Philosophy and Real Politics

Glen Newey writes:

The book’s jacket image, a striking black and white photo by John Sadovy, shows a young man almost literally biting the dust. Only after turning the book over to look at the back does one notice his presumed killer, reloading his rifle. This example already poses questions beyond the ken of liberal orthodoxy. The dead man, a member of the AVH, the Hungarian secret police, was among those put to death by anti-Soviet partisans in the 1956 uprising. As such, the picture provides a graphic, if ironic, illustration of Lenin’s ‘who whom?’ The answer requires an irreducibly historical narrative: the partisans were taking reprisals against the AVH, who had killed unarmed demonstrators a few days earlier. The uprising was in support of liberal principles: what then is the appropriate moral rate of exchange when performing atrocities to promote those principles? Would any killing be justifiable to end what liberals see as gross injustice?

(LRB 9 July 2009)

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