Day By Day

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Carter's False Morality

James Taranto has a fascinating piece in the WSJ on the prideful roots of Jimmah Carter's ostentatious humility. It's the opposite of the mote/beam problem [ignoring your own great sins while focusing on the minor transgressions of another]. In this form, so much favored by contemporary moralistic poseurs, any Western failing, no matter how trivial, is an excuse for ignoring horrible actions taken by non-western regimes. After all, they would argue, who are we to judge others when we are far from perfect ourselves.

While such ostentatious and prideful humility might be relatively harmless in the realm of personal conduct, it is dangerous in world affairs. Taranto writes:

When applied to public as opposed to private morality, this kind of above-it-all attitude, this self-regard masquerading as humility, provides an excuse for inaction in the face of evil. To be sure, sometimes inaction is a wise course, because available actions would only make matters worse. But this is a practical question--one of consequences, not intention.

To make the perfect the enemy of the good, to make a principle of responding to evil with inaction, is a dangerous way to approach the world. That should have been the lesson of the Carter presidency. It is a lesson American voters would do well to keep in mind as November approaches.

Read it here.