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Red Baiting

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"Red Baiting"

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Over on the blog-I-didn’t-know-he-had, Roger Cohen shows us all that he’s actually the kind of liberal hawk who likes going in for a little McCarthyite red baiting now and again, analogizing my former colleague Mike Tomasky to a Stalin apologist. He doesn’t cite any actual examples of Tomasky excusing or denying Saddam Hussein’s depredations and, indeed, he has to concede that Mike did, in fact, acknowledge Saddam’s crimes.

As Chris Hayes points out, Cohen’s logic seems to be that anyone who didn’t favor launching an unprovoked war with the USSR was, as such, an apologist for Stalinism.

And here we see the basic point that the I-was-wrong-but-I-was-right-anyway crowd on Iraq doesn’t really think they were wrong at all. They regret nothing! Sure, spending over a trillion bucks on an operation that’s led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis while leading hundreds of thousands — if not millions — to become refugees doesn’t seem like a very sound humanitarian position but the point is that they took a stand, damnit. And against Saddam Hussein. So there. In “Politics as a Vocation”, Max Weber calls this sort of thing the “ethic of ultimate ends” and contrasts it with an “ethic of responsibility”:

You may demonstrate to a convinced syndicalist, believing in an ethic of ultimate ends, that his action will result in increasing the opportunities of reaction, in increasing the oppression of his class, and obstructing its ascent–and you will not make the slightest impression upon him. If an action of good intent leads to bad results, then, in the actor’s eyes, not he but the world, or the stupidity of other men, or God’s will who made them thus, is responsible for the evil. However a man who believes in an ethic of responsibility takes account of precisely the average deficiencies of people; as Fichte has correctly said, he does not even have the right to presuppose their goodness and perfection. He does not feel in a position to burden others with the results of his own actions so far as he was able to foresee them; he will say: these results are ascribed to my action. The believer in an ethic of ultimate ends feels ‘responsible’ only for seeing to it that the flame of pure intentions is not quenched: for example, the flame of protesting against the injustice of the social order. To rekindle the flame ever anew is the purpose of his quite irrational deeds, judged in view of their possible success. They are acts that can and shall have only exemplary value.

And that’s what this is all ultimately about — an effort to evade responsibility by suggesting that what’s really at issue here is a controversy over ends. The hawks must have felt Saddam’s evil more intensely, must have been more moved by Kenan Makiya’s pleas, been more attuned to the gulag, whatever. But no. Everyone knows and everyone knew that Saddam was a bad man. What some also knew was that invading Iraq was unlikely to have beneficial consequences. Cohen considered this possibility and rejected it. Or perhaps he failed to consider it. But either way, he was wrong.

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