"[C]onscience," agonizes Hamlet in Act III, Scene I, "does make cowards of us all; / And thus the native hue of resolution / Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought, / And enterprises of great pith and moment / With this regard their currents turn awry, / And lose the name of action."
The tragedy of Hamlet is the tragedy of overweening self-criticism. "If Hamlet is sick," writes theater critic Walter Kerr in his masterpiece, "Tragedy and Comedy," "he is sick with a passion for perfection." Hamlet waits for the perfect moment to kill Claudius, says Kerr, and so misses his opportunity. He wants all women perfect, and so abandons Ophelia to her fate. He wants all friends as trustworthy as Horatio, and so leaves himself vulnerable to Claudius and Laertes, losing his life and his throne.
Self-criticism is valuable and necessary. Without it, we could not correct the mistakes of the past. But reflexive and exclusive self-criticism -- obsession with purity of heart and purity of act at the expense of right action -- is dangerous. While we purify ourselves, our enemies plot against us. Mortal offense cannot be met with self-reflection.
The American left refuses to acknowledge this basic truth. So does its propaganda arm in Hollywood.
Since the Vietnam War, Hollywood has unleashed a torrent of films targeting the American government. Hollywood believes, to quote cartoonist Walt Kelly, that we have met the enemy and he is us. That sentiment has gained renewed momentum since the advent of the war in Iraq.
The latest incarnation of this view is "The Bourne Ultimatum," featuring Matt Damon in the title role. The movie is tremendously entertaining -- the action sequences are some of the best ever filmed -- but the message is familiar: The CIA is corrupt and evil. CIA higher-ups, played by character actors like Scott Glenn and David Strathairn, pontificate about the need for more authority while blithely ordering the murder of the rogue hero. Bourne, meanwhile, tries to contact the good apple in the bad barrel, Pamela Landy (Joan Allen), in order to discover his own background. In order for Bourne to succeed, he will have to take down much of the bankrupt CIA infrastructure.