The Era of Moral Thuggery

Lewis Hamilton, the six-time world champion British Formula One driver, recently criticised his colleagues in the sport for saying nothing in the wake George Floyd’s death.

If any answer to this accusation were required, a reasonable one might have been that it was not their place as mere car racers to comment on such matters. If they had wanted to engage in polemics, however, they might have pointed out that Hamilton had remained silent about many terrible events in the world, for example (to take only one such) the war around the Great Lakes of Central Africa, which so far has claimed not one life, but several million lives. Black lives matter to Hamilton, they might have said, but apparently not the lives of these Africans.

Such a response would have led only to further bitter and highly-publicised recrimination (and would take considerable courage). It was far easier to cave in to moral blackmail and get it over with by shedding a few crocodile tears in public. The interesting and important question is why such moral blackmail should work, almost without fail.

In London, there have been large demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death, mostly but not entirely peaceful. These were allegedly to protest against racism, but in reality, they reinforced and propagated an obsessive interpretation of the world through the lens of race and racial discrimination. As a strange illustration of one of the three supposed laws of dialectical materialism—the interpenetration of opposites—racists and modern anti-racists are united by the importance they ascribe to race, though they are divided by their explanation of why race should be so important. The racists believe that it’s because of biology and the anti-racists believe it’s because of socially-sanctioned racism.

They are united too in their totalitarian (or at least bullying) tendencies, though in this respect the modern anti-racists are now more dangerous, not because they are worse people than the racists, but because racism as a doctrine is mostly, if not entirely, discredited. Racism is truly opposed not by anti-racists, but by non-racists, that is, people who do not judge or behave towards others according to their race.

Behaving well in this sense is not enough, however, for anti-racists of the type who demonstrated in London. The many placards with slogans such as “Silence is Violence” reflect the demand that everyone join in a chorus, failure to do so being a crime in itself. This goes further than mere authoritarianism, under which dissent is a crime. As under the totalitarians, positive and public assent to and enthusiasm for certain propositions are required. Failure in this regard is a symptom or sign of being an enemy of the people. If you do not join in the chorus, but are silent, you are a racist, complicit in the killing of George Floyd and other such crimes.

Holding the right opinions has never, at least in my lifetime, been as important as it is now—if, that is, you want a reputation as a good person.

Clearly, the kind of public expression of outrage that is required has to be selective: there can be no equal-opportunity outrage, for not even the most self-righteous person can be outraged by every injustice in the world, from oil-spillage in the Russian Arctic to the severance pay of Adam Neumann. And if we fail to express our outrage at an injustice, it does not mean that we approve of it, much less that we are complicit in it: on the contrary, it is an acknowledgement of our own limitations and unimportance. If Lewis Hamilton expresses no opinion of the continuing war in Central Africa, it does not mean that he is anti-African, much less that he is actually complicit in war crimes.

The demonstrations in London (and elsewhere) are illustrative of two contemporary cultural traits. The first is the importance ascribed to opinion as an exclusive, or at least large, component of virtue; the second is the vehemence of expression as the marker of sincerity.

Holding the right opinions has never, at least in my lifetime, been as important as it is now—if, that is, you want a reputation as a good person. No doubt there has always been a tendency for people to conform their ideas to those of their group in order to be considered sound, decent, or good people, but the pressure to conform to the latest orthodoxy has increased, is still increasing—and ought to be reduced. Actual good conduct, which requires some effort, restraint, and even self-sacrifice, has correspondingly become less important in earning a reputation for goodness. Holding a placard, chanting a slogan, expressing an opinion, is enough.

In these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that vehemence should be mistaken for strength of feeling or sincerity. In communist countries, it was dangerous to be the first to stop applauding the dictator’s speech and safer to exhibit one’s enthusiasm to the maximum. In addition, in a culture such as ours, which values the kind of emotional openness that is usually indistinguishable from psychobabble, vehemence is again to be expected.

In short, the more you feel, as measured by the vehemence with which you express it, the better person you are, and the safer from criticism.

“No justice, no peace,” was another very sinister slogan held up on placards during the demonstrations. This, in effect, gave carte blanche to those who believed the slogan to indulge in any violence they chose, all in the name of bringing about justice as defined by themselves. And since a state of perfect justice has never yet existed in the world, any more than has a world free of sin, endless violence—being the opposite of peace—was being justified in advance.  

