Ross Douthat on torture and “torture-lite”

He’s too willing to play situation-ethics games, but at least he calls a spade a spade. Most of his fellow “conservatives” have behaved less honorably.

If you want to know how an actual conservative, as opposed to a Bush apologist, thinks about torture, read Ross Douthat. His position isn’t mine; he’s much more willing to play situation-ethics games than I am, and much more willing to believe that torture can be cabined and limited. But he’s willing to call a spade a spade, and own up to his own complicity-in-thought.

Douthat’s essay illustrates Brian Jenkins’s point that false fears about the extent of the risk we faced from terrorism made us a nation of (mostly) cowards, afraid to stand by our principles for fear of what it might cost.

Footnote Note that, in a pinch, Douthat’s Christianity turned out not to have much cash value. I would have expected a Christian to say that it was better to lose the whole world than one’s own soul: that no amount of purely temporal suffering could add up to the suffering of a single soul’s permanent separation from God, and that therefore if some actions, such as torture (or incinerating peaceful cities) are simply forbidden, then although there may be pathos in refraining from them at the expense of great suffering, there’s no actual moral problem: intrinsic evil must simply be rejected. (Or, as the pagan Socrates said, “It is better to suffer evil than to do evil.”) But that doesn’t even seem to enter into Douthat’s calculus. Like most of the rest of us, Douthat lives in a world in which there is no evil greater than death, save more death.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: