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Alan Wolfe on Political Evil (BOOK REVIEW)

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 4 of 11 pages) Become a premium member to see this article and all articles as one long page.     Permalink

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In addition, I have no serious quarrel with Wolfe's claims regarding the organizational skills of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist organization. In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, we should give various terrorist organizations credit for their organizational efforts.


However, because my background is in the history of rhetoric and dialectic, I wish that Wolfe, who teaches political science, had thought more deeply about the appeals made by the leaders of political evil to the ordinary followers in their organizational structures. How do the leaders of political evil appeal to the followers in their organizations?


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In this connection, I think that Wolfe could profit from studying William M. A. Grimaldi's excellent essay "The Auditors' Role in Aristotelian Rhetoric" in the anthology titled Oral and Written Communication: Historical Approaches, edited by Richard Leo Enos (Sage Publications, 1990, pages 65-81).


For understandable reasons, Wolfe fears that as observers of political evil, we might imagine ourselves to somehow be free from any evil propensities within us. He seems to believe that this is the other side, as it were, of two-way thinking. In his understanding of the two-way way of thinking, when we think of political evil as evil, we tend to imagine that we are the good guys in the two-way way of thinking about good guys versus bad guys. No doubt this counter tendency should be feared, especially when we undertake political efforts to counter political evil.

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For example, we Americans are not born virtuous. When we Americans undertake to counter political evil with political measures, we should fear imagining ourselves to be the good guys versus the bad guys. This two-way way of thinking can lead us to self-deception and to inflation. To be effective in undertaking measures to counter political evil, we should hold in check tendencies to deceive ourselves about our supposed goodness, because we should strive to hold in check any tendencies toward inflation and self-deception. Hold in check the self-congratulations beforehand.


In his discussion of former President George W. Bush, Wolfe claims that his critics will remember him "for moral caricature rather than moral clarity" (page 82).


Wolfe himself associates Bush's supposed moral clarity with the prophet Mani, whose teachings influenced the young St. Augustine, as he recounts in his famous book the Confessions.

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In the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I can only just barely imagine that George W. Bush may have read Augustine's Confessions.


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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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