Monday, February 07, 2005

Contra Kinsley

I admire but disagree with Michael Kinsley’s Sunday column on Bush the Thinker. His argument is this: Bush, contrary to Kinsley’s own preconceptions, has been growing intellectually, as proved by his State of the Union and inaugural addresses. In particular, Kinsley believes Bush is parting ways with his neocon tutors by blaming terrorism on tyranny, an argument Kinsley characterizes as a variation on the old “root-causes” school of crime, which said that crime was caused by poverty and other social disorders that schooled would-be good citizens in cruelty and unfairness. Kinsley quotes Bush saying: “The peace we seek will only be achieved by eliminating the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder. If whole regions of the world remain in despair and grow in hatred, they will be the recruiting grounds for terror.” Kinsley goes on to compare Bush’s insight here with one of Emma Goldman’s that, “terrorism . . . is inevitable so long as tyranny continues, for it is not the terrorists that are to be blamed, but the tyrants who are responsible.” True, Bush is looking into despair and poverty and the crutely of tyranny for the causes of terrorism, but this is not the same as arguing that the only way to address terrorism is by addressing tyranny. Which is far more like what the root-causes school of criminology, which, like Goldman, viewed the criminal as the victim and policing and other anti-crime activities as pointless or worse. Bush, as evidenced by his worldwide manhunt for Osama bin Laden and other leading terrorists, believes in going after terrorists and holding them personally responsible for their actions. Thus one expects that no hard-luck story about a tough childhood is going to save Osama once Bush gets his hands on him.

What I admire about Kinsley’s editorial is that it focuses on an important development in Bush’s thinking even if he incorrectly categorizes the idea. Bush’s insight int tyranny breeding terrorists seems to me be much more in line with classical political philosophy’s understanding that different regimes breed different human types. A regime that rules by fear (Taliban, Saddam), a regime that proceeds on the whims of one powerful individual (Saddam), a regime that teaches cruelty to its citizens by placing its own hunger for blood and feuding over the good of the people—these are regimes that people that success consists in becoming your own trader in fear and violence and treating like nothing the hopes and dreams of thousands, if not millions, of other people. Not all tyrannies breed terrorists, but all breed individuals who know little about politics or power that isn’t learned through fear, cruelty, and the casual indifference of a government that has little to do with the consent, well-being, or rights of the governed.

In understanding this, Bush is not falling for some overheated ‘60s notion about how the system's corrupt while the so-called bad guys are innocent. Rather he is absorbing a set of insights that goes back to Machievelli and Hobbes, and back to Aristotle and Plato.

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