Roger Alford Needs to Look Up the Word “Hypocrisy”

It appears that some people do not understand the meaning of “hypocrisy” or arguing by false analogy.

Apparently,  Roger Alford at Opinio Juris is among them.

In a post entitled “The Hypocrisy of Julian Assange“, Alford provides a string of quotes, sans commentaires, to presumably demonstrate the inconsistent positions taken by Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

TO WIT: The disclosure of diplomatic cables relating to alleged breaches of international law by various governments is equivalent to disclosure of confidential police files relating to Mr. Assange’s alleged sexual crimes.

While Alford provides links, he does not offer any analysis; leaving the reader to accept the imputation: a “res ipsa loquitur” if you will. The original sourced quote by Mr. Assange’s Swedish defense lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, is actually from a story by The Sunday Times (Australian) reporter, David Leppard, entitled “Lawyers cry foul over leak of Julian Assange sex-case papers“, who writes,

“Incriminating police files were published in the British newspaper that has used him as its source for hundreds of leaked US embassy cables.

In a move that surprised many of Mr Assange’s closest supporters on Saturday, The Guardian newspaper published previously unseen police documents that accused Mr Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: “Not only had it been the world’s worst screw, it had also been violent.”

Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange’s Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. “It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position,” he told a colleague.”

It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position. I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing – trying to make Julian look bad.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “hypocrisy” as:

hypocrisy(hyp|oc¦risy) Pronunciation:/hɪˈpɒkrɪsi/

noun (plural hypocrisies)

[mass noun] the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.

The Online Etymology Dictionary traces the origin of the word “hypocrisy” as:

early 13c., from O.Fr. ypocrisie, from L.L. hypocrisis, from Gk. hypokrisis “acting on the stage, pretense,” from hypokrinesthai “play a part, pretend,” also “answer,” from hypo- “under” (see sub-) + middle voice of krinein “to sift, decide” (see crisis). The sense evolution is from “separate gradually” to “answer” to “answer a fellow actor on stage” to “play a part.” Hypocrisy is the art of affecting qualities for the purpose of pretending to an undeserved virtue. Because individuals and institutions and societies most often live down to the suspicions about them, hypocrisy and its accompanying equivocations underpin the conduct of life. Imagine how frightful truth unvarnished would be. [Benjamin F. Martin, “France in 1938,” 2005]

Samuel Johnson railed against the improper use of the charge of “hypocrisy” in No. 14. Rambler. 145:

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

“Not practicing what you preach” is not hypocrisy.  A hypocrite is someone who pretends to be virtuous when they are not. Assange has not suggested that he is a martyr, a saint, or Jesus 2.0. He may well be aloof, imperious, narcissistic. I don’t know and I don’t care. The issue is not who Julian Assange is, but rather what Julian Assange did or did not do back in Sweden this past summer.

A false analogy does not a hypocrite make. The proper analogy is not between Wikileaks and Assange, but rather Wikileaks and the Swedish prosecutor’s office:

If some system A (Wikileaks) has some function X (transparency) and also some function Y (upholding the rule of law), and some system B (Swedish prosecutor’s office) has a function X′ corresponding to A’s (Wikileaks)  function X (transparency), then the system B should also have a function Y′ , that is analogous to A’s function Y (upholding the rule of law).

There is a fundamental difference between Wikileaks publishing military secrets obtained from a third party and Assange’s lawyers objecting to disclosure of the unredacted (and untranslated) excerpts of the sexual assault complaints to the media. This is particularly egregious in light of the fact that  Assange has not yet been formally charged in either Sweden or the U.K., while out on bail awaiting his extradition hearing.

The right to a fair hearing is a fundamental right only where rule of law still governs: a court of law, not a court of public opinion.

P.S. Ditto for Kate Rinsema at Holy Kaw!: Pot meets kettle: Assange lawyers bemoan sex case leaks. Hypocrisy is the vaseline of social intercourse; Assange is accused of a different form of intercourse.

2 Responses to “Roger Alford Needs to Look Up the Word “Hypocrisy””

  1. Roger Alford Says:

    Antonin,

    Thanks for you post. I have responded to your concerns at Opinio Juris. http://opiniojuris.org/2010/12/20/the-hypocrisy-of-julian-assange/#comments.

    Roger Alford

  2. Antonin I. Pribetic Says:

    Roger,

    I have posted a reply comment at Opinio Juris, but having read your latest reply to Scott Greenfield’s post, I can only shake my head in bewilderment.

    Antonin I. Pribetic

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