Category Archives: moral enthusiasm

The guilty-if-accused school of jurisprudence

George Pell at court: an overdue victory for the rule of law

Detention without trial, guilt without proof

It is shocking, writes Dalrymple, that the case against Cardinal Pell was seriously investigated in the absence of evidence, and even more shocking that it was brought to trial and ended in conviction. Of course,

it is terrible for someone who has suffered abuse to not be believed. But it is also terrible for an innocent man to be wrongly accused, even if he is eventually exonerated. It is part of the unavoidable tragic dimension of life that both are possible: not for nothing is the prohibition of bearing false witness one of the Ten Commandments.

He warns of the danger of surrendering legal administration

to the political and emotional pressure of those who believe that certain categories of crime are so heinous that normal safeguards against false conviction must be abrogated. Better that ninety-nine innocent men be convicted than one guilty man be acquitted, especially when he already belongs to a category of persons whom one dislikes.

No one is guilty merely because he is accused

Dalrymple notes that campuses,

with their censorship and de-platforming, have demonstrated how shallow is the commitment of some people to the notion of freedom of speech and thought. Likewise, the Pell case has illustrated how shallowly implanted is the commitment of some people to the principle that a man is innocent until proved guilty, once moral enthusiasm for a cause takes over.

This,

be it remembered, takes place in polities in which the principles of freedom of speech and the rule of law are supposed to be deeply rooted. Things are often more fragile than one supposes, including the commitment to basic rights of the accused.

Associations in defence of victims of abuse are said to have been angered by the overturning of the Cardinal’s conviction. Dalrymple asks:

Would they prefer detention without trial, and guilt without proof? Perhaps if it were under their direction.

There are fears for the safety of the Cardinal,

so certain are his calumniators of the rectitude of their outrage.

Blair: dishonesty and dishonour

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Lack of character plus moral grandiosity, a lethal combination

The grandiose are found out by reality, and left squirming

Tony Blair, writes Dalrymple, exhibits

the most frivolous earnestness. He is given to gushes of cheap moral enthusiasm — cheap, that is, for him, not for others who have to pay for it.

Blair has been

exposed as the frog in Æsop’s fable that puffs and puffs himself up in an attempt to prove himself as big as the cow, until he explodes. But we cannot blame him entirely. He is one of us, the new Britons. The least we can do is to put some teddy-bears by the railings outside his home to help him come to terms with his humiliation.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 09.50.34Britain, Dalrymple reminds us, is

of very slight account, with a population increasingly unable to distinguish the trivial from the important and the virtual from the real. It has over several decades undergone profound social and psychological changes, of which Blair is both a symptom and an accelerating cause.

When moral grandiosity meets lack of character,

no good can result. Grandiosity and lack of character are two sides of the same coin. When someone believes that he is born with Original Virtue, he comes to believe that all his opinions, all his ends and all his actions are pure, moral and right. He is able to change from moment to moment, and to act in a completely unscrupulous manner. He may act in contradictory ways and change his opinions to their very opposites, but the purity of motive remains when everything else has disappeared.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 09.19.39Such a person

can have no honour, for honour implies a loyalty to a fixed standard, even or especially when it is not in that person’s immediate or instrumental interest to uphold it.

The lack of character

derives also from the elevation of sensibility over sense and of personal opinion over personal probity. Purity of sentiment and opinion become the whole of virtue, and the louder one expresses it the better the person is; morality is not a discipline and an abjuration but an opportunity to shine in front of one’s peers.

Screen Shot 2016-07-09 at 10.23.23Needless to say,

purity of sentiment and opinion are not incompatible with our old and trusted friend, the thirst for power, a combination which naturally enough results in a bullying sentimentality and a self-righteous lack of scruple.

The desire to be

both policeman and lady almoner, General Patton and Gandhi, Rambo and Elizabeth Fry, is not conducive to clear thinking or clear policy.

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