A VirtuCon Manifesto

 

shutterstock_244246870That’s VirtuCon manifesto, not the VirtuCon manifesto. I suspect there are more visions of how virtue theory and conservatism could interact than there are actual VirtuCons. This rough first draft is a contribution to the conversation Rachel Lu rekindled last week — see Tom Meyer’s response and the conversation that followed it as well — about what an emphasis on virtue means for other parts of the conservative worldview.

Please note: The word “virtue” has recently (in the last century or so) undergone something of a change in meaning. The “virtue” in virtue theory harks back to the older meaning. Do not be misled by this choice of vocabulary, imposed by some 2,000 years of philosophical reflection.

  1. There is such a thing as human nature.
  2. There is such a thing as a form of life that promotes human flourishing. In the past this was also referred to as “happiness.”
  3. Virtues are those habits of character that tend to human flourishing. In the past, the development of these habits was also referred to as “the pursuit of happiness.”
  4. Virtues are not general understandings, but the application of general understandings to particular cases. This is known as practical wisdom.
  5. The virtues are inculcated in childhood through the enforcement of rules, in adulthood through deliberative practice, and in both stages of life through example. Enforcement by — and examples found in — family, local church, and one’s immediate community are better (more effective) than those enforced by or demonstrated in more distant institutions.
  6. Politics is an important area of human flourishing. Real participation in the life of a community requires that the rules and norms of that community are decided by its members, not imposed from afar.
  7. For these reasons, virtue requires a “hard” subsidiarity, where power is (sparingly) delegated upwards from the local to the general polity. (This contrasts with ‘soft’ subsidiarity, where the higher power delegates downwards, but always maintains real control, usually disguised as “support”).
  8. In the past, this was also referred to as “liberty.”
  9. Poverty, ignorance, and dishonour are the enemies of virtue. All three are opposed by the voluntary institution of the free market. Free markets create wealth, spread knowledge, and do not require social position to succeed. A free market requires the exercise of virtues, and assists in promoting them.
  10. In the past, this was also referred to as “life.”
  11. The realization of a continent-spanning republic amenable to human flourishing is a daunting task, but it requires an exquisite modesty. Fortunately, that modesty is the sure route to success, eschewing all temptation to tyranny. We need only have regard to three things:
  • Life – adequate means of existence, provided by the voluntary interactions of persons making choices in a condition of freedom.
  • Liberty – the room to learn and grow in practical wisdom.
  • The pursuit of happiness – the exercise of wisdom and the road to human flourishing.
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  1. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    That’s a pretty good outline for a book. I’ll read it again, but on first run I found nothing with which to disagree.

    • #1
  2. Gil Reich Inactive
    Gil Reich
    @GilReich

    Excellent. I think for many (most?) VirtuCons there’s one thing missing here: God.

    The ‘hard’ (bottom-up) subsidiarity complements a ‘soft’ subsidiarity, where God delegates downwards.

    God loves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and granted them to us as inalienable rights.

    Religious coercion is antithetical to liberty and to true religious belief and practice. One must not use his or her religious views to take away someone else’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

    • #2
  3. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    There is not a principle I see here that is not broadly compatible with a libertarian world view.

    The only part that makes me squeamish is the idea that a community defining itself can easily give way to governments defining things for individuals. One can very easily leave a church or a social club if one does not agree with the direction of its leadership. This is not often the case for government. What gives 51% of individuals in any polity the right to define “pursuit of happiness” for any individual, provided that individual is causing no harm. This is a silly example, but how do we avoid a “Footloose” situation?

    • #3
  4. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Also: one of the important things to recognize about human nature is that it has a naturally tendency towards tyranny. Once we move off of the base concept of individual rights we have opened the door to tyranny whether it be local or not.

    • #4
  5. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Well done, g.

    I like 6 and 7 especially.

    I agree with Gil that the absence of God is a problem.

    I think some further development is wanted on point 5, viz. in reality there is not so clear and absolute a distinction between childhood and adulthood. Rather, persons mature into self-standing gradually, and they don’t do it well through the “the application of rules”, i.e. force.

    I submit that the failure to realize this duly in practice is a key reason for the cultural backlash of the last 100 years.

    • #5
  6. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:There is not a principle I see here that is not broadly compatible with a libertarian world view.

    I think the argument would be on the point of there being such a thing as a “given” human nature. At least some stripes of libertarians deny that—in practical policy, if not in theory.

    • #6
  7. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Welcome back!

    Libertarians do not deny that human nature exists so much as they deny that anyone has a big enough grasp on it to do much about it.

    • #7
  8. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Why should God be part of a political movement? What o you do with atheists that agree broadly with the Virtucon platform?

