Saturday, September 18, 2004

Moral Clarity

It’s a phrase we conservatives like. For some reason, liberals don’t share our enthusiasm. To them it smacks of ‘black-and-white thinking’ or ‘Manicheanism.’ They think we are intolerant because we will not tolerate bad behavior. But do liberals really think that every issue is murky and ‘gray’ and that everything must be tolerated? Suppose a man wanted to rape Alan Colmes’ wife (assuming he has a wife). Would Colmes say: "You can’t rape her, but you can cop a feel?" Would he work out a compromise? Would he negotiate with the fellow? Would he take the potential rapist’s point of view to have some merit? I doubt it. He would take himself and his wife to be wholly in the right and the potential rapist to be wholly in the wrong. That’s called moral clarity.

To head off a possible misunderstanding, those of us who speak of moral clarity do not mean to imply that they are some people (us) who are wholly good, and other people (them) who are wholly bad. Maybe that is what our opponents intend with the dreaded epithet, ‘Manicheanism.’ But no human being is wholly good or wholly evil. Even James Carvile has his good points, among them, the tenacity of a pit-bull. In terms of the above example, the point is merely that Colmes and his wife, in respect of that one action, are wholly in the right while the potential rapist is wholly in the wrong. That is consistent with saying that Colmes and his wife have their vices and the potential rapist his virtues.

Some issues are hard to make out morally speaking. But others are quite clear. To think that all issues are hard to decide looks to be a hasty generalization from the fact that some are. To be opposed to moral clarity as such is idiotic since even liberals have their politically correct things to be morally clear about.

In a conciliatory spirit, let me propose an issue on which both conservatives and liberals ought to be morally clear. Terrorist acts are always and everywhere wrong by their very nature as terrorist acts. The indiscriminate slaughter of noncombatants to achieve a political objective is wrong by its very nature and the supposedly good consequences of such acts cannot be used to justify them.

Can we all agree on that?