Saturday, May 21, 2005

Metaphysics of Bush Republicanism

Philosophy vs. Dogma
(Based on Susan Buck-Morss, Thinking Past Terror, pp.64-65.)

Philosophy and Human Rights

1. Because the US does not violate human rights, it is a civilized nation.

This is an epistemological description, and it allows for judgments of truth and falsity--truth understood in the modest sense of what is factually the case. It allows for critical theorists--or just plain citizens--to make a compelling argument in protest should a violation of human rights occur, i.e., that knowledge of such a violation robs the legitimacy of the nation to its claim to be civilized. Language here is not compromised. To put the argument in syllogistic form:

a) Civilized nations do not violate human rights.
b) The US does not (or does) violate human rights.
c) Therefore, the US is (or is not) a civilized nation.

But now look what happens with a seemingly small change in the language structure--the reversal of subject and predicate that involves a dialectical transformation of meaning, turning epistemology into ontology. Here is the second variant:

Dogma and Human Rights
2. Because the US is a civilized nation, it does not violate human rights.

The implication in this example is that whatever the US does as a nation by definition cannot be a violation of human rights--even if the same action done by an uncivilized nation would be a violation. Here the truth-claim has left the (epistemological) realm of judgment and moved to the (ontological) realm of identity. To be the United States is to be civilized. (the ontological claim); therefore US actiona--no matter what they are--cannot be called uncivilized.

Another example:
Because I am American (the ontological claim), I am ready to die for my country--whatever it does, right or wrong (suspension of judgment, hence of any need for epistemological justification). I die as a consequence of my identity, my very being.

Example:
Because my struggle is Jihad, a Holy struggle, however I struggle--whatever violence I employ--cannot be unholy.

Example:
Imperialism is clearly undemocratic, but Israel is a democracy; therefore Israeli occupation of Palestine for 35 years is not imperialist, but, rather, the defense of democracy.


In the ontologically defined terrain, to criticize US state actions is to be unpatriotic; to criticize Islamist violence is to be jahili (pagan); to criticize the Israeli state is to be anti-Semitic. Now this kind of argument, which is increasingly pervasive in political rhetoric today, in fact eliminates the very possibility of critical thinking, without which democratic debate becomes impossible.