No, It’s Not ‘Moral Relativism’ to Oppose Nuking North Korea

by | Sep 12, 2017

No, It’s Not ‘Moral Relativism’ to Oppose Nuking North Korea

by | Sep 12, 2017

Alexis de Tocqueville, a French aristocrat who achieved fame through his observations about early American democracy, noted that American political rhetoric is so abstract and imprecise that it both “exaggerates and hides any true thought.” He would have loved neocon warhawk Ralph Peters, who, in his many rhetorical screeds published by the New York Post, is calling for a preemptive nuclear attack on North Korea.

After the usual spiel about North Korea being the new Nazi Germany, a meme repeated by John Bolton in his latest call to arms, Peters gets down to our real moral problem. What we suffer from in the U.S. is “moral relativism” and it’s getting in the way of solving our problems through nuclear aggression. Although this charge exemplifies the empty rhetoric that Tocqueville associates with politics in a democracy, according to Tocqueville, imprecise language also “possesses a secret charm” that makes the user and perhaps the listener “reluctant to part from it.”

Complaints that one’s opponents are “moral relativists” have punctuated conservative and neoconservative discourse since the 1950s. The fact that it’s still pulled out for debating purposes, together with nutty comparisons of every adversary faced by this country as Hitler, indicates that the rhetoric in question still (unfortunately) works.

I too was accused of moral relativism at a conference I attended in New York City about five years ago, sponsored by Telos magazine. The organizer, who was associated with the Hoover Institution, leveled this accusation against me when I expressed reservations about making “our democracy mission” the centerpiece of American foreign policy. Despite my insistence that my ability to distinguish between right and wrong had nothing to do with my distaste for American crusades for democracy, it was impossible to change my accuser’s mind. The litmus test for not being a moral relativist, I learned, was accepting the call for an American world mission.

Read more at The American Conservative.

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