Saturday, June 19, 2010

QotD: Legislating morality edition...

The business of governments, one might think, is to supply the framework of law within which we may pursue happiness on our own account. Instead, we are constantly being summoned to reform ourselves. Debt, intemperance, and incompetence in rearing our children are no doubt regrettable, but they are vices, and left alone, they will soon lead to the pain that corrects. Life is a better teacher of virtue than politicians, and most sensible governments in the past left moral faults to the churches. But democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century means receiving a stream of improving “messages” from politicians. Some may forgive these intrusions because they are so well intentioned. Who would defend prejudice, debt, or excessive drinking? The point, however, is that our rulers have no business telling us how to live. They are tiresome enough in their exercise of authority—they are intolerable when they mount the pulpit. Nor should we be in any doubt that nationalizing the moral life is the first step towards totalitarianism.

We might perhaps be more tolerant of rulers turning preachers if they were moral giants. But what citizen looks at the government today thinking how wise and virtuous it is?

The whole thing is a worthwhile read, even if it does take some chewing. Recommend.

(H/T to Western Rifle Shooters Association.)


Hypnagogue said...

"... the first step towards totalitarianism."

First step? Folks, we are up 50 flights of stairs and shimmying up the flagpole.

Bubblehead Les. said...

To quote from the Master:
"Political tags- such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth-are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort."
Robert A. Heinlein,"Time Enough for Love", 1973

Montie said...


You were right. An excellent piece, but it did take some time to digest all that it had to offer.

The sentiments put forth are right in line with what I have had floating around in my head for some time, but did not have the ability to express.

Anonymous said...

Simple and obvious truths, both from your link and the Heinlein quote that Bobblehead so aptly posted.

The shocker? They may be simple, but apparently not so obvious to many. The prattlings of a well-trained college eurokid on recent posts here at vftp are a little unnerving because they reflect what I think is a pretty prevalant attitude among our "allies" as to thoughts towards the USA and towards the future of the world and how it should function.

And as I've said in those threads, it's an attitude that is shared by about half the folks here, plus and thanks to about all of the academic, media, entertainment, and political types.

But I hope -and at the same time am afraid- that the other half will not accept so sheepishly the usurpation of their self-determination. Comparisons such as Tam's to recent rumblings in Greece and elsewhere might seem farfetched. They ain't.


Anonymous said...

Whoops. Bubblehead. Sorry, Les.

Anonymous said...

"Debt, intemperance, and incompetence in rearing our children are no doubt regrettable, but they are vices, and left alone, they will soon lead to the pain that corrects."

I agree with many of the sentiments here, but calling incompetence in rearing our children a vice that will correct itself though growing pains deserves another look. I wonder how many here believe that parents own their children like they own their debt or bad habits? How many here think I should be allowed to leave a 2 year old in a hot car for hours on end? Or lock an 8 yr old in a closet all day? Kids grow up and become everyones problem if they are ruined early.

This is not a call to government raising children, its recognition that they are ALL our children. As such there are some basic rules regarding them that we all agree on, and if some don't, then I feel pretty comfortable saying some vulgar things to them. Children are like natural resources, there is some level of basic protection that everyone (acting through the one medium that could in any way work, the government) agrees should be in place to protect them.

Now if someone here can offer a workable method of protecting kiddos, without needing the governments authority, that would be very useful

Anonymous said...

Ahem, I should point out one thing, before one of the very intelligent readers or the inciteful woman whose blog this is does. I do admit that the prior post does contain one fallacy. The quoted material notes incompetence in rearing children. This may reach all the way to negligence or worse, but does not necessarily go that far. I was too passionate about making my point. For that I apologize.

Moron who can't spell said...

Crap, I should refrain from posting at all. Insightful. Have a good weekend.

Desertrat said...

Anonymous, this "protection for children" thing is of fairly recent vintage. It arose due to the abdication of a sense of responsibility in raising one's kids. IMO, it pretty much arose during the Hippie era. Approximately; that's when responsibity in general seemed to head down the tubes.

Vacuums aren't allowed to exist, whether in nature or society. If individuals won't exercise responsibility, government will step in.

Mr.Wolf said...

I'm not an American. I have no personal axe to grind when I say that America is an extraordinary place. An extraordinary concept. Unique in the history of the world.
This isn't a fan letter, so I won't wax lyrical for fifteen pages. If you know anything of your own history; if you have traveled, or researched life in other countries, you know how lucky you are, how great is your heritage.
I think that the U.S.A. is about to show the world, once again, what the human spirit can achieve.
Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Anon: Insightful, inciteful.

Either way.

Whether she's offering up some insight or stirring up some incite, you can't go wrong with Tams.


kishnevi said...

persnickety historical corrective:
and most sensible governments in the past left moral faults to the churches

is not quite correct. Unless you want to say that sensible governments did not in general exist until the 20th century--a valid argument, but I don't think he meant that here.
Be it as it may, most government in the past were quite happy to legislate morality, even when, as it was through most of European history, the church was not effectively part of government. Not legislating morality is in fact a late 20th century innovation, so perhaps we should be thankful to those hippies for one thing at least.
What has changed is that the ability of government to actually enforce those laws is much greater than it ever was.

Gregg said...

A couple of things.

1) Here in the U.S., unlike in any other country on the face of the planet, we are not ruled. We do not have rulers, in fact we really don't even have leaders. We have REPRESENTATIVES. This is an important distinction that many people these days seem to be missing. I am not beholden to whichever cretin currently inhabits a particular governmental job. They are in actuality beholden to me. That's what the bloody contract says.

As far as the Church having been uninvolved in politics in much of Western Europe, what history books is kishnevi reading? To the best of my recollection the "Church" has been intensely tied into the political structure of every European nation until relatively recently. In fact the primary step toward teh .gov not legislating morality is enshrined in an 18th century document. As I recall it goes something like:" Congress shall make no law regarding religion ..." Yeah pulling it cold from teh ole braincase so the quote is off, though I have the congress shall make no law part correct which is the most important part IMO.

kishnevi said...

the church was not effectively part of government
"not" got in there through the flying fingers syndrome. IOW, I meant the exact opposite. Thanks for catching it.

But "no law establishing religion" hasn't kept any legislature in this country from legislating morality--blue laws for instance. It took a bit of judicial activism from SCOTUS to decriminalize sodomy. And what was Prohibition, or the drug war now, but an attempt to legislate morality?

Ken said...

Unless you want to say that sensible governments did not in general exist until the 20th century--a valid argument, but I don't think he meant that here.

I'd better go RTWT -- for one thing, the 20th Century featured the worst governments (by body count, anyway) in the history of history.