The Moral Equivalent Of War?


Jonah Goldberg:

The Hollow Core of Obamaism

Longtime readers of mine will recall that one of my bugaboos is the liberal obsession with the “moral equivalent of war.” Ever since William James coined the phrase, liberalism has essentially become a cargo cult to the idea. The core idea, expressed in myriad different ways, is that normal democratic capitalism is insufficient. Society needs an organizing principle that causes the citizenry to drop their individual pursuits, petty ambitions, and disorganized lifestyles and unite around common purposes.

Naturally, the State must provide leadership and coordination in this effort, just as it does in a war. That was the essential rationale behind the New Deal – war mobilization without war.

Barack Obama has spent much of his presidency all but begging the American people to imbue themselves with a moral equivalent of war spirit. Sometimes he’s used the phrase explicitly, other times he’s dreamed that America could act like the military. Other times he’s droned on about the need for unity and dedicating ourselves to a “cause larger than ourselves” – that cause invariably being the government. He’s talked a lot about “Sputnik moments” and the need for Americans to rally around his green agenda the way we rallied around the space program.

I loathe all of this. The whole point of a free society is that people will do what their hearts and consciences tell them to do, individually and in voluntary association. We have a military to keep us free, not to provide examples of how best to surrender our freedom. Moreover, the exhortation to give our selves over to the spirit of wartime mobilization when there is no war is frightening because, unlike real wars, not only is “victory” not defined, it cannot be defined. We will never have a kingdom of heaven on earth, so any call to mobilize the people to fight for one necessarily means permanent mobilization, which means the permanent surrender of what this country was founded to establish.

In my lifetime I have seen several “moral equivalents of war”, including the War on Drugs and the War on Poverty. We seem to be losing both of them. The War on Drugs turned out to be a very expensive war on drug users with enormous collateral damage.

The pattern is always the same:

1) Government identifies a problem.
2) Government determines a solution to that problem.
3) Government turns their solution into law.

This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s the pervasiveness, not the pattern that is the problem. It’s Father Knows Best meets the Nanny State in a crony capitalist’s authoritarian wet dream.

About Myiq2xu - BA, JD, FJB

I was born and raised in a different country - America. I don't know what this place is.
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57 Responses to The Moral Equivalent Of War?

  1. myiq2xu says:

    I would have written more but it’s Monday.

  2. myiq2xu says:

    BTW – If you want to stir up a hornet’s nest, call something “the moral equivalent of rape”.

  3. driguana says:

    Great post! And….the real problem is that none of this is about “problem solving”. There are many excellent constructs for identifying problems, offering alternative solutions and creating plans of action to begin to solve the identified problem. None of these ever apply to government. They have a solution in mind before they ever really understand the problem. Look at Obamacare as a means to solve our health care problems. The War on Drugs is another good example. What war? What drugs? What problems? What finally happened as you point out is that drug users became the targeted solution…very sad!

  4. myiq2xu says:
  5. angienc (D) says:

    OT but the other thread is too long & I have to get this off of my chest.

    My head is about to explode with the vile progs & MSM all clutching their pearls over Issa calling Carney the “WH paid liar” — Mika said that makes them (the MSM) “not want to cover the scandals.” First of all: no b!tch, that is giving you an excuse to NOT cover what you didn’t want to cover in the first place & had to be dragged kicking & screaming to cover. Second, remember after the first debate — the official (out of Obama’s own mouth) response was that Romney was a “liar” and that he stood up there for 90 minutes and “lied” and that Obama was caught off guard because he wasn’t prepared for all the “lies” Romney said. And that’s not even getting into Obama saying it was “appropriate” for his staff to call Romney a felon or the “Romney killed my wife” ad. No objections whatsoever from the MSM about any of that but Issa (accurately) characterizing Carney as the WH’s “paid liar” is a bridge too far? Or how about Obama & progs standing up day after day since the 2008 Dem primary calling every one who didn’t support Obama a “racist” — that was A-OK with them.

    Fuck them all. Hypocrites, sociopaths, corrupt assholes — each and every one of them.

    • myiq2xu says:

      I love a good rant.

      • angienc (D) says:

        That was really a half-assed one though — I held back so I don’t give myself a stroke.
        The hypocrisy — IT BURNS.

      • angienc (D) says:

        Another thing pissing me off — those defending Holder by saying he never intended to prosecute James Rosen (Fox reporter)? Seriously, the defense is the DOJ lied to the court in a sworn affidavit and the MSM/vile prog morons are running around buying it/acting like this is all hunky dory? For the love of cheese — people are so stupid I want to cry.

        • myiq2xu says:

          They’re not really stupid. They think you are.

        • angienc (D) says:

          *clarification — the rank & file vile progs who believe it (not nec. the ones selling it) are the ones I’m calling stupid.

        • yttik says:

          I hear you, angienc, the stupid gets so bad sometimes, it just burns. I don’t understand how people can be so gullible, so uninformed….and yet so self righteous about what they think they know.

    • wmcb says:

      Rant on! AoS noticed the same thing, and one reporter even admitted it:

      From National Journal’s “objective” reporter:

      “You and others have said that no one in the White House knew about IRS actions before getting the heads up on the inspector general’s report last month,” George Stephanopoulos told senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer on Sunday. “Are you absolutely sure of that?”
      “Yes,” Pfeiffer replied.

