“What begin as recognized evils become justifiable or necessary evils before at last transmuting into positive virtues that brook no argument.
Thus, in the early decades of the republic, slavery was widely acknowledged as a corrupting evil and an affront to the principles of individual rights as set forth in the Declaration of Independence; this was recognized by none more clearly than prominent slaveholders themselves (Washington, Jefferson). By the 1850s the defenders of slavery were braying that slavery was a divinely ordered institution and the bulwark of liberty itself (“the association of the white and black races in the relation of master and slave is the appointed order of God, as set forth in the Bible, and constitutes the best social condition of both races, and the only principle of true republicanism,” declared a Southern clergyman in a widely circulated pamphlet published in 1851).
Likewise, there was no controversy for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries about the fact that large numbers of guns in the hands of urban saloon denizens, rowdies, wife beaters, and other assorted petty criminals and half-wits was a dangerous condition for civilized society. The NRA gun nuts evolved from saying “yes, but . . .” whenever a gun outrage or mass murder took place to their current uncompromising and sweeping assertion that guns are a positive good everywhere under every circumstance.
Accompanying this evolution to virtue is a portrayal of one’s opponents as the true evil; abolitionists were cast as defying God’s will and as moral hypocrites, even the mildest gun regulation proponents (those who dare to suggest that a license be required to carry a concealed weapon, or who want to keep schools and bars gun-free zones) are today denounced as un-American and enemies of liberty.
The best way to maintain a morally reprehensible position, it turns out, is with absolute moral certainty.”
– Stephen Budiansky, January 20, 2012