The United States' commitment to ending human rights abuses is often accused of being hypocritical. Such accusations are sometimes dismissed by pointing out how hypocrisy is an inextricable part of politics. In Ordinary Vices, Judith Shklar claims that hypocrisy is a by-product of liberal commitments. In this paper, I reevaluate the relationship between hypocrisy and the liberal commitment to preventing human rights abuses. To see hypocrisy as an unqualified vice or as simply a consequence of the realities of politics can promote political paralysis and cynicism, respectively. A balanced approach to hypocrisy is needed: one that considers to the degree possible the reasons for which political actors have violated their espoused principles, the context in which these decisions took place, and the effects of the hypocritical actions in order to determine whether a hypocritical act should be condemned. In order to demonstrate what is wrong with hypocrisy from the perspective of liberal political commitments, I consider an instance of political hypocrisy with detrimental effects on international law. In particular, I examine the hypocrisy of the justifications given by U.S. officials for NATO's military intervention in Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999. Through this example, I show how political hypocrisy can undercut the commitment to human rights and that censuring political hypocrisy can be a necessary step for reinvigorating political commitments.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science