You almost never find anyone, whether it’s in a weapons plant, or planning agency, or in corporate management, or almost anywhere, who says, ‘I’m really a bad guy, and I just want to do things that benefit myself and my friends.’
Or you get respected moralists like Reinhold Niebuhr, who was once called ‘the theologian of the establishment’. And the reason is because he presented a framework which, essentially, justified just about anything they wanted to do. His thesis is dressed up in long words and so on (it’s what you do if you’re an intellectual). But, what it came down to is that, ‘Even if you try to do good, evil’s going to come out of it; that’s the paradox of grace’. And that’s wonderful for war criminals. ‘We try to do good but evil necessarily comes out of it.’ And it’s influential. So, I don’t think that people in decision-making positions are lying when they describe themselves as benevolent. Or people working on more advanced nuclear weapons. Ask them what they’re doing, they’ll say: ‘We’re trying to preserve the peace of the world.’ People who are devising military strategies that are massacring people, they’ll say, ‘Well, that’s the cost you have to pay for freedom and justice’, and so on.
I’d like to add that, whatever one thinks of Burke and Niebuhr and the rest, the question isn’t what their philosophy is really like, were they great thinkers, etc. The question is what (possibly dumbed-down) aspect of their philosophy is justifying whatever kookie thing David Brooks thinks the country should do.
It’s the same with religion — I read the New Testament once and I still don’t see evidence the Baby Jesus hates teh ghey so much.
Update. To be clear, I’m not seconding Chomsky’s claims about what Niebuhr actually says, to the extent that he’s making such claims (I can’t tell for sure if he is). I’m just saying that, based on what I have read about how conservative thinkers use Niebuhr, Chomsky is describing their reasoning very well.