Andrew Michael Sullivan (born 10 August 1963) is a libertarian conservative author and political commentator. He is a former editor of The New Republic, author of three books and a pioneer in the field of blog journalism. Born and raised in England, he has resided in the United States since 1984.
- Monsters remain human beings. In fact, to reduce them to a subhuman level is to exonerate them of their acts of terrorism and mass murder — just as animals are not deemed morally responsible for killing. Insisting on the humanity of terrorists is, in fact, critical to maintaining their profound responsibility for the evil they commit.
And, if they are human, then they must necessarily not be treated in an inhuman fashion. You cannot lower the moral baseline of a terrorist to the subhuman without betraying a fundamental value. That is why the Geneva Conventions have a very basic ban on "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" — even when dealing with illegal combatants like terrorists. That is why the Declaration of Independence did not restrict its endorsement of freedom merely to those lucky enough to find themselves on U.S. soil — but extended it to all human beings, wherever they are in the world, simply because they are human.
- "The Abolition of Torture", The New Republic (19 December 2005)
- Today's age of politicized and intolerant Christianism seems to me to be one of those moments when Christianity has estranged itself most thoroughly from the priorities and spirit of its founder. But this will pass. Christianity will survive Christianism. Some true followers of Jesus will recover their faith from Caesar's grip at some point.
- "Christians and Torture", The Daily Dish (23 March 2006)
- First silence. Then denial. Then support of the insupportable. Then vilification of the dissenters. The pattern is as old as time.
- "Torture and Conservatism", The Daily Dish (11 July 2006)
- Torture was necessary to maintain slavery. It was integral to slavery. You cannot have slavery without some torture or the threat of torture; and you cannot have torture without slavery. You cannot imprison a free man for ever unless you have broken him; and you can only forcibly break a man's soul by torturing it out of him. Slavery dehumanizes; torture dehumanizes in exactly the same way. The torture of human beings who have no freedom and no recourse to the courts is slavery.
- "Slavery and Torture", The Daily Dish (23 February 2007)
- In thinking about the costs of this war, and thinking about renewing it, we have to reconsider what it has done to America. It has turned the U.S. military into a force at ease with abuse of captives and civilians, occupying a Muslim nation. Some of this is surely due to the sheer hell of fighting an enemy you cannot see, surrounded by people you do not understand or trust, and being killed randomly in urban or desert insurgency conditions where friend and foe are close to indistinguishable, and where your buddies are killed on a regular basis by faceless cowards. You can certainly understand how soldiers grow completely numb in the face of abuse in those circumstances. Every "hajji" can seem like the enemy after a while. It requires men and women of almost saintly capabilities to keep their moral bearings among terrorists who massacre scores of innocents as a religious duty, among people whose differences are impossible for young troops to figure out in split-seconds. In such conditions, and as a consequences of grotesque under-manning, the breakdown in ethical discipline is no big surprise. But that doesn't make it any the less of a big deal.
- "Re-Thinking The War II", The Daily Dish (8 May 2007)
- At home, the public has come to accept torture as a legitimate instrument of government, something that the Founding Fathers would have been aghast at. We have come to accept that the president is not bound by habeas corpus, if he decides he isn't. He can sign laws and say they don't apply to him. We know that an American citizen can be detained for years without charges and tortured and abused — and then critical evidence of his torture will be "lost." We have come to accept our phones being tapped without a warrant and without our even knowing about it. These huge surrenders of liberty have occurred without much public outcry. When the next major terrorist attack comes, the question will simply be how much liberty Americans have left. That is a victory al Qaeda could not have achieved by force of arms. It is something they have achieved with our witting and conscious help.
- "Re-Thinking The War II," The Daily Dish (8 May 2007)
- There is no state more abject than the man broken on the waterboarding rack, or frozen to near death, or forced to stand for days on end, or hooded and strapped to shackles in a ceiling, or having his legs pulpified by repeated beating, or forced to eat pork and drink alcohol against religious strictures. Everything I have just described has been done by US forces under the command and direction of George W. Bush. They are all acts of absolute tyranny, conducted by people who at that moment are absolute tyrants.
