How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking. The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4:14) comes true.I've bemoaned the relativism epidemic before. Kevin starts by reviewing the various meanings suggested for "good," "just" or "moral" in different streams of political thought (utilitarianism, consequentialism, Kantian). Then, he laments:
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.
Why, then, are liberals so much cooler than conservatives? If both hold absolutist moral positions, and both regard it as morally obligatory to adopt and follow the principles of the right moral theory, and both hold it as equally morally significant when correct moral actions are or are not taken, why are liberals so much more welcoming, and make fewer oppressive rules and fewer personal judgments of others? The answer, again, is the emphasis in liberalism – largely inherited from consequentialist moral thinkers – on room for personal expressions of value and self-interest. . .Plainly, Kevin should meet some cool conservatives; there's plenty. And, encouragingly, Kevin acknowledges the current disputes of left and right are clashes of moral systems not, as some lefties insist, between morality and liberty. Further, Kevin's correct that liberalism employs morality to about the same extent as any other political viewpoint; albeit with different sets of morals. Still, Kevin's blinkered concept of "personal" (and his related narrowing of "harm") stacks the deck, turning tolerance into tautology and thus erroneously compelling his pro-liberal outcome.
Thus, “relativism” has no role in moral discourse. Complaints by conservatives about “relativism” are invariably complaints about tolerance. The only “relativist” aspect of consequentialism, or modern liberalism, is that it regards matters of personal preference as matters of complete personal authority. But in respect of its action-guiding moral principles, liberalism is as absolutist as any other moral perspective (i.e., the morally right thing absolutely must be done).
For Kevin, the advantage of liberalism is its abstention from the "personal." He defines personal, as does Bentham, by distinguishing what he implies is its opposite: "action-guiding moral principles." Kevin favors, and imagines liberalism protects, a cone of silence around activities confined to the self without effect on (or "harm" to) others. (Kevin nods toward broader definitions of morality, especially by John Stuart Mill, that included societal values, but concludes such "consequentialism" is impractical.)
Trading the terms of philosophy for the language of faith, Kevin's approach simplifies "sin" -- a concept not necessarily tied to faith (as I use it here, at least) -- to the "golden rule" and nothing more. This doctrine, common to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and most other beliefs, says it's immoral to cause harm to others. Fine as it goes, but incomplete.
Kevin's approach necessarily excludes four related concepts central to the morality of many. First, he equates harm with objection. Action not provoking "stop" or "ouch" is ok, thus erasing "embryos or vegetative patients" (and most animals) from moral consideration. Second, even were there objections, Kevin validates only certain sorts of harm. Because (I assume) he sees homosexuality as strictly "personal," Kevin would not credit, say, parents concerned that gay teachers might harm their child.
Third, and related to the first point, Kevin's morality authorizes actions without identifiable individual victims, barring contemplation of broader or longer-term deterioration of civilization. Finally, he ignores any self-directed harm.
To be sure, the above factors are difficult and disputed, but should not be so easily discarded. Judaism, Christianity and Islam each condemn self-damaging acts that diminish an individual's ability to worship God. Even excluding religion from the moral calculus, "victimless" crimes may undermine society and/or the rule of law. All other things being equal, two-parent households benefit all citizens; similarly, children bearing children is anything but ideal. That doesn't mean Kevin's opposites would outlaw divorce or jail teenagers -- conservatives favor limits on state power -- but it doesn't follow that such consequences can or should be ignored. It's easy to say "legalize drugs!;" far harder to deal with junkies.
Indeed, impermissibly narrowing "personal" and "harm" classes Kevin with the dogmatic secularists previously considered. Kevin no doubt knows that many suffer from what he considers private, and that privacy doesn't confer immunity.1 I suspect he, like many on the left, dismiss and belittle views and conclusions of the faithful:
The left demonizes religion and assumes political views informed by faith are ignorant. Just the phrase "right-wing" or "Christian conservative" are enough to inspire dozens of hillbilly jokes. Elites believe liberal philosophy is more "evolved" than conservatism--[and] is contemptuous of people and ideas tied to religious values, implicitly denying that conservative values are rational.Tolerance is a lighter yoke when one excludes adversaries from the start--and tolerate only those with whom one already agrees.
Moreover, despite their claims, leftists wouldn't end intolerance--they'd merely swap one prohibition for another, as libertarian Jesse Walker observed:
The dominant species of liberal doesn't just want to maintain the old taboos; it wants to introduce some new ones. For many Americans, the Democrats are the party that hates their guns, cigarettes, and fatty foods (which is worse: to rename a french fry or to take it away?); that wants to impose speed limits on near-abandoned highways; that wants to tell local schools what they can or can't teach.What neutral principle "tolerates" a public school approving homosexuality in sex-ed but prohibits another eight states away teaching abstinence?
