Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On 'Legislating Morality'

Patrick Deneen:

...Seeking to "legislate morality" is to acknowledge that the base presuppositions of a culture have made it resistant to any such imposition. A culture that has robust forms of learned or habituated restraint as a matter of cultural transmission does not need to "legislate" such morality, or - if it does - it serves as a punctuating norm, not an external imposition. We don't experience the law forbidding murder as a form of "legislated morality," largely because the norm of not murdering is widely accepted. Law is only experienced as such an imposition when the prevailing norm has been eviscerated or does not exist. Morality can be legally sanctioned, but not created whole cloth out of law. For this reason, efforts to "legislate morality" either in the cultural or economic realms are currently doomed to failure. What is needed is a change in culture, not our legal code.

There is a great deal more worth reading at the link. Deneen shows that the Left and the Right are both erroneous in their presuppositions about the phrase 'legislating morality,' by making the "AHA!" observation that generally, the phrase is used in media res.

For the Left, quibbles about 'morality' are all about sex; for the Right, they are all about money.

It's the culture, stupid!

Can it be changed?

...It is not likely. So long as our operating paradigm is the belief that law and morality are externally generated impositions, there will be no stopping the dissolution of any forms of social and cultural constraint. Our cultural wasteland has the same sources as our economic catastrophe: both are the result of a culture that has proven incapable of withstanding the corrosive solvent of liberal assumptions about human nature. Begin with a belief in human beings as naturally autonomous and free, and after a time - not immediately, but eventually - that belief will act as a corrosive agent that will destroy all forms of culturally transmitted and embedded restraints. Any such restraints will be experienced not as "natural" features of our human landscape - as constitutive parts of what is is to be a person living in this culture - but as arbitrary impositions on my natural freedom.

Think about it. Does ANYONE take seriously the maxim of Franklin that 'a penny saved is a penny earned'?



1 comment:

Steve Burri said...

John Adams: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”