- "Torture, Moral Vanity and Freedom", The Daily Dish (17 May 2007)
- A constitutional republic dedicated before everything to the protection of liberty cannot legalize torture and remain a constitutional republic. It imports into itself a tumor of pure tyranny. That tumor, we know from history, always always spreads, as it has spread in the US military these past shameful years. The fact that hefty proportions of US soldiers now support its use as a routine matter reveals how deep the rot has already gone. The fact that now a majority of Republican candidates proudly support such torture has rendered the GOP the party most inimical to liberty in America. When you combine torture's evil with the claims of the hard right that a president can ignore all laws and all treaties in wartime, and that "wartime" is now permanent, you have laid the ground for the abolition of the American experiment in self-government.
- "Torture, Moral Vanity and Freedom", The Daily Dish (17 May 2007)
- It is not an opinion that "enhanced interrogation techniques" are torture. It is a legal fact. And it is also a legal fact that the president is a war criminal.
- "What 'Torture' Is", The Daily Dish (18 May 2007)
- What al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein did was an extreme form of sadistic torture, the kind that psychopaths enjoy and inflict. But that does not make, say, freezing someone to near-death, reviving him, re-freezing him again any less torture. Yes, we did that, carefully monitored by Rumsfeld. It does not make the Khmer Rouge waterboarding technique any less torture. It does not make contorting a prisoner into an excruciating stress position and then smashing his head against the wall any less torture. We should not forget that there have been more than a hundred deaths in U.S.-run torture chambers under George W. Bush either.
So I really don't get the point. Unless it is the following: If we are not as evil as al Qaeda, we are not torturing. This is logically and legally and morally a complete non-sequitur. And it is truly mind-boggling to believe that the arbiters of our moral compass are now the men who murdered 3000 innocents on 9/11. I don't know about you, but that's not the standard against which I believe America should judge herself. Or ever, ever has.
- "Al Qaeda and Torture", The Daily Dish (26 May 2007)
- Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I'm not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture — "enhanced interrogation techniques" — is a term originally coined enhanced interrogation techniques by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.
- " 'Verschärfte Vernehmung' " The Daily Dish (29 May 2007)
- The decent people in this administration — mainly career military brass and Condi's circle — are finally pushing back against the war crimes of Cheney and Rumsfeld. But the Bush mojo is the same. They don't actually care about the effectiveness of their policies, just how they can be used as wedge issues. Last summer, Karl Rove was determined to use torture and Gitmo as his electoral path to retaining the Congress. He thought he could portray the Democrats as weak on terror. Of course, only cowards and failures use torture. And how many Democrats or Republicans could have made us more vulnerable to more terror than Bush has these past five years?
- "The Alternative to Torture" The Daily Dish (30 May 2007)
- The occupation of Iraq is completely self-perpetuating: The worse things get the more we are obliged to stay. And the longer we stay the worse things get. Wonderful, no? Being trapped in Iraq, moreover, has clearly prevented us from tackling Iran with any traction. One argument commonly made for staying in Iraq makes no sense to me at all. It's McCain's "if we leave, they will follow us home." But if we stay, they can follow us home as well. And by staying, we have clearly created more of them to follow us. The second argument that fails to convince is that by leaving, we give al Qaeda a propaganda coup. Yes, we would, and it would be intellectually dishonest to deny that. Any argument for withdrawal needs to take that into account. But by staying and losing, we also give al Qaeda a propaganda coup. And by constantly giving al Qaeda an anti-imperial narrative, we also prevent Muslims and Arabs from recognizing them for what they are: not anti-imperial liberators but theo-fascists.
It's becoming clearer and clearer to me that if we want to win this long war, we have to leave Iraq. Sooner rather than later.
- "Iraq and Gaza, Ctd", The Daily Dish (14 June 2007)
- We can and must deter terror; we can and must conduct surveillance; we can and must find terror cells and plotters; and we need to fight them aggressively in the battlefield abroad and prosecute them carefully under the law if they are citizens at home. But the zeal and arrogance of Bush and Cheney have done this at the expense of the heart and soul of Western jurisprudence and constitutional liberty. They must not get away with it. Our inheritance is too precious to squander in a fit of panic, sadism and hubris.
- "Horton on Padilla", The Daily Dish (20 August 2007)
- Previous war-presidents have gathered opponents into their cabinets, reached out to estranged former allies, engaged in aggressive diplomacy to maximize effectiveness and rallied the whole country for the fight. What does this one do? Gets a bunch of right-wing "journalists" into the White House to spread some partisan talking points. What a fucking disgrace this man and his journalistic lackeys are.
Excuse my language. But I can't take this any longer. We're at war; and he's still playing Rove's game.
