Friday, November 4, 2016

Liberals and Morality

Although they seek to ban morality … from law and public discourse, liberals face a dilemma whenever competing claims to the good emerge.  Affirming one group’s liberty claim, or claim to “equal” treatment, often inflicts harm on others. The decision to grasp one horn of this dilemma, to privilege one group’s interests over another, inevitably expresses a particular and non-neutral understanding of morality, despite anyone’s efforts to call it something else.

Leaving behind the bonds of history and tradition animating morality does not produce freedom because a new morality emerges in its place, raising new demands. We are seeing the consequences of these processes in our public life. Instead of allowing competing truth claims to be aired, we see “safe zones” emerging to protect some from the “harm” of discomfort. The putative right to define one’s own existence and meaning, projected as fundamental by a majority of wise heads on the Supreme Court, apparently now extends to various forms of sexual expression, even at the expense of those who have different moral commitments. And these kinds of decisions that prefer one group’s version of rights over others (including even those explicitly enumerated in the Constitution, such as religious liberty) are expanding. Problems compound as the formulation of rights requires an affirmative duty of governmental and social support, which requires the coercion of others to achieve the good for some.

Government is intruding into the private sphere in ways that would have been unthinkable in American life a generation ago. No one predicted that transgender bathroom access would become a condition for withholding federal funds or that Catholic religious orders would be required to pay for contraception and sex transformation surgeries in their healthcare plans. Political tendencies toward incremental change and social dialogue, familiar to Burkean conservatives, have been abandoned in favor of bold new movements that are detached from constraints of tradition. Judge Posner recently remarked that “I see absolutely no value to a judge of spending decades, years, months, weeks, day, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution, the history of its enactment, its amendments, and its implementation.” He seeks to avoid the threat of “allowing the dead to bury the living,” but he offers no basis for the living to discern the propriety of these changes apart from their own preferences and beliefs. Apparently, the wisdom of the ages resides in those who wear the robes, who will become our rulers.

Edward A. Morse, “Unmasking Liberalism.”

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