Ted Honderich
This is the full lecture, now further revised, that was given in a short version, under the title 'Is There a Right to Terrorism?', at meetings in Leipzig University in October 2003. It has since been published in the German journal Rechtsphilosophische Hefte, X, 2004. You can also read a short version of the lecture in both English and German. More  is said in defence of my view that the Palestinians have a moral right to their terrorism, which of course is as rightly called their liberation-struggle or the like. The University of Leipzig, in the greatest of academic traditions, brought honour on itself by resolutely choosing to hear an unpopular opinion. It also withstood the neo-Zionist pressure group that succeeded in getting  the publisher Suhrkamp to withdraw from the market the German translation of my book After the Terror. Prof. Georg Meggle, does not agree with my view -- see his commentary -- but does more than merely agree with a principle of free speech. He shares in the honour of his university, as does the vice-rector, Prof. Kruger. The banning of the book was temporary. Another publisher stepped into the breach. A Jewish publisher, I am pleased to say. Mr. Abraham Melzer is in that noble tradition of his people of which mention is made below.

1. The Principle of Humanity

There is a morality to which we are all committed, by two things. One is our own great and fundamental desires in our lives along with our moral judgements justifying their being satisfied. The other is our rationality, just the fact of all such reasons necessarily being general. We are committed to this morality, in short, by our human nature.

What it comes to can be indicated by a fast example. (1) You believe it is wrong for you to be tortured for a month if the alternative is just my having to go to work by bus instead of having my own car. (2) Your reason for what you desire, not to be tortured, commits you to other propositions about other people with respect to great goods and evils as against lesser satisfactions and frustrations.

The clearest formulation of this morality may be the Principle of Humanity. 1 It is that we must take actually rational steps, which is to say actually effective and of course unwasteful ones, to get or keep people out of wretched and otherwise bad lives. Bad lives can be well defined in terms of the fundamental human desires for the great goods. These goods, variously related, have to do with decent lengths of life, bodily or material well-being, freedom and power, respect and self-respect, relationships, and culture.

Each of us, I say, is committed by his or her own human nature to this principle or something very like it -- some other morality of concern for those in distress. That is not to say that we are always or even often motivated or moved by this concern. We are often moved by too much self-concern or indeed selfishness. We defend ourselves in this by moralities of relationship, or other moralities of special obligation, including Kantian ones. These, by way of another fast indication, are moralities that allow one to do yet more for one's own child or country, as against others, than is allowed by the Principle of Humanity.

All moralities of concern and also all moralities of special obligation, despite confusion and denial with respect to the latter ones, are in fact consequentialist moralities. They take actions, practices and institutions to be be made right by consequences or effects -- some consequences or other, maybe concealed. There are no moral reasons, in fact no reasons at all, no things that give rise to action, that do not have to do with consequences. Those would be reasons for action not themselves having to do with desires and their satisfaction or frustration. There are none of those.2

The Principle of Humanity, as you have heard, is that we must do what is actually rational, not engage in substitute-behaviour, to get and keep people out of bad lives.  Like other moralities of concern, it is strikingly different from Utilitarianism. In any situation, the Principle of Humanity of course asks the following question of fact, of ordinary truth or falsehood. What action or the like will really be most effective, and least costly in terms of distress, in serving the principle's own end? That is certainly not the question of whether or not an action maximizes the total of satisfaction or happiness, perhaps by making good lives still better.

In reality there will hardly ever be a case where there is no answer to be found to the Principle of Humanity's factual question. It will hardly ever be that the opposed courses of action will in fact be rational to exactly the same extent. That is, to take the simplest case, it will hardly ever be true that two courses of action are exactly equally likely, on the best information and judgement, to get or keep people out of bad lives, and also are equal with respect to effectiveness and cost. So there will almost always be an answer to the question of which of two contradictory actions is right and which is wrong. It will not be that there is no action that is right, no action that is according to the principle.

