In a bizarre email exchange with Noam Chomsky, Sam Harris avoided ethical questions about President Bill Clinton’s bombing of the Sudanese pharmaceutical building, which resulted in a massive death toll and refugee crisis, to frame the discourse in terms of President Clinton’s intentions for the bombings. While Chomsky was pointing out the facts of the case, such as the irrefutable fact that President Clinton never presented any factual or credible evidence of his claims about the company having terrorist ties after the bombing, Sam Harris continued to speak of President Clinton’s intentions and how we should evaluate those actions based on his intentions. Chomsky rightly pointed out that we couldn’t ever possibly know what President Clinton’s intentions were – moreover, it reduces human rights atrocities to the personal feelings and preferences of leaders. Under this bizarre moral framework, a leader in a predominately Muslim nation could bomb a Western nation and his predominately Muslim population could justify it as the leader having positive intentions while ignoring the death toll, massive injuries, damages for needing the buildings rebuilt, and the enmity created from such an attack.
I decided to research this because Harris’s viewpoint seemed vaguely familiar and I discovered the basis and history of his argument: the Papal arguments encouraging the Christian Wars in the Holy Land that later became part of the Christian Crusader rhetoric. Evidently, Harris’s moral paradigm for international relations is exactly Christian Crusader viewpoints but without the religious element:
Difference between Augustinian “just war” and “crusade”:
The standard for a Christian “just war” as developed by Augustine (c. A.D. 400) is: “rightful intention on the part of the participants, which should always be expressed through love of God and neighbour; a just cause; and legitimate proclamation by a qualified authority.” (Quoted from J. Riley-Smith, The Crusades, Yale University, 1987.) The doctrine of holy war/crusade added two further assumptions: 1) Violence and its consequences–death and injury–are morally neutral rather than intrinsically evil, and whether violence is good or bad is a matter of intention. (The analogy is to a surgeon, who cuts into the body, thus injuring it, in order to make it better/healthier.) 2) Christ is concerned with the political order of man, and intends for his agents on earth, kings, popes, bishops, to establish on earth a Christian Republic that was a “single, universal, transcendental state’ ruled by Christ through the lay and clerical magistrates he endowed with authority.