- "War Council", The Daily Dish (19 September 2007)
- Any president can start a war, and use the chaos of disorder that such a war creates as an indefinite argument for prolonging it. It's a war that keeps on giving. Failure means it's even more necessary to keep failing.
- "Of Their Choosing", The Daily Dish (20 September 2007)
- The one thing we know about torture is that it was never designed in the first place to get at the actual truth of anything; it was designed in the darkest days of human history to produce false confessions in order to annihilate political and religious dissidents. And that is how it always works: it gets confessions regardless of their accuracy.
- "Imaginationland", The Daily Dish (25 October 2007)
- Torture gives false information. And the worst scenarios that tortured detainees coughed up — many of them completely innocent, remember — may well have come to fuel US national security policy. And of course they also fueled more torture. Because once you hear of the existential plots confessed by one tortured prisoner, you need to torture more prisoners to get at the real truth. We do not know what actual intelligence they were getting, and Cheney has ensured that we will never know. But it is perfectly conceivable that the torture regime — combined with panic and paranoia — created an imaginationland of untruth and half-truth that has guided US policy for this entire war. It may well have led to the president being informed of any number of plots that never existed, and any number of threats that are pure imagination. And once torture has entered the system, you can never find out the real truth. You are lost in a vortex of lies and fears. In this vortex, the actual threats that we face may well be overlooked or ignored, as we chase false leads and pursue non-existent WMDs.
- "Imaginationland," The Daily Dish (25 October 2007)
- That's what torture does: it creates a miasma of unknowing, about as dangerous a situation in wartime as one can imagine. This hideous fate was made possible by an inexperienced president with a fundamentalist psyche and a paranoid and power-hungry vice-president who decided to embrace "the dark side" almost as soon as the second tower fell, and who is still trying to avenge Nixon. Until they are both gone from office, we are in grave danger — the kind of danger that only torturers and fantasists and a security strategy based on coerced evidence can conjure up.
- "Imaginationland," The Daily Dish (25 October 2007)
- When you fuse Christianity with power, it isn't long before Christians start imposing the cross on others rather than taking it up for themselves.
- "Robertson and Giuliani: The Torture Link", The Daily Dish (7 November 2007)
- In the Cold War, I was pro-American. The world needed a counter-weight to the evils of expansionist, imperial communism. (But I was never an American utopian. There's nothing new in humanity in this country — just a better system and more freedom, which tends to be the best corrective against sustained error.) After the Cold War, I saw no reason to oppose a prudent American policy of selective interventionism to deter evil and advance good a little, but even in the Balkans, such a policy did not require large numbers of ground troops and was enabled by strong alliances. After 9/11, I was clearly blinded by fear of al Qaeda and deluded by the overwhelming military superiority of the US and the ease of democratic transitions in Eastern Europe into thinking we could simply fight our way to victory against Islamist terror. I wasn't alone. But I was surely wrong. Haven't the last few years been a sobering learning experience? Haven't we discovered that allies actually are important, that fear is no substitute for cold assessment of self-interest, that saying something will happen is not that same thing as it actually happening?
That someone could come out of the last few years believing that Teddy Roosevelt's American imperialism is a model for the future is a little hard for me to understand.
- The United States has managed to go to war for two centuries without the president authorizing and monitoring the torture of prisoners. The Bush administration's legalization of torture and withdrawal from Geneva is unique in American history. Yes, wars will lead to individuals committing war crimes in the heat of battle. Yes, it carries a horrifying logic. But an advance, pre-meditated decision by the president to engage in war crimes is new and unprecedented. Bush really is uniquely awful as a president in this respect: an indefensible war criminal, who has permanently stained the country he represents and betrayed the soldiers who expect decency and lawfulness in their commander-in-chief.
- "War Crimes", The Daily Dish (23 March 2008)
- When Bush says that Abu Ghraib was the work of a few, he forgot to mention that he was one of them.
- "'We Do Not Torture,'" The Daily Dish (18 June 2008)
- If you suspend the Geneva Conventions, give the green light to anything that will get intelligence, round up thousands all over the globe with reckless disregard for guilt or innocence, you are effectively and knowingly issuing orders to seize innocent people and torture them. Any president who decides to do that and then says it was not his intention to do that is a fraud or a fool.
- "'Disgrace,' Ctd.," The Daily Dish (19 June 2008)
- Is it not a rather fantastic historical irony that the torture techniques that the North Vietnamese used against McCain that forced him to offer a videotaped false confession... are now the techniques the Bush administration is using to gain "intelligence" about terror networks.