That is not to say that in almost every case it will be easy or anything like it to see or discover or judge which course of action serves the Principle of Humanity best. To think so would be nonsense. In fact, these factual questions are the hardest questions in morality. The hardest questions of morality, in a sense, are not questions of morality. They do not have to do with choosing between moral principles. They do not have to do with deciding, say, whether a world of wretchedness but of Kantian good intentions would be better than the opposite. The hardest questions have to do with judging the probable consequences of actions.

All of this is not an introduction, but a first stage in considering the question of whether there is ever a moral right to terrorism.3 That question can be answered, as it will be here, in terms of the case of Palestinian terrorism against neo-Zionist Israel. This particular terrorism is chosen partly because it is the terrorism in whose history we ourselves are most implicated. It is also the most favourable case, the terrorism most likely to have the support of the Principle of Humanity.

Neo-Zionism is the enlarging of Israel beyond its 1967 borders, with all that this entails for the Palestinians. It is different from Zionism, which was and is support for the peaceful establishment in perpetuity of Israel within those borders. The distinction is mandatory, and most certainly needs to replace talk of undefined Zionism and of course undefined anti-Zionism. I was and remain a Zionist in the defined sense. I am not a neo-Zionist. In this, of course, I am one with very many Jews.

2. The Question of a Palestinian Moral Right

You can make all terrorism wrong by definition, monstrous if you wish, as you can make profiting or praying or anything else wrong by definition. It gets you absolutely nowhere in argument. To advance in argument, you will now have to argue, say, that what the Palestinians are engaging in really is terrorism as you have defined it. You are in exactly the same situation as when you define terrorism in some way that does not beg the question in advance, and then consider whether some of it is wrong.

This is not worth saying in a university, but we do not live in a university. We live in a world where the very strongest resource in thinking and talking against the Palestinians and others is an absurdity. It is the absurdity, often vicious, certainly vicious when engaged in by governments, that you can in effect just define your way into a moral conclusion worth consideration.

Terrorism as effectively and fairly ordinarily defined4 may also be other things, as in the Palestinian case. It may be self-defence, resistance, resistance to ethnic cleansing, the struggle of a people for liberation, the struggle of a people for their very existence as a people in a homeland. Do you ask what reason there is to speak mainly of 'terrorism' rather than these other things? One reason is the determination to engage in actual moral inquiry, to aspire to what can be called moral intelligence. It is the strongest weapon of most of us on the side of humanity. Here it issues in the objectivity of keeping the killing and maiming in view, by way of the word 'terrorism' itself.

Think now of the killing of an Israeli child by a Palestinian suicide-bomber. Think too of the killing of a Palestinian child by an Israeli officer in a helicopter gunship. He of course says that he would have chosen, if he could, to kill only the HAMAS terrorist near the child. The Palestinian suicide bomber, of course, says effectively the same sort of thing, presumably as truly. She would have chosen to have tried as effectively, if she could have, without killing the Israeli child, to save her people.

My book After the Terror is on another whole subject, our rich world's omissions rather than commissions, notably with respect to Africa. It is about, for example, a sample loss of 20 million years of living time in four African countries. However, it asks in passing about the terrorism in which we have long been implicated -- terrorism in an historical situation that is greatly owed to our positive acts. It answers that the Palestine suicide bomber does have a moral right to her act of terrorism, and that the Israeli in the helicopter has no moral right to his act of state-terrorism. 5

Any assertion of a moral right is best understood as being in a way self-referring. This one comes to this: the Palestinian suicide-bomber was morally permitted if not obliged to do what she did, and this very judgement has the support of a fundamental and accepted moral principle.

That answer to the question of terrorism, about killing the Israeli child, is a terrible and horrible answer. The answer remains this if it is made more explicit, and thus has to do with Palestinian terrorism as it is rather than any conceivable Palestinian terrorism -- thus ruling out the killing of all clear innocents, including all children, when this is not an unavoidable side-effect. It will also rule out torturing Israelis to death, killing hundreds of thousands by biological or chemical means, and so on.6

But the given answer is the answer I defend. This is one of two aims of this paper. The second has to do with a consequence or corollary of the answer. It is about anti-Semitism and some German silence.

