Saturday, October 09, 2004

The President of Good and Evil, by Peter Singer

Yes, I know, the title of this one almost seems an oxymoron. Peter Singer in the introduction describes his friends and colleagues telling him he was wasting his time writing a book on the ethics of George W. Bush. I picked the book up after seeing a doco on Mr Singer. I'd read his book on the Greens, written with Bob Brown, about ten years ago, which I liked. Thought I may as well give this one ago.

I have to admit, I really enjoyed it. It's so nice to read something written in a prose style that is so crystal clear and simple. I found myself turning page after page, even after I had told myself I would stop.

The aim of the President of Good and Evil is to take seriously the moral pronouncements of George Bush. It doesn't take much thinking to figure out how Singer is going to judge Bush. 'Bush's ethic is woefully inadequate,' are the books last five words. Nor is Singer the type of person who the Christian coalition who supports Bush would take a shine to. I'm sure his book they'd like to burn (if they read it, which you have to doubt), and as for Singer himself, burning at the stake wouldn't be good enough for him. He's everything they're against.

It's not a complete hatchet job though. Singer gives praise where he sees it's due. For example, Bush's pledge of money for Africa to help combat the AIDS epidemic. The rest of the book, though, shows Bush as a man that makes absolutely no moral sense.

Singer ends the book with a conspiracy theory that he feels has some plausibility, based on the writings of a German philosopher Leo Strauss, who fled Nazi Germany. Strauss claimed there were two kinds of truth, one for the masses, and one for philosophers, that is, people in the know. Strauss believed that great philosophers wrote in a kind of code that could only be deciphered by the elite, while the masses would read these texts at a different level. (Those in the know would read a more radical interpretation than the masses.)

With regards to democracy, these Straussians don't believe it exists, while they assert that it is a useful belief for keeping the masses in check.

Straussians are, apparently, cultish and network to find jobs in Washington. One of the Straussian codewords is 'gentleman'. This refers to someone who lacks the intellect required for philosophy, but is morally admirable.

In 1985, Miles Burnyeat, a scholar of classical philosophy published an essay on Strauss. It contained this interesting passage, which Singer quotes:

'The leading characters in Strauss's writing are 'the gentlemen' and the 'philosopher'. The 'gentlemen' come, preferably, from patrician urban backgrounds and have money without having to work too hard for it��Such 'gentlemen' are idealistic, devoted to virtuous ends, and sympathetic to philosophy. They are thus ready to be taken in hand by 'the philosopher', who will teach them the great lesson they need to learn before they join the governing elite.'

Singer asks, is Bush the dupe of the infamous neo-cons Wolfowitz, Perle and Shulsky, key players in the push for war in Iraq? I can't help but think of how Chalmers Johnson described Bush as the boy emperor. It seems to ring true. Bush often comes across as naieve and child like. Could he have cooked up a war in Iraq on his own? Who knows. It's a compelling image nonetheless, a boy king with his aggressive advisors.

1 comment:

Giddy London said...

Hi Chris. I like the title of the book. Sounds interesting. Re your last para, have you seen the cartoons of Steve Bell, who draws Bush as a chimp-like character? It seems to fit with the child-like thing, and naive quality.