character, or done anything abroad that hasn't been done before. the women and children in the ditch at mylai would have cheerfully changed places with the men in gitmo, or abu graib.

what has changed is the 'globalization' of human society. too many outsiders are involved in american government methods to keep secrets any more, and the imposition of controls on information within america might seem necessary to the rulers but also appears to be futile.

it would be pleasant to imagine that the visible incompetence of the bush regime was going to lead civil liberties being restored and a benign foreign policy.

unfortunately, a society formed around the 'natural' ethos of a baboon troop is more likely to re-adjust it's policies into competent amorality.

I'm surprised the review you mention did not mention Peter Singer, because of his 2004 similarly-named book "The President of Good and Evil" which pulls apart the assumptions, ethics and outcomes of the Shrub (mainly from Singer's utilitarian perspective) and concludes that the outcomes are often the opposite of the stated aims.  Very good IMHO.

See Singer's introduction to the book, and reviews by Dennis Altman (Age), Leslie Cannold (Sydney Morning Herald) and

While it seems the two books focus on different aspects of the subject, they would probably make excellent companion-pieces.

have you noticed the way the Bush administration, and specifically its military commanders, now use the term "Al Qaeda" to designate "anyone and everyone the US fights against or kills in Iraq? Al-Qaida is public enemy No. 1 in Iraq.

And the US press uncritically passes on government claims re "Al Qaeda" ---giving the false appearance that the violence in Iraq is due to attacks by the terrorist group responsible for 9/11.

What has happened to Sunni and Shi'ite?

Dave, I've only read the extract in Salon of Greenwald's book--not the book itself. So I do not know whether Singer is mentioned. But they do treat Bush as doing moral philosophy--though one (an unreflective divinely given morality with an apocalyptic view of the world ) that is as alien to me as it is to Singer. I'm for a morality grounded in "evidence and sound reasoning".

Greenwald is also doing something similar to Singer--questioning the premises and assumptions which have brought the US to the current situation in Iraq, beginning with the "Good versus Evil" framework in which American militarism, imperialism, exceptionalism, and their accompanying domestic liberty-infringing tools are grounded. The point of the questioning is to uproot and replace the assumptions.

The argument appears to be similar: Manicheanism is foolish and destructive, and the US cannot afford to make policy according to a worldview defined by a simpleminded division of Good v. Evil. It is cartoon thinking.---all we need assert is that one merely needs to know that we are Good and they are Evil and everything else falls perfectly and seamlessly into place. Everything else is moral relativism.

It is the inconsistency of Bush's morality that is what I find most worrying---he's an absolute on sanctity of human life yet he bombs Iraqi civlians and condones Israel's bombing of Lebanese civilians.

It suprises me that Singer argues that Bush's morality is not simply evangelical Christian in terms of its rationale or ethical foundation and that Bush's ethic is intuitive -- gut reaction is driving him.

Thanks for the link to the introduction to Singers' The President of Good & Evil: The Ethics of George W. Bush
I recall Singer being in Australia to promote the book.

I note that he says:

There are times during this book when I do ask whether what Bush does is consistent with what he says he believes, and after I have done that, I will ask whether the cynical view my friends have taken is correct. Obviously Bush is a politician, and subject to the same pressures as any politician, but I think the truth is more complex than my skeptical friends suggest. Even if they are right about the president’s motives, however, that doesn’t drain all the interest from the moral philosophy that he defends. Tens of millions of Americans believe that he is sincere, and share the views that he puts forward on a wide range of moral issues. They also accept unquestioningly the bright, positive image of America and its unique goodness that shines through his speeches. Those who think I am naive about Bush’s own views may therefore see what follows as an examination and critique of a set of beliefs widely shared by the American public, no matter whether the chief spokesperson for the position really believes what he saying.

I'm one of the sceptics. I recoil from what I understand to be Protestant fundamentalism. I'm uneasy with a faith-based ethic, and, like Gary, I'm in favour of a morality grounded in "evidence and sound reasoning".

Bush's true believer Manichean ethic works in terms of being a totalitarian framework of logic with "moral relativism," being its self-defense mechanism. If you question the Manichean ethics worldview you are accused of "moral relativism".

John Howard deploys this kind of logic.

public servant, that is a magical insight!
I was thinking scrawling down about how people are still saying the Bush administration is "incompetent". No it is nothing so spontaneous!
Of course it would be incompetent on the processive level following that imbecilic "cartoon" Manicheanist fantasising that ignores simple fact, that Gary nailed down.
But when you think of Howard's antics involving his provocative flouting of civil rights/ liberties over much the same time, there is a method in the madness process underway in a number of places at once.
They can't justify what they do or think through their own responses; no self-reflexicity.
But they can resort to habitual spinning to alibi the undermining of democracy. The pathology of spitefulness, derived of fear, has them well enough aware of their target; freedom, logic and the rule of law. But they must have at least a modicum of SPIN to oil the process daily, since it deals with the relationship between public perceptions and public "memory".
What Bush and Howard share is an abiding hatred of being contradicted or challenged and a truly conservative tendency not to forget or learn .
As for collateral damage, what's a life if it's not yours and you don't know what "life" is, anyway?