Can I prove that the Palestinians have a right to kill? Can I in this paper give something as near to a proof as is possible in moral reflection and philosophy? To suppose so would be silly, if not so silly as the pretence of proof on television to the effect that the Israelis are right and the Palestinians are wrong because the former are a democracy and the latter are terrorists. But let me say some new words in defence of the moral right.

3. The Ordinariness of the Terrible and Horrible Answer

The terrible and horrible answer about a Palestinian moral right is in an important way, maybe the most important way, not unusual at all. The counterpart answer about neo-Zionist killing is given more or less daily by neo-Zionists, sometimes overtly, more often covertly. It is in fact the burden of what is always said by every neo-Zionist spokesman, every supportive journalist in whatever country. It is given not only when the word 'right' and the like are used, which sometimes they are. It is also given when it is said, to choose one of many examples, that the neo-Zionist side's killing is somehow necessary.

This cannot mean that neo-Zionists literally have no choice. It cannot meant that the age of determinism has arrived in Tel-Aviv, or that there is somebody or something that really is compelling or constraining Sharon to do things against his will. It is patently obvious that what must be meant by talk of necessity is that the killing is a moral necessity, necessary in a right or justified cause. It is certainly not being agreed that the killing is necessary in a crime against humanity, the violation of another people and their homeland.

Glance away for a moment to items in an overflowing history of us all. The terror-bombing of Germany in World War Two, intended exactly as much to kill civilians as to defeat Hitler, was justified by we British and our leaders. 7 So too with the genocide that went with the growth of the United States of America. So too with the murdering of British captives by the Jewish terrorists who were serving the justified cause of the founding of the state of Israel after the Holocaust.

The general fact of the usualness and pervasiveness of the moral assertion of terrible and horrible propositions, including the proposition of neo-Zionists today, is not being remarked on in order to engage in the weakness of tu quoque or 'you-too' argument. It is remarked on for another purpose.

Moral argument, moral argument in the real world, very often depends to an extent on what we take other people to think and feel. We appeal to their judgements in the way that we have some trust in a sensible jury. A moral claim of a sort never heard of before has less to be said for it. It has its uniqueness to be held against it. A moral claim of a common sort, in a kind of accord with our human nature, is different.

The claim of moral justification on behalf of the Palestinians is not bizarre or extreme, so extraordinary to be presumed mistaken -- whatever such a presumption is finally worth. The Palestinians and the very many of us who support them in their judgements are not monsters. There are too many monsters in the present and past of the world, far too many, for any of us to have the rarity of a monster.

That is a first point with respect to your attitude to the claim of a Palestinian moral right. The claim is not outlandish. There is also a second point.

It is in the interest of those who conduct or run our societies to condemn or denigrate the moral judgements of others with respect to killing. This they do by two means. One is the use of authority, and in particular democratic authority, in asserting their own moral judgements. This asserting, likely to be overt rather than covert, faces the objection that it is not democracy that makes policies and practices right, but the rightness of policies and practices that recommends democracy -- when they have that rightness. A decision-method can in fact only be judged by what it produces.8

Those who conduct our societies, secondly, condemn or denigrate the moral judgements of others on killing by the means of concealing their own judgements. They are covert about their judgements, and thereby have the effect of making the judgements of others seem vulnerably singular. It is in the interest of those carrying forward a 'war on terrorism', for example, to obscure their own inevitable claim of a moral right to their killings.

It is in the interest of humanity, and a commitment owed to the Principle of Humanity, to have truth clear, to have things out in the open, on both sides. It is in the interest of humanity to doubt and resist the claim to authority with respect to killing, and to uncover the pretence of a kind of amorality or agnosticism, perhaps a bogus necessity.

Are you still tempted to dispute the initial claim that the neo-Zionists, like a multitude of predecessors, claim a moral right to their killings, overtly or covertly? Here are a few further and very different thoughts.

It is sometimes said, indeed it was said by Hegel and Kant, that Judaism depends on law and revelation, in part religious law.9 Let us suppose so. Is the law moral in character? In that case, it issues in judgements of exactly moral rights and obligations. Is the law somehow other than moral? In that case, exactly like the positive law of a land, it clearly needs the justification of moral principle if it is to be relied on. Then, with that supplement, it again issues again in judgements of exactly moral rights and obligations.

