Briefly Noted [Full Text]

Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 24.2 (Summer 2010)

June 14, 2010

Partly Cloudy: Ethics in War, Espionage, Covert Action, and Interrogation, David L. Perry (Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2009), 266 pp., $40 paper.

"In some situations," writes David L. Perry, "when sufficient time is available before a decision must be made, people of integrity—warriors and spies included—will need to draw upon a range of moral emotions. In other instances, though, split-second decisions will not permit [such] sophisticated analysis." Partly Cloudy: Ethics in War, Espionage, Covert Action, and Interrogation, the sixth volume in the Scarecrow Professional Intelligence Education Series (SPIES), introduces the reader to a range of ethical issues faced by U.S. military and intelligence personnel. Drawn from Perry's doctoral dissertation, university lectures, and academic discussions, this collection of essays sheds light on the complexity of our moral choices and the difficulty, especially in war, of navigating the ethical principles that bind us.

Perry, director of the Vann Center for Ethics at Davidson College and a former professor of ethics at the U.S. Army War College, makes his central thesis clear throughout—namely, that "good ethical decision making cannot be reduced to a short checklist or model," and that clarity in ethics is sometimes impossible. Such chapters as "Comparative Religious Perspectives on War," "Espionage," and "Covert Action" use practical as well as theoretical examples drawn from moral philosophy and intelligence studies, as well as present the author's own thinking about military ethics and the just war tradition. Clearly written and accessible, the book offers a thoughtful introduction for those entering the intelligence profession or those simply wishing to develop and sharpen their ethical reasoning skills.

The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism, Joyce Appleby (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2010), 494 pp., $30 cloth.

Joyce Appleby has produced a historical account of capitalism that neither obscures its great tragedies nor minimizes the scope of its triumphs. Rejecting a historicist framework in favor of one that accounts for both chance and necessity, Appleby rewards the reader with a capacious discussion of the development of one of the defining features of our world. Her goal is to show how capitalism is as much a social system as an economic one, but to do so while "shak[ing] free of the presentation of the history of capitalism as a morality play, peopled with those wearing either white or black hats." In so doing, Appleby stresses the magnitude of changes wrought by capitalism, and the system's seemingly endless ability to create wealth; but she is fully cognizant that that very same system has led to worker exploitation, environmental degradation, and vast material inequalities.

Appleby's multicausal account surveys economic, political, social, and intellectual developments that catalyzed the emergence and consolidation of the capitalist system. For instance, in one chapter, "Crucial Developments in the Countryside," she describes how innovative English farming techniques in the sixteenth century greatly diminished the prospects for famine in that country, liberating men and women from a predestined life of agricultural work; in the next chapter, "Commentary on Markets and Human Nature," she shows how philosophical texts by such thinkers as Adam Smith and John Locke interacted with economic and political events in England to encourage the spread of capitalist principles. Indeed, Appleby traces the development of capitalism from Portuguese overseas trade in the fifteenth century to the 2008 financial crisis. As the author surveys such diverse terrain, the veracity of her thesis becomes readily apparent: that we cannot separate our social and political life from our economic one, because the latter not only has social consequences, it is itself a consequence of our social and moral worlds. Thus, Appleby notes that while capitalism is in fact a "relentless revolution," it can hardly be construed as a "mindless one."