A really excellent piece from Blake Smith on Judith Shklar’s 1989 essay, “The Liberalism Of Fear“.
Everywhere around us, people are acting cruelly in the name of eradicating physical harm and arbitrary power. Anyone working in a university, cultural institution, or large corporation today has spent recent weeks reading emails, attending meetings, and participating in conversations that are theaters of moral cruelty. White people in such contexts are asked—or required—to admit that they are culpable, that they lack ethical and epistemic authority, that they must listen to and heed the demands of victims of racism. They humiliate themselves, literally kneeling in propitiation.
Shklar found such acts of self-debasement no less cruel and terrifying than the violence that they are supposedly meant to resist. Healthy minded people, she urged, do not want to suffer in this way—nor do they want to attain power and self-respect at the cost of presenting themselves as a “model of moral victimhood.”
We seem to be in danger of forgetting the lessons history offers about overlooking cruelty just because it is being pitted against the cruel or behaving unjustly in an attempt to overthrow injustice.