Moral Equivalence Is Usually Moral Negligence

July 22, 2014 - 4:29 AM
Efforts to proclaim moral equivalence are not always misguided; sometimes each side is equally at fault or close enough. But these efforts are often misguided and unhelpful — and sometimes harmful.

Throughout my life, there has been an increasing trend to attach moral equivalence to all kinds of disputes and conflicts, such as Israel vs. Hamas, which is the subject of a future column. I assume this is mostly an outgrowth of our culture's descent into moral relativism, but it's also a product of our intellectual laziness.

We see it everywhere. It is a common practice in describing marriages gone wrong. "It takes two." "Who's to say who is more at fault?" Well, that sounds good and is often true, but how about in the case of the spousal or child abuser?

But where I find it most troubling is in partisan politics. There the trend toward moral equivalence is the wrongdoer's best friend. If we dismiss every despicable and corrupt act with the mindless cliché "everyone does it," then we excuse the wrongdoer for his misconduct and encourage further misbehavior.

Sure, both sides are often at fault, but that isn't always the case, and it doesn't make you a better person to say otherwise if it isn't true.

For example, I don't know a single conservative who supports muzzling leftist thought or speech, no matter how repugnant he may find it. Yet leftists are strongly supportive of various measures to suppress, even outlaw, conservative speech, from campus speech codes to the Fairness Doctrine. There is no way to describe this disparity in terms of moral equivalence.

I sincerely believe there is a reason liberals engage in this behavior far more than conservatives. It is because many of them believe that their ends, which they believe are vastly superior, justify their means. I've seen it so much that I suspect it is inherent in leftist ideology.

See the irony? Liberals, who are usually the first to throw up moral equivalency arguments when caught red-handed, are skilled practitioners at judging us — their political opponents — all the while claiming they just want everyone to get along. Through such moral shaming about moral judgments, the left intimidates conservatives from making and articulating their own moral assessments.

Modern manifestations of this practice are the left's virtual weaponization of political correctness, its obsession with so-called "diversity" and multiculturalism, and its rejection of the idea of American exceptionalism.

Multiculturalism is, for many of its most ardent leftist proponents, an Orwellian tool to disparage Western civilization and Western culture. The multiculturalist professes that all cultures are equal and in the next breath condemns Western culture because, in his view, it is unfairly exclusive, intolerant and bigoted.

He sees no conflict in making this negative judgment, because to him, it's not intolerant to refuse to tolerate cultures and worldviews he believes to be intolerant.
It's the exact type of warped and muddled thinking that leads him to justify muzzling conservative speech; in other words, conservative ideas are so despicable that they don't deserve protection. But his argument is self-defeating because while he says it's intolerant to judge other cultures, he is judging ours.

But there's a big difference between treating everyone — all people and cultures — with respect and treating their ideas as equally valid and profitable. Though I agree that we can borrow and have borrowed great things from other civilizations and peoples, I believe that the American idea is exceptional and that it has led to the freest, most prosperous and most beneficent nation in world history.

That's hardly a racist or nativist idea, for Americans truly are — at least up until recent times — a melting pot of all races and ethnicities. It is the American idea that is superior, not the American people. America is about freedom, made possible by limited government, established by a Constitution anchored in Judeo-Christian values.

Our nation, based on a superior system of government, has been the beacon to the world. This system was crafted by 18th-century giants who knew that certain ideas are superior to others and that the political history of the world provides the clues. They designed our system to allow what is great about human beings to flourish and to keep in check our evil propensities.

But when we abandon our God-given gift to make intellectual distinctions, when we surrender our duty to make discriminating moral judgments, we forfeit our own intellectual integrity and moral authority. When we can't hold up certain standards as preferable, we descend into irrelevance and meaninglessness.

The United States, despite its faults and missteps, has, among nations, been the greatest force for good in history and can continue to be if we return to our roots and our founding ideals.

President Barack Obama and his leftist ilk outright reject these ideas. They don't believe in American exceptionalism and the superiority of the American idea, which explains why they have no problem managing the decline of our military power and refusing to zealously protect our borders.

Conservatives, for their part, need to overcome their timidity and quit trying to appease and emulate the left and mollify the gods of political correctness. It's time that we start championing our ideas — based on the American idea — as if we believe they are superior.

We must remember what has made us unique and great and rededicate ourselves to re-establishing those founding principles. There is no room for moral equivalence here and nothing moral about pretending there is. We forsake the American idea at our peril.