Seth’s central point:
I do not suggest that Sakharov, Longstreet, or Rommel were evil men, but they did serve bad causes. I do not say that the good they did (or attempted to do) during their lives is made void by the bad. But I do say it is wrong to suggest that the bad is outweighed by the good. Cf. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) (“I do not say [God forbid], I do not say that the virtues of such men were to be taken as a balance to their crimes; but they were some corrective to their effects.” (language in square brackets is Burke’s)). Such a moral quantification of right and wrong is not possible by mere mortals, and those who attempt such a calculus only callous our consciences.
The notion of weighing, as Seth cites it, is a metaphor that deserves more scrutiny than it gets from many of the people who casually use it. It begs the question of who has standing to do the weighing. I don’t think it’s human beings, certainly not the humans alive today who didn’t themselves pay much of the price of, in this case, Ireland’s WW2 neutrality. The people who paid aren’t around to speak for themselves. It’s hubris for us to make moral calculations, to weigh, to forgive, in their names. Better to say, so-and-so did these good things and these bad things, and leave it at that.
(See the previous Chicago Boyz post here.)