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:: Tuesday, October 29, 2002 ::

Well Meaning People

Senator Wellstone's death has brought out a flurry of eulogies in the past days, from friend and foe alike. Most praise him for having been a man of principle. The obvious question, to those who disagreed with him, would be, 'If having principles is a good thing, and Sen. Wellstone was a good man for having principles, why do you argue so vehemently with those who share his principles? And doesn't that make you who don't share his principles something less than good?'

James Lileks wrote a bit on that subject yesterday.

What sticks in some people’s craw is the idea that principle = virtue, as though dedication to an idea is, of itself, a laudable thing. Of course it isn’t; the world is full of people filled with terrible certainties. You can quickly Godwinize the argument down to nonsense: Hitler was full of conviction; is then Hitler to be mourned? It’s a valid question in another context. But not here. You have to judge the motives and character of the person who has the convictions. Do they seek something which any objective civilized mind would find evil? One caller to a weekend show insisted that Wellstone believed in Socialism, just like Lenin and Stalin. The host - a rock-ribbed Christian conservative - batted the idea away like an outhouse fly, because it’s tiresome, useless, and counterproductive. Wellstone didn’t want the Gulag, the Purge, the forced transplantation of whole populations, the formation of the faceless masses into a fist directed by cold-blooded elites. He may have been on the fringe of American politics, but his ideas were the outer edge of a dominant political party; he sought change through democratic means; he meant well.

Not all principles are created equal. Let's leave Wellstone's beliefs aside, I'm not aiming my criticism at him as much as anyone who thinks that it's OK to confiscate peoples' property to achieve social goals. The average American is forced to spend somewhere around half his income on taxes, in essence working as a slave for others as much as for himself. That's not as severe as sending that worker to the Gulag, but is it good? Is it in any way honorable for one to favor such a thing?

Political judgements should be based on basic morality. If your principles are good, how can your opponents principles also be good? Motivation means very little then. Anyone can mean well, statists of all stripes, even the most craven, believe they are doing society, and the world, a favor by mandating racial purity/ economic slavery/ religious piety/ or whatever's in vogue that year.
Andrew Olmsted has more on the subject.

:: Walter 6:12 PM [+] ::

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