Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Re: Kim Davis’s “hypocrisy,” George Gilder has an interesting take on hypocrisy in his economics text, Wealth and Poverty:

The goal of perfection may invite efforts to impose it on imperfect humans by means of compulsion and through the agency of undemocratic power. Inevitably failing to fulfill the impossible dream of a society without conflict and hierarchy, the supposed idealists often lash out at the very attitudes and institutions—social pressures and legal processes—that are indispensable to all social improvement in a democracy. Idealists, for example, always abominate what they call hypocrisy. But hypocrisy—the insincere profession of unfulfilled ideals—is the means by which the influence of ideals is extended beyond the small circles of true believers. Hypocrisy is indeed virtue. A society that often and heavily exacts this tribute has arrived at one of the two most humane and beneficial forms of redistribution (the other is capitalism). Hypocrisy might also be described as manners or exalted as civilization. These are the ways of social sublimation: the means by which we at once protect one another from the the rough edges of a perennial social struggle and indicate our hopes for something else. Hypocrisy can make us better than we are.

It’s a pejorative, but it demands betterment from the one to whom it is applied. That’s why I think it’s a mistake to call Al Gore a hypocrite because he lives large while he tells us to live small. His graver sin is lying about temperatures and sea levels. If he lived liked he preached, he’d no longer be a hypocrite, but he would be a liar.

I don’t think Kim Davis is a hypocrite. Just because she has sinned doesn’t mean she can’t ask others to not sin. If she didn’t recognize and repent the sins of her old life, if she demanded Pharisaical perfection from others without removing the beam from her eye (see Matthew 7:5), she really would be a hypocrite. I read her conversion story, and she is not.

If you cheered Gavin Newsome issuing gay marriage licenses in San Francisco in 2003, in contravention of California law then, and you jeer Kim Davis, who is in contravention of the law now, you’re a hypocrite. But that is probably not why they jeer Davis. They jeer her not from fealty to the written law, but because they think she’s a bigot.

The conversation evokes thoughts similar to “being on the right side of history” that liberals like to invoke. Of course that depends on what moment in history. Read the Bible. It’s a story about a people who vacillated every generation between being on the right side and the wrong side of history.

Authoritarian technocracy aside, by and large people themselves are the law they want placed over them, so no law is “settled,” in the sense that the people change from experience and, yes, corruption. It may very well be the lawbreakers of today will have monuments erected in their names in 50 years, will be cursed in 200 years, and will be remembered fondly again in 400 years. Who knows?

Of course, the measure of man is not the law, and it’s not man himself, this generation or the next. It’s God.

Related: “Limits of democracy.”

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