Moral narcissism
Posted by aogWednesday, 16 June 2004 at 15:23 TrackBack Ping URL

Ian Buruma writes [via Brothers Judd] that he is confused by Bernard Lewis’ position on the invasion of Iraq. Lewis is for it, which Buruma claims is inconsistent with Lewis’ other viewpoints. One point of Buruma’s critique struck me as the kind of moral narcissism that I find objectionable. Buruma writes

an invasion by foreign armies is not the ideal way to bring this [democracy] about

As I argued in the comments, it’s certainly true that invasion isn’t an ideal solution. Certainly we’d all prefer non-violent solutions. Yet we live in a fallen world where ideal solutions are rarely available. This is the juncture at which one has to make a choice - get one’s hand dirty while trying to do the best one can, or stand by in the presence of evil in order to maintain one’s one personal purity regardless of the cost to others?

Like the zero tolerance policies of modern American schools, the moral purity stance satisfies one’s desire to be morally superiour without the heavy lifting of making difficult moral choices.

I consider it narcissistic because it combines obliviousness of others with an overwhelming regard for one’s one moral beauty. It’s a typically academic disdain for those poor lesser beings who must toil in the sweat and dirt of reality, never to breathe the air of pure abstraction where consequences are defined away with a clever phrase or slogan. I just don’t agree that it’s better to chant deconstructionist theory at the darkness than to risk burning your hand with candle wax.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
pj Thursday, 17 June 2004 at 12:04

Excellent points. I might quibble with a few words: “zero tolerance,” I think, doesn’t avoid the heavy lifting of making difficult moral choices so much as it transfers the lifting from local teachers and principals to central state bureaucrats (who make the rigid policy that teachers and principals enforce). And this is the main point about “zero tolerance,” to transfer power from local teachers and principals to centralized state authorities.

So I would emphasize greed for power as much as narcissism as the cause of zero tolerance, although the two undoubtedly go together.

End of Discussion