The Irony of Virtue: Ethics and American Power

The Irony of Virtue: Ethics and American Power

The Irony of Virtue: Ethics and American Power

The Irony of Virtue: Ethics and American Power


In this first-ever anthology of his most important work, Lefever takes a bold & lively march through the second half of the twentieth century. As an acute participant-observer who cares deeply about peace, freedom, & human dignity, Lefever became a neoconservative twenty years before Irving Kristol coined the term. For this volume, Lefever selected forty of his most influential essays from some 500 published pieces. They reveal his dramatic transformation from a liberal pacifist during World War II to a humane realist.


William E Buckley Jr.

The author has a story to tell, and he tells it vividly, modestly, engrossingly. Back then he was a religious pacifist. As he reflected on the challenges of the times he forsook that position and, to say it irreverently, carried God along with him. He decided that the Christian mandate required him to face problems as they existed. There was, for instance, the problem of the growing Soviet threat. of the Berlin Wall. of Cambodia and the bloodbath. These are events to deplore but also events against which to marshal the engines of foreign policy. Especially when such engines, like our own -- unlike those of any other power -- could be decisive in the struggle for peace and freedom.

So then, how should we be guided? Ernest Lefever, who calls himself a humane realist, does not go so far as to say that realism will take us to high roosts or usher in a new world order. President Reagan, acknowledging the author's contributions, many of them through the Ethics and Public Policy Center he established, nominated him to serve as assistant secretary of state for human rights, an office that could do much, quietly, to nudge history in more humane paths.

Despite his demonstrated credentials for the post, Lefever ran into solid opposition from the liberal media and their Senate counterparts. How could that body be asked to confirm the presidential choice of someone who had so eloquently and steadfastly insisted on the relevance of ethics in the formulation of policy? and who, like Jeane Kirkpatrick, had drawn the crucial moral and political distinctions between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes?

So he stayed on with his center. I acknowledge as one of the most exciting intellectual and political moments of my life serving Mr. Lefever on the occasion when he brought the two giants together for the first and only time. Not until that day in November 1988 had Dr. Andrei Sakharov met Dr. Edward Teller.

I was studiously quiet on the issue that divided the Russian and the American but now take the liberty of reflecting on the encounter. the meeting of the two men responsible for the development of the hydrogen bomb in the two great societies locked in mortal combat was freighted . . .

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