How is it possible to know that everything John McCain once said on videotape for the enemy was false, because it was coerced, and yet assert that everything we torture out of terror suspects using exactly the same techniques, is true?
- "Bush, McCain, Torture," The Daily Dish (2 July 2008)
- If the enemy tortures, it defines their moral evil and all intelligence gleaned from such coercion is self-evidently false propaganda. If we do it, it isn't wrong, and it leads to good intelligence.
Got that? And these people have the gall to describe their ideological opponents as moral relativists.
- "Bush, McCain, Torture," The Daily Dish (2 July 2008)
- In the last few years, we have seen the executive branch declare itself outside the law — in prosecuting a war on terror. The law against torture has been suspended. The balance between the executive and legislative branch has been dismissed by signing statements and the theory of the unitary executive. The executive has declared its right to suspend habeas corpus indefinitely, to tap anyone's phones without court warrants and to detain and torture anyone it decides is an "enemy combatant." In that sense, we have already left the realm of constitutional government in favor of a protectorate outside the law promising to keep us safe (but never from itself).
But this new move to create a de facto dictator for the financial markets, to invest a Treasury secretary with unprecedented powers to buy and sell at close to a trillion dollar level — with no oversight or accountability: this is a new collapse in democratic life and constitutional norms.
- "How Democracies Become Dictatorships," The Daily Dish (29 September 2008)
- If religion is about truth, why is it so afraid of error?
- "Banned Books Week," The Daily Dish (30 September 2008)
- What modernity requires is not that you cease living according to your faith, but that you accept that others may differ and that therefore politics requires a form of discourse that is reasonable and accessible to believer and non-believer alike. This religious restraint in politics is critical to the maintenance of liberal democracy.
- "Of Modern Faith," The Daily Dish (14 December 2008)
- I like the pluralism of modernity; it doesn't threaten me or my faith. And if one's faith is dependent on being reinforced in every aspect of other people's lives, then it is a rather insecure faith, don't you think?
- "Of Modern Faith," The Daily Dish (14 December 2008)
- I have long been baffled as to why people said my preference over Obama was some kind of shift to the ideological left. Nope. Against a radical right, reckless, populist insurgency, Obama is the conservative option, dealing with emergent problems with pragmatic calm and modest innovation. He seeks as a good Oakeshottian would to reform the country's policies in order to regain the country's past virtues. What could possibly be more conservative than that?
- A true conservative — who is, above all, an anti-ideologue — will often be attacked for alleged inconsistency, for changing positions, for promising change but not a radical break with the past, for pursuing two objectives — like liberty and authority, or change and continuity — that seem to all ideologues as completely contradictory.
- Trump is not just a wacky politician of the far right, or a riveting television spectacle, or a Twitter phenom and bizarre working-class hero. He is not just another candidate to be parsed and analyzed by TV pundits in the same breath as all the others. In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event. It’s long past time we started treating him as such.
- The forces going on in the society are not things the media can prevent or change. But we can and should help understand this crisis and warn against false solutions. If feelings are trumping arguments — the pun is fully intended — it doesn’t mean that arguments don’t still have to be made. It may not win the news cycle. It may not even win this election cycle. But it’s a critical task.
- Conservatism — from Burke and Hume to Hayek and Oakeshott — has always been, at its core, a critique of ideology in favor of reality. The world is as it is, the conservative argues. Any attempt to drastically overhaul it, to impose a utopian vision onto a messy, evolving human landscape will not just fail, it will likely make things worse. To pretend that the present exists for no good reason — and can be repealed or transformed in an instant — is a formula for ruin. The leftist vision of perfect “social justice” is therefore as illusory and as pernicious as the reactionary’s dream of restoring a mythical past. And the great virtue of America’s deeply conservative Constitution is that it throws so many obstacles in the way of radical, ideological change — to the left or right — that it limits the harm that humans can do to themselves in moments of passion or certainty or in search of ideological perfection.
- But for me, the psychedelic experience is also deeply Christian. This, it seems to me, is how and who Jesus is and was: the incarnation of the love that these experiences reveal to you — and always suffused with it; not romantic love or friendship, but that universal agape that seems abstract to me at times, but that some small mushrooms have sometimes uncovered. My DMN knows, of course, that this is heresy, that there is only one sacrament that you can eat and enter into godness. The rest of me knows that the idea of heresy itself is the DMN’s work.