A second thought about the commonness of claims of moral right is that it is allowed on almost all hands that there is a behavioural test of what someone believes and wants. In the long run, the test works better than any other, certainly better than what he or she says. Is there a behavioural test of what someone believes to be right? I think there is, despite obvious reasons for doubt, partly because to believe something to be right is surely to make an all-in or inclusive judgement or a final judgement about what is to be done -- such a judgement as is indeed revealed best by behaviour.

But I need not depend on these more or less philosophical points. There exists, plainly, the human fact that we generally justify what we do. Criminals do so, often by saying we are all the same, that we are all only out for ourselves, different merely in who gets caught. This human fact is not missing from Tel-Aviv.

4. The Truth of the Answer

All of that helps to prepare the way for justifying the claim of Palestinian moral right, but does not itself do so. On what does the justification rest? Well, the terrible and horrible claim is owed to the fact that it can be judged to be true, in more than one way.

As indicated already, there is almost always a fact of the matter as to which of two possible courses of action -- the terrorism or withdrawal from it -- would better serve the Principle of Humanity. It is possible, I hope and trust, to see or discover or judge the fact. It is possible to judge with sad confidence that terrorism or self-defence by the Palestinians is their only hope against an enemy of proven rapacity.

Further, there is truth in the Principle of Humanity itself. What this comes to, as you have heard, is truth to our own natures, our existence. Some morality is not just feelings or attitudes, stuff you can be asked to give up or repress. Some morality is not self-interest, say the self-interest of a class or a people.The Principle of Humanity is wholly misleadingly described as a value-judgement, with the implication that it is merely another opinion or attitude among many.

There is another kind of fact, plainer truth, that enters into the first two. It is historical, about a people and the usurpation of their freedom and power and hence other great goods. In the last quarter of the 19th Century, there were about 50 times as many Palestinians as Jews in Palestine. After World War Two, the United Nations terribly but rightly resolved to make a homeland for the Jews out of one part of Palestine, rather than a part of Germany. There were in fact equal numbers of Jews and Palestinians in that part of Palestine. There were 80 times as many Palestinians as Jews in the other part. There is now a Jewish state violating the remaining homeland of the remaining Palestinians.

The evil of this is not reduced by selected pieces of recent history, who did what in which negotiations, who destroyed what negotiations by violence or provocation. The evil is not touched by the absolute irrelevance of ancient history. My own claim of the the evil of it, incidentally, is to my mind not reduced or qualified by a careless mistake of mine in my book, noted by my accuser, the discoverer of my anti-Semitism.10 The mistake was about where several hundred thousand Soviet Jews settled -- in Israel or in the rest of what was Palestine.

5. Asserting the Answer, and Moral Philosophy

Do you now say that even if the assertion of the moral right of the Palestinians to their terrorism is true, there are reasons for not asserting it? Do you say no one thinks all truths must be uttered? That we all think that some truths are dangerous?

Certainly it is the case that some of us, despite sympathy for the Principle of Humanity, even commitment, choose not to give the terrible and horrible answer. I have in mind not merely politicians, with a vested interest in non-violence, but goodly people. But they must acknowledge that they owe us some articulated reasoning or anyway reasons for their abstention. They cannot depend on a primitive and perhaps evolutionary recoil from violence. The category of the primitive and evolutionary has no general recommendation. It has murder for private gain in it, and much other savagery.

Are some of the goodly people against all violence? Given the kinds of bad lives that there are, in addition to lives injured or destroyed by violence, could this generalization possibly constitute an adequate reason for their position with respect to Palestine? Are they really against the violence that ended Auschwitz and the like? There are few such people. Also, for a reason already given, having to do with their own human nature, they seem to me almost certainly inconsistent, and so in effect to say nothing.

The large questions we face, of which Africa is a still larger one than Palestine, need asserted answers of different kinds. They need historical answers. They also need analytical accounts of the contemporary world, say as provided by our greatest moral judge, Noam Chomsky. Maybe the questions need adversarial answers given on the side of a people, if adversarial answers constrained by something like truth. Popular answers are needed too, and certainly decent journalism. There is a division of labour here.

