Liberalism’s Moral Blind Spots

[This piece was broadcast as a radio commentary on KUNM radio, the NPR station covering most of New Mexico, early in 2005.]

Liberalism’s Moral Blindspots
by
Andrew Bard Schmookler

Lead-in: In today’s polarized America, many people regard those on the other side of the divide as being the source of America’s moral problems. But commentator Andrew Bard Schmookler thinks both sides have work to do to get their own moral house in order.

You may have heard me here recently. I’ve been decrying how the conservative half of America has been seduced by evil forces. And I’ve been calling on those who see that evil for what it is to rise up and speak moral truth to amoral power in a prophetic” social movement.

But I’m not so sure how ready the liberal half of America is to play this prophetic role, because American liberalism has its own moral blindspots.

How did you respond, for example, when I used the word evil”?

Did you cringe, thinking Evil? There’s no such thing!”?

Or are you one of those folks of liberal leanings who thinks that if people believe that they’re being righteous, they can’t be agents of evil?

As if most of the world’s evil weren’t done by people who’d persuaded themselves they were doing right —from the torturers of the Inquisitions, to the Nazi mass murderers, to the guys who flew the planes into the World Trade Center.

As if the psychologists hadn’t shown us that , that if you understand people only in terms of the motives they acknowledge in themselves, you’ll hardly understand them at all.

People who can’t recognize evil when they see it are likewise incapable of combatting it. So we hear John Kerry and Bill Clinton lately declaring our current president a good man” who just has different ideas about how best to improve our country. Thus have liberals —naïve about evil—rendered themselves impotent as a ruthless menace has arisen over the past generation, scarcely noticed, to threaten the soul of America.

Evil? But what else are you going to call forces that impart to everything they touch a disturbing pattern —of lies, of injustice, of subverting the good order of both civilization and nature?

You could call it a disease, I suppose. But that doesn’t fully capture the darkness of a pattern that acts as if it were animated by a vengeful drive to destroy what’s good in the world.

What? You don’t think there’s such a thing as good” either?

Are you one of those of liberal inclination who think that all moral judgments are just a matter of personal choice? Like students I’ve had who’ve said, What the Nazis did at Auschwitz isn’t something that I, personally, would approve. But within their world view, it seemed right, and so it was right for them!”

This tendency toward moral relativism, indeed, is liberalism’s most damaging contribution to the current ascendency of evil in America. When all that people are willing to judge is that terrible thing called judgmentalism,” standards of right conduct get eroded.

And so America saw a wave of vandalism in its cities, of babies born into situations unhealthy for their nurturance, of kids willing to cheat on their tests.

Just compare the movies of different eras. Films from the 30s and 40s are permeated with a concern with what’s right, with an aspiration toward the ideal, while those of recent decades often pander to our basest impulses—more likely to be about some serial killer than about anyone worth admiring.

The loss, by many liberals, of deep conviction about the vital difference between good and evil helped open the door to such decadence. And this cultural degradation, in turn, produced among America’s traditionalists a moral anxiety that helped make them ripe for their seduction by these evil forces, posturing under their banner of false righteousness.

History elsewhere has shown that fascistic forces feed upon people’s fear of moral decadence. And now, regrettably, we see that indeed it can happen here.

To address today’s moral crisis in America, both sides have important moral errors to correct.

I’m Andrew Bard Schmookler.

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