"No: the only justification for using violence, ever, is a utilitarian one – to prevent even more violence occurring. To choose the least controversial example, innocent people died horrifically in the bombing of Nazi Berlin – but even more people would have died if the bombing had not gone ahead, so it was not only justified but morally necessary."He then uses this utilitarian calculus to oppose the death penalty under any circumstances, even for Saddam Hussein - a case which he confesses to feeling ambivalent about:
"Does the relief and joy given to a once-tyrannised population outweigh the murder of a human being? No. In the end, I cannot find a morally justifiable explanation for my glee at Saddam’s death. The real test of your belief in human rights is not whether you support them for the innocent – the Marsh Arabs and the Ang Sang Su Kyis. No: it is whether you support them for the disgusting, the depraved, the genocidal – the Saddams."I don't understand any of this. If you are a utilitarian, why shouldn't the 'relief and joy given to a once tyrannised population' serve as a perfectly good reason for welcoming Saddam's execution? The problem with utilitarianism, as every undergraduate philosophy student understands, is that it cannot in theory rule out the execution of the innocent, never mind a heinous tyrant like Saddam Hussein.
The other problem I have with this is the manner in which Johann links this calculus to war because the only way these can be justified with any degree of certitude is retrospectively. Since I began blogging, I have seen this done in relation to WW2 on a regular basis. Usually in a most ahistorical manner - as if we can know what the body count would have been had, say, the British opted for surrender after Dunkirk.
But, as Oliver Kamm has pointed out in a different context, this is a false calculus anyway because such was the nature of National Socialism, a 'barbarism without limit', that there can be no serious discussion of the consequences had we failed to defeat it.
That those who originally supported the invasion of Iraq and have subsequently recanted their position do not believe this reasoning is applicable to Iraq is something I have no problem understanding at all.
What I do have a problem understanding, though, is where they got their confidence from in the first place? Johann Hari used to be among those argued that who opposed the war should feel ashamed of themselves - now he feels ashamed for supporting it. I'd imagine this would be something of a morally-tortuous roller-coaster ride to find oneself travelling on, although I can't be sure because I don't understand the basis on which the original position was taken.
If you were a utilitarian supporter of the war, why did you do this to yourself? Given that human beings can't predict the future and that wars have especially uncertain outcomes, it was a mistake for utilitarian supporters of the war to accuse those who opposed it of being 'objectively pro-fascist', when they should have restricted themselves to the more limited charge of being 'objectively pro-disutility'. Doesn't have quite the same ring of certitude, does it?