FIn a 1985 New York Times Magazine article “True Virtue”, Joseph Epstein coined the term “virtucrats” to describe “those people who are extremely confident about their own virtue and whose spectacular confidence nicely feeds their general feeling of superiority. These folks have a superiority complex; they are completely convinced of their own moral superiority … empowered by the unfaltering sense of their own virtue.”
In December, I wrote a piece on how the progressive left processes information to defend its woke agenda, but in the end must encounter the truth. To illustrate, I identified two maxims the left often employs: confirmation bias, and simple answers to complicated questions. Epstein’s description of “virtucrats” sounds remarkably like today’s cultural “elite” – the uber educated who inhabit the progressive left.
For these folks, humility is a sin. Self-reflection is a weakness. Sanctimonious virtue will always trump the law, truth and statistics. As Epstein puts it, “The virtucrat is certain he has virtue on his side … the virtue that comes from the certainty that one’s own opinions are the only correct opinions.”
Epstein’s observations have given me maxim number 3: “People will cling to the most irrational views and/or actions when grounded by an immovable belief in their own moral superiority.”
Professor of Public Policy at the University of Southern California Elizabeth Currid-Halkett writes that rather than financial success, this “aspirational class” strives to be “better humans.” “Though often too busy to be happy, they feel good about themselves. The inequality they see everywhere is never their fault.”
These progressive themes are observed as “virtue signaling”: the self-serving public promotion of one’s perceived goodness or righteousness. As noted with the first two maxims, a virtucrat’s signaling is a source of self-delusion and a form of disinformation.
When those with alternative views eviscerate progressive arguments with logic, facts and statistics, virtucrats will accuse the challenger of being heartless, and therefore, morally inferior. “You may be correct, but for all the wrong reasons, so I’m a better person than you!” With nothing to sustain their worldviews, virtucrats fabricate their own sense of sanctimonious virtue – an ideology that trumps all earthly reasoning.
Virtucrats are everywhere and some occupy high-level positions in government. The ignominious fall of the FBI’s top executives warns of the hazards of virtucrats in power and provides an illuminating example of how the woke culture elevates its protagonists.
Former FBI Director James Comey had the temerity to usurp the Attorney General’s authority by proclaiming that “no reasonable prosecutor” would prosecute Hillary Clinton for storing classified documents on a private email server.
Asserting they were his personal property, Comey cheekily leaked official FBI memos of his meetings with then-President Trump to the New York Times.
In addition to violating FBI and DOJ policies, Director Comey blithely responded with ‘don’t remember, don’t recall, don’t know’ 245 times in his testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.
Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was fired for lying repeatedly under oath to federal investigators. The DOJ Inspector General (IG) referred the matter to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution. The result: Justice exonerates McCabe, pays his legal fees and purges all records of his termination.
Most virtucrats see themselves as righteous victims and martyrs because it’s always someone else’s fault. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on people who engage in virtue signaling concluded that “psychopathic, manipulative, and narcissistic people are more frequent signalers of “virtuous victimhood.”
On his vindication from the DOJ, McCabe’s stated, “It sends a message that if you stand up for what you think is right, and you do the right thing, and you honor your obligations to this organization and the Constitution, that you too could be personally targeted …” The lack of self-awareness is astounding.
Are Comey and McCabe simply employing an elaborate narcissistic scam, capitalizing on the gullibility of admirers? Or, are they in their own private Idaho of self-denial, no different than a common criminal who rationalizes the pain and suffering he’s visited on so many, unable to withstand the shame and humiliation that mere mortals endure for committing contemptible acts? In other words, is it just that they can’t own being in the wrong?
If it’s their own grand delusion, Comey and McCabe have garnered the adulation of fellow virtucrats who, in their own act of self-deception, overlook the pair’s transgressions, buy their books and exalt them as exemplary leaders and martyrs in pursuit of a higher purpose.
As Epstein observed nearly 40 years ago, “Disagree with someone on the right and he is likely to think you obtuse, wrong, foolish, a dope. Disagree with someone on the left and he is more likely to think you selfish, a sell-out, insensitive, possibly evil. Smugness tends to be the reigning sin of the right; self-righteousness that of the left.”
For his piety and sacrifice, McCabe is now Senior Law Enforcement Analyst at CNN. In truth, there is no vindication from the IG’s conclusions of McCabe’s habitual lying (lack of candor, in FBI parlance).
Given his boundless hubris and self-promotion, Comey’s memoir is aptly titled, “A Higher Loyalty”, as it seems that Mr. Comey’s higher loyalty is only to himself.
For Virtucrats, like far-left progressives, reality will reveal itself when someone finally declares that emperors Comey and McCabe “have no clothes.”
Recently, America commemorated the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His “I have a dream” speech is one of the most uplifting speeches ever delivered. However, the progressive movement has largely rejected King’s legacy and vision of a colorblind nation and instead promoted racial division and grievance over the content of one’s character.
Consider Epstein’s concept of elitist virtucrats and the prescience of King’s essay “The Purpose of Education” written in 1947, when King was just 18.
“A great majority of the so-called educated people do not think logically and scientifically. Even the press, the classroom, the platform, and the pulpit in many instances do not give us objective and unbiased truths. We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education. If we are not careful, our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts. Be careful, “brethren!” Be careful, teachers!”
Epstein offers a closing reminder, “Let us, then, know them as virtucrats, and know, too, that their most serious function lies in helping to make very clear what true virtue isn’t.”
Mark D. Ferbrache served as an FBI special agent for 27 years specializing in white-collar criminal investigations. He later worked in the bureau’s National Security Division and CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and held diplomatic assignments in Prague, London and Bucharest, as well as field office assignments in Seattle, New York and the FBI Headquarters in Washington. He is currently employed as a contractor in the U.S. intelligence community.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.