Among the Intellectualoids

Moral Equivalence Rides Again

Left-wing modernity at its most consistent.

By 6.14.05

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Back when I was in college in the 1980s, the American and European left propounded a belief known as "Moral Equivalence" which essentially said that America was every bit as bad as the Soviet Union. The argument ran something like: "Sure, Stalin, utilizing the powers of a totalitarian state, executed millions of his own citizens, but the United States interned Japanese-Americans during World War II; the Soviets enslaved eastern Europe, but the U.S. supported dictators like the Shah of Iran." The point was that the world was made up of two "morally equivalent" superpowers that were both doing nasty things (though somehow the Soviet's actions were more "understandable" or even "defensive") in a struggle for world domination and that America, the leader of the "so-called" Free World, had no moral standing to object to the Soviet empire.

Apparently, the doctrine of Moral Equivalence did not die along with the Soviet Union. The left has just substituted a new evil to which the United States is supposedly morally equivalent.

Senator Ted Kennedy showed himself in the forefront of this revival with his venomous spewing on Abu Ghraib. On the floor of the Senate Mr. Kennedy proclaimed: "Shamefully, we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management: U.S. management." Saddam filled mass graves with hundreds of thousands of people, and tortured (by which I mean raped, cut off hands and tongues, electrocuted, conducted beatings with steel rods) hundreds of thousands more. Obviously this is the moral equivalent of a handful of degenerate guards making naked Iraqi prisoners form human pyramids or wear underwear on their heads.

And now Amnesty International writes that the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay is "the gulag of our times." I wonder what that makes North Korea. At Amnesty International they still can't resist comparing the United States to the Soviet Union and in ways as ludicrous as ever. Amnesty International would have us believe that there is no difference between Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and an al-Qaeda fighter; no difference between sleep deprivation in order to get information from terrorists and hard labor, exposure to the deadly Siberian winters, and malnutrition to "reeducate" political dissidents.

In the old days, many leftists promoted "moral equivalence" not just because they disliked the capitalist United States but also because they sympathized with Soviet Communism. The new moral equivalence arguments are just as silly. Those who make them, however, do so not out of any sympathy for Saddam Hussein or militant Islam, but simply out of a dislike of the United States (or, in the case of Senator Kennedy, a dislike of George W. Bush and the belief that engaging in disgusting calumnies against the United States is perfectly "patriotic" as long as there is a Republican in the White House).

The new moral equivalency, however, does not just deal with the United States, per se, but with Christian Western Civilization as well. Robert Reich, for instance, has written several articles and a book (Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America) expounding the idea that "[t]he great conflict of the 21st century will not be between the West and terrorism....The true battle will be between modern civilization and the anti-modernists; between those who believe in the primacy of the individual and those who believe that human beings owe their allegiance and identity to a higher authority;...between those who believe in science, reason, and logic and those who believe that truth is revealed through Scripture and religious dogma. Terrorism will disrupt and destroy lives. But terrorism itself is not the greatest danger we face."

Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Muqtada al-Sadr, Osama bin Laden -- all cut from the same cloth, so to speak.

This was the popular notion echoed by Ridley Scott in his film Kingdom of Heaven in which the real dangerous troublemakers in the world are the religious -- be they Christian or Muslim. Compare for instance the Christian world's reaction to Palestinian gunmen killing a caretaker and taking over the Church of the Nativity, and the Muslim world's reaction to false reports about a Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay, or the Christian reaction to writers and filmmakers who produce works critical of Christianity and the Muslim reaction to a filmmaker like Theo Van Gogh or a writer like Salman Rushdie. Pretty much the same, right?

Well, not exactly. But that's what the left wants us to believe. Sure, we currently have a problem with radical Islam, but Christianity and Judaism, are really just as bad, just as dangerous. And the problems we are having with militant Islam should be reminding us that we need to be more frightened by Christianity, and particularly by Christians who think they have the right to cast votes based on their moral values. According to much of the left, we should regard anyone who has genuine religious convictions as a would-be member of the Taliban. Beware the coming theocracy headed by John Ashcroft and George W. Bush.

The tactic of arguing moral equivalence is to focus attention away from the obvious evil -- Soviet Communism or militant Islam -- and to refocus attention on the rather less obvious supposed evils of what the left sees as the more immediate impediment to the achievement of its goals -- America, with its heritage and value system that promotes capitalism and individual liberty, and Christianity which promotes an unacceptable moral code and the idea that there are things greater than the State.

The comparisons made by the proponents of moral equivalence have always been transparently absurd. Yet those that give voice to these arguments think their grotesque hyperbole is justified in order to make their point -- though they are often deceptive about what, exactly, that point is. But just as during the days of the Soviet empire, today's proponents of "moral equivalence" merely demonstrate their own moral -- and intellectual -- bankruptcy.

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About the Author
Brandon Crocker is the chief financial officer of a commercial real estate development and management company in San Diego.