In fact, Kevin repeats the error of liberalism's pet philosopher John Rawls:
But for the pious Muslim, orthodox Jew, or traditional Christian, as well as for the typical natural law theorist (religious or secular), abortion and same-sex marriage are going to count as paradigms, not only of immorality, but of injustice: injustice in the first case because abortion is regarded by such people as murder, and injustice in the second case because the stability of the traditional family is regarded by them as the foundation of any just social order (libertarian or otherwise) and they typically regard same-sex marriage as a threat to such stability. So for one group, justice requires allowing abortion and/or same-sex marriage, and for the other, justice requires forbidding them. It follows that whether or not "political libertarianism" allows for abortion and same-sex marriage, it is inevitably going to be a conception which is far from neutral between competing comprehensive doctrines.But if tolerance has meaning beyond the tautological, it necessarily includes a reciprocal obligation on liberals to understand the strongly held but opposite views of non-liberals, i.e., tolerating opinions of opponents. Even if based on bible passage or backwoods preacher. By denying the political legitimacy of Congressional bills admittedly influenced by doctrine, Kevin turns tolerance into surrender, one-sided and perpetual--while ensuring liberals never have to say they're sorry.
This issue would confuse America's founders. The authors of the Constitution never intended to end dispute nor imagined policy unanimity. Instead, they crafted a representative democracy of limited Federal powers, allocating most functions to the states (or the people themselves), reflecting the people's will via periodic elections. For America's architects, tolerance (as applied to a society, as opposed to an individual; and apart from religious tolerance under the "free exercise" clause) is procedural; a narrow, but necessary virtue within election losers. Constitutional tolerance is each citizen's responsibility to accept a vote's outcome today, knowing another chance is just two, four or six years away.
Lefties like Kevin elevate liberal tolerance to a universal panacea. That's because they've twisted tolerance into a substantive and one-sided demand that opponents accept and respect results not compelled by Constitutional text with which they disagree. That's fine when the policy's tested via a vote, but thoroughly un-democratic when mandated by faulty logic and enforced by political correctness.
In sum, Hijacking the syllogism with conclusionary definitions of "personal" and "harm," Kevin turns "tolerance" into Three Card Monte. Today's tolerance is merely a liberal deus ex machina justifying perpetual victory while eliding any duty to persuade -- or even reverse -- the majority. Though claiming to represent ordinary citizens, lefties like Kevin distrust popular wisdom, side step the vote and substitute their judgment for the will of the electorate. True, Kevin's path is simple and quick. But the Constitution contains no special shortcut for the lazy or impatient.
Whatever its merits on a one-to-one basis, democracies don't govern via virtue. Rather, assuming no contrary Constitututional provision, government power is expressed through bills vetted and voted favorably by a majority of legislators and by the President--each of whom is subject to recall or reelection. Such provisions may be popular, but need not be virtuous. As an example, it's neither fair nor virtuous that residents of the District of Columbia have no voting Congressmen or Senator. However, it's lawful -- because the Constitution classes DC as a District and Congressmen and Senators are elected by state citizens. Further without a universally accepted boundary between virtue and vice, tolerance and surrender and harm and personal, then attracting and persuading supporting majorities, Kevin's proposed approach would trigger 52 (Federal govt, 50 states, plus DC) complicated and protracted legislative debates. Absent that, tolerance isn't enforceable.
If liberals, including Kevin, favor change, let them abandon their tautological and un-democratic slight-of-hand. Fight like an American: put tolerance to a vote.
MaxedOutMama makes two great points. First, she ties liberal logic to relativism. When judgment is stunted or scorned by multi-culti political correctness, the supposedly broad minded contract tunnel vision. In consequence, as I've previously observed, lefties lost the ability and incentive to distinguish good from evil. No wonder they see Iraq as a phony war.
Moreover, M_O_M magnificently compresses my four points to one--the left abandoned negative limits on government power (the structure of America's Bill of Rights) and switched to Soviet style positive guarantees. Such "positive right" schemes invariably over promise and disappoint, and so accentuate the negative:
The extreme left in the US is locked into a perfectionist mindset that works by focusing upon eliminating only negative results. But assessing only negative results of actions or beliefs is a very twisted way to form a public ethos, because it eliminates profoundly positive elements from our public life and has nothing else to offer in its place. . ._______________
It cannot teach compassion and kindness, so it teaches supreme dedication to a cause with a corresponding hatred for all those who don't support the cause or who are not willing to be fanatic in the support of it. It can't teach admiration for good and purposefully lived lives, so it teaches that one must not criticize anyone - except, of course, for the enemy, which are those who do live and advocate living self-chosen good and purposeful lives of self-constraint and self-sacrifice. It can't teach a meaningful sexual morality, so it requires with a desperate fanaticism that no one teach such an ethos and substitutes an awed admiration for the sexual practices of the very few. In the end, it can't permit individual liberty and choice, so it advocates desperately for collective freedoms, such as the right to shelter, the right to a well-paying job, etc.
The moonbat left trumpets its dedication to liberty, while in practice making common cause with dictators and mass murders. . . [I]n love with repression and with violence[,] it sees this as proof of dedication to the cause - because there is no fundamental cause, and so the only proof of dedication to the non-existent cause is fanaticism and absolutism in service of something that is willing to reprove the US.
1 The founders were familiar with John Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration:
But some may ask: "What if the magistrate should enjoin anything by his authority that appears unlawful to the conscience of a private person?" I answer that, if government be faithfully administered and the counsels of the magistrates be indeed directed to the public good, this will seldom happen. But if, perhaps, it do so fall out, I say, that such a private person is to abstain from the action that he judges unlawful, and he is to undergo the punishment which it is not unlawful for him to bear. For the private judgement of any person concerning a law enacted in political matters, for the public good, does not take away the obligation of that law, nor deserve a dispensation.