Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Just liberal violence: sweatshops, torture, war, by Michael Neu, paperback, 149 pages, ISBN 978-1-78660-065-3, Rowman & Littlefield, 2017, £23.95.

Just-Liberal-Violence Just liberal violence: sweatshops, torture, war

Michael Neu is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Politics and Ethics at the University of Brighton. He writes, "Defenders of just liberal violence … fail to see that any attempt analytically to separate their philosophical arguments from the politics of their time – the attempt, essentially, to engage in apolitical moral philosophy about matters of politics – renders these arguments at once invalid and dangerous."

As he points out, "moral philosophers pronouncing on matters of violence are structurally situated too; … they cannot articulate their moral defence of torture in a philosophical safe space, neatly separated from the politics of their time."

He argues against Matt Zwolinski's claim that "the presence of coercion – whatever precise form it takes – does not license third-party interference in the conditions of sweatshop labor." And he asserts that "Powell and Zwolinski's imagined world of voluntary choosers and morally virtuous exploiters is indeed a utopia - literally a non-place, a phantom; it does not exist."

Neu cites approvingly Jamie Mayerfeld's observation that "in the long history of counter-terrorist campaigns there has not been one verified report of a genuine ticking bomb torture scenario. There has not been a verified incident that even comes close to the ticking bomb torture scenario."

By contrast, Neu remarks that "incorrect information obtained through torture was used by Colin Powell in justifying the Iraq war in 2003, a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people and has stimulated international terrorism. As Mayerfeld points out, this 'is the cataclysmic ticking bomb scenario in reverse. And it is an actual case unlike the fictional cases that dominate public discussion of the morality of torture'."

Neu cites David Luban: "the ease with which arguments that pretend that torture can exist in liberal society, but only as an exception, quickly lead to erecting a torture culture, a network of institutions and practices that regularize the exception and make it a standard operating procedure."

"the liberal framework from which it derives is obsessed with individuals, blind to social hierarchies and interconnectedness, and fanatically fixated on pressing the complex material world into a binary moral structure of right and wrong. In failing to take a step back and reflect critically on the defects of their framework of analysis, however, defenders of just liberal violence contribute to a moral climate characterized by a pervasive amnesia about the histories, structures and politics of violence."

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