Three Simple Truths


Three statements I often hear and read, especially from leftist sources, need brief clarification. All three are essentially about the same vital issue.

Don't be judgmental

The first is, "Don't be judgmental." This declares that the source of the reprimand has taken no position on an issue, is above partisanship, and enjoys an "open mind." The object of the rebuff, it is implied, is a bigot. In fact, all moral decisions are judgmental; neutrality is impossible. How, for example, do you explain great evils, such as slavery or the holocaust, to a child or discuss these topics in a college classroom? Even the attempt to be neutral expresses a point of view. Ignoring the topics altogether makes a judgmental statement as well, however subtle. A society that could not judge right from wrong (and no such society has ever existed) could not function and would be easy prey for those less bashful about their beliefs. A person who cannot judge people and issues is incapable of thought. Someone who can judge and says he doesn't is either extremely naïve or a hypocrite. Of course, it is good to try to hear both sides of an argument, to weigh matters rationally, and to use discretion in pronouncing judgments. But judgmental we are, and must be.

You can't impose your morality on others

Secondly, "You can't impose your morality on others." The whole history of the human race is about imposing moral values on others. In the first place, it's an essential role of parents. Children with wholly permissive parents frequently become extraordinarily difficult and unhappy adults. Moreover, all social structures have required behavior, imposing principles on all participants. When leftists in this country attack the public role of churches, they are trying to limit the authority and credibility of religion, i.e. impose their secular morality on the religious majority. When conservative Christians attempt to limit or outlaw abortion on demand, they are attempting not only to save lives but to impose their principles on the majority who think otherwise. One of the plainest lessons from history is that much of life is a struggle between rival sets of moral principles, even when the specific issues are officially defined as economic, political, military, and medical. The French Revolution and the Terri Schiavo case were basically clashes about morality. The history of taxation in America is a story about clashing moral values, and the winners in the struggle most assuredly impose their beliefs on all of us.

You can't legislate morality

Thirdly, "You can't legislate morality." Of course you can, and do. Virtually all laws are reflections of moral principles. From capital punishment to traffic legislation, lawmakers are in the business of transforming moral values into laws. This is true for all varieties of republics, democracies, and tyrannies. By the way, this simple truth is an argument in this country for having legislators who represent all walks of life, not just attorneys. Lawyers can frame the wording of the laws, but the ideas behind them can and should be weighed by a wide variety of citizens. Wouldn't it be interesting to see advocates of racial and sexual quotas try to impose such a limit on lawyers in Congress? That would be a moral statement in itself, and of the highest rank. Yes, I'm being judgmental.


Thomas C. Reeves. “Three Simple Truths.” The History Blog.

Reprinted with permission of the author, Thomas C. Reeves.


Thomas C. Reeves is a fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and the author of several books, including A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy, The Empty Church : Does Organized Religion Matter Anymore and America's Bishop, the biography of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.

Copyright © 2005 Thomas C. Reeves

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