It seems, then, that we have entered an era of what might be called moral thuggery. It is, as ever, important not to exaggerate: we do not live in the worst of times, we do not fear the midnight knock on the door if we express a heterodox idea. But there are substantial numbers of people who, in the name of their own moral outrage and sense of righteousness, would like to impose, or at least would not object to the imposition of, a regime in which people did fear that midnight knock. We cannot assume that everyone yearns to let others breathe free.          

Reader Discussion

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on June 11, 2020 at 07:34:39 am

It expresses well the inexpressible thoughts of many people who "don't count" for much....

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Jeff C
on June 11, 2020 at 10:39:19 am

Dalrymple rightly cites the ever growing and ever more inclusive utility of "racism" as both impetus and justification for today;s idiocies.

Indeed, it appears that it has almost attained the status of a "unified field theory", not unlike the hoped for solution to all problem in physics, un that news comes yesterday that Websters Dictionary will now amend its definition of racism to include that "unifying" catch all phrase of "institutional and endemic" (but unobserved) racism.
Amazing what wew ill due to our eyes to satisfy the needs of the ego.

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Image of gabe
on June 11, 2020 at 11:25:06 am

I can appreciate the typical-for-him literary skill of Doctor D's analysis. In a nutshell, it is that in our pop culture both the elites and the mobs of ordinary, unimportant little people support (what I say we must call) "protest-riots" as simply a socially-safe way to pay-off morally-selective blackmailers and that the "protest-riots" themselves are, to use Doctor D's phrase, "moral thuggery" posing as opposition to racism or what one might also characterize as high-volume, high-destruction virtue signaling for racial justice.

That's all probably true, and it's certainly well-stated, but it's not nearly enough analysis.

We must go further and ask what drives the ongoing moral thuggery? Is the ongoing vocal support of the ongoing "protest riots" by pop culture, media and even political elites merely a safe way for people to pay off organized moral blackmailers like Black Lives Matter or the NAACP and to assuage the blatant race hustlers like Al Sharpton? Is ongoing active participation in the ongoing "protest riots" by run-of-the mill mobs merely a more active form of engaging in social media or a high-intensity version of virtue signaling by bored college kids who have been locked down too-long by the Wuhan Virus?

I think not. The ongoing "protest riots" are deeper in origin than racism, more dangerous than political dissent and more insidious than ransom to moral blackmailers and virtue signaling by post-pubescent, miseducated twenty-somethings.

The ongoing "protest riots" are masquerading as a march for racial justice. They are pretending to be a modern-day version of the civil rights demonstrations of the 1960's and a repetition of the racial anger ignited by the racially-motivated murder of MLK, Jr. All that is just a ruse.

The never-ending cry of racism is a never-ending mob and media ruse; it's just a public relations pretense. The ongoing "protest riots" are a racialist excuse for ongoing, organized mob thuggery intended, planned and executed solely to destroy the institutions of law, to enhance the political power of neo-Marxists, to suppress the economic, political and cultural well-being of the White middle class, to grab more free stuff in the form of government bail-outs of bankrupt Blue cities and hand-outs to their welfare-dependent residents, to seize more special legal privilege and cultural advantage for African-Americans, to attack Donald Trump and to elect Joe Biden in November.

The ongoing "protest riots" are to the non-existent problem of racism what James Comey's FBI investigation and Robert Mueller's Special Counsel investigation were to the non-existent Trump-Russia collusion in the 2016 election, what the Democrat Party's presidential impeachment was to the non-existent problem of Trump intrusion into Ukrainian law enforcement, what the climate change hoax is to the non-existent problem of environmental protection from carbon dioxide.

The "protest riots" are a convenient excuse, a hoax, for America's domestic enemies to launch yet another major attack in their ongoing, existential war aimed at overthrowing our society, winning the political power to control all Americans, and destroying the country as we know it.

We are not a racist country!
We must resist and push back hard against America's mortal domestic enemies if we are to have any hope of defeating them.

We are not doing that. I fear we never will.

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Image of Paladin
on June 11, 2020 at 22:32:10 pm

I read with keen interest the unmitigated certainty of your proclamation: “We are not a racist country!” Could you tell this reader when the country achieved this milestone? I see no evidence of this in its founding.

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Al Pinda
on June 12, 2020 at 08:21:10 am

I will give you a hint which, assuming you can figure it out, will answer your rhetorical question: The key to the answer is in the tense of the verb.

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Image of Paladin
on June 12, 2020 at 10:14:47 am

That solves the conundrum: JUNE 11, 2020 AT 11:25:06 AM.

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Al Pinda
on June 11, 2020 at 12:29:10 pm

Thuggery indeed! as exemplified by the linked image:

wherein we find that the Leftist loonies are permitted, if not encouraged to OPENLY carry those DAMNED ASSAULT RIFLES as the Lefties have described them.
Apparently, only the THUGS are allowed to own and carry such "lethal" weapons.

