The Manichean worldview of George W. Bush

| June 20, 2007 | 4 Replies

Why has the Administration of George W. Bush made so many enemies?  It comes from an early intellectual decision to view the world in terms of Good versus Evil.  This article in by Glenn Greenwald sums it up nicely

Efforts to impose limits on waging war against Evil will themselves be seen as impediments to Good, if not as an attempt to aid and abet Evil. In a Manichean worldview, there is no imperative that can compete with the mission of defeating Evil. The primacy of that mandate is unchallengeable. Hence, there are no valid reasons for declaring off-limits any weapons that can be deployed in service of the war against Evil.

Equally operative in the Manichean worldview is the principle that those who are warriors for a universal Good cannot recognize that the particular means they employ in service of their mission may be immoral or even misguided. The very fact that the instruments they embrace are employed in service of their Manichean mission renders any such objections incoherent. How can an act undertaken in order to strengthen the side of Good, and to weaken the forces of Evil, ever be anything other than Good in itself? Thus, any act undertaken by a warrior of Good in service of the war against Evil is inherently moral for that reason alone.

So much that is dysfunctional about the Bush Administration stems from this unfortunate and simplistic early move. There is no endpoint to the dysfunction:

Intoxicated by his own righteousness and therefore immune from doubt, the Manichean warrior becomes capable of acts of moral monstrousness that would be unthinkable in the absence of such unquestionable moral conviction. One who believes himself to be leading a supreme war against Evil on behalf of Good will be incapable of understanding any claims that he himself is acting immorally.  

 I’ve written about the power (and danger) of early intellectual moves before.  The Manichean worldview of George W. Bush is Exhibit A.

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Category: Good and Evil, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    Greenwald's article is a disturbingly accurate picture of the Bush presidency. 'The ends justify the means' is, indeed, a notoriously disastrous worldview.

    For an alternate view of Bush's worldview, see this article:
    http://hnn.us/articles/7202.html/, which suggests that rather than a Manichean worldview, Bush might more correctly be described as on a Zoroastrian quest — the latter, unlike the former, presuming that Evil can, ultimately, be totally destroyed. One pertinent quote from this article is helpful: "In drawing upon a dualistic political framework ('Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists'), Bush has positioned himself as the arbiter of good versus evil…." This would explain the blindness and arrogance that has characterized Bush's decisions — that he somehow sees himself as the sole moral authority for America, and that his ascention to the White House was somehow a sign from God that Bush is infallible. His veto of stem cell research this week, despite the obvious hypocrisy in his rationale for doing so, would also fit this model.

    Here is another helpful quote from the Skinner article: "In Bush’s Zoroastrian world, life is defined not by positive categories that envision a better world, but by a preoccupation with destruction of the Other." Indeed, in his obsession with "fighting terrorism," Bush has utterly ignored the many life-affirming — indeed, life saving — benefits that could have been made with the manpower, money and resources that he is wasting in Iraq.

    I'll close with one last quote from the Skinner article: "Who we are as Americans—at least in W’s America—is determined by who we are not…The paradox inherent in this formulation is even scarier than it might first appear, for this ontological system is incapable of envisioning a world without enemies and is dangerously close to the ideas suggested by the title of Chris Hedges’s recent book: 'War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.' In military parlance, an “exit strategy” from this battle would result in a loss of our own identity. Therefore, there can be no such exit strategy."

  2. Devi says:

    I heard of some new Bush bumper stickers- my favorite is: " I Wasn't Using My Civil Liberties Anyway"

    My second favorite: "One Nation, Under Surveillance"

    It's a close second.

    Pretty funny, though: "They call him W so he can spell it." and "Like a Rock, only dumber."

  3. Matt says:

    Stop abusing the word "manichean." It doesn't mean a good/evil dichotomy. Read up on it. Liberals think that they're right and everyone else is wrong. Does that make them "manicheans"?

  4. Zoevinly says:

    I looked it up on Wiktionary: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Manicheanism

    A search for manichean resulted in a link to the definition of Manicheanism, which means:

    1. (philosophy) A dualistic religious philosophy having elements of Zoroastrian, Christian, and Gnostic thought.

    2. (philosophy) A dualistic philosophy that divided the world into essentially good and essentially evil.

    So no, people who think that they are always right and everyone is always wrong are not "Manicheans." However, a president who labels his cause "good" and his enemies "evil" could very accurately be described as holding a "Manichean" view.

    Simplistic is another good adjective.

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