savage compassion – or what’s wrong with progressives


July 25, 2009 by juniorannex

Quite a few self identified leftists are distancing themselves from the recent and disgusting habit of many of their more ‘progressive’ brethren of aligning themselves alongside the islamosfacists.   Most notably Bernard-Henri Levy  (identifying reflexive anti-Americanism as only one of the hatreds at the heart of the new left) and Nick Cohen (describing his disappointment with the apologists of islamic terror);  and now Yacov Ben Moshe has produced a short essay which summarises most eloquently the reasons why, while I often feel that I hold classically liberal values, I cannot under any circumstances find common cause with the progressives amongst us:  

Savage Compassion:

The progressive demands that we believe his claim that he serves a higher truth and a loftier goal.  He tries to force us to accept the idea that his ideas are unassailably good. And, even if they fail to be good, his virtuous pretentions are supposed to indemnify him from guilt or shame.  Even if he make mistakes, behaves badly or cause harm, virtue will save him from blame.  His “caring and good intentions” are supposed to trump the fact that he cares about the wrong things in the wrong way and his intentions are a humbug. Virtue is more than a sham- it is the prim, ruthless face of coercion. It is aimed outward, at others, as a self-justification; an accusation and, above all, a yearning for Utopia.


Utopia is an attack on the individual.  There has never been a Utopia that could survive for long without crushing the individual.  That is why “selflessness” is considered a key element of virtue.  Hannah Arendt foresaw the destructiveness of progressive virtue many years ago.  In her work On Revolution she wrote:

“Virtue has indeed been equated with selflessness ever since Robespierre preached a virtue that was borrowed from Rousseau, and it is the equation which has put, as it were, its indelible stamp on the revolutionary man and his innermost conviction that the value of a policy may be gauged by the extent to which it will contradict all particular interests, and that the value of a man may be judged by the extent to which he acts against his own interest and against his own will.”











4 thoughts on “savage compassion – or what’s wrong with progressives

  1. Thanks for the kind mention- I was a little surprised that you called my essay short. I am always getting suggestions that I shorten them up. Our cultural attention span is compressing by the day so it is always nice to see that someone took the time and effort.
    Then I played the video above and I was even more reassured – We may in fact be doomed but at least the crops are doing well! Nice find.

  2. juniorannex says:

    short – ish?

    at any rate i have printed out and tacked to the cube wall your essay alongside jeanne kirkpatrick’s “dictatorships and double standards”.

  3. Thanks for reminding me about JK’s fine essay. I just went and re-read it. I am honored to be in her company…

  4. juniorannex says:

    I suppose the time is coming when all ideas will have been compressed to sound bites and images easily digested in ten seconds or less. Who knows, perhaps one day the leader of the free world may be elected on a platform of images, catch phrases and entirely devoid of substance. Oh wait – he already has been – HOPE and CHANGE!

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Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron'scruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. C.S. Lewis


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