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Alan Wolfe on Political Evil (BOOK REVIEW)

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But I cannot imagine that George W. Bush undertook to study Mani's work and influence, as Wolfe himself has. For this reason, I see Wolfe's learned discussion of Mani's thought and influence as a digression. Wolfe's learned discussion is tantamount to putting words in Bush's mouth. By associating Bush with Mani, Wolfe is carrying out an exercise in guilt by association.

Let's examine Wolfe's moves. Step one: Wolfe characterizes Bush's use of the terms "good" and "evil" to be Manichaean. Step two: In paragraph after paragraph Wolfe explicates Mani's teachings and his influence as though he (Wolfe) were alerting us to and forewarning us about the possible implications of Bush's Manichaean way of thinking.

In defense of his discussion, Wolfe would probably say that he is just drawing an analogy that might perhaps cast a broader light on Bush's Manichaean way of thinking. This is not an implausible line of argument.

However, in the context of discussing somebody else's use of analogies, Wolfe makes the following statements:

"But where there is a Holocaust analogy, must there be a Munich one [as well]? There is no logical reason why there should be: it does not follow that because Chamberlain's actions [in Munich] gave Hitler free rein to take over Czechoslovakia, domestic tyrants will always transform themselves into potential world conquerors" (page 131).

Amen, I say to Wolfe's reasoning here regarding the Munich analogy.

But let's go back to Bush and Mani. I have no problem with characterizing Bush's way of thinking about "good" and "evil," terms that he himself frequently used, as Manichaean. However, to quote Wolfe himself, "[t]here is no logical reason why there should be" any further connection between Bush's way of thinking in terms of stark contrasts and Mani's way of thinking.

Now, I would suggest a more neutral way of interpreting Bush's way of expressing himself regarding good and evil. My favorite author is the cultural historian and cultural theorist Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003). Among other things, Ong studied agonistic tendencies, most notably in his short book Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Cornell University Press, 1981), the published version of Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University.

For Ong, male agonistic tendencies involve the sense of adversativeness, the sense of being up against something.

For former President George W. Bush, good is up against evil.

Wolfe reports that Pete Singer "sarcastically dismissed Bush as "the president of good and evil'" (page 82).

Instead of sarcastically dismissing Bush as the president of good and evil, and instead of digressing about Mani and his influence, why not take Bush's own statements and claims and debate those?

To wit: "Bush says X is evil. But I [Alan Wolfe] say that X is not evil."

Or: "Bush says Y is good. But I [Alan Wolfe] say that Y is not good."

And so on.

If Bush is the leader of American counter-evil, then Bush as leader must make appeals to his followers, or else risk losing his followers.

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www.d.umn.edu/~tfarrell

Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; Ph.D.in higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)
 
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