Modern liberalism, even as its philosophers hold that no act is objectively sinful, treats hypocrisy as a serious sin. Why? If nothing is sinful, why is hypocrisy sinful? Hypocrisy is sinful — that is, damaging to the soul — if the moral principles the hypocrite voices then violates are true. But liberals tell us those principles aren’t true, that humans can depart from them without damage to their character. So what’s the moral problem with violating a moral code liberals consider false in the first place?
Hypocrisy is a moral problem, but liberals can’t reach that conclusion on the basis of liberal moral philosophy. In order to denounce it, they have to suspend their customary moral relativism and borrow the principles of conservative moral philosophy. Then, once the target of their moral outrage over hypocrisy is thoroughly eviscerated, they abandon those principles and return to a skepticism about right and wrong in which all forms of deception, including hypocrisy, are defensible.
Liberals on the hunt for hypocrisy carry an air of moral superiority. Why? Do they assume hypocrisy is a lower moral state than their standardless self-indulgence? Aristotle, among other moral philosophers, considered it a higher one. The hypocrite, whom Aristotle would call “incontinent,” can retrieve his soul; the shameless see no reason to try, and therefore are morally hopeless.
“The self-indulgent man,” he wrote, “is not apt to repent; for he stands by his choice; but the incontinent man is likely to repent…the self-indulgent man is incurable and the incontinent man curable; for wickedness is like a disease such as dropsy or consumption, while incontinence is like epilepsy; the former is a permanent badness, the latter an intermittent badness.”
Aristotle compares the incontinent man to a “city which passes all the right decrees and has good laws” but fails to put them to use, whereas the licentious man is like a city which passes “wicked laws and puts them to use.”
The latter is the city hypocrisy-hunting libertines seek to build., and woe to the conservatives who don’t join them. Rush Limbaugh is their latest prey. The Washington Post this week recounted a “hilarious” evening Al Franken spent at a D.C. bar mocking Limbaugh. Franken, said someone at the bar, “does a great impression of Rush Limbaugh in a 12-step program. He said, ‘Rush is having problems with the step where you acknowledge a higher power. He’s wondering if you can acknowledge yourself as a higher power.’ It was hilarious.”
This is morally sicker than the abuse of painkillers, and probably not curable in Franken’s case. Franken hates Rush not for breaking the moral law, but for once upholding it. Conservatives love the sinner and hate the sin; Franken hates the sinner and loves the sin.
Liberalism is an ongoing childish project to make conservatives cry uncle, and hypocrisy charges are the means of twisting their arms. The liberals’ purpose in catching a conservative out in some hypocrisy is not to say, “You stepped away from the moral law you espouse. Go back,” but to say, “You stepped away. Now keep leaving it and endorse our libertine laws.” They don’t see a soul in distress, but a potential convert to their libertinism. They nab conservatives not to save them but to silence their criticism of the liberal city Aristotle described. A city that sees no sin except hypocrisy. A city that takes pride in passing immoral laws and keeping them.
Hypocrisy is wrong, but a society which decides to live up to its standards by not having any is worse.