A father-and-son team reflect on two white-hot policy issues, torture and eavesdropping.
The elder Fried (Law/Harvard Univ; Modern Liberty: And the Limits of Government, 2006, etc.) and the younger (Philosophy/Suffolk Univ; Heidegger’s Polemos: From Being to Politics, 2000, etc.) acknowledge that post-9/11 controversy over these practices inspired their discussion, but they insist that the principles assembled here are applicable for the ages. Government agents, they argue, descend into torture and contrive to eavesdrop for the same reason—to fill in gaps in knowledge. There the similarity of these two unwanted impositions ends. Rejecting the ticking time-bomb scenario and the idea of “torture warrants” or merely “maintaining the façade of illegality,” the authors argue that torture is always and absolutely wrong. The desecration that accompanies the infliction of intense physical and psychological pain crosses a moral line that imperils the soul and degrades the torturer every bit as much as the victim. Privacy violations, about which Americans have many misconceptions, are different and permissible in some circumstances. The Constitution, after all, prohibits only unreasonable searches and seizures. Here the Frieds are particularly convincing, teasing out the strands of privacy claims and demonstrating that, if certain limits are observed, violations of privacy might be justified in emergency circumstances. The authors cram this slender volume with helpful and arresting illustrations drawn from philosophers, including Aristotle, Locke, Webber, Machiavelli and Wittgenstein; statesmen, including Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR; writers, including Shakespeare, Orwell, Conrad, Remarque and Beerbohm; and even films, including The Lives of Others, The English Patient and The Battle of Algiers. They also cite the Bible, the U.S. Army Field Manual and pertinent U.S. Supreme Court cases. The Frieds conclude by distinguishing private morality and political responsibility, by pondering the dangers of secret, executive lawbreaking and by disagreeing over whether public figures accused of torture should be prosecuted.
A brief but shimmering model of clear thinking and persuasive argument.