Hypocrisy, thy name is progressivism.

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Image of gabe
on June 11, 2020 at 12:45:09 pm

'Moralistic thuggery' might have been closer to the mark. There is more than a whiff of play-acting about the self-appointed arbiters of public morals.

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Image of aelfheld
on June 12, 2020 at 15:58:21 pm

I agree. Look at the sign held by the person in the middle of the above photograph. She indicates that she will "fight your injustice." To whom is this addressed? Are we supposed to know? Does she even know? How can we tell that she has not simply created a straw-man villain against whom she struggles, in the self-produced drama of which she is the fictional heroine? Would she be out there at all if her her understanding of the matter would not fit on a 8 1/2 x 11" piece of paper? I will give her the benefit of the doubt that she is sincere, and in all likelihood is a good person. I will not give her the benefit of the doubt that she knows what she talking about.

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Image of z9z99
on June 14, 2020 at 17:05:28 pm

Hers is quite unlike that profound message fiercely proclaimed on a bright red ball cap harkening back to the time of America’s greatness, right? Self-produced drama is the quotidian fare of the initiator of that inanity replete with its own straw-man villain du jour.

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Al Pinda
on June 11, 2020 at 15:18:35 pm

Food for thought:

From the above some quotes:

Justice Stevens (prophetic) comments:
"From Justice Stevens’s prophetic dissent, which focused on the methods chosen by the defendant — desecration of a revered national symbol — of ideas already conveyed by speech that was not prosecuted by the authorities:

The Court is therefore quite wrong in blandly asserting that respondent “was prosecuted for his expression of dissatisfaction with the policies of this country, expression situated at the core of our First Amendment values.”

Respondent was prosecuted because of the method he chose to express his dissatisfaction with those policies. Had he chosen to spraypaint — or perhaps convey with a motion picture projector — his message of dissatisfaction on the facade of the Lincoln Memorial, there would be no question about the power of the Government to prohibit his means of expression. The prohibition would be supported by the legitimate interest in preserving the quality of an important national asset. Though the asset at stake in this case is intangible, given its unique value, the same interest supports a prohibition on the desecration of the American flag."

Justice Jackson:

"Associate Justice Robert H. Jackson, after noting that the speaker had actually incited mob violence (including bricks thrown through windows), presented a chilling portrait of a mobs and street clashes:

The present obstacle to mastery of the streets by either radical or reactionary mob movements is not the opposing minority. It is the authority of local governments which represent the free choice of democratic and law-abiding elements, of all shades of opinion but who, whatever their differences, submit them to free elections which register the results of their free discussion.… Violent and noisy shows of strength discourage participation of moderates in discussions so fraught with violence and real discussion dries up and disappears. And people lose faith in the democratic process when they see public authority flouted and impotent and begin to think the time has come when they must choose sides in a false and terrible dilemma.

Sound familiar?

Jackson concluded with this paragraph:

This Court has gone far toward accepting the doctrine that civil liberty means the removal of all restraints from these crowds and that all local attempts to maintain order are impairments of the liberty of the citizen. The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact."

"In 2015,[John C Wohlstter] concluded an American Spectator article, “Finding the First Amendment,” with this, as to the evolving idea that the sensitivity of the audience can curtail the freedom of the speaker:

Thus encouraged, extremists will push the bounds of what offends them as far as they can. If we indulge their designedly hyper-amplified sensitivities, we will find ourselves with the most narrowly confined boundaries of permissible speech when we most need maximum freedom. Our worst enemies cannot be allowed to dictate the protected ambit of our Constitution’s freedom of speech."

And finally from Humpty Dumpty:

"hich leads us one again to Lewis Carroll, this time with Humpty-Dumpty:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

The past fortnight has shown us who is to be master: the mob."

Bet on that!

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Image of gabe
on June 11, 2020 at 16:20:06 pm

Here is an analogy:

Consider a train, an old fashioned steam locomotive hauling a load of valuable lumber to some destination in need of it. Somewhere along the way, a malfunction occurs; a screw comes loose, some piece of governing apparatus fails, or a valve sticks. Whatever, the efficiency of the engine falls dramatically, such that the fuel available is no longer sufficient to the journey. As a result, those operating the train begin using the cargo for fuel, burning the lumber intended to build useful things simply in order to make it to the destination. The train eventually arrives, having consumed its cargo in the process. It completed its journey, at the cost of making the journey pointless.

