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Mar 11

Written by: Diana West
Tuesday, March 11, 2008 12:22 PM 

Roger Kimball puts it a very good word for hypocrisy--probably the most misunderstood and ambiguous "vice." Here is an excerpt:

When the story of Bill Clinton's liaison with Monica Lewinsky became public, there was plenty of condemnation, but almost nobody talked about hypocrisy: lying, yes; moral turpitude, by all means; but not hypocrisy. That is because hypocrisy is essentially an aristocratic failing. It extols "the best" even if the best is generally unattainable.

This indeed is one reason that hypocrisy, among all the vices, is regarded with particular disdain and horror by egaliatarians. A hypocrite publicly upholds noble values and standards of behavior even though he knows he may sometimes fall short of the conduct they require. He does this because he recognizes that those values are worthy of support and commendation even if he cannot always embody them.

La Rochefoucauld's observation that "hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue" will doubtless be trotted out early and often when in the case of Eliot Spitzer and the girls. It is a famous, though often misinterpreted, observation. The epigram has generally been presented as meaning--in the words of one journalist--that "the loudest moralizers may be most suspect." But I believe that La Rochefoucauld meant to suggest that hypocrisy was an implicit acknowledgment of the claims of virtue. Otherwise, why bother with dissimulation?

There are, as I say, many reasons to dislike Eliot Spitzer. I, too, hope he goes away, and quickly. The music critic Tim Page, referring to an unpleasant and pretentious college president, observed that he was the sort of chap that gave "pseudo-intellectuality a bad name." I feel similarly about Eliot Spitzer and hypocrisy. His behavior gives that ambiguous vice a bad name. What's wrong with Eliot Spitzer is not so much that he praised good things and did bad ones. Most of the items he championed in his various moral campaigns were, when you looked behind the rhetoric, of dubious value. Really, he was a power-hungry, regulation-crazed functionary whose chief sin was to harness the power of the state to destroy his enemies and aggrandize himself. Had he been a little more hypocritical he might have been less dangerous.



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