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Jonah Goldberg on Moral Equivalance

Oct 02, 2001 08:17 PM
by Michele Lidofsky

Who Are We to Judge?

Americans, that’s who.

September 21, 2001 5:00 p.m.

Note: My apologies for changing the topic of this column from the one
advertised. But I received so many e-mails from people asking, "Who are
we to judge?" or "What's the answer to moral equivalence arguments?"
that I couldn't contain myself. We'll come back to the end of history
another time.

Last year, bending to the pressure from a broad array of animal-rights
groups, the British House of Commons voted to ban fox hunting. "A feudal
relic from the Dark Ages," is how one prominent critic summarized the
popular view. In America, fox hunting is also under attack. But the
controversy is more muted because the sport plays a smaller role in our
national culture. 

Broadly speaking, I think it's fair to say that the people here in
America and in Great Britain who oppose fox hunting are also, in all
likelihood, the same folks who lament the dissolution of "indigenous
cultures" around the world. They believe it is a tragedy that Amazonian,
African, and Asian tribal communities are losing their "traditional

Somehow, the fact that these traditional lifestyles involve the
hunting, killing, and ritualized mutilating of all sorts of animals
which are not only cuter than foxes, but rarer or more intelligent,
doesn't trouble them. In America, there are those who want to give
rights to rats used in cancer and Parkinson's studies. But take a trip
up the Congo, down the Amazon, or along the Yangtze and all of a sudden
it's okay for Third Worlders to eat dogs, kill jaguars, and slaughter
monkeys by the barrel. 

I bring this up to illustrate the point that here in America all that
is traditional, the few "feudal relics from the Dark Ages" we have left,
are subjected to constant purges and social cleansing. Customs like fox
hunting or men's clubs are denounced as barbaric, patriarchal, and
antediluvian throwbacks, whereas the truly
barbaric, patriarchal, and antediluvian traditions of various stagnant
indigenous cultures are viewed with reverence, nostalgia, and envy. 

I can just imagine the Susan Sontag readers of my native Upper West
Side on a cultural safari, "Oh, look how the Shaman shows the monkey
pancreas to the bride before he eats it! That's to show the demons are
gone. Isn't that marvelous honey?" Meanwhile, back in New York, if you
mentioned at a cocktail party that you go duck hunting, martini glasses
would drop to the floor from the widespread shock that the doorman
allowed such a barbarian into the building. 

A few examples of the conventional wisdom among liberal elites:

VMI's policy of educating only men to be officers and gentlemen
was seen by feminists as horrific. 
Bob Jones University? Good God! Boys and girls can't hold hands
in public! 
For the American intelligentsia, zoning against strip clubs or
denying a federal grant to self-mutilators and perverted exhibitionists
is so much
Drawing any distinction between homosexuals and heterosexuals —
in employment, marriage, whatever — is broadly considered brazen

Indeed, just think back to the apoplexy of the "open-minded" people
you've encountered in your own life: the college kids who think a moment
of nondenominational prayer is theocratic; the humorless feminists
who're convinced that restrictions on late-term abortions turn women
into state-owned "breeders"; the Volvo-drivers whose deepest thinking is
transcribed on their bumper-stickers; the civil libertarians furious
that the privacy rights of convicted
pedophiles aren't sufficiently respected.

Yet, when these folks' gaze wanders across a line on a map all such
convictions disappear in an instant with the abracadabra words — "Who
are we to judge?" 

Throw the possibility of bloodshed into the equation and even more
suddenly America (or democratic Israel) is the only state worthy of
being judged harshly. Sophisticated secular Jews who are scandalized by
a Christmas tree at city hall are suddenly mute about fatwahs calling
for the murder of all Jews everywhere. The bile ducts of hordes of
"first wave" feminists run dry when the subject changes to nations where
women aren't allowed to drive. Peaceniks who denounce America's "war
machine" and our planes over Iraq, are untroubled by Iraq's gassing of
Kurds and Saddam's slaughter of dissidents. Artistes who pound their
easels into splinters when their NEA check is late are reluctant to say
America should do anything about the philistines who bowdlerized the
Bamiyan Buddhas. 

The Taliban (which is only marginally more oppressive than some other
Middle Eastern regimes) refuses to let women learn how to read and keeps
them locked away out of public view. It kills homosexuals. It jails,
banishes, or kills dissenters of any kind. Hindus must wear yellow

But, hey, who are we to judge? 

As disgusting as I find the moral obtuseness of people who think we
are no better — and often worse — than the various backward and
repressive nations that hate us, the fact that we are capable of asking
the question "Who are we to judge?" is a small and healthy sign that we
are better — yes better — than these other places. The very point of
being civilized is to adhere to a higher standard. And we adhere to it. 

Sure, we have arguments about how many "feudal relics from the Dark
Ages," or from 50 years ago, we want to keep in our society. I'd like a
lot more, liberals would like a lot less. But, the fact that we can have
these debates and arguments in the first place (and the fact that even
if you lose the argument you can still live
the way you want to in your own home) makes us better than those places
where people are not free. 

It's good that we have a healthy skepticism about the actions of our
own government and our intentions as a people. But, never forget, "Who
are we to judge?" is not an answer. It is a question. And there is a
response to it. 

We are the United States of America, a free society and a free nation
which has been, and continues to be, along with a few other
comrades-in-arms like Great Britain, the greatest force for good in the
history of the world — even after you deduct our considerable mistakes
and shortcomings. Through our ideas, enterprise, and generosity we have
done more, in the words of Francis Bacon hmm…bacon), to relieve man's
estate than any other nation or people in human history. To refute this
is not a sign of sophistication; it is a sign of ignorance. 

If you want to ask me whether we are better than France, I will give
you an answer (oh boy will I), but there's an argument to be had there.
Comparing free nations with different cultures is infinitely subjective
and more than a little sophomoric. But comparing backward and tyrannical
nations with free and open ones is a no-brainer. So, if you are going to
ask me whether, as a nation or idea, America is better than the Taliban
or Syria or Iraq or scores of other places revered by the Sandalistas of
the world, my answer will be a simple "Of course we are." Ask me again
when they have an election and stop killing their non-criminal citizens. 

Now, when it comes to those people who use "Who are we to judge?" as a
way both to cut off debate and belittle the United States of America, I
have nothing but contempt. These people simply and simple-mindedly leap
to the conclusion that America must be wrong in any and every
circumstance. "Who are we to judge?" becomes an uncontrollable,
Tourette's-like outburst caused by an acute cerebral fecal impaction.
Intellectual Huns like Susan Sontag and noisome bandersnatches like
Michael Moore have so internalized the healthy skepticism implicit to a
liberal society that they've become reflexive and unthinking in their
morally inverted conviction that America must always and everywhere be

These are the same fools who, until a week ago and probably even now,
think the phrase "Taliban wing of the Republican party" is clever, funny
and accurate. These are the same liberals who call American
conservatives "Nazis" (See "Springtime for Slanderers") but call Fidel
Castro misunderstood. These are the same people who are legitimately
torn by George Bush's question, "Are you with America or with the
terrorists?" And for that they should be ashamed.

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