There are paragraphs you know could only have been written by Ken MacLeod. His political expositions are clear, civilized, and illuminating, but they always make me feel like someday, in the midst of one of them, I’m going to look down and realize that I’ve walked over the edge of a cliff, and am now accelerating toward his entirely logical conclusion at a rate of 32 feet per second per second. I’m sure it’ll be an educational experience on the day. In the meantime:
The great scandal of Lenin was that he taught realpolitik to the lower classes and backward peoples. If the working class was ever to become a ruling class it had better start thinking like one, and for a ruling class there are no rules. There is only the struggle to get and keep power. This is not to say that the Leninists and the imperialists are without moral feelings. Individually they are for the most part perfectly normal. Their compassion for their enemies’ victims is absolutely genuine. So is their outrage at their enemies’ moral failings and blind spots. In the 1980s I found it very difficult to regard supporters of the Chinese Communists’ consistently anti-Soviet international policies as anything but scoundrels and scabs; but they were merely applying the same criteria as I was, to a different analysis of the world; and their indignation at my callous calculations and selective sympathies was just as real. I had the same sort of arguments with Trotskyists who supported the muj.I’m not sure I agree with that, but if I disagree with it, I’m not sure it’s not because I don’t want to have to agree with it.
‘How can you …?’ ‘How can you …?’
Morality has very little to do with choosing sides. It can tell us that a given act is dreadful, but it can’t tell us whether to say, ‘This is dreadful, therefore …’ or ‘This is dreadful, but …’ We still often believe that we oppose our enemies because of their crimes, and support our allies despite their crimes. I wouldn’t be surprised if Margaret Thatcher was quite sincere in condemning ZAPU as a terrorist organization because it shot down a civilian airliner, and in supporting one of the mujahedin factions, despite the fact that it had deliberately blown up a civilian airliner. Sometimes our moral justifications can blunt our moral sense. Think of the incendiary bombings of Germany and Japan. Suppose they were a military necessity. If so, better to accept that what ‘our side’ is doing is wrong and do it anyway than to persuade ourselves it is right because it is in a just cause.
(The writings of a great amoralist - a de Sade, a Stirner, a Nietzsche - can inspire a handful of murders in two centuries. Over the same period, the writings of a great moral philosopher - an Aquinas, a Kant, a Bentham, a Mill - can justify, if not indeed incite, the deaths of millions in just wars and just revolutions. Morality is an immensely dangerous and destructive force, which must be restrained by the strongest human passions and sympathies if it is not to break all the bonds of society.)Morality is real. Morality is ideology. It is the heat given off by the workings of quite different machinery. In measuring the heat while ignoring the mechanism - in making a moral case for or against a particular war, for example - the moral philosopher reasons ‘consciously indeed, but with a false consciousness’. The screams of those caught in the machinery continue unabated. They cry to heaven. It is only in what Locke called the ‘appeal to heaven’ - the clash of arms - that anyone (apart from, of course, ‘pacifists, Quakers and other bourgeois fools’ as someone said, who indulge in ‘pacifist-Quaker-vegetarian prattle about the sanctity of human life’, as someone else said) sees a hope that some day the machinery can be made to stop, and the screams to cease. That hope itself is the machines’ fuel.