First, a most striking quote from one of science fiction’s foremost practitioners:
“You know, when I was a young man, hypocrisy was deemed the worst of vices,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It was all because of moral relativism. You see, in that sort of climate, you are not allowed to criticise others — after all, if there is no absolute right and wrong, then what grounds is there for criticism?…
“Now, this led to a good deal of general frustration, for people are naturally censorious and love nothing better than to criticise others’ shortcomings. And so it was that they seized on hypocrisy and elevated it from a ubiquitous peccadillo into the monarch of all the vices. For, you see, if there is no right and wrong, you can find grounds to criticise another person by contrasting what he has espoused with what he has actually done. In this case, you are not making any judgment whatsoever as to the correctness of his views or the morality of his behaviour — you are merely pointing out that he has said one thing and done another. Virtually all the political discourse in the days of my youth was devoted to the ferreting out of hypocrisy.
“You wouldn’t believe the things they said about the original Victorians. Calling someone a Victorian in those days was almost like calling them a fascist or a Nazi….
“Because they were hypocrites… the Victorians were despised in the late Twentieth Century. Many of the persons who held such opinions were, of course, guilty of the most nefarious conduct themselves, and yet saw no paradox in holding such views because they were not hypocrites themselves — they took no moral stances and lived by none.”
“So they were morally superior to the Victorians — ” Major Napier said, still a bit snowed under.
“– even though — in fact, because — they had no morals at all.”
“We take a somewhat different view of hypocrisy,” Finkle-McGraw continued. “In the late Twentieth Century Weltanschaaung, a hypocrite was someone who espoused high moral views as part of a planned campaign of deception — he never held these beliefs sincerely and routinely violated them in privacy. Of course. most hypocrites are not like that. Most of the time it’s a spirit-is willing, flesh-is-weak sort of thing.”
“That we occasionally violate our own moral code,” Major Napier said, working it through, “does not imply that we are insincere in espousing that code.”
“Of course not,” Finkle-McGraw said. “It’s perfectly obvious, really. No one ever said it was easy to hew to a strict code of conduct. Really, the difficulties involved — the missteps we make along the way — are what make it interesting. The internal, and eternal, struggle between our base impulses and the rigorous demands of our own moral system is quintessentially human. It is how we conduct ourselves in that struggle that determines how we may in time be judged by a higher power.”
[Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age]
If you’re a reader of Liberty’s Torch V1.0, you’ve probably seen it before. Nevertheless! The power of the observation is indisputable. Moreover, the Victorians – the real ones, not the “neo-Victorians” of Stephenson’s novel – provide the perfect illustration of how a discreet regime of consistently practiced hypocrisy could protect public order better than self-righteous bluenosery. During the sexually repressed and constrained Victorian era, in which women were often raised to fear and detest sex – where did you think the saying “Close your eyes and think of England” came from? – the prostitutes of London are estimated to have “entertained” gentlemen clients at approximately 2,000,000 per week. Yet those customers remained faithful to the ethic of the era when otherwise going about their lives. London’s police needed only to keep the city’s “red light district” contained to preserve order and decorum in the greater part of London.
There are many things one could accurately say in criticism of Victorian society, but disorderly is not one of them.
This morning, John Hinderaker of Power Line addresses hypocrisy of an infrequently addressed variety:
A second type of hypocrite is the person who publicly advocates an evil principle, thereby helping to worsen the condition of others, while following a better rule in his or her own life. This, in my view, is a much worse variety of hypocrisy because it is so hurtful to the non-privileged….Ilhan Omar exemplifies this more vicious type of hypocrisy. She hates law enforcement and campaigns to defund the police, but when it comes to her own safety? Men with guns.
Please read the whole thing. It skewers the version of hypocrisy prevalent on the Left to terminal effect. Unfortunately, few on the Left would feel any shame over Ilhan Omar’s behavior. She champions the positions they hold; for them, that’s good enough.
There are innumerable examples of this variety of hypocrisy around us. I doubt my Gentle Readers need them listed here. Some of the very worst pertain to the right to keep and bear arms. There are quite a number of public figures with significant profiles who style themselves “conservatives” but who tacitly favor stern restrictions on gun ownership among Us the Great Unwashed. The late William F. Buckley was one such, and there’s hardly anyone more closely identified with American conservatism than was he.
The divergence of the policies a public man espouses from his personal conduct is one of the best gauges of his character. I’ve said before, several times, that character trumps all other considerations when choosing elected officials. That word to the wise should suffice…or it would, if our “news media” were more candid about the proclivities of the candidates they favor.
(For some relevant observations from a few years ago, read this Baseline Essay, originally posted at Liberty’s Torch V1.0 in December 2012.)