Tuesday, April 23, 2013

George W. Bush and the Concept of "Goodness"

This morning, when I saw the headline "Go Ahead, Admit It: George W. Bush is a Good Man," I had to convince myself I wasn't reading the Onion.  However, when I noticed that the piece was written by Ron Fournier, a well-known Bush apologist, I could tell what to expect.

The main problem with Fournier's article is his flawed understanding of the concept of "goodness."  I'm sure that Dubya is caring to his wife, loving to his children, and good to his friends (the latter a marked contrast with Cheney, who shoots them in the face rather than the back).  Now that he is free from the busy schedule of the presidency, he probably volunteers; he probably regularly gives to charity.  He is probably a good host to his guests.  If you pass him on the street and need to ask the time, he'd probably give it to you.  But none of that makes him a "good" person.

Goodness cannot be limited to personal relations alone.  Without a broader sense of integrity, a commitment to justice, and a regard for the dignity and humanity of others, "goodness" is shallow, if not meaningless.  When thinking about Fournier's piece, I remembered a passage from Felix Adler in The Reconstruction of the Spiritual Ideal in which he speaks of morality as a "golden thread" uniting the various relations as well as his regular insistence on the need to mature our concept of ethics past the individualistic interpersonal frame we still hold.  By limiting morality to the action between individuals, we can have no concept of international ethics, of vocational ethics, of political ethics, etc., for all of those assume complex relations in a society, relations with people whom we might not know or see but whom our actions nonetheless effect. 

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