The Early Days of a Better Nation

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Claiming the moral low ground

Norman Geras writes that the view that (political) morality is ideology is
a manifest self-deception, including in this paragraph of Ken's. Purporting to raise the writer or speaker who deploys it above the mere 'heat' given off by the mechanism - while all the rest of us flail about believing this heat to be the central thing - the morality-as-ideology discourse still permits that person to insinuate their own superior moral judgement. This comes in the way they speak about the mechanism to which the heat is said to be secondary. Here, it comes with the phrase 'screams of those caught in the machinery'. That's the concern of others than yourself, Ken. As it happens, it brings to my mind something else than - something as well as - the depredations of imperialism.

I entirely agree with his last two sentences, and I take his point, but I disagree with the rest.

My argument cuts both ways, and was intended to: the victims of anti-imperialism, of non-intervention, of national liberation and social revolution are just as much 'caught in the machinery' as the victims of imperialism. I really am not claiming any superior moral judgement, or claiming to be above the illusion, if such it is. I even said, in the rest of the post, that I've done (and of course, as I should have said, still do) the same thing myself. But I suspect moral argument is the wrong approach to issues of war and peace and politics generally, not least because so many millions of deaths are just deaths. Millions have been justly killed in just wars, and millions more, right now, are justly left to perish. But pacifism, at least as I understand it, is unsatisfactory, partly because it's moralistic. One thing I was groping towards, in that post, is that pacifism or anti-militarism needs its Marx. It needs someone to argue for it in a non-moral, cynical, side-of-the-mouth kind of way. (Pass it on.)


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