Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Beware of Saints

When a free nation--governed by the rule of law--is attacked by violent thugs who have achieved power and obtained weapons by killing their own people, that nation not only has the right to defend itself, the leadership of that nation has a moral obligation to defend the people it represents.

This defense may, and usually must, involve violence, destruction, and killing people. It is therefore easy to draw a sort of lazy and intellectually dishonest moral equivalence between the violent acts of the thugs who attack a free society, and the violent acts of the free society that defends itself.

The next step is to extend this fallacy of moral equivalence to the two groups in toto.

If we are just as guilty as the thugs who attack us, then we must drop our swords and reach out in a spirit of friendship. We must "unclench our fists."

The belief that “reaching out” to and legitimating the most violent and brutal members of a group of people will bring peace and prosperity to those people is a fallacy. This approach has failed over and over again. Reaching out to Arafat did not help the Palestinians; it hurt them. Appeasing Hamas will make things worse. Appeasing Iran's Mullahs will hurt the Iranian people, and may lead to nuclear war.

And yet the supporters of this belief will never hesitate to tell you how confident they are of their strategy and how peace-loving and compassionate they are.

The problem, perhaps, is that in the real world, defending free societies requires people at times to behave violently and hence to compromise their own moral perfection.

Those who desire saintliness, who take great pride in their peace-loving and compassion, will not deign to engage in the ugly, but necessary business of defending free societies from thuggish violence.

It is far easier to proclaim, from the lofty heights of self-satisfied perfection, that all violence is unjust, than to engage in the far more difficult task of determining how far a free society may go in defending itself against violent thugs, without compromising its values.

Allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good, when “the good” is the security of free societies, is stupid, and self-defeating.

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