Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Quote of the Day (Stephen L. Carter, on the Difference Between Honesty and Integrity)

“The first point to understand about the difference between honesty and integrity is that a person may be entirely honest without ever engaging in the hard work of discernment that integrity requires: she may tell us quite truthfully what she believes without ever taking the time to figure out whether what she believes is good and right and true. The problem may be as simple as someone's foolishly saying something that hurts a friend's feelings; a few moments of thought would have revealed the likelihood of the hurt and the lack of necessity for the comment. Or the problem may be more complex, as when a man who was raised from birth in a society that preaches racism states his belief in one race's inferiority as a fact, without ever really considering that perhaps this deeply held view is wrong. Certainly the racist is being honest—he is telling us what he actually thinks—but his honesty does not add up to integrity.”— Yale Univ. law professor, legal- and social-policy writer, columnist, and best-selling novelist Stephen L. Carter, “The Insufficiency of Honesty,” The Atlantic Monthly, February 1996

In this last election, many voters mistook rudeness for candor. Events of the last four years have demonstrated the magnitude of this mistake—a confusion in perception that could have been avoided if Stephen L. Carter’s distinction of a quarter-century ago had been kept in mind.

But with all due respect to this incisive thinker, I don’t think that this exhausts all that can be said about the word “integrity.” Many supporters of the now-departing White House regime were right to find Hillary Clinton—and, to a significantly greater extent, husband Bill—deficient in integrity.

It all goes back to the Latin root of the word, integer, meaning “whole” or “complete.” Even more than perpetrating a series of unnecessary lies and incomplete versions of the truth, “Billary” had, in their determination to “compartmentalize” their private personas from their public duties, presented one vision of themselves in opposition to another.

In one sense, their detractors in the electorate understandably wanted an end to the couple’s artifice and broken personas. Where they went wrong was failing to ponder in the Republican candidate four years ago the lack of mental and moral hard work needed for integrity cited by Carter—and in failing to calculate how multitudinous and malignant that opponent’s deceptions were compared with Ms. Clinton.

(The image of Stephen L. Carter accompanying this post was taken at the 2015 Library of Congress National Book Festival, Sept. 5, 2015, by fourandsixty.)

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