What I wish to consider in this analogy is not what the cargo represents, or the train, or the destination, but rather the malfunction that compromised the operation of the train; the calamity that affected efficiency and smooth operation. In our present experiences we note the substitution of emotion for reason, baseless accusations for facts, and what Dr. Dalrymple describes as moral thuggery for civil discourse. The operative notion is that each of these are very inefficient, and in fact unstable. Emotions, as has been observed previously and will be again, are notoriously bad counselors. When they form the basis of decision those decisions are quite likely to be bad. But more importantly, emotions consume an unsustainable amount of energy. Thus, movements powered by them begin to consume their own principles, purposes, and participants merely to maintain irrational passions, and lightless heat.

These movements are inherently unstable. It takes no deep knowledge of history to guess that purges eventually intercede into even the most sympathetic of revolutions. Power over the masses is never enough; revolutionary zeal eventually favors the psychopaths so that power must be had over the other revolutionaries. Leon Trotsky, Maximillien Robespierre and Ernst Rohm may be cited as easy cases. Eventually the need to stoke emotional fires when the original fuels for them have been consumed leads to contradictions and loss of focus and an immoral entropy that negates the best of intentions.

This present crisis, frightful as it may be because of its immediacy, is unstable. The practice of "cancelling" is unsustainable, and the foolish appeasement of shrill demands by craven celebrities and woke corporations is little more than anteing integrity and moral reason on a losing bet. There is one Achilles heel to the present "movement," built as it is on inefficient and unsustainable emotion and cynicism. It was identified several months ago in an accusation by a Washington Post Reporter.

This reporter, apparently scouring her past for an offense by which she cold upgrade her victimhood status, recalled a sexual encounter from years prior that left her uncomfortable. In the fertile climate of #Me too, she publicly accused the other party to the encounter of an impropriety, the result being that he lost his job. She got a scalp. Even granting that her complaint was legitimate, that her indignation understandable and perhaps even righteous, there exists a cloud over her subsequent action. Grudges are unseemly and they are unseemly because they are destructive, and not only to their target. What will begin the decline of the present "movement" is the instinctive notion that, while revenge is more satisfying than forgiveness in the moment, the latter is both stronger and more admirable in the long term. The first victim of police brutality that publicly forgives will be unnoticed at first, then discretely applauded by a small group of honorable people, then by decent people. The spell will be broken. Forgiveness will be shown to be more powerful than resentment, although this notion will be fanatically resisted by a loud and panicked elite. Forgiveness, especially unconditional forgiveness, is not only stable, it is regenerative. It is life-affirming, and for lack of a more precise term, it is noble. We will, I hope, be shaken from this destructive trance of grievance and remember(this is something that has been known for millennia) the power of redemption and forgiveness

Then things will get better for everybody.

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on June 11, 2020 at 21:42:19 pm

Thank you.

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Image of Richard
on June 12, 2020 at 08:44:14 am

Two statues of Thomas Guy have just been removed. He founded Guy's Hospital, was a great philanthropist and was not involved in the slave trade. Where is the logic or justice in that?

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on June 12, 2020 at 09:51:58 am

"Where is the logic or justice in that?"

Probably has as much "logic" as the toppling of statues honoring Black Union soldiers fighting against the confederacy which was reported yesterday.

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Image of gabe
on June 14, 2020 at 19:10:26 pm

Dalrymple's diagnosis of the totalitarian tendency, as the March of Moral Thugs, as...
"This goes further than mere authoritarianism, under which dissent is a crime. As under the totalitarians, positive and public assent to and enthusiasm for certain propositions are required. Failure in this regard is a symptom or sign of being an enemy of the people..."
...is consistent with what has transpired with the LGBTQWERTY agenda, where dissent and silence are no longer allowed. Soon enough, your enthusiast support won't pass muster--you'll be expected to participate in homosexual relations in order to demonstrate your bona fides. Anything short of that will be deemed bigotry. As all thing liberal--you must comply.

This is the path liberalism follows, for it knows no constraints, it has no limiting tendency.

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Image of Forbes
on June 12, 2020 at 12:57:53 pm

[…] endless violence — the opposite of peace — is being justified in advance. […]

on June 12, 2020 at 13:31:03 pm

[…] truly opposed not by anti-racists, but by non-racists, that is, people who do not judge or behave towards others according to their […]

on June 12, 2020 at 13:55:23 pm

[…] importance ascribed to opinion as an exclusive component of virtue. Holding the right opinions has never been as important if you want a reputation as a good person. The pressure to conform to […]

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.