You know the story. Malcolm is cheating on his wife, Charlotte. The signs of it accumulate but Charlotte has an opinion of Malcolm such that he just wouldn't do that sort of thing. So she finds a more benign way of explaining to herself the signs of errancy. Or a teenage boy is stealing money from his mother. It's only small amounts, but she could swear - repeatedly - that there should have been more in her purse than there is. She tells herself, now that she must have dropped some money while shopping, now that she probably spent more than she'd remembered. Or, living in a country where people periodically disappear without apparent explanation, Pierre tells himself that there must in fact be a good explanation; it can't be that the regime and its agents are engaging in political crime.
At work in many deceptions is an act of self-deception by the deceived.
However, let's try this. Simon and Ruth are talking to Jed about assisted suicide. Simon thinks it should be legalized, with appropriate safeguards, but Ruth is opposed to that on sanctity-of-life grounds. Telling himself that compassion for needless suffering is a strong reason in favour of assisted suicide, Jed participates in his own deception by Simon; Jed fails to see what Ruth was trying to make him aware of - that life actually is sacred. Or Marvin thinks he should be allowed to smoke when it doesn't harm other people, and Betty agrees with him; she colludes in Marvin's deception that smoking is no risk to his health.
It's not hard to understand the difference. The first three stories make sense, and the next two don't. And you can see why. The first three presuppose - they rest upon the assumption - that there is in each case an established, uncontroversial truth: Malcolm is cheating on his wife; the boy was stealing money from his mother; political 'disappearances' are taking place in that country. In the remaining pair of stories, though there are, to be sure, some relevant facts of the matter, it is not uncontroversially the case that one of the opposing points of view is true and the other not. It is, precisely, debatable whether or not assisted suicide can be justified. And, though smoking is indeed risky for Marvin's health, it is not unproblematically true that he shouldn't smoke. Liberals believe, widely, that we should be left free to harm ourselves if that is what we have decided, in the maturity of our faculties, to do.
To bring this all to the point, there is, in today's Times, proof of a quasi-clinical nature of there having been, and being, opponents of the Iraq war for whom only one view of the rights and wrongs of the issue was possible. It is, simply, true that the war was wrong. This judgement is embodied in a column by Ben Macintyre which models support for the war - from Clare Short, at least initially, from the cabinet, in the House of Commons (and therefore, one must presume, in the country at large) - on the type of stories of my first paragraph. '[D]eception', Macintyre says, 'can only succeed if the deceived party is willing, in some way, to be misled'; and the 'belief that war was necessary, justifiable' is treated by him as if there cannot have been more than one viable opinion on the matter. The war's wrongness was a truth just like Malcolm's adultery, the boy's theft and those political 'disappearances'.
It is worth noting that Ben Macintyre is not an ideologue of the calibre of a Seamus Milne. He is a journalist worth reading. He is not motivated, to the best of my knowledge, by apologetic impulses towards organizations, movements or regimes that can be credited, whether truly or falsely, with 'anti-imperialist' aims or hostility towards the United States. Macintyre gives every impression of being a serious person. So much the more telling is his column today - as a symptom of the dogmatic certainties of a section of liberal opinion over Iraq.
There were, of course, certain facts of the matter about the war, certain unambiguous truths, as there are about more or less anything. But the justificatory arguments on both sides appealed to a range, not only of facts, not only of projections of the likely consequences of one or another course of action, but also of moral and political principles - concerning the general justifications for war, the application of international law to this case, the force of international law, the demands of solidarity in the face of tyranny, the proper circumstances of humanitarian intervention - that do not map neatly on to any simple story about the occurrence of an act of adultery or theft or political kidnapping. But never mind all that, hey. The truth is just as we declare it to be. That has been the arrogance of anti-war groupthink in the last few years. In the mouth of any liberal it is a precious victory handed to the partisans of the one and only Party Line.
I don't mean to be gratuitously insulting but Macintyre's column belongs in the pages of the Guardian.