“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” CS Lewis
In American politics, liberals often accuse conservatives of being not just wrong, but downright evil; and the accusation is true. It’s true, that is, if you accept the moral code that liberals use when they judge other people’s behavior.
There is no universally accepted code of Right and Wrong. An action can only be described as morally right or wrong when it is judged according to a set of moral standards, and we do not all use the same standards.
Of Ends and Means
One area where liberal morals differ from more traditional morals is on the question of whether “the end justifies the means.” Leftists tend to believe that any course of action is virtuous if the intention is to achieve some important end like banning guns, or promoting gay rights, or helping Democrats win political elections.
Saul Alinsky, the radical community organizer whose disciples include President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, addressed the question of whether “the end justifies the means” in his influential book Rules for Radicals. “The man of action views the issue of means and ends in pragmatic and strategic terms,” said Alinsky. “He asks of ends only whether they are achievable and worth the cost; of means, only whether they will work.”
Alinsky admits that some of the Machiavellian tactics he advocates might seem unethical to some, but states that “in action, one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind. The choice must always be for the latter.” Alinsky’s many admirers, some of whom hold positions of great power in our government, seem to agree with this statement.
Fair Elections vs “Fair” Outcomes
This leftist view of morality often plays itself out during political elections. From the point of view of committed liberals, the Democratic Party is usually fighting against the greatest Evils in the world: things like racism, sexism, homophobia, unequal distribution of wealth, and catastrophic global warming. Many people on the far left think it’s unfair that a political party that is trying to do such important work should have to rely, during critical political elections, on the votes of still-living, legally registered US citizens, many of whom will vote the wrong way if allowed to do so.
Traditionalists, including most conservatives, view the sanctity of the voting process as the most important moral question. Traditional morality demands that every legal voter gets a chance to have his vote counted, and that the process not be corrupted by the presence of fraudulent or illegal votes. Hard core leftists, on the other hand, think that achieving the “right” outcome is more important than scrupulous adherence to the rules.
The activities of the liberal group ACORN offer a good example of such arch-liberal thinking. In any number of cases, spread over many different states, ACORN leaders and workers have been willing to subvert the traditional principles of honesty and integrity in voting, in order to achieve the supposedly greater good of helping Democrat politicians win political races. They have been investigated by attorneys general in many different states for registering illegal or non-existent voters. In a recent case in Nevada, for example, over half of the voters ACORN registered were found to be non-existent or illegal.
When the FBI in 2009 opened an investigation of ACORN’s illegal activities during the 2008 elections, the Obama Justice Department ordered the Bureau to shut down the investigation.
Back in 1993, the different ethical codes used by conservatives and liberals resulted in a strict party line vote on a change to federal election law. The so-called “Motor Voter Act” made it much easier for large numbers of people to be added to the voter rolls, with a minimum of oversight or documentation, thus paving the way for the shadowy activities of groups like ACORN. Democrats overwhelmingly supported it, and Republicans overwhelmingly opposed it.
The Motor Voter Act was the brainchild of radical Columbia University professors Richard Cloward and Frances Piven, who had previously been famous for proposing their “Cloward-Piven Strategy” for creating discontent among lower-income Americans in order to foment a Marxist revolution. Cloward and Piven were guests at the White House ceremony where President Clinton signed their Motor Voter Act into law.
Liberal Tough Love: Keeping “Bad” Voters from the Polls
When supplementing the ranks of “good” voters isn’t enough, left wingers will sometimes resort to blocking “bad” voters from the polls. In 2008 a leftist group called the New Black Panthers posted armed and uniformed storm troopers at the entrance to at least one polling place, to restrict access to the polls.
Conservatives were outraged at this assault on the fundamental principles of democracy, but most liberals ignored or justified it.
The Obama Justice Department refused to prosecute the New Black Panthers. One Justice Department lawyer resigned in protest when the case was dropped, complaining that, under the Obama Administration, “No voter intimidation case is going to be prosecuted if the victim is white and the defendant is black.” As with the ACORN case, the ethical question that mattered most to the Obama administration was not what tactics the group used, but what their goals were.
