I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already, by Roger L. Simon, New York: Encounter Books, June 14, 2016 (296 pages, $25.99, Hardback)
Why do few people change their political views “even in the face of literally earthshaking world events” like 9/11? Roger Simon’s answer to that question is “moral narcissism.” His book explains the nature and consequences of this malady that was largely spawned by members of the “Least Great Generation” – folks, including the author (1943), born during or shortly before World War Two. These are radical wannabes that include John Lennon (1940), Tom Hayden (1939), Abbie Hoffman (1936), and Gloria Steinem (1934).
An illustration of moral narcissism not employed by Simon is the Seinfeld character Elaine – a woman whose sense of moral worth is derived from opinions that coincide with fashionable progressivism (Greenpeace activism, contempt for pro-lifers, contempt for her boyfriend’s “Jesus fish,” contempt for Christian music radio presets, contempt for women wearing fur coats). Despite a largely self-centered, shallow, and promiscuous life, Elaine is convinced she’s a “good humanitarian” and proves it by self-consciously complimenting her waitress on “doing a great job.”
The examples provided by Simon, unfortunately, aren’t fictional and have had disastrous, perhaps fatal, consequences for the nation – fashionable anti-capitalist Marxism (espoused by thousands of well compensated professors as well as Pope Francis); a nostalgia for racism that stokes racial hatred by inventing micro-aggressions that supposedly explain and thus excuse black criminality; climate change ideologues who declare the issue settled (a ridiculously anti-scientific assertion) and who label anyone who dissents from the media-enforced consensus (even MIT’s premier climatologist, Richard Lindzen) a “denier.”
Radical environmentalism is another arena where moral narcissism flourishes – a movement whose DDT ban, spawned in 1962 by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, led to hundreds of thousands of malaria deaths in Africa. Then there is the non-judgmental, all-religions-are-equal view of Islam that blames Western imperialism for causing terrorism – a pat-oneself-on-the-back brand of “tolerance” that ignores or chooses to remain ignorant of Islam’s bloody, expansionist history prior to the era of Western imperialism.
The primary goal of moral narcissism is not “to do” good, but rather “to feel” good about oneself for having “the right opinion” – i.e. opinions promulgated by those who deem themselves superior by virtue of their “enlightened” views. These moral mandarins consist primarily of left-wing politicians, leftist academicians, the mainstream media, and almost all the entertainment industry. As with Seinfeld‘s Elaine, it isn’t how one lives one’s life that counts; it’s the political and moral slogans one mouths. Indeed, the moral stature gained from being politically au courant serves as absolution for what used to count as personal moral failings – an arena where non-judgmentalism is demanded by political correctness, at least with respect to ideological soul mates.
Sympathy for Fidel Castro boosts one’s moral standing, since Castro supposedly believes in a utopian socialist state where folks contribute according to their abilities and receive according to their needs. Never mind that the dictator lives “a lifestyle, including yachts and private islands, that would be the envy of George Soros, while his citizens suffer in penury under constant surveillance, the specter of imprisonment looming.” Identifying with various victim groups and spouting politically correct mantras likewise “allows Hillary Clinton to go from undergraduate Alinskyite to Chappaqua plutocrat with a net worth in the tens of millions without missing a beat.” The destructive consequences of leftist policies for minorities aren’t what matter. What matters is that Hillary and the current narcissist-in-chief feel morally superior to rubes in flyover country.
Just when you think Simon is becoming tiresome (as he does when repeating polling statistics about gay marriage), he provides a critical insight in chapter 24 that should have been placed near the book’s beginning: “Moral narcissism … is a way of explaining away evil, blaming all ills on social causes and therefore pushing back the necessity of examining the human soul or one’s own, of not seeing the possible darkness within[.] … [M]oral narcissism obscures reality and therefore threatens democracy. That not everything is perfectible, that there is evil in the world, and that evil is likely to remain forever.” In short, self-scrutiny is replaced with verbal orthodoxies promulgated by an American nomenklatura eager to secure moral status, financial perquisites, and a stream of personal indulgences by endlessly repeating politically correct slogans that are overwhelmingly destructive when applied to the real world – slogans that promise financial and personal retribution for “bigoted” dissenters.
One major mistake in Simon’s analysis is his wrongheaded O’Reillyish attempt to appear “fair and balanced” by briefly pointing to moral narcissism on the right – as if opposition to gay marriage or to abortion on demand were in the same league as vacuous shibboleths like refusing to acknowledge radical Islamic terrorism. Far from being rewarded for the former views, believers are ostracized and punished by the dominant P.C. culture. Moreover, no serious Christian or Jew would use these moral views to evade self-scrutiny. Simon’s brief foray into narcissistic equivalence has the effect of putting serious, self-sacrificial morality in the same category as a self-deluding political ruse that rejects any morality existing outside the self – as if principled abolitionists would be biased “moral narcissists” not very different from slaveholders who mouthed the slogan “popular sovereignty.”
This same confusion infects Simon’s final chapter, which presents his self-proclaimed “bias” as a neocon-libertarian, someone who favors intervention abroad and libertarian lassitude at home. The latter part of that equation does, indeed, represent a degree of “moral narcissism” on the author’s part, allowing him a small measure of expiation from colleagues in the fields of literature and entertainment for the grievous sin of rejecting, for the most part, the self-inflating worldview they embrace with a frantic death grip.
Despite these lapses, Simon’s book is well worth the time taken to understand the head-snapping moral contradictions that permeate the worlds of George Soros (chapter 21!), Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.