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  You are in: Home > Politics, Media & International Relations > Interpreting Political Events in the United States  

Interpreting Political Events in the United States
Critical Debate and Representative Democracy
A Viewpoint on the US Bill of Rights, President Andrew Johnson’s policy on reconstruction, the Alger Hiss Espionage Case, and George W. Bush’s “War on Terror”

Norman Coles

Norman Coles has taught at a number of universities including Dublin, Metropolitan (London), SUNY and Cornell. He specializes in Political Philosophy, with a particular interest in the Philosophy of Aquinas, Metaphysics (for which he has drafted new degree courses), and the Philosophy of Iris Murdoch. He is the author of Ashton's Case for James II and Human Nature and Human Values.


Critical political debate requires respect for principles of logic, rationality and reasonableness, as well as shared conceptions of evidence and relevance in the political arena. The author presents case studies in order to demonstrate the inherent dangers of not applying principles of reasoning to the interpretation of political events. Relevance and the adequacy of evidence are too often overlooked in favour of rhetoric and moral platitude, sometimes leading to deceit and always to ambiguity, to the detriment of democratic society. He investigates the US Bill of Rights in the context of natural justice and the ‘right’ of citizens to hold arms; President Andrew Johnson’s policies towards the ‘Secessionist’ states with respect to his understanding of the causes of the civil war and the human worth of the emancipated slaves;  Whittaker Chambers’ accusation against Alger Hiss, a former high-ranking State Department employee, and the Communist sympathies and connections this event brought in its wake;  and the confused President George W. Bush “war on terror” political discourse, and its implications for Executive power, especially for the conduct of the office of Vice-President.

All of us involved as we are in the polity have a duty to determine the truth of major, albeit confusing, political events. The author calls this a “War by Night” to indicate how hard it is to interpret these events with minimal accuracy when those who initiate political action may conceal, distort or deny. This book is written in the tradition of applied philosophy: it provides clear arguments of modern political relevance in order to throw light on major political events and promote critical debate in the political arena.

Foreword by Dr P. M. S. Hacker

1 The US Bill of Rights
2 President Andrew Johnson
3 Whittaker Chambers
4 Alger Hiss
5 President George W. Bush
6 The ‘War on Terror’

Appendix 1 Narratives
Appendix 2 Constitution of the United States of America
Appendix 3 The Bill of Rights


“Norman Coles’ distinctive perspective on four significant episodes in American history suggest, inter alia, the light that can be cast on domestic and international politics by philosophy, particularly by that closer attention to the use of words and to the logic of an argument that a training in philosophy can instil.

At the same time, as he makes clear in his study of President Andrew Johnson, political failures and disastrous policies themselves are to be attributed, not to philosophical mistakes, but to lack of imagination and empathy, and to the corrupting power of human prejudice.” Vincent Denard, formerly lecturer in Philosophy, Trinity College, Dublin

“In an era dominated by mass media, and in a political milieu determined by public relations men, critical political debate has declined. As a consequence . the forms of representative democratic politics and liberal political societies which obtain in Britain, Europe, and the USA are under severe pressure. It is salutary to see how the instruments of logic and the methods of philosophical analysis can be brought to bear on political discourse and illuminate different ways in which political societies have been hoodwinked by rhetoric, intellectual and moral dishonesty, and plain conceptual error or confusion. To shed light on the dark forces that are a perennial internal threat to liberal democratic society is the purpose of Norman Coles' lucid new book. ” Dr P. M. S. Hacker, Fellow of St John's College, Oxford


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
96 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Release Date:
May/June 2009
  Illustrated:   No
Hardback Price:
£19.95 / $39.95

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