Sunday, January 29, 2012

“Evil and Ignorance: The Case of Darfur,” Dissent Magazine, January 26, 2012

What is the role of ignorance in allowing evil to thrive? Can ignorance be a form of acquiescence? When does ignorance of evil become culpable in itself? These are large questions, but ones worth asking of public intellectuals who presume to speak about the nature of evil, and on this basis particular instances of evil.

In his much-reviewed new book Political Evil, political scientist Alan Wolfe attempts to diagnose various forms of political naïveté among those attempting to respond to political evil (as opposed to the evil of individuals). If evil will always be with us, and will always be in some sense incomprehensible, Wolfe wants to argue—in the tradition of Orwell, Arendt, Niebuhr, and others—that we can speak seriously about the meaning of political evil, and work to halt the use of evil for political or ideological gain. He is contemptuous of those who look to international courts of justice or to misguided liberal human rights agendas, and of those who indulge in “indiscriminate” characterizations of atrocity crimes. He is particularly contemptuous of American-led advocacy efforts to respond to large-scale human destruction in Darfur. Indeed, Darfur is his test case for a principled realism, which allows us to diagnose and respond to events in maximally effective fashion.

At the heart of Wolfe’s claims is the argument that what occurred in Darfur beginning in early 2003 was not genocide but civil war, an insurgency that prompted a predictable counter-insurgency by the Khartoum regime. Wolfe acknowledged in a roundtable discussion at the New Republic (March 2009)—in which I and others participated—that he “was not an expert on Darfur,” but this confession has not prevented him from picking and choosing among historical and sociological facts and opinions in order to make the case that genocide had not occurred. Comparisons to Rwanda are wholly inappropriate, Wolfe argues in his new book and elsewhere, and responses of the sort required in Rwanda are correspondingly ill-considered when it comes to Darfur. Raed more >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

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