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The Digester

Your post foreshadows a very interesting edition of Any Questions? on BBC Radio 4, in which exactly this topic was chewed over by Frank Field, Oliver Letwin, George Galloway and Professor
Colleen Graffy ("US law lecturer and Republican"). Do listen if you have a chance.


Interesting post. It won't surprise you that I largely agree with norm. Other analogies make the same point but here's one I was thinking of: if your house was burgled because you left the window open, people would say, "What do you expect?" but as you say, it's not a zero-sum game and people would still think the house-breaker was wrong. But if you left the window open and the burglar stole all your property and then shat on the carpet, killed your dog and put it's severed head in your bed, people would be so horrified that they would forget the leaving the window open bit. Methinks the bombings are like this. Those of us who maintain Iraq isn't the cause don't think the bombers couldn't have used this as their motivation; it's just that nothing in this world can possibly justify this - so ultimately, the "causes" lie internal to the perpetrator.

Third Avenue

Shuggy - are we really that far apart? I have no problem with condemning these attacks unreservedly. I just don't equate seeking an 'understanding' of why they happened with 'excusing' what happened. And learning lessons from that understanding must surely be a good thing, unless the West is so lily-white, so absolutely without sin, that its behaviour cannot ever be said to require change. This is quite different from saying 'what these people did was not that bad because of x, y or z grievance'.


Shuggy's position - and Norm's - seems to be that moral agency trumps all other consideration for this specific type of action: it's an evil act, therefore only an evil person can have done it, therefore we should abandon analysis and simply be on our guard against evil.

On the contrary, it seems to me that you can say the same general things about vile and unforgivable crimes that you can about any other form of action: specifically, that they have both reasons and causes. People have reasons for doing things - beliefs and arguments for action based on them. There are also broader social causes which tend to make people pay attention to particular reasons and associated arguments for action. Needless(?) to say, looking into these reasons and causes in no way implies that a particular vile and unforgivable crime is anything other than vile and unforgivable.

(More on this at .)


"So, the bombings were caused by either the war in Iraq or by the moral emptiness of the British liberal elites. Take your pick." Same thing: it is because of that moral emptiness that we went to war on Iraq when we should instead have asked that good old question "Is this a vital British interest?". It wasn't.


Equally, it is not to me morally repugnant to argue that the humiliation caused to Germany by the Versailles treaty, and the subsequent economic collapse of the Weimar Republic, go some way to explaining the rise of the Nazis. To providing some root causes. But that in no way takes away even one iota of the Nazis' guilt.

This analogy is interesting. I would agree that it isn't morally repugnant to factor in Versailles as a motivation behind National Socialism. But it would be quite wrong to *reduce* the phenomeon of Nazism to this.

But I think everyone understands that what National Socialism represented was a threat to interests that went even beyond the economic interests of nation states - and what factors incubated it historically are not nearly as important as the question of what one does about it contemporaneously.

Moreover, those who claim root causes very often forget those inflicted by them on others: some historians would argue that German nationalists in general had a bit of a cheek complaining about Versailles when one considers the peace treaty they had imposed on Russia in 1917.

You said, "unless the West is so lily-white, so absolutely without sin, that its behaviour cannot ever be said to require change."

I'm surprised if it's your understanding that this represents the position I take.

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