Frequent Core lecturer and former Core seminar leader Gregory Fried has co-authored a new book, Because it is Wrong: Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror , in collaboration with his father, Charles Fried. Harper’s magazine recently posed 6 questions to them, probing into the reasons behind the points made in the book:
4. You argue against “Machiavellian heroes” while recognizing that Machiavelli’s arguments carry much weight. Instead you ask us to look at Nelson Mandela as another sort of hero. What guidance does Mandela give us in forging a new moral consensus about torture?
Gregory Fried: Mandela’s example serves as a model, not for the question of torture specifically, but rather for what constitutes genuine statecraft. When he came to power in South Africa in 1994 after the fall of apartheid, Mandela understood that however important good laws and a new constitution may be, they are meaningless if the people do not share a sense of common commitment to the core principles of the nation. That is why Mandela insisted that not just the former ruling National Party but also his own African National Congress must admit its violations of human rights in the truth and reconciliation process. That is why he took so seriously the whole country uniting behind the national rugby team, the Springboks, as a symbol of racial unity and equality (as portrayed in the wonderful film Invictus).
The rule of law, which is so crucial to free republics, cannot be upheld by law itself; it requires the united commitment of the people to democratic principles such as human dignity. When leaders embrace techniques such as torture for short-term gain, they forget a key lesson of statecraft, which is that radical departures from foundational principles, no matter how useful they might appear at the moment, can result in lasting changes to the living character of a people and its government.
Is it ever right for a democracy to torture? Read Professor Fried’s book to see his answer, but feel free to leave your opinion below or as part of a discussion at the EnCore Facebook page.