Model Citizen

Why We Honor the Dishonorable

Episode Summary

Here's a question we rarely explicitly ask: Who should we honor, celebrate, and remember ... and why? What's the point of it? Scores of statues to confederate soldiers, slaveowners, and other dubious but celebrated characters have been recently toppled from their pedestals. Was this a good idea? Should we worry that we'll forget our history? This week's guest, Jacob T. Levy, argues that the greater risk is that we won't go far enough. We might need to topple a few more statues. We discuss Levy's two-part essay "Honoring the Dishonorable," one on the living and one on the dead. Both turn on an intriguing idea from Adam Smith: that we humans are saddled with a deep-seated bias toward over-praise and over-honor and over-identify with the great, powerful, and famous, even if they're objectively vile. Levy ingeniously applies Smith's idea to question of statue toppling, but also to the question of what to do about notable and notorious Trump administration cronies and collaborators after they return to private life. In addition, we talk about why we both stopped worrying and started to love democracy. We also dig into the question of why we should believe that old dead guys like Adam Smith could be good guides to human nature and the nature of moral truth? Jacob T. Levy is Tomlinson Professor of Political Theory at McGill University. He is the author of "The Multiculturalism of Fear" and "Rationalism, Pluralism, and Freedom." He's a Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center and the Institute for Humane Studies.