I recently decided to check out “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, given that it is a popular left-of-center offering totally devoted to Barack Obama and virulently contemptuous of the American Right.
Sure enough one segment featured a stream of clips and stills of various Right wing luminaries, including Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller.
At the clip with O’Reilly, Stewart stopped and embarked on a fairly lengthy lecture about values. This is because O’Reilly was depicted saying that yes, now and then, our security requires the sacrifice of our values.
This sentiment is naturally quite controversial and its refutation is nicely suggested in that famous quote from Benjamin Franklin, to wit, “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”
Jon Stewart’s little lecture focused on a similar theme: If something is a bona fide value, there is no excuse for breaching it. And I pretty much agree.
The whole point of ethical and political principles is they must be the guide to conduct under all circumstances. It’s like principles of good health or nutrition — these aren’t to be tossed aside for any reason but ought to be loyally followed.
The curious thing about Jon Stewart’s lecture on values is the side he has been supporting in our political confrontations in this country doesn’t believe at all what he was telling his audience.
Indeed, a prominent virtue of Barack Obama, for example, is supposed to be his pragmatism and lack of ideology. This latter is simply a derogatory term for principled thinking — those who have an ideology and follow it loyally are people who believe in certain principles no matter what. They think such principles are the right guidelines to coping with the challenges of ethical and political life. To sacrifice them means caving in the temptation to become disloyal to the right ways to act.
Of course, many people who champion pragmatism are also inconsistent in this and go on to announce their loyalty to certain select principles.
This is what America’s modern liberals do when they stand up and righteously denounce torture, for instance, pretending they care about a principled opposition to such policies. Of course, when it comes to basic individual rights — such as the right to private property — they have no problem with being unprincipled.
Jon Stewart may not be a source of serious political and ethical thought but he does seem to have a sizable following among Americans. It may be useful to point out that integrity isn’t one of the virtues his side of the political debate cherish much.
Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: TMachan@link.freedom.com