Imagine someone trying to convince you to do something by arguing that this thing is in your financial interests. They give you a stock tip, for example. You check it out and decide to buy some of the stock. In the following weeks, the stock price collapses, and you lose money. Obviously, you will not be happy, but you are not going to assume the guy who gave you the stock tip wanted to harm you. Unless you bought the stock from him, you will assume he made the same error as you.
Now think about a different scenario in which someone convinces you to do something because it is the right thing to do. In other words, he is not appealing to your desire to make money, but your desire to be viewed as a good person. The deed in this case is donating to some cause. You check it out and donate, but soon learn that it is a fraud and the people involved are swindlers. The person who tricked you into giving money was also in on the scheme.
If we assume the money lost is equal in both cases, you are going to have much stronger feelings toward the second person than the first person. One reason is the assumed intent of the two people. The first guy was trying to help you but was wrong about his stock tip. The second person wanted to rob you. Even if the first guy was reckless in his behavior, he was not trying to harm you, but there is no doubt about the intent of the second guy.
More important, the first person appealed to your greed, while the second person appealed to your morality in order to trick you. We can accept some blame when we let our vices get the better of us, as in the stock tip scenario. You let the idea of free money cloud your judgement. When someone turns your virtue into a vice, by playing on your good intentions in order to harm you, it challenges the idea of right and wrong, which is far worse than simple theft.
This is what comes to mind reading this post in First Things. George Weigel is a well-known neocon and warmonger. The timing of the post is a bit odd, given that we are in the end phase of the war. The time for making the “moral case” for yet another war on the world was a year ago. It suggests the Kagan cult is planning to keep the war on Russia going long after the Ukraine portion is settled. Weigel has been dispatched to turn virtue into vice for the suckers of Conservative Inc.
Twenty years ago, almost to the day, Weigel made the same “moral case” for launching a preemptive war on Iraq. It you read both posts together, it is as if he is working from a template. That is because he does work from a template. When you strip away the moral pretentions, Weigel is not much of a thinker. His act is to play on your Christian duty or maybe your patriotic morality. He is not trying to appeal to your reason with a well thought out argument.
Last year, Eric Sammons at Crisis Magazine dissected the Weigel style. “The Weigel Script includes: (1) a comparison to Nazi Germany; (2) turning foreign leaders into cartoon villains; (3) accepting at face value any and all U.S. intelligence that puts the proposed adversary in the worst light; (4) making non-falsifiable assertions about a dire future if the U.S. doesn’t intervene; and (5) ignoring any potential negative consequences of U.S. intervention.”
You see it in the First Things post. He even adds in the now famous meme associated with the neocons. “For no reason at all” Russia invaded Ukraine. In this case, he surely knows that what he is saying is a lie. Twenty years ago, when he was selling the death of Iraqi children as a cost worth paying to stoke his moral vanity, he could claim ignorance about the lies underneath the claims about Iraq. Lots of people assumed George Bush was sincere about the WMD business.
In the case of the Ukraine war, Weigel knows he is lying, and he probably knows that the readers know he is lying, but he lies anyway. You are not supposed to think about the facts, because it is your moral duty to oppose evil! As long as you accept his claims about Putin being yet another Hitler, the lies do not matter. Like the guy from the second example at the start of this post, Weigel is trying to turn your virtue into a vice, and he is doing it with knowledge of forethought.
The thing is, Weigel is not an exception. Conservative Inc. has always produced odious carbuncles who prey on the decency of normal people. Weigel is getting long in the tooth, so his act has been moved from the main stage. Guys like David French have taken up the mantle of moralizer for the cause. He now claims to be the keeper of the true conservative flame, while he writes about himself at the New York Times, the supposed enemy of conservatism.
All of this brings us to a question. Who is the real enemy? Is it the self-described leftist who maintains an alien moral code? Is it the alleged friend and ally who uses your moral code against you? The former thinks he is right and thinks you would be wise to agree with him. The latter knows you are right but uses that to trick you into going along with what is wrong. The former may support evil things like gender identity, but the latter seeks to make you evil.
What all of this gets to is that before conservatism and its neoconservative core are pushed into the dustbin of history, we need to think about how a new moral order resists this form of trickery. The trouble with conservatism is it never thought much about inoculating itself against these sorts of people and instead just accepted them as a feature, rather than a bug. Whatever replaces conservatism must prevent people like George Weigel from gaining a purchase.
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