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The Lesser Evil$
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Michael Ignatieff

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9780748618729

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748618729.001.0001

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The Temptations of Nihilism

The Temptations of Nihilism

(p.112) Chapter Five The Temptations of Nihilism
The Lesser Evil

Gifford Lectures

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter examines the darker possibility that, in a struggle between a liberal constitutional state and a terrorist enemy, both sides will be tempted to descend into pure nihilism, that is, violence for violence's sake. High principle and moral scruple may lose their purchase on the interrogators in the state's secret prisons or the fighters in a guerrilla or insurgent struggle. Both sides may start with high ideals, and end, step by step, in their betrayal. A critic of a lesser evil morality would argue that anyone who trafficks in evil, even with the best intentions, is likely to end up succumbing to nihilism. The chapter considers how this declension occurs and how it can be avoided.

Keywords:   terrorism, terrorists, violence, liberal state

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