Ed Driscoll

Scratch a Self-Professed Moral Relativist, Find an Absolutist

As the famous quote invariably though incorrectly attributed to Chesterton goes, “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.”

But is that entirely true? Here are two recent items that are reminders that if you scratch a self-professed moral relativist, it won’t take long to find some rather absolute opinions right under the surface.

First up, here’s Peter Wehner of Commentary on “Our Lack of Moral Vocabulary:”

Earlier this week, David Brooks wrote a fascinating column on young people’s moral lives, basing it on hundreds of in-depth interviews with young adults across America conducted by the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith and his team.

The results, according to Brooks, were “depressing” — not so much because of how they lived but because of “how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.” Asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life, what we find is “young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so.” What Smith and his team found is an atmosphere of “extreme moral individualism — of relativism and nonjudgmentalism.” The reason, in part, is because they have not been given the resources — by schools, institutions and families — to “cultivate their moral intuitions, to think more broadly about moral obligations, to check behaviors that may be degrading.”

This is part of a generations-long phenomenon. In his 1987 book The Closing of the American Mind​, Allan Bloom​ wrote, “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.” And the university, Bloom argued, is unwilling to offer a distinctive visage to young people. The guiding philosophy of the academy is there are no first principles, no coherent ways to interpret the world in which we live.

But this is merely a pose. No one, not even a liberal academic, is a true relativist. Scratch below the surface and you’ll find them to be (morally) judgmental toward those who want to discriminate based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. They will likely have strong (moral) views on criminalizing abortion, restricting marriage to one man and one woman, anthropogenic global warming, water-boarding terrorists, rendition, Israeli settlements, profits for oil companies, and cutting taxes for the rich. The left is adamant: women have a “right” to an abortion and gays have a “right” to marry. These rights are viewed as a priori and inviolate. And no one, not even a progressive liberal arts professor, is morally indifferent to someone who wants to rape his wife, molest his children, and steal his iPad. It is fashionable to insist we don’t want to “impose our values” on others or “legislate morality.” But the reality is we do so all the time, on an endless number of issues, and no civilization could survive without doing so. The question, really, is which moral standards do we aspire to? What is the ethical code we use to judge ourselves and others?

And at the Daily Caller, Mark Judge explores Paul Krugman and the circle of retribution:

As I wrote in The Daily Caller last week, once you understand that liberalism of the Krugman variety is a totalizing religious belief system, outbursts like this are not shocking at all; indeed, one becomes surprised when they don’t occur. If tomorrow morning a bus full of kids careened off the Brooklyn Bridge, Krugman’s mind would immediately zero in on the role that Satan, i.e. conservatives, had played in the tragedy. Aha — Republicans are against school funding! That’s it!

This exercise can be applied to any situation. Post-nasal drip? The right hates health care. Your favorite football team lost? Corporate owners need to pay more taxes and thus make teams more equitable. Did someone fart? Dyspepsia is caused by the poor American diet, which is forced on us by conservative corporate overlords (either that or it’s global warming).

Once you fully absorb the absolute theological system that Krugman believes in, his appalling 9/11 jihad makes perfect sense. It is in keeping with things like the infamous Paul Wellstone funeral, which liberals turned into a political rally. Or the death of conservative journalist and former White House spokesman Tony Snow, which was met with vicious personal comments on The Daily Kos. In a beautiful essay, the philosopher Roger Scruton noted that what is revolutionary about Christianity is that, at its best, it asks us “to step outside the circle of retribution.” To the Paul Krugmans of the world, there is no stepping outside the circle of retribution. If your god is a specifically political god, then there is no time or place where it is inappropriate to pray to that god. After all, after 9/11, conservatives (the devil) delayed the arrival of the progressive utopia. They did not represent a different political point of view; they represented — represent — evil. And their policies were like forcing the crown of thorns on Christ himself.

Judge’s conclusion involves an actual quote from Chesterton, who once wrote, “the madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

Click over to read the whole thing, placing that quote into context.

And for much more on Chesterton, don’t miss Roger Kimball’s brilliant encomium in the 30th anniversary issue of the New Criterion this month.

Related: “Canada’s New De Facto Religion: The Cult of Leftism.” Can’t to see how it works things out with Canada’s other new de facto religion.