Synopses & Reviews
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 reopened what many people in America had long assumed was a settled ethical question: Is torture ever morally permissible? Within days, some began to suggest that, in these new circumstances, the new answer was "yes." Rebecca Gordon argues that September 11 did not, as some have said, "change everything," and that institutionalized state torture remains as wrong today as it was on the day before those terrible attacks. Furthermore, U.S. practices during the "war on terror" are rooted in a history that began long before September 11, a history that includes both support for torture regimes abroad and the use of torture in American jails and prisons.
Gordon argues that the most common ethical approaches to torture-utilitarianism and deontology (ethics based on adherence to duty)-do not provide sufficient theoretical purchase on the problem. Both approaches treat torture as a series of isolated actions that arise in moments of extremity, rather than as an ongoing, historically and socially embedded practice. She advocates instead a virtue ethics approach, based in part on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre. Such an approach better illumines torture's ethical dimensions, taking into account the implications of torture for human virtue and flourishing. An examination of torture's effect on the four cardinal virtues-courage, temperance, justice, and prudence (or practical reason)-suggests specific ways in which each of these are deformed in a society that countenances torture.
Mainstreaming Torture concludes with the observation that if the United States is to come to terms with its involvement in institutionalized state torture, there must be a full and official accounting of what has been done, and those responsible at the highest levels must be held accountable.
"This remarkable morally and politically challenging and courageous work confronts unblinkingly the profoundly disturbing truth that both popular and scholarly discourses in America consistently distort and sanitize the essential nature of the torture that has become a socially embedded practice in our country. If you care about our national character, consider these insightful and telling analyses and demand an appropriate accounting from our political leaders."---Henry Shue, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford
"We would rather avoid facing the reality of torture. In this book, Gordon shows us that our primary ways of thinking about torture are in fact ways of avoiding the full reality of it. Arguments for and against torture treat it as isolated acts by individuals, but Gordon shows that torture is embedded in a system of social practices with a set of moral habits which are in many ways fostered by society as a whole. This is a well-researched, well-argued, and disturbing book." --William T. Cavanaugh, Professor of Theology, DePaul University
"Torture by our U.S. military and spies is not new. Nor is it the result of a few bad apples. Gordon documents the systematic teaching and use of torture by the U.S. since Vietnam. This excellent book challenges us to end torture. Not only by prosecuting the front line people who get caught, but also going after the high-ranking public officials who are torture's intellectual authors." --Bill Quigley, Professor of Law, Loyola University New Orleans
About the Author
received her B.A. from Reed College and her M.Div. and Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory from Graduate Theological Union. She teaches in the Department of Philosophy and for the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. Previous publications include Letters From Nicaragua
(1986) and Cruel and Usual: How Welfare "Reform" Punishes Poor People
Table of Contents
1. Describing the Problem
2. Torture in the Conduct of the War on Terror
3. The Current Discussion
4. A Different Approach: Virtue Ethics
5. Considering Torture as a (False) Practice
6. Goods and Virtues
7. Conclusion: What Is to Be Done?