Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Some Gray Area in Torture

Theo-conservative Rod Dreher offers his thoughts, which are somewhere between what the vice president is saying and what the president, liberal talk show hosts and civil rights activists are saying.

His post in full:

So says Caleb Stegall, who is no fan of Cheney, but who points out that Eric Voegelin told an uncomfortable truth about statesmanship . You should read the entire Voegelin passage in Caleb's post, but basically, the great political theorist taught that even the most beneficent political order exists on the basis of cruelty; the trick is to keep people from recognizing it. If you force them to confront their own guilt, you will suffer. Notes Caleb:

Cheney's chief sin is admitting these hard truths to public consciousness. If he had read his Voegelin, he would have known the fate awaiting him.

This is an extremely difficult position to be in, don't you think? I've always felt that Jack Nicholson's character in "A Few Good Men" had far more ugly truth on his side than I was comfortable admitting:

Do we all need Dick Cheney on that wall, like Col. Jessep? Though we can't stand to admit it, are we secretly happy that there was for a while men at the pinnacle of power who would stop at nothing -- and who felt unbound by any law -- to protect this country? Voegelin would say that it's not Dick Cheney's existence that really bothers us, but the fact that he (Cheney) forces us to acknowledge it. Because if we stare clearly at the principle Cheney stood for -- that is, the idea that no law, either statutory or moral, is higher than protecting the United States from attack -- then, if we are honest with ourselves, we are forced to reflect on how so much of what is good and honorable about our daily lives depends on the willingness to accept, however implicitly, injustice and immorality.

I think what Voegelin is saying is not that the ends justify the means as a principle of morality, but as a description of the way men and societies actually behave. To stand behind Cheney is to sanction the view that power elites have the right to break the law for the sake of defending the political and social order. Do we really want to admit to that? Most of us do not -- and if we do, imagine then your political opponents in charge of the government, and making the decisions about which laws need ("need") to be broken to protect our civilization. So of course we don't want to admit it. But if we don't believe that Cheney and Jessep need to be on that wall (so to speak), why aren't we moving forward to prosecute him and people like him?

Frankly, I would like to see some kind of prosecutions, because I don't want to live in the kind of country in which the leadership arrogates to itself the power to violate all laws in service of some higher ideal, chosen by itself. You let Cheney et alia get away with this, what kind of precedent have you set for future administrations? At what point does defending the order justify rounding up domestic political opponents, and invalidating the constitution? You know? We can't go down this road, or at least if we're going to be dragged down it, we have to fight every inch of the way.

Yet it must be admitted that many of us have a profound ambivalence about all this -- an ambivalence identified by Voegelin. My sense is -- and I accuse myself here too -- that for most of us, we really do want our leaders to protect us by any means necessary, but we simply don't want to have to know about what was done. I don't think this is anything unique to Americans. I think it's merely human.

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