Another one of these kinds of answer is moral and philosophical. It is philosophical in the sense of giving a kind of greater priority to logic -- to clarity, completeness and consistency. It is possible to think that this more general thinking, in which you and I are now engaged, is fundamental. 11 It is at least in short supply with respect to the defence of neo-Zionism. In fact I know of no articulated moral philosophy in this cause. To deal with the claim of a Palestinian moral right, a thing of this kind is needed. Nothing else is a proper response, say a response in a university.

In such a conflict as the one in Palestine, there is a primary question of who and what is right, which question of course is inescapable, and with which we have been concerned.12 There are also conventional inclinations about the conflict. In a word, they are inclinations to go along with what is more official, legitimated, or recognized. They include the inclination to go along with a democracy, a state, a power, a superpower.

If we do not stand up openly for the justice of the Palestinian cause, you give encouragement to the secondary inclinations. In fact it is at least dishonourable to allow oneself to be, or to encourage others to be, in the grip of the categories of the official and the like. The gas chambers were official. Hitler was elected.13

6. Negotiation and Futility

Of the rest of what can be said here on Palestinian terrorism and hence on the general question of a right to terrorism, let me remark only on the matters of negotiation and futility.

There are, you can think, two ways for a people to get and keep things, these being violence and negotiation. It has been said at every stage of the conflict in Palestine that the Palestinians must give up violence and negotiate. That is typically to forget something. Negotiation is the means for getting and keeping things of the party whose position and ultimate power is stronger. Violence is the means of the other party, the party with no other means. It is in the interest of each party and their supporters to condemn or resist the means of the other. It is the responsibility of moral thinking to try to see what is right.

There are men and women of my outlook, in effect supporters of the Principle of Humanity, who say Palestinian terrorism is futile. They are to be sharply distinguished, of course, from those very different persons who are motivated or influenced in saying this sort of thing by a kind of toleration of neo-Zionism. They are to be sharply distinguished, in particular, from those Americans in government who in fact have dual or divided loyalties.

It needs to be allowed, again, to other supporters of the Principle of Humanity, that the factual question of the eventual outcome of Palestinian terrorism is the hardest question. But it is possible to hold to the view, as I do, that this course of action, and only this course of action, will secure the freedom and power of a people in their homeland. It is only wretched bantustans, or rather only the promise of them, that can now be cited by the advocates of negotiation as having ever been on offer in some sense by the state of Israel. They were also on offer, no doubt along with guarantees by the United States, to the people of South Africa and  Nelson Mandela.

To this can be added something else. Jews in the Warsaw ghetto fought to the end -- hopelessly, it was said. They bring to mind that there can be a realism in what is hopeless. You can fight, not for yourself or your time, but for those who come after you.14 The Palestinians can do so.

7. Anti-Semitism, Guilt, Silence

I turn briefly to my second subject. It is partly the charge of anti-Semitism used against any defenders, excusers or even understanders of Palestinian terrorism, of course including very many courageous and indeed heroic Jews. As it is possible to forget, the charge has been common, a tool.15 There is also the matter of German guilt and German silence.

At an American philosophical conference, you may offer philosophical argument of the kind in this paper to the conclusion that Palestinians have a right to stand against the ethnic cleansing of their homeland. You may then hear from an Israeli professor16 in his paper that you bring to his mind the Nazi injunction instruction taken over from Bismarck: 'Think with your blood'. In Germany, you may advance the proposition about a moral right in a book, with the result that a charge of anti-Semitism leads to the book being banned by its publisher, a publisher unmindful of the past.

It does not need saying in a university, or a factory, that to run together resistance to neo-Zionism with anti-Semitism is to confuse or run together (1) a resistance to some Jews and also some non-Jews -- in no case because they are Jews -- with (2) an attitude to all Jews or Jews in general. The accuser may speak in a loose way, as indeed he does if he speaks of 'anti-Semitic anti-Zionism'. This is to run together resistance to Sharon with sympathy for the gas chambers and the vomit of neo-Nazism in Germany today. It is not, as some of my own countrymen may suppose, just to run together opposition to neo-Zionism with merely a preference about who is to be let into membership of a local golf club.

