13 May 2013

Mencius on neoconservatism

Dr Sam Crane and I have had our disagreements in the past, but I am in total, unreserved agreement with him on this point in particular (and my apologies for having had to play catch-up with his posts at this late date; it originally came out two months ago):
From a Confucian perspective, “carelessness and callowness” can be taken as expressions of inhumanity: a lack of concern for the human toll of war. Mencius tells us:

“You defy Humanity if you cause the death of a single innocent person, and you defy Duty if you take what is not yours.” (Hinton, 13.33)

That pretty much sums up the Iraq War: killing innocents and taking what is not yours. But Wolfowitz compounds the inhumanity through his denial, as Mencius further suggests:

“But in ancient times, when the noble-minded made mistakes, they knew how to change. These days, when the noble-minded make mistakes, they persevere to the bitter end. In ancient times, mistakes of the noble-minded were like eclipses of the sun and moon: there for all the people to see. And when a mistake was made right, the people all looked up in awe. But these days, the noble-minded just persevere to the bitter end, and then they invent all kinds of explanations.” (Hinton, 4.9).

Of course, in acting that way, in dissembling and denying, the so-called “noble-minded” of today are not really noble-minded at all. They are reproducing the original inhumantiiy that caused so much suffering to begin with.

Stop inventing “all kinds of explanations,” Mr. Wolfowitz, and just accept responsibility for an avoidable strategic error and a terrible human tragedy.
The Confucian-Mencian political philosophy may or may not have a more expansive notion of ‘just war’ than the Pauline-Augustinian one, but by any reckoning which relies as a first rule upon classical virtue ethics, the Iraq War (to reverse Talleyrand’s indictment of Napoleon, with all due credit to Mr Mehdi Hasan) was worse than a blunder; it was a crime. Many thanks for this, Dr Crane.

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