jacob levy on nihilism and politics
Long time friend and political theorist Jacob Levy has a great op-ed in the LA Times. The issue? Don’t worry about hypocrisy (that much), worry about nihilism:
At its worst, hypocrisy can be a kind of furious projection of one’s sins onto others; think of the official filled with obnoxious self-righteousness about other people’s sexual behavior whose personal life turns out not to bear scrutiny. Or it can turn values into mere talking points, and drain them of any real force. But what the great Harvard political theorist Judith Shklar called “anti-hypocrisy” is a talking point of its own. It is a lazy substitute for making and defending real value judgments; I don’t have to be able to show which principles are good ones if I can just show that you violate your own. That strategy encourages a spiral downward; having higher standards always increases the chance that one won’t live up to them. In a culture that can’t agree on shared moral judgments but that delights in exposing hypocrites, the easy strategy might be to have no standards at all.
In a recent interview, the Fox News host Bill O’Reilly asked President Trump about his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying “Putin’s a killer.” Trump’s reply was astonishing: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”
…Trump’s shrug abandons that striving idealism. Why bother to have standards? Why bother to treat political killings as even worth criticizing? Why bother to acknowledge that, even granting American misbehavior, Putin’s regime today is accused of doing far worse: murdering critical journalists, assassinating political dissidents, committing war crimes from Chechnya to Syria?
Excellent. I’ll take hypocrisy that makes the world better, over nihilism any day.