Why we should all be hypocrites

International Criminal Court
Source: International Criminal Court

Written for Kosovo Online by Srdjan Garcevic, founder of The Nutshell Times

One of the easiest ways to increase the word count of articles, especially on politics in the Balkans, is to write about the hypocrisy of global liberalism, aka "the rules-based international order." Doing that also regularly gets you shares and likes and a feeling of moral superiority.

You can imagine the unease my colleagues and I felt when Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator of the FT, suggested in his remarkable column that the "rules-based international order" should be downplayed and that the "free world", led by the USA, should more readily embrace opportunism (while pursuing a bit of lawfare, on the side) to secure its victory.

Unfortunately, the timing suggests this is more of a reactive than a proactive statement. The old order is hamstrung by two major crises: the Russian-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza wars, which have split the global community in the way that the Dreyfus affair split French society in the early 20th century into various irreconcilable camps refusing to speak to each other.
In these circumstances, keeping appearances seems untenable for all sides, as they all keep revealing that their moral code is more flexible and self-interested than usual.

This makes me long for the days when it was easy to call out hypocrisy, as then, at least, one assumed that there was a common moral code.

More importantly, when accusations of hypocrisy have some ring to them, you can also pick the way you want to call others out to maximise your own comfort and moral superiority.

Your friends and people you like who have, for example, built careers in lofty-sounding fields—such as peace building and reconciliation—where their job is to be super sensitive to any infractions of one side and very numb to all infractions of the other side, you can say they are merely misinformed or trapped by the system, or at worst a bit opportunist and small-minded.
For those you dislike, and incredibly those more powerful and richer than you, you can blame them for being hypocrites beyond repair, who are using the lofty language of "human rights", "decolonisation", and "oppression" to get what they want.

Nevertheless, all those cases assume we all speak and understand roughly the exact language of rights and wrongs with the same ideals. You even appreciate you accept hypocrisy if it is a “noble lie” that keeps the society together.

For example, one of the most rousing Serbian epics, Banović Strahinja, which tells the story of a knight jilted by his wife for his foe, used to end with him taking vengeance on her. This brutal ending was changed during the Ottoman times to promote pro-social tolerance by saying that the titular character forgave his paramour and was celebrated for his grace. After all, we all have to keep changing things to allow them to stay the same (or at least stable), as Giuseppe Tommasi di Lampedusa famously wrote.

After all, what happens when accusations of hypocrisy cease to exist?

An understating that we are all constantly driven by selfish aims, no matter how well disguised and rationalised, with all alliances and bonds subject to revision if one side is merely inconvenienced. More practically, there is conflict - as Hobbes put it - nature red in tooth and claw.

That is, of course, one of the points of Rachman’s article. However, it is not apparent that articles like these, which say the quiet part out loud – namely that there is no actual order - are helping, as they lay bare that the side of the "rules-based international order" is neither willing to accept what it used to be preaching nor is willing to state its vision for the world. What is the free world anyway after everything we have seen since 2020? Can it keep on rocking – even if it tries to accept its duplicity mockingly?