The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik, Obama and the Cruaders. Parsing faith, fanaticsm , liberalism, pluralism.
Bad acts may rise from good causes: faith may never be the enemy; fanaticism is always the enemy. But faith has always been the first seedbed of fanaticism. That’s why, when people commit acts of horrible cruelty for political purposes, we say that they’ve made a “religion” out of their politics, or have succumbed to a mad ideological dogma. Fanaticism is the belief that a single faith or ideology contains all the truth of the world, and that others should at best be tolerated. Liberalism is the belief that toleration is not enough, that an active, affirmative pluralism is essential to social sanity. Pluralism is the essence of liberalism—including the possibility of self-reproach for things that liberalism has done badly. America is not responsible for My Lai only to the degree that America renounces the self-righteous “exceptionalism” that put those murders in motion and then prevented those who caused them from being blamed. Excessive scruples—liberal guilt—are as sure a sign of sanity as excessive sanctimony is a sign of the opposite.
The President’s point turned out to be not just exactly right but profoundly right: no group holds the historical moral high ground, and no one ever will. But this is not because a moral high ground doesn’t exist. It’s because we’re all still climbing.