Judicial Ethics: Two Different Views
One subject that illustrates the difference between liberal and conservative views of morality is the on-going political/moral argument about the proper role of appellate judges. Those Supreme Court justices who are generally portrayed as “conservative” allow themselves to be bound by the written law, because the traditional moral code that most conservatives hold requires such discipline. Justices viewed as “liberal” put their own personal feelings above the principle of obedience to the written law, because the moral code they use tells them that it is right to do so.
Liberals approvingly cite Justice Thurgood Marshall’s view that, as an ethical judge, “you do what you think is right and let the law catch up.” Liberals believe, in other words, that a judge should do whatever it takes to achieve important ends, without regard for the actual laws that legislators have put on the books.
Conservatives put the highest moral value on adherence to the rules of the game. The means, rather than the ends, are seen as paramount. Justice John Roberts, for example, likened the role of a Supreme Court Justice to that of an umpire. His proper role, said Roberts, is merely to “call balls and strikes,” not to dictate who wins or loses the game.
Conservative justice Clarence Thomas made an even stronger statement in his written dissent from the majority opinion in a 2003 case. Thomas refused to vote to overturn a Texas law against sodomy, even though he freely admitted that he viewed it as “an uncommonly silly law.” Thomas could see that the US Constitution did not offer any legitimate basis for over-turning the law, and he was unwilling to put his own feelings above the Constitution. The liberals on the court, on the other hand, all followed the advice of the late Thurgood Marshall and voted to over-turn the law simply because they didn’t like it.
Academic Ethics: Putting Political Correctness above Truth
According to the liberal view of ethics the importance of achieving key political goals trumps any ethical considerations about the means deployed. Truth, viewed as an end in itself, ranks very low when stacked up against liberal values like “social justice,” or abortion rights, or gun control, or Affirmative Action. Nowhere is this leftist view more dominant than on the campuses of our nation’s universities.
The case of Michael Bellesiles and his book Arming America offers a useful example. Bellesiles, a professor at Emory University, wrote the book to provide scholarly support for one of the most cherished items in the liberal political agenda: gun control. In the book, Bellesiles undermines the idea that the Second Amendment gives American individuals a right to own guns, by documenting that very few American individuals owned firearms when the Bill of Rights was being written.
The professor’s actual research showed that lots of early Americans did in fact own guns; a fact that would have undermined his whole pro-gun-control argument; so he simply threw out the real data and created fraudulent data that would support his thesis. According to the end-justifies-the-means view of liberals, Bellesiles was behaving in a moral way. His dedication to a politically correct agenda was the greater good; mere truth was a less important issue.
And according to that view, the fraudulent book was in fact a great moral victory. It was quickly cited by a US Circuit Court of Appeals as a reason for the Court’s ruling against gun rights.
Long after serious questions about the professor’s veracity had come to light, left-leaning scholars tried to cover for him. Emery University resisted firing him. Chicago’s Newbury Library awarded Bellesiles a $30,000 fellowship and then dragged its feet on reviewing the award. The ultra-liberal Columbia University awarded Bellesiles its Bancroft Prize despite growing public criticism of the book, and finally rescinded the prize only when conservative media had stirred up so much controversy that the university’s administration could stonewall no longer.
Pressure from conservative media and from scholars who valued truth above Political Correctness finally forced these institutions to distance themselves from Dr. Bellesiles, but the mere fact that they stood behind him for so long shows what kind of moral priorities left-leaning thinkers use.
Moral and ethical values are not universal. Different groups of people tend to have different moral values, and arguments about the rightness or wrongness of a course of action can be pointless when the two parties to the argument are using different moral codes.
Those of us who subscribe to the traditional Judeo-Christian code of ethics need to understand that not everyone shares our views. A person who believes in the liberal code may be doing something that seems perfectly ethical to him, even if it appears shockingly sleazy to those of us who subscribe to a more traditional code.