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Old 12-12-2011, 07:54 PM
Simon Willard Simon Willard is offline
Join Date: Oct 2006
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Default Re: Lessons Learned: Beyond Good and Evil (Robert Wright & Alan Wolfe)

Originally Posted by stephanie View Post
I should read Chapter One of the book (at least), but I think it's related to the use of "evil" in political rhetoric. Usually when we start talking about leaders or countries as "evil" or (especially) comparing them to Hitler or the Nazis, the argument is that a use of force against them is justified. I think it may be, but not because they are "evil" -- it's a confusion of categories.

Ocean's point is relevant here, because often the point of injecting the label "evil" into the conversation is to say that whoeveritis must be stopped and cannot be stopped by other means, we cannot put the foreign policy issue into a pragmatic framework, based on interests and incentive. It's a black and white moral one, the only answer to which is force.
OK, Stephanie, here's how I would try to smoke out this Wolfe guy. I would ask him if he would be troubled by an appeal, by Roosevelt to the American people, to engage in war against an "evil" Hitler-led Nazi regime. I'm not enough of a historian to know if FDR actually tried to cast the Nazis into this category, but I'm simply going to rely on Wolfe's own singling-out of Hitler as being unquestionably evil. If Hitler or the Nazis really do fall into this category, I don't know why such an appeal by FDR would be beyond the pale.

Besides, we do know that Roosevelt lied to the American people in various ways to spur a reluctant US to war. And the judgement of history (admittedly written by the victors) is that the US effort to completely destroy the Nazis and Germany's infrastructure was a good thing.

Given that there may be situations like this, how does one know which situations may justify this mixing of categories for their rhetorically persuasive effect. Isn't it simply a political matter? If I wanted to vilify the people of, say, Iceland with such heated rhetoric, I doubt my words would get much traction! But I will not rule out any option to persuade my countrymen with fraught language if that's what I think will help my persuasion succeed in an extreme situation.
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