      Do you believe him?

      Knowing the consequences that would befall the Obama administration if the White House or Obama’s reelection campaign knew in real time that the IRS was targeting conservatives, I desperately want to believe Pfeiffer.

      What business has a journalist “desperately wanting” to believe the administration? That’s damning. Go read the whole piece, it’s good.

    • myiq2xu says:
    • DeniseVB says:

      Here’s a good hang out where you get to bitch slap a member of the WHPC, MOST commenters are former Dems who gave up on Hillbuzz.

      It’s on my daily drive by list 🙂

    • driguana says:

      If it helps, Carney is a paid liar…a well paid liar at that!

  6. yttik says:

    1) Government identifies a problem.
    2) Government determines a solution to that problem.
    3) Government turns their solution into law.

    I think you forgot one. The first step is, government creates a problem.

  7. wmcb says:

    The whole point of a free society is that people will do what their hearts and consciences tell them to do, individually and in voluntary association.

    This. Somewhere along the way, the left went from wanting a govt to remove the obstacles to and protect people living their lives fully and individually, to a vision of govt that is the Great Leader of the Great Cause of Bettering Us All.

    You want to know what a govt that is properly functioning looks like? It looks like nothing much (regardless of size.) You hardly notice it. It does what is has to, quietly, just providing some basic structure, dealing with the odd problem that falls outside the lines. All the living of life, and economic activity, and championing of causes, and free associations, and LIVING is done by us. Out here. We individuals. Organically.

    The left has become more and more utopian in the years I’ve been alive, and that’s a road I refuse. It’s madness. And it’s funny, because the conservatarian/liberal-tarian people, for all the accusations of a utopian world view, really don’t have one. The hard core minarchists do, but not the libertarian-leaning libs or cons. They readily admit that under their way of doing things, some problems will exist. And? They don’t shoot for perfection – they realize it’s a pipe dream, and that trying to achieve it inevitably tramples on someone else.

    I really don’t neatly fit into any of the political boxes. Other than the one that says “Let’s face reality, do the best we can to help within reason, and otherwise leave people the hell alone.”

    • myiq2xu says:

      Every single year we get a bunch of new laws, regulations and programs. When are they finally gonna get it right?

      • wmcb says:

        Never, because there is no goal – no criteria for “success”. It’s like going to war without a measurable objective. All of the original objectives of things like the EPA, OSHA, etc were met. Okay, so at that point those agencies should have downsized, or at the very least gone stagnant, just dealing with maintenance issues. But they never do. They go find something else to meddle in and “oversee” to justify their ever-expanding existence and budgets.

        The War on Poverty has been an abject failure. Shouldn’t we then back up, dismantle a lot of what we are doing, and try a new approach? They won’t. Because now a lot of people’s power, influence, nice offices and livelihoods depend on a continuation of the failed stuff, while piling on even more “programs” to address the continued problem. I wouldn’t mind new programs so much if they were a replacement for the failed ones, but they never are. They just keep layering on.

        • wmcb says:

          One of the most intriguing things I saw in 2012 were some of Herman Cain’s ideas for Free Enterprise Zones for badly failing areas like Detroit. Almost zero taxes and regulatory breaks for companies willing to locate there, train and hire there.

          Something like that might actually provide JOBS for the poor. Isn’t that better than a welfare check? But see, no one is going to get a plum job “overseeing” that, no poverty pimps are going to build a career on that, there’s no need for a whole dept of apparatchiks to run it. And the evil corporations might make a buck in the process, and we can’t have that – even if it revitalized the fucking city.

  8. myiq2xu says:
    • Lulu says:

      They are talking to Congress and bringing in paperwork CYA. When the IG was interviewing them they had a labor union AND management minders.

  9. yttik says:

    It’s kind of ironic, everything is now the “moral equivalent of war.”.. except war itself. Congress hasn’t formally declared war since WW2, There’s been little war effort, no rationing, no rallying civilians to the cause. Except for the troops and their families, no one has had to make any sacrifices for the war effort since WW2.

    The problem is, people not understanding the cost of war, combined with making everything war’s moral equivalent, leads to more wars. When everything becomes the moral equivalent of war, then the morality of a war becomes meaningless.

  10. HELENK says:

    Kerry just promised $4billion to Hezbolla and the PLO. and we are shipping arms to the rebels in Syria that Hezbolla are fighting against.

    I get soooooo confused

  11. Propertius says:

    It’s hard to see why we need an “equivalent” (moral or otherwise) for war when we have so many actual wars (72, by some counts) in progress.

    • leslie says:

      I nkow one of Stewart’s writers. He is a childhood friend of my son. He is humorous – but a philosopher? I don’t think so.

  12. DeniseVB says:

    I love it. I think Christie knows how to play the game ….

    Must’ve been that People Mag cover story this week 😉

  13. votermom says:

  14. DeniseVB says:

    Hey, what about the War on People Who Have Made Enough Money?

    That should read 2.5 million not 25. 10 million dollar wedding which upset the delicate Red Wood Forest eco system or something. But really folks, he must’ve created a few jobs too 😉

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