In 1970, The Review of Politics published my article, “Intellectual and Moral Anarchy in American Society.” The thrust of the article was this: American higher education was permeated by the doctrine of moral or cultural relativism—a doctrine that thrives only in democracies.
An American Senator had the article published in the Congressional Record. He saw that moral relativism had penetrated decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in the all-important area of freedom of expression, where it could readily undermine the moral fabric of American society. More and more university graduates, so many of whom become journalists, diplomats, and elected officials—opinion-makers and policy-makers—were being influenced by a doctrine according to which “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
That vulgarism was erasing the distinction between good and evil or the ability to make moral judgments. Recall how President Ronald Reagan was ridiculed by American “intellectuals” in the 1980s when he referred to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire.” Two decades later President George W. Bush was mocked—especially by “sophisticated” Europeans—when he spoke of an “Axis of Evil” after Muslim suicide bombers destroyed the World Trade Center.
Such has been the corrosive influence of moral relativism (or moral equivalence) that Democratic Congressman John Dingell said: “I don’t take sides for or against Hezbollah.” (Never mind that Hezbollah killed 241 American servicemen in Beirut in 1983.)
But unlike Mr. Dingell, many Americans are taking sides—for Hezbollah, and against Israel, even though Israel is the victim of Hezbollah’s unprovoked aggression. This means that moral relativism has degenerated into moral reversal!
I have seen this moral reversal taking place in Israeli universities! For example, in his textbook The Middle East, Israeli political scientist Yair Evron teaches: “Only by avoiding questions of right and wrong and also by limiting oneself to an analysis of patterns of behavior and strategies in conflict, can we approach this complex [Arab-Israel] conflict not in any emotional or apologetic way but scientifically and analytically.” For academics to preserve their “scientific” credentials, they must adopt Congressman Dingell’s morally neutral attitude toward that conflict.
But wait! Evron’s book was published in 1973. To appreciate the pernicious impact of his relativism, come with me to the year 2003, and see what has happened to many Israeli students.
Caroline B. Glick, the stellar political analyst of The Jerusalem Post, addressed some 150 political science students at Tel Aviv University, where she spoke of her experience as an embedded reporter with the U.S. Army during the Iraq war. Any person not corrupted by moral relativism would favor, as she did, the U.S. over the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Yet the general attitude of her audience was expressed by a student who asked, “Who are you to make moral judgments?” Now ponder this exchange between Ms. Glick and a student who spoke with a heavy Russian accent:
Student: “How can you say that democracy is better than dictatorial rule?”
Glick: “Because it is better to be free than to be a slave.”
Student: “How can you support America when the U.S. is a totalitarian state?”
Glick: “Did you learn that in Russia?”
Student: “No, here.”
Glick: “Here at Tel Aviv University?”
Student: “Yes, that is what my professors say.”
Glick spoke at five liberal, i.e., secular Israeli universities. She learned that all are dominated by moral relativists who indoctrinate their students and thereby undermine their ability to make moral judgments regarding good and evil.
One of those students may have been Omri Sharon. Thus, in an interview with Ha’aretz published on April 13, 2001—while homicide bombers were reducing Jews to body parts—Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that his son Omri had taught him “not to see things in black and white.”
This taint of relativism was more obvious in the writings of the late Hebrew University professor Y. Harkabi, the mentor of Shimon Peres. Harkabi once served as the head of Israel Military Intelligence; he was a Middle East expert. Perhaps more significant, he once headed Israel’s War College. Harkabi was not only a self-declared moral relativist; he advocated a Palestinian state.
Relativism has also penetrated Israel’s Supreme Court. Chief Justice Aharon Barak nullified a law permitting the Film Censorship Board to ban pornographic movies by ruling that nothing can actually be declared pornography, as one man’s pornography is another man’s art (just like “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”).
Consistent therewith, the Barak-led court quashed the indictment of Arab Knesset Member Talib a-Sana, who, in an interview on Abu-Dhabi TV, praised a suicide bombing attack in Israel and called for more of the same. This decision—and many similar ones can be cited—is a manifestation of moral relativism.
Now, insofar as relativism has influenced Israel’s ruling elites, it will have eroded, to that extent, not only their abhorrence of evil, but also their vigilence toward Israel’s genocidal enemies. The Oslo or Israel-PLO Agreement, which led six Israeli prime ministers to release and arm thousands of Arab terrorists, is clearly indicative of a failure on the part of Israel’s ruling elites take evil seriously.
Given this attitude, Israel’s ruling elites would tend to underestimate the enemy. The conceit of relativism would prevent them from taking the necessary steps—political as well as military—to deter or defeat the enemy’s hostile designs.
Relativism is deadly.