Tuesday, April 12, 2005


How much of the three million, are we going to wager, might be spent on this initiative. And what are we to make of the man's choices in life?

Now granted, I am all for letting folk out of their boxes if they decide to step out. At some point, one has to be allowed a graceful exit. But how to judge acts--any act, past and present.

With Matthew: “Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, hypocrites, for you say: ‘Had we lived in the time of our fathers, we would not have joined them in spilling the prophets’ blood’.” Or with Hannah:

For behind the unwillingness to judge what somebody did lurks the suspicion that nobody is a free agent and hence the doubt that anybody is responsible or could be expected to answer for-what he has done. The moment one raises moral issues even in passing, he will be confronted with this frightful lack of self-confidence and hence of pride, with a kind of mock-modesty that says: Who am I to judge? and means: We're all alike, equally bad, and those who try, or pretend they try, to remain halfway decent are either saints or hypocrites; in either case, they should leave us alone. hence the huge outcry the moment anyone fixes specific blame on some particular person instead of blaming all deeds or events on trends and History and dialectical movements, in short, on some mysterious necessity that works behind the back of men and bestows upon everything they do some kind of deeper meaning.

Hannah Arendt's Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship is absolutely stunning:

To put it crudely, they refused to murder, not so much because they still held fast to the Command: Thou Shalt Not Kill, but because they were unwilling to live together with a murderer - themselves. And the presupposition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters but merely the habit of living together explicitly with oneself, of having intercourse with oneself, that is, of being engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which we usually call thinking. This kind of thinking, though at the root of all philosophical thought, is not technical and does not concern theoretical problems. The dividing line between those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who don't, strikes across all social, cultural or educational differences. In this respect, the total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler-regime may teach us that not those are reliable under such circumstances who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards; we know now all this can be changed overnight and all that will be left then is the habit to hold fast to something. Much more reliable will be the doubters and skeptics, not because skepticism is good or doubting wholesome, but because they are used to examine things and to make up their own minds. Best of all will be those who know only one thing for certain - that whatever else happens, as long as we live we shall have to live together with ourselves.
But how is it with the reproach of irresponsibility leveled against these few who washed their hands of what was going on all around them? I think we shall have to. admit that there exist extreme situations in which responsibility for the world, which is primarily political, cannot be assumed because political responsibility always presupposes at least a minimum of political power. Impotence, complete powerlessness is, I think, a valid excuse. Its validity is all the stronger as it seems to require a certain moral quality even to recognize powerlessness, the good will and good faith to face realities and not to live in illusions. Moreover, it is precisely in this admission of one's own impotence that a last remnant of strength and even power can still be preserved even under these desperate conditions.

Contrast this annoying take On Evil: Interview with Alain Badiou.

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