- Why We Should Say Yes to Drugs, New York magazine (25 May, 2018)
- And that is all the Pope is saying to another human being. God made you the way you are, and loves you for it, and wants you to be happy as yourself. How much agony and pain has there been across so many centuries because we could not open our hearts to this truth? It is so strange to me how so many nonbelievers can see in this Pope’s interaction with others the spirit of Jesus, and how so many of the most devout seem terrified by it.
- “God Made You Like That”, New York magazine (25 May, 2018)
- Tribalism is now not just one force in American politics, it’s the overwhelming one, and tribalism abhors reality if it impugns the tribe. But you can’t have both tribalism and public health. When you turn wearing a simple face mask into a political and cultural symbol of leftism, when you view social distancing as a concession to your enemies, you deeply undermine the power of millions of small impediments to viral outbreak.
What we are seeing is whether this tribalism can be sustained even when it costs tens of thousands of lives, even when it means exposing yourself to a deadly virus, even when it is literally more important than your own life. We are entering the Jonestown phase of the Trump cult this summer. It is not going to be pretty.
The Reactionary Temptation (2017)
- We are living in an era of populism and demagoguery. And yes, there’s racism and xenophobia mixed into it. But what we are also seeing, it seems to me, is the manifest return of a distinctive political and intellectual tendency with deep roots: reactionism.
Reactionism is not the same thing as conservatism. It’s far more potent a brew. Reactionary thought begins, usually, with acute despair at the present moment and a memory of a previous golden age. It then posits a moment in the past when everything went to hell and proposes to turn things back to what they once were. It is not simply a conservative preference for things as they are, with a few nudges back, but a passionate loathing of the status quo and a desire to return to the past in one emotionally cathartic revolt. If conservatives are pessimistic, reactionaries are apocalyptic. If conservatives value elites, reactionaries seethe with contempt for them. If conservatives believe in institutions, reactionaries want to blow them up. If conservatives tend to resist too radical a change, reactionaries want a revolution. Though it took some time to reveal itself, today’s Republican Party — from Newt Gingrich’s Republican Revolution to today’s Age of Trump — is not a conservative party. It is a reactionary party that is now at the peak of its political power.
- Great leaps forward in history are often, in fact, giant leaps back. The Reformation did initiate brutal sectarian warfare. The French Revolution did degenerate into barbarous tyranny. Communist utopias — allegedly the wave of an Elysian future — turned into murderous nightmares. Modern neoliberalism has, for its part, created a global capitalist machine that is seemingly beyond anyone’s control, fast destroying the planet’s climate, wiping out vast tracts of life on Earth while consigning millions of Americans to economic stagnation and cultural despair.
And at an even deeper level, the more we discover about human evolution, the more illusory certain ideas of progress become.
- Certain truths about human beings have never changed. We are tribal creatures in our very DNA; we have an instinctive preference for our own over others, for “in-groups” over “out-groups”; for hunter-gatherers, recognizing strangers as threats was a matter of life and death. We also invent myths and stories to give meaning to our common lives. Among those myths is the nation — stretching from the past into the future, providing meaning to our common lives in a way nothing else can. Strip those narratives away, or transform them too quickly, and humans will become disoriented. Most of us respond to radical changes in our lives, especially changes we haven’t chosen, with more fear than hope. We can numb the pain with legal cannabis or opioids, but it is pain nonetheless.
If we ignore these deeper facts about ourselves, we run the risk of fatal errors. It’s vital to remember that multicultural, multiracial, post-national societies are extremely new for the human species, and keeping them viable and stable is a massive challenge.
- You will not arrest the reactionary momentum by ignoring it or dismissing it entirely as a function of bigotry or stupidity. You’ll only defuse it by appreciating its insights and co-opting its appeal.
Reaction can be clarifying if it helps us better understand the huge challenges we now face. But reaction by itself cannot help us manage the world we live in today — which is the only place that matters. You start with where you are, not where you were or where you want to be. There are no utopias in the future or Gardens of Eden in our past. There is just now — in all its incoherent, groaning, volatile messiness. Our job, like everyone before us, is to keep our nerve and make the best of it.
Quotes about Sullivan
- To me, [Andrew Sullivan] looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left. He is the master, and the prisoner, of the technology of sickly obsession: blogging–and the divine right of bloggers to exempt themselves from the interrogations of editors–is also a method of hounding.