Challenging the myth of moral equivalence


The headline: “U.S. investigates potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections.” To those unused to this kind of story, I can imagine that headline, from The Post this week, seemed strange, Anne Applebaum writes for The Washington Post:

A secret Russian plot to throw a U.S. election through a massive hack of the electoral system? It sounds like a thriller, or a movie starring Harrison Ford. In fact, the scenario under investigation has already taken place, in whole or in part, in other countries.

Quite a bit of the story is already unfolding in public; strictly speaking, it’s not “secret” or “covert” at all, says Applebaum, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

The “morally and philosophically ghastly” suggestion that a former KGB agent who presides over a corrupt and authoritarian regime in Russia is a better leader than the president of the United States ought to invite more condemnation than it has received, writes Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne.

He offers a few excerpts from a celebrated 1985 essay, “The Myth of Moral Equivalence,” by Jeane Kirkpatrick (right), President Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations.

“To destroy a society it is first necessary to delegitimize its basic institutions so as to detach the identifications and affections of its citizens from the institutions and authorities of the society marked for destruction.”

“An alliance among democracies is based on shared ideals. The process of delegitimization is, therefore, an absolutely ideal instrument for undermining an alliance, as well as for undermining a government. The NATO alliance among democracies simply cannot survive a widespread conviction among its members that there is no difference between the superpowers. It is not necessary to demonstrate that the Soviet Union is flawed, or deplorable. To destroy the alliance, it is only necessary to deprive the citizens of democratic societies of a sense of shared moral purpose which underlies common identifications and common efforts.”


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