To engage in the charge of anti-Semitism against the likes of me17 , to add or imply that my book blames the Jews for starvation in Africa, or that I said on television that Germany is now managed by Jews -- let me say first that this is to have no membership in the strong and continuing tradition of Jewish humanity in morality and politics, with so many noble men and women in it. It is not to be of that fine company, praised by me before I ever heard of my accuser.

To be associated with gas chambers falsely is surely to be given a certain right of reply. It is to be enabled to say, as I do, that someone who makes the charge of anti-Semitism against the likes of me is one of three persons. The first is a dimwit, the second a liar. The third is someone engaged in self-deception, avoidance of evidence that is feared or not wanted. It is to be less honourable than to be a liar. No doubt there are also persons who mix these three identities. In no case should such a person be a university professor.

Do you say that this self-defence and counter-attack is not philosophy? Well, it is relevant to the matter of some moral philosophy getting a hearing. Certainly the charge of anti-Semitism may be precisely a means of its not being heard.18

Finally there is the subject of Germany. There have been many small Fichtes, making smaller addresses to the German nation than that philosopher did in his time, perhaps addresses like his in calling for moral regeneration. One of my excuses for joining the smaller Fichtes is that Germany has paid so much attention to my book, and has not heard much reply from me until now.

There is an awful question that comes to mind. It has to do with Germans and their past, and their now being quiet about the violation of Palestine by neo-Zionists. Is that like your father having murdered some woman -- and you, as a result, being quiet about a rape by her son?

No large matter was ever settled or even advanced by asserting or contemplating an analogy. But there is a place for analogies in moral argument, and also a use for graphic ones, indeed for shock. Remember that we commonly make use of analogies in moral thinking, as much as we do of models in other reasoning and inquiry, in science above all. It is possible, I take it, to admit the question to consideration by way of argument involving the Principle of Humanity. As you will have gathered, that principle has only as much to do with conventionality and good manners as is called for by its end, the rescuing of people from misery and other distress.

Here I can offer only some remarks pertaining to the question.

The retribution theory of punishment by the state is that a particular punishment is justified because it is the one deserved for the offence. This backward-looking theory purports to justify punishment by the past fact of a crime rather than by any consequence of the punishment. There have been many attempts to explain in a satisfactory way the given reason: that a particular punishment is deserved for a particular offence.

Much effort has gone into trying to give sense to this reason by talk of a punishment being equivalent or proportionate to the crime. In my view, and the view of some others, all attempts but one have failed. They have not made sense at all. Or they have produced circularity -- the proposition that punishment is justified because it is justified. Or they have not resulted in recognizably moral reasons for punishment.

One understanding of the retribution theory of punishment has made it clear, non-circular and apposite.19 It does so by giving up the idea of justifying punishment only by a fact in the past. In this understanding the retributive reason for a punishment is that it will satisfy a present grievance-desire created by the past crime. Such a desire is for nothing other than the distress of someone, distress as an end in itself, and not as a means to anything else. The equivalent penalty, on this view, is the one that does no more and no less than satisfy the grievance-desire.

This understanding of the retribution theory, if it makes it clear and so on, also makes it morally indefensible in typical cases. A man cannot be kept in prison for life only to satisfy grievance-desires. The impossibility of this is now very widely recognized, as good as universally recognized. We agree that punisghment must have something else to be said for it if it is right.

Consider a related theory that comes to mind. Rather, it is brought to mind not by all but by much of what seems to be the content, character and quality of German feeling about the German past.The retribution theory of national guilt is that a particular guilt felt by a people is proper because it is the one, let us say, called-for by a past crime. Let us pass by the question of whether such guilt can be inherited, and instead note but one thing. To try to give sense and strength to the idea of a called-for guilt will face at least exactly the same difficulties as the retribution theory of punishment does in connection with desert.

The upshot, to my mind, will be the view, whatever is to be said about it, that there is to be a burden of guilt that exactly satisfies the grievance-desire caused by the crime.

