The Guardian newspaper, Britain’s major organ of liberal opinion, recently ran this headline: “The Arkansas mass executions on Easter Monday must be stopped.”
The emotive words “mass execution” conjure up in my mind considerably more than the eight executions the state of Arkansas planned to perform over the course of 11 days, two of which, as far as I am aware, had been carried out at the time the headline appeared. Che Guevara would have laughed at the idea that a mere eight people put to death, let alone two, constituted a mass execution. He would have taken the use of the word as further proof of the decadence of late capitalist society and its ripeness for overthrow: and so, no doubt, would Slavoj Zizek, mass murder’s star philosopher and proselytizer.
The Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges was once invited to deliver a lecture at Peru’s most respected university. It was 1965. By then he was elderly and blind, and Peru was under a military dictatorship that was considered “Progressive.” Borges, a classical liberal, was outspoken against the regime’s military authoritarianism.
He was accosted on the campus by student supporters of the regime harshly protesting his presence. When the students’ militant chants finally died down, Borges was asked by one of them: “Mr. Borges, how is it possible for an intelligent person like you to hold unpopular positions that go against the course of history?”
He calmly replied: “Listen, young man, don’t you know that gentlemen only defend causes that are lost?”