Not since the belle époque of Sartrean existentialism have we had a better reason to stop and ask ourselves what it is exactly to 'act in good faith'. For that is what the prime minister promised the House of Commons he had been acting in when marching lockstep into Iraq with his role model in Washington. Tony Blair's assurance was given as a response to the publication of the Butler Report (Stationery Office, £22.50), which he assumes has demonstrated that he is not in fact the Bliar of all those banners that were carried down Whitehall eighteen months ago. The report does no such thing, because no report, even one a great deal more muscular than the Whitehall insider's memorandum to which Lord Butler has given birth, has the capacity to settle whether Blair was acting in good faith over Iraq, since if to act in good faith is to act in the conviction that what you are doing is right, regardless of any empirical evidence that may convince other people it is not right, good faith becomes a purely private matter, a state of mind inaccessible to investigation by committees, unless we were to have one drawn from the Institute of Psychiatry, rather than Butler's cosy quintet of Right Honourables. As so often when finding himself in a spot of moral bother, Blair the asylum-seeker has chosen to tiptoe into the snuggery, or what he has been known to evoke as his 'conscience', where the poor earthlings of his electorate can't expect to be admitted.
LRB 5 August 2004 | PDF Download