One question that arises about this, of course, is whether grievance-satisfaction really does morally justify the burden of guilt. It could not conceivably justify eternal guilt. Another question, certainly, is whether an ongoing demand for grievance-satisfaction is in itself reasonable. Plainly the retribution theory of punishment must in the end operate with an idea of a reasonable grievance-desire. So too with a retribution theory of national guilt.

You may agree that reflection along these lines, about both punishment and national guilt, is likely to lead to something different. It is likely to lead to reflection on all the consequences of punishment or guilt, as against merely the satisfaction of grievance-desires. Reflection will lead, that is, to a theory that looks at punishment and guilt partly, indeed mainly, in terms of their prevention of further crimes.

To speak from the perspective of the Principle of Humanity, the question will be simply this: does punishment or guilt, or a particular punishment or guilt, serve the end of the principle? I suspect something like this is an impulse of many of the German people. As it seems to me, it should carry with it an end to silence about a crime in the present, a crime now being perpetrated against the Palestinians. At least there should not exist a certain guilt about the past: one that issues in this silence, indeed one that issues in another if lesser guilt, a guilt with respect to the Palestinians.

There are relatively few Germans now alive who acted in the Holocaust. I speak to the others. What relationship should guide your actions, including your silence and your speech? A relationship to those your father killed? A relationship to your father? To the sons and daughters of his victims? Or should your silence and your speech be guided by a relationship to those in misery, whoever they are? The answer given by the Principle of Humanity, although it recognizes certain natural facts, is at bottom the last one.

More can be said, some of it having to do with the fact that Germans are now rightly known for their bearing of their Holocaust guilt. They now have the honour of taking on themselves the guilt of their fathers. They actually have a kind of moral superiority not shared by all of the rest of us. The Holocaust was not the first or the last genocide or politicide. Other perpetrators have not been so ready to accept and to deal with guilt.

For this reason of a moral superiority, Germans now have a special obligation to speak against a rape. The libel that this speech is anti-Semitic is certain to be used against them. As before, a false imputation will be used for what is underdescribed as a political end, in fact the end of dispossessing another people of their homeland. Despite this, Germans will be heard a little more than other nations. There is the reason for their being heard that is their standing. There is also the reason of their silence until now. They can do more than the rest of us to awaken America from its stupid trance, a stupidity that is a matter of an ignorance and thus a weakness in judgement.

That is not all. You can say, as I do, in line with humanity, that Germans today have a certain obligation to those their fathers killed. They have an obligation to those who are gone. They have the obligation, in fact about the future, to make it less likely that those victims of their fathers died wholly in vain. 

                                                                                               10 December 2003


1. Like several other things in this paper, the Principle of Humanity is more fully discussed in three books. (1) After the Terror (Edinburgh University Press, Columbia University Press) was translated into German as Nach dem Terror by Suhrkamp Verlag and then withdrawn from the market. An enlarged paperback edition (Edinburgh University Press, McGill-Queens University Press) has been translated again by MelzerVerlag. (2) Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy (Pluto Press), a revision of an earlier book, may eventually be translated into German. (3) On Political Means and Social Ends (Edinburgh University Press), a collection of philosophy papers, among other things a context for views on terrorism, may also appear in German.

2. This line of thought is developed in 'Consequentialism, Moralities of Concern, and Selfishness', in On Political Means and Social Ends. Substantially the same paper appears in Philosophy, the journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy, in 1996.

3. This paper was first a lecture, given in an abreviated form to the University of Leipzig under the title 'Is There a Right to Terrorism?', in October 2003. It is better for comments on it by Georg Meggle, Beatrice Kobow and others in several audiences. I thank Ingrid Coggin Honderich for previous discussions. On the morning of 6 October 2003, she agreed not with me but with The Guardian. That newspaper speaks of the suicide-bombing in Haifa on 4 October as 'a horrendous affront to all human decency'. It is possible to want to agree with that, indeed somehow actually to agree with it. But it is also absolutely necessary to keep in mind what the newspaper does not, that there are greater horrendous affronts to human decency. One has several million Palestinians as its victims.

