Blair, Antinomianism, and American Moral Exceptionalism
Geoffrey Wheatcroft has an interesting article in The Atlantic this month on The Tragedy of Tony Blair. Unfortunately it's not online, but there is an interview with him which covers some of the same ground.
One of the most interesting bits in the main article talks about Blair's constant hypocrisy - he "evinces strong morality in principle but a tendency toward notable amorality in practice". One way of explaining this is to say that Blair is a Manichaean and a consequentialist - he sees the world in black and white terms, and believes that the ends justify the means. But Wheatcroft goes further - he thinks that Blair isn't just a Manichaean, but an Antinomian:
The quaint sixteenth century heretics who took that name believed that "to the pure all things are pure," so if you were of the elect, you could eat, drink and merrily fornicate in the certainty of salvation.
Very often Blair is like that - not in the eating and so forth, but in his belief that his inner virtue justifies whatever means he chooses to employ.
Hence the lies, the spin, the "dodgy dossier" - though not because Blair is part of some obscure sixteenth-century heresy, but rather because of his utmost faith that the sun shines out of his own arse.
This sort of faith in one's own supreme goodness is also seen in the Americans - except the results are rather more dire. The belief in American moral exceptionalism, that America can do no wrong precisely because it is America, mirrors the Antinomian doctrine - what matters is not actions, but inner virtue. So, sponsoring coups against democraticly elected governments, running death squads, violating international human rights standards, the mass-killing of civilians - none of it matters, because America is (by definition) "the good guys". OTOH, we are yet to see whether this sense of exceptionalism covers torture and rape. The great hope of the Abu Ghraib scandal is that Americans will look at themselves and what their government is doing, and say "no more". The great despair is that that old belief in American exceptionalism will kick in, and they'll say "so what?" To the pure, all things are pure...