Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Root of the Liberal Moral Problem

HT to Terry on this one.

David Schindler essays on the root-cause of the Liberal moral problem.  He finds it crystallized in John Locke.  He quotes Manent:

The logic to which liberalism tends is to dismiss [the] moral content [of its Christian roots] and replace [the] “objective” morality, held as valid by the different Christian churches, by a formal morality of “reciprocity” or “respect” by all of the “individuality” of all. To choose a crucial illustration, it is impossible for a society claiming to be in the Christian tradition to admit that the right to abortion be written into law, and it is impossible for a liberal society to refuse members this right.

Here's the underlying Locke thesis:

The origin of a man’s rights thus lies here, in the capacity to provide for his own support and preservation, and to govern his actions, within the bounds of nature. But what is meant by “within the bounds of nature,” and
how does this help clarify the criterion in terms of which we can adjudicate in a principled way conflicts that arise between different claims of rights? The heart of Locke’s answer to this question is expressed as follows: “Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself . . . , so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not into competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice to an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.”6 Basic to human action is thus the unfettered capacity to choose and to exercise power. Human action in its original state, as witnessed to above all by Adam, is a matter of in-dependence...

In the balance of the essay, Schindler demonstrates that Locke's position is incongruent with the Judaeo-Christian tradition, which regards God as immanent (acting in) human history.  At the risk of over-simplification, Locke's thesis makes God into a Watchmaker.

Further, Locke's definition is one of 'negative rights,' rather than 'positive obligations.'  It's a minimalism which does not find an imperative to seek truth and goodness; rather, it's a "live and let live" theory which, when implemented in judicial (positive) law, leads to 'minimal' societies.


jimspice said...

Ya know, a good number of the Founders subscribed to the watchmaker idea, i.e. they were Deists?

Dad29 said...



jimspice said...

They must be in Hell.