14 Jul

Transcendental gibberish

William Hague, who was leader of the Conservatives while they were in transition between what Theresa May called “the nasty party” and what, under her leadership, has become “the totally useless party,”  now moonlights as Occasional Panglossian Columnist (OPC) on the Church Times.

William is very ambitious. Not for him the trivial aims of passing a law to ensure that everyone is happy all the time or turning the reservoirs of ignorance and imbecility which are our state schools into models of scholarly excellence. No, William really wants to make his mark.

He wants to abolish all rape and sexual violence in warfare. He says: 

“It is often said to me that without war there would be no war-zone rape, as if that were the only way to address the problem. While, of course, our goal is always to prevent conflict, we cannot simply consign millions of women, men, girls, and boys to the suffering of rape while we seek a way to put an end to all conflict, since this goal is one we should always strive for but may often not attain.”

I have read William’s statement eight times already this morning and I still can’t make up my mind whether it is a moral message so profound that we should all be awe-struck and take our shoes off before we read it, or whether it is a candidate for one of the six impossible things that the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass boasted she could do before breakfast.

William’s words are so momentous that I cannot bear the full glory of them in their entirety, so I shall have to discuss them a bit at a time.

First his certainty of the truth of the proposition, “Our goal is always to prevent conflict.”

No it isn’t. Sometimes the right thing to do is to wage war thoroughly – for instance, when our country is threatened by a murderous aggressor. Let us take the example of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany in September 1939. We shouldn’t have done it according to Bill Pangloss. We should have tried to prevent it. And we did this resolutely and consistently for a decade. It was called “appeasement” and it didn’t work. In fact, most military historians are agreed that, if we had waged war on Hitler sooner – for instance when he marched into the Rhineland with a battalion that was little more than ceremonial – the far greater carnage that ensued would have been averted.

I hope I’m not going too slowly for you, but one has to be so punctilious when stating the bleedin’ obvious.

So, let me move on to the next episode of Willie in La-La Land by reminding myself that in moral philosophy ought implies can. In other words, I cannot be bound morally to do what I can’t accomplish physically. For convenience, let us take another historical example. How would William have prevented the mass rapes perpetrated on German women by the avenging Red Army in the last years of the Second World War? What “mechanisms” would he have “employed”, what “systems” would he have “put in place” so that these unpleasant things could not have happened?

The answer of course is that, if William had been around in 1943, he would have been powerless to do anything to prevent these atrocities – because he would have had no authority over the Red Army. Similarly today, he has no control over what barbarians of Islamic State or Boko Haram might do in the territories which they occupy.

(Incidentally, he might just possibly be able to minimise such atrocities but, ironically, only by doing the one thing which, he says we must not do – and that it by waging war on them).

Of course, we might devise a moral code for the conduct of our own armed forces which says that they must not rape the enemy’s womenfolk. But the conduct of the enemy’s armed forces is beyond our control.

In the light of these reflections, we can return to William’s original statement and see that it is not, after all, some exalted ethical proposition.

It is sanctimonious gibberish