Monday, March 27, 2006

The burden of guilt

Our reluctance to use moral language has its ultimate source not in any philosophical doctrine but in the dark cloud of guilt hanging over the west ever since 1918. "Value-neutralism" dignifies what is, in effect, a crisis of confidence. Having once been wrong, we doubt our right to call anyone else wrong; condemning ourselves, we hesitate to condemn others. Neoconservatism repudiates this psychic burden. It offers us what Douglas Murray calls "moral clarity"—the exhilarating certainty that there is good and evil, and that we are on the side of good. It is no coincidence that many of its most forceful advocates have been Jews, a people who, at least until recently, have had uniquely little to feel guilty about.

But the neoconservative cure is, alas, worse than the disease. For the sad fact is that historical guilt is now all that remains of the political conscience of the west. In unburdening ourselves of it, we are in danger of unburdening ourselves of any inhibition whatsoever.
Edward Skidelsky on neoconservatism, in Prospect, March 2006.


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