Why Traditionalists Should Prefer Libertines to Hypocrites
By Bryan Caplan
I’ve repeatedly encountered the following social conservative meme, most recently in an argument over the Mark Sanford affair:
We’ve got to stop acting like hypocrites are the worst thing in the world. At least hypocrites have moral standards; they’re just not living up to them. All the war on hypocrisy really accomplishes is to give people a strong incentive to become libertines, people who openly flout traditional moral standards. What could be worse?
I could argue that traditional moral standards are a mixed bag of truth and error. But I don’t have to. Even if traditional moral standards were infallibly correct, ardent social conservatives should still prefer libertines to hypocrites.
Why? Because they can and usually do avoid close social relations with libertines! A conservative Christian needn’t worry that she will accidentally disgrace herself by marrying a libertine, because the libertine has the decency to make his intentions known.
In contrast, it’s hard to avoid close social relations with hypocritical traditionalists. Since they pretend to share socially conservative values, they worm their way into your life and your family. Then like the hypocrites they are, they shirk, lie, and adulter, bringing shame to their spouses, children, and extended families.
As an opponent of nationalism in all its forms, I share neither the revulsion people feel against “traitors,” nor the grudging respect people feel for the loyal soldiers of enemy nations. But for traditionalists’ evaluation of libertines versus hypocrites, the nationalist model makes sense. Libertines are like the loyal soldiers of enemy nations; you may not like them, but at least you know what you’re dealing with. Hypocrites, in contrast, are like traitors in your midst – and the wise social conservative will hold them in the highest contempt.
HT: An argument with John Nye, my favorite social conservative.
P.S. For the best movie about hypocrisy you’re likely to see, try Harakiri.