Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Tragic Legacy

Glenn Greenwald's latest book A Tragic Legacy has been released today. Glenn's track record makes me feel confident about recommending it without having read it...yet.

Says Glenn:
I wrote the book for the same reason I blog: because I believe that arguments can be advanced, evidence marshalled and facts revealed which can serve as an antidote to our deeply dysfunctional political discourse and, through reasoned-based (though impassioned) persuasion, constructively influence our political process. A book's success can force media outlets to provide a platform for the book's arguments and to expand the range of voices and perspectives which are heard.
The book begins:
A Tragic Legacy
How a good vs. evil mentality destroyed the Bush presidency.

By Glenn Greenwald

Jun. 20, 2007 | We all remember how many religious wars were fought for a religion of love and gentleness; how many bodies were burned alive with the genuinely kind intention of saving souls from the eternal fire of hell.

-- Sir Karl Popper, twentieth-century British philosopher of science

One of the principal dangers of vesting power in a leader who is convinced of his own righteousness -- who believes that, by virtue of his ascension to political power, he has been called to a crusade against Evil -- is that the moral imperative driving the mission will justify any and all means used to achieve it. Those who have become convinced that they are waging an epic and all-consuming existential war against Evil cannot, by the very premises of their belief system, accept any limitations -- moral, pragmatic, or otherwise -- on the methods adopted to triumph in this battle.

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.

Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone.

It is from these premises that the most amoral or even most reprehensible outcomes can be -- and often are -- produced by political movements and political leaders grounded in universal moral certainties. Intoxicated by his own righteousness and therefore immune from doubt, the Manichean warrior becomes capable of acts of moral monstrousness that would be unthinkable in the absence of such unquestionable moral conviction. One who believes himself to be leading a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good will be incapable of understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally.

These principles illuminate 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.

In sum, 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 our country's history. The president who insists that he is driven by a clear and compelling moral framework, in which the forces of Good and Evil battle toward a decisive resolution, has done more than almost any American in history to make the world question on which side of that battle this country is fighting. The more convinced President Bush and his followers become of the unchallengeable righteousness of their cause, the fewer limits they recognize. And America's moral standing in the world, and our national character, continue to erode to previously unthinkable depths.

Check out Matt Stoller's partial review here.
Reading about Bush's Presidency with some distance is a strange experience, since the events are so clearly etched in my memory. And yet this book puts distance between the reader and Bush, almost as if he is out of office. And with that distance, I'm beginning to appreciate just how destructive his Presidency has been, how thoroughly he has corrupted our system of laws and our political fiber. When put together like Greenwald has done, it sort of feels like another country, only one whose history is very familiar. Bush is accurately portrayed as a President whose sole motivating ideology is a sure-fire belief that whatever he does is good, and any opposition or disagreement - even by former allies - represents an evil that must be crushed. The vicious behavior towards enemies is actually a need for enemies, a Manichean culture devouring itself.

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