Ethics and America’s Policy Intellectuals : Mr. Richard Haass by Philosophical Apprentice

While doing some research on the internet I came across this 2009 essay at The Daily Beast by Mr. Richard Haass titled Why I Didn’t Resign.  Here is the telling part of his argument:

‘People often ask me why I didn’t resign over Iraq. They also ask why Powell didn’t. One situation when resignation is warranted is if a person fundamentally disagrees with a major issue. Although Iraq constituted a major issue, and although I disagreed with U.S. policy, my disagreement was not fundamental. I was 60/40 against going to war. No organization could function if people left every time they lost out on a 60/40 decision. Had I known then what I know now, that Iraq no longer possessed weapons of mass destruction, then it would have become a 90/10 decision against the war, and in that circumstance I would have left had the president gone ahead all the same.’

Notice the crude statistical argument, it is a caricature of statistics, 60/40 compared to 90/10. Leaving Powell out of the equation, here is another argument:

Powell would cite the anecdote in which Marshall, returning to the department after having lost an intense argument with Truman over the decision to recognize the state of Israel, was asked by aides if he was going to resign. “No, gentlemen. You don’t take a post of this sort and then resign when the man who has the constitutional responsibility to make decisions makes one you don’t like.”  

Two arguments, one statistical, no matter it’s crudity, it’s vulgarity and the other a patriotic argument, against resignation regarding an opposition to the War in Iraq. What I’m struck by is the the complete lack of what one might call even a passing consideration of the cost in human lives of that war. What is missing is anything like an moral/ethical dimension to Mr. Haass’ ‘strategic thinking’. Mr. Haass is probably one of the most prominent of American Policy Intellectuals, his C.V. is impressive.

I’ve been reading for the last two weeks Thought’s Ego in Augustine and Descartes by Gareth B. Matthews which ‘explores doing philosophy in the first person’. It compares the idea of the first person in the philosophy of both thinkers, with a focus on the cogito of Descartes and the possibility of Augustine as his intellectual precursor. The portions on Descartes sent me back to Heidegger’s Being and Time Section II of the Introduction, 6) The task of Destroying the history of ontology. The thesis of Heidegger is that the cogito ergo sum and it variants are the mistaken path of Western Philosophy, in it’s forgetfulness of being.  Yet that cogito built the subject/object duality that produced science and the foundation of modern ethics based not on theology but on rational argument and the indispensable idea of subjectivity. The active volitional subject who wills and acts in a world of other volitional actors: Someone had to construct an ethics that took that subject as foundational. A free actor who had to consider other free actors as the singular concerns of an ethics of human beings.To advocate the destruction of the history of ontology (the Western Metaphysical Tradition) is to destroy that notion of a responsible volitional actor and replace it with what? The ideas of ontology and metaphysics become interchangeable in Heidegger’s formulation. Perhaps, to understand that dismissive sweeping aside of an ethics built on responsible, reasoning volitional actors is the key to understanding Heidegger’s politics.

Given those thoughts, those conjectures, how could we give credence to Mr. Haass’ arguments, how could the critical reader of his essay  take him seriously as thinker, advocate and policy maker, when he fails to recognize the ethical/moral component of a policy that involves the massive loss of human life?

Philosophical Apprentice

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer. 'Polemic is a discourse of conflict, whose effect depends on a delicate balance between the requirements of truth and the enticements of anger, the duty to argue and the zest to inflame. Its rhetoric allows, even enforces, a certain figurative licence. Like epitaphs in Johnson’s adage, it is not under oath.'
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Ethics and America’s Policy Intellectuals : Mr. Richard Haass by Philosophical Apprentice

  1. We face in areas of inquiry, in the exercise of public reason, of both Philosophy and Public Policy, the disappearance, indeed the banishment, of the ethical dimension, replaced by the felt imperatives of nihilism (Heidegger) and technocracy( Haass). How can we reinvigorate these two areas of human inquiry and concern with the vital notion and practice of ethics? I think that that was the point of my essay, although I think that it seemed to be not yet fully formed, and simply needed to be articulated, so as to be the object of further thought and consideration.
    Philosophical Apprentice

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.