The President of Good and Evil
reviewed by Federico Stafforini
May 2, 2004

George W. Bush is not only America’s president, but also its most prominent moralist. No other president in living memory has spoken so often about good and evil, right and wrong. […] But in what moral truths does the president believe? Considering how much the president says about ethics, it is surprising how little serious discussion there has been of the moral philosophy of George W. Bush.

Peter Singer, The President of Good and Evil (opening paragraph).

The President of Good and Evil is about ethics. It takes on the task of reconstructing George W. Bush’s moral philosophy from what he has said and done, and holds this moral philosophy to close scrutiny. Singer’s purpose is the critical assessment of the President’s ethical stance, which is shared by tens of millions of Americans in a wide range of subjects.

The book’s prominent feature is the comprehensive, rational analysis of the ethical defensibility of Bush’s position. The facts and issues raised might not be novel to the informed public, which is not to say that the book is not well documented. Singer covers a vast amount of information relevant to the ethical issues addressed; he is not concerned with journalistic novelty but with the case that can be made by using what has already been properly documented.

Singer’s writing and logic are clear and straightforward. He is also very careful to asses Bush’s position from a fair standpoint, generally centering his analysis on the best case that can be made for the President’s ethical view. Singer does not confront his own utilitarian position with it, except where Bush himself has taken a seemingly utilitarian stance. The book is about Bush’s moral philosophy, not Singer’s. Most of the time, Bush seems to appeal to commonly accepted principles such as Human Rights and Just War theory, and it is in the light of them that the author builds his argument. Singer is concerned with the consistency of Bush’s ethics and the honesty of his statements, or with how these compare to Bush’s own actions. In the case of the President’s frequent appeals to faith -religious or not- he dwells on the role of reason and argument in a Democracy, not questioning this faith itself but the role we should reasonably assign to it under a democratic decision making process.

It might not be a surprise that the author often finds Bush’s positions to be indefensible. The interest, however, lies not in the conclusion but in the comprehensive and well grounded argument that Singer makes, which is especially relevant because of the broad appeal of its premises and its rigorous logic.

Utilitarian Philosophers :: Peter Singer :: 'The President of Good and Evil', reviewed by Federico Stafforini