Ignoble Lies

I happened upon a curious critique of Steven Pinker’s seminal Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Jennifer Mitzen accepts Pinker’s main theses that (a) violence has declined and (b) the West led the way thanks to reason, the Enlightenment, and liberalism. In short, she agrees that the basic message of the book is true.

But still she dislikes the book. So, what’s her problem? She thinks it will make the reader feel “smug comfort” and “indifference” to others (p. 525). Pinker’s book makes “us feel good about ourselves and distant from the causes and victims of violence” (p. 528).

In short, it may be true, but nevertheless it’s a bad book because it makes us feel good.

Well, heaven forbid that the West should dare to feel good about itself! Of course not! We must be made to feel bad about ourselves! And never mind about small matters like the truth!

Once upon a time it was considered noble to tell lies that made us feel positive about ourselves. Notoriously, the Straussians defended this. But now the plan is to tell lies that make us feel bad about ourselves – ignoble lies. That is some weird inverted ultra-Straussianism.

Of course, this only applies to the West. Only Westerners should be lied to in order to make themselves feel bad.

It is perhaps noteworthy that these opinions are published not in some ideological magazine but in a learned journal of the American Political Science Association.


Jennifer Mitzen, The Irony of Pinkerism Perspectives on Politics 11:2 (June 2013) 525-528 DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S1537592713001114 Published online: 21 May 2013


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