TCS Daily


Speak No Evil

By Lee Harris - February 28, 2003 12:00 AM

Ever since President Bush spoke of the Al Qaeda hijackers as "evil doers," a chorus of academic authorities have derided the President for his choice of words, some claiming that it was simplistic, some claiming that it was Manichean, some claiming that it was incitement to a fundamental Christian crusade-but all agreeing that the word "evil" should be struck from the President's vocabulary.

What no one seems to notice, however, is that it is not merely the President's use of the word evil that is coming under attack-it is our own, yours and mine.

Of course, this is not something that Bush's critics come out and say. They want us to believe that if the President had never used such language about Al Qaeda, it would never have occurred to any of us to regard the murder of over two thousand innocent men and women as evil, just as it would never have crossed our minds to describe the perpetrators of such acts as "evil doers."

What the academic critics want us to believe is that Bush's words acted as a kind of hypnotic suggestion on the bovine innocence of our collective national mind, warping and distorting our moral perceptions in such a way that we could be easily driven into a herd-like stampede of revenge against the alleged forces of evil.

This is not only absurd, it is insulting.

When Bush spoke of the 9/11 hijackers as evil, he was expressing precisely the moral sensibility of the average American. We did not need him to manipulate us into thinking it was evil to murder thousands of people for showing up for work one day. We knew that already. We suspected it the moment we noticed people jumping out of windows on the ninetieth floor of the World Trade Center.

Keep this in mind when you read the pompous pontifications of the latest Bush-bashing academic: the true target of the attack is not George Bush-it is you.

To banish the word "evil" from the moral lexicon of humanity, simply in order to take a cheap shot at a politician, is an unforgivable act of moral and intellectual dishonesty. It is making use of one's academic standing and scholarly reputation in order to debase the level of our public discourse, and those who engage in this kind of cant should be treated as charlatans and quacks.

The word evil has been used over and over again throughout human history as the means to energize human beings to deal with the wrongs and the outrages of the world, and various Bush-baiters of the academic world are perfectly cognizant of this fact. They know that it was the word that was used in the battle against slavery, against Nazism, against Communism, against segregation. They know that it is the only word that rings true when one wants to speak of such horrors as the Middle Passage and Auschwitz.

And if you wish to verify this for yourself, ask them what word they would suggest we use when we want to find the proper moral characterization of the gassing of children and the torturing of innocents?

Were the Nazis ethically challenged? Was Stalin misunderstood? Were the Al Qaeda hijackers mischief-makers? Was the slave trade misguided?

What word may we use, if you have forbidden us the use of evil? What name can we assign to those ghastly horrors that constitute the black holes of the moral universe?

What we are seeing is not an attack on George Bush, but on the very foundations of our moral common sense. To tell the average man that there is something wrong with using the language of evil when this language is the only appropriate way of expressing his sense of benumbed outrage is itself a species of evil. It is the use of one's intellectual superiority in order to subvert the trust that the average person feels in the intuitive reliability of his own moral conviction.

How did our nation get to the point that we permit such men to talk us out of our deepest convictions? And how do we go about reclaiming them?
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