Andrew Sullivan quotes an article from Henry Farrell and Martha Finnemore in Foreign Affairs magazine (the article is subscription only, so I can’t read the context and there’s no point in linking to it) making the argument that national hypocrisy is necessary, at least within some limits:
Of course, the United States is far from the only hypocrite in international politics. But the United States’ hypocrisy matters more than that of other countries. That’s because most of the world today lives within an order that the United States built, one that is both underwritten by US power and legitimated by liberal ideas. … This system needs the lubricating oil of hypocrisy to keep its gears turning. To ensure that the world order continues to be seen as legitimate, US officials must regularly promote and claim fealty to its core liberal principles; the United States cannot impose its hegemony through force alone. But as the recent leaks have shown, Washington is also unable to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets. This disconnect creates the risk that other states might decide that the US-led order is fundamentally illegitimate.
Sullivan seems to agree pretty strongly with this:
Agreed. And this is one of liberalism’s great weak spots. It cannot abide hypocrisy while never fully understanding how, in a fallen world, it is a key lubricant for almost all human society. As someone once wrote, hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. It reflects the simple fact that we cannot live up to the ideals we often have. So they keep some things on the down-low. This is true of all of us, including governments. Most marriages, for example, could not survive total transparency. The manifold husbands staying up late to jack off on the computer downstairs do not want to tell their wives, because it would hurt the marriage they actually want to keep. But they cannot help their sex drive, the power of novelty in sexual attraction, or the astonishingly easy access to porn morning, noon and night. So discretion in these cases – which can be a form of hypocrisy – is the norm.
In other words, hypocrisy – of the mildest kind – makes marriage possible. It makes any relationship – business or otherwise – possible. It makes statecraft particularly possible in ways Glenn Greenwald, I’m afraid, has not fully accepted. I’m not defending unnecessary secrecy or lack of democratic accountability and a certain degree of transparency. I’m defending a more pragmatic approach to how we actually live our lives in society and how some level of hypocrisy makes that possible. Hypocrisy is also a two-way street. Are we supposed to believe that the aggrieved Angela Merkel does not have her own espionage capacities, does not spy on other countries, does not scoop up intelligence? Of course not. Yet we respect her complaints as a necessary form of hypocrisy.
Because fully exposing that hypocrisy, however noble and exhilarating, takes a toll on how the world is governed, and how countries are defended.
This is pretty disappointing coming from the guy who has relentlessly, and rightly, hammered the government over torture and demanded the prosecution of Bush officials who approved it. And I’m not sure what the marriage analogy is supposed to be analogous too, exactly. Should the government be allowed to cover up its illegal spying from the public, for example, because the government just can’t help it? Or argue that the government’s “discretion” protects its citizens from an uncomfortable truth? Sorry, I cannot buy that at all.
Would it really be so difficult to live up to our stated ideals? Must our actions conflict with our often-declared principles so consistently? I don’t see an argument here from Farrell, Finnemore or Sullivan, only an unsubstantiated declaration that hypocrisy is necessary.