Jonah Goldberg

Rather than wade into the science and economics of global warming yet again, let us instead dissipate the hot air of the liberal obsession with the moral equivalent of war.

In brief: There is no such thing as the moral equivalent of war. Whatever war is, it is war. The good that comes from war is unique to war. The evil that comes from war is unique to war, too. Even natural disasters that require citizens to drop what they are doing to help those in need cannot truly be compared to war because natural disasters are never evil in intent. (If they were, we would call tornados "acts of Satan," not "acts of God.")

Ever since philosopher William James coined the phrase "moral equivalent of war," self-described progressives have sought to galvanize the masses for collective purposes. They have loved the idea of war-without-war precisely because they want a public that follows in lockstep and individuals who will sacrifice their personal ambitions for the "greater good." This is what John Dewey, James' disciple, called the "social benefits of war." Dewey, later a famous pacifist, supported WWI because he believed it would usher in an age of collectivism and crush laissez-faire capitalism.

The yearning for a moral equivalent of war is an understandable desire, perhaps even noble in its intent. But it is not democratic. It is fundamentally authoritarian, which might explain why so many environmentalists envy China's ability to ban plastic bags without reference to a vote or a court or anything other than the will of the China's technocratic rulers. Indeed, the authors of "The Climate Change Challenge and the Failure of Democracy" openly question whether the crisis of climate change should render liberal democracy obsolete. For some it seems the moral equivalent of war requires the moral equivalent of a police state.

This is the atmosphere Time is helping to poison, with pollutants far worse than mere greenhouse gasses.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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