4. Terrorism has quite a number of features but fundamentally is a kind of violence, which latter thing is physical force that injures, damages, violates or destroys people or things. Terrorism more particularly is this: violence with a political and social end, whether or not intended to put people in general in fear, and necessarily raising a question of its moral justification because it is violence -- either such violence as is against the law within a society or else violence between states or societies, against what there is of international law and smaller-scale than war.

5. That it is terrorism arguably follows from its being against what there is of international law. The conclusion is better based than, say, the conclusion that there were grounds in international law for the second war against Iraq. Indeed, an explicit and decent international law will be the result of concentration on such actions as those of neo-Zionist Israel, not something arrived at separately and then found to be applicable to those actions. It is not now in question whether driving a bulldozer over a peace activist in order to proceed to the destroying of houses will be in accord with an explicit and decent international law.

6. Prof. Meggle rightly asked for this explicitness in the discussions at the University of Leipzig. See his 'Kritischer Kommentar zu: Ted Honderich, "Gibt es ein Recht auf Terrorismmus?"' (at and also his 'Terror & Gegen-Terror, Einleitende Reflexionen', in Meggle (ed.)Terror & der Krieg Gegen Ihn: Offentliche Reflexionen (Mentis, 2003). On the difference between clear innocents and others, see 'Later Thoughts on Terrorism for Humanity', the new last chapter in the paperback edition of After the Terror and the Melzer Verlag translation. I did not retract and have not retracted anything whatever of my original view, which was perhaps suggested by an account of the Leipzig meetings in the Frankfurter Rundschau , 21 October 2003.

7. Jonathan Glover, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century (Jonathan Cape, 1999), Chaps 10, 11, 12.

8. This is in fact implicit in the most famous of reliances on method, the contract argument of John Rawls. My view of it is given in 'The Contract Argument in a Theory of Justice', in On Political Means and Social Ends .

9. Oliver Leaman, Clive Nyman, 'Anti-Semitism', Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward Craig (Routledge, 1998)

10. Mischa Brumlik, 'Philosophischer Judenhass', Frankfurter Rundschau , 4 August 2003.

11. Let me here remark on a comment of Jurgen Habermas. In the course of a letter to the press in which he reports that he recommended my book to Suhrkamp for publication, and in which he apologetically confirms that my book is not anti-Semitic (Frankfurter Rundschau, 6 August 2003), he says of me: 'He does not distinguish his political evaluation of Palestinian terrorism from the moral justification of it.' This is puzzling. I take into account, very certainly, the question of whether Palestinian terrorism will work, which of course includes such consideration as of its effects on opinions and attitudes of third parties, etc. This, presumably, is a political evaluation. So too, presumably, is a judgement of the necessity of Palestinian terrorism, the question of whether there are alternatives, no doubt negotiation. It is odd, to me, to speak of distinguishing these evaluations from the moral evaluation of Palestinian terrorism -- they are part of it. Evidently I fail to understand Professor Habermas. He cannot contemplate that political considerations -- the necessity of courses of action etc. -- do not enter into moral judgement on the courses of action.

12. It is not so far as sometimes assumed from argument deriving from the theory of the just war. For an independent and excellent inquiry, see Meggle, 'Terror & Gegen-Terror, Einleitende Reflexionen'.

13. There is more on conventionality in the new last chapter of the paperback edition of After the Terror and the German translation by Melzer Verlag.

14. I owe this thought to Sharon Anderson-Gold.

15. Alexander Cockburn, Jeffrey St. Clair, The Politics of Anti-Semitism (CounterPunch/AK Press, 2003).

16. Jacob Joshua Ross.

17. A useful source of evidence is my philosophical autobiography, Philosopher: A Kind of Life (Routledge, 2001)

18. Some other defences against the charge of anti-Semitism against me, which is absurd not only to me, appear in 'The Fall and Rise of a Book in Germany', on the website

19. It is spelled out in my Punishment: The Supposed Justifications (Penguin, 1984, etc.), to be published in a revised edition in 2004 by Pluto Press.

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