    • #8
  9. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:Welcome back!

    Libertarians do not deny that human nature exists so much as they deny that anyone has a big enough grasp on it to do much about it.

    Thanks, Jamie.

    Libertarians aren’t univocal on such questions, as I’m sure you realize. Some of them would deny, for instance, that there is anything given and essential about sexual difference and complementarity in human nature.

    • #9
  10. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs:

    Jamie Lockett:Welcome back!

    Libertarians do not deny that human nature exists so much as they deny that anyone has a big enough grasp on it to do much about it.

    Thanks, Jamie.

    Libertarians aren’t univocal on such questions, as I’m sure you realize. Some of the would deny, for instance, that there is anything given and essential about sexual difference and complementarity in human nature.

    Hence the idea that no one knows enough about human nature to really do much about it, at least from a government level.

    • #10
  11. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs:

    Jamie Lockett:Welcome back!

    Libertarians do not deny that human nature exists so much as they deny that anyone has a big enough grasp on it to do much about it.

    Thanks, Jamie.

    Libertarians aren’t univocal on such questions, as I’m sure you realize. Some of the would deny, for instance, that there is anything given and essential about sexual difference and complementarity in human nature.

    Hence the idea that no one knows enough about human nature to really do much about it, at least from a government level.

    I guess that strikes me as a cop-out. I mean, it seems to me that, when it comes to public policy, we’re faced with an unavoidable choice: Recognize and respect as given the sexual difference complementarity of men and women, or deny its relevance.

    • #11
  12. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Jamie Lockett: Hence the idea that no one knows enough about human nature to really do much about it, at least from a government level.

    Which is why we have a constitution loaded with things government can’t do and only a handful of things it is given authority to legitimately do. We do know enough to not trust humans with power over others except in the most limited way possible.

    • #12
  13. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Jamie Lockett: What gives 51% of individuals in any polity the right to define “pursuit of happiness” for any individual, provided that individual is causing no harm. This is a silly example, but how do we avoid a “Footloose” situation?

    From a virtue perspective I don’t think ‘rights’ are what is at issue. And isn’t the moral (!) of Footloose that Jon Lithgow is persuaded, by the exercise of practical wisdom, that dancing is the better part of book-burning?

    • #13
  14. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Gil Reich:Excellent. I think for many (most?) VirtuCons there’s one thing missing here: God.

    The ‘hard’ (bottom-up) subsidiarity complements a ‘soft’ subsidiarity, where God delegates downwards.

    God loves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and granted them to us as inalienable rights.

    Religious coercion is antithetical to liberty and to true religious belief and practice. One must not use his or her religious views to take away someone else’s life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

    Of course, it is hard to define “coercion”.  Most religious people recognize that belief is only valid if freely chosen, but most of us do all we can to socialize our children to our belief system, which is entirely appropriate.  And of course, churches like all social entities use various means of social control to get members to adhere to their community, belief system and code of behavior.

    Jamie, I have to disagree with you that no one knows enough about human nature to do anything about it.  But I would say that is the reason bottom-up is better.  Local communities and families understand human nature far better than ham-fisted governments that are prone to ideological stupidity, and, in service of such, mindless coercion.  This is why it is ridiculous and frightening for government to redefine marriage and family and put itself squarely in the business of controlling not only thought, but the most basic unit of society that should be somewhat impervious to government meddling, and hence a hedge against the evils of government coercion.  Family and marriage as always defined throughout history were very well suited to deal with the foibles of human nature and to connect humans together in a coherent way that allowed family to protect individual freedom and counteract the more negative aspects of human nature.

    And thanks Genferei for your work.  It is much appreciated.

    • #14
  15. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: I guess that strikes me as a cop-out. I mean, it seems to me that, when it comes to public policy, we’re faced with an unavoidable choice: Recognize and respect as given the sexual difference complementarity of men and women, or deny its relevance.

    Katie,

    I’m glad you’re back, but I’m really not interested in going down this rabbit hole on this thread. If you want to talk about this again I suggest you open up your own thread.

    • #15
  16. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Merina Smith: This is why it is ridiculous and frightening for government to redefine marriage and family and put itself squarely in the business of controlling not only thought, but the most basic unit of society that should be somewhat impervious to government meddling, and hence a hedge against the evils of government coercion.

    From a bottom up perspective wouldn’t it be better for government to take no position on marriage and leave that up to churches and communities?

    • #16
  17. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    genferei: From a virtue perspective I don’t think ‘rights’ are what is at issue. And isn’t the moral (!) of Footloose that Jon Lithgow is persuaded, by the exercise of practical wisdom, that dancing is the better part of book-burning?

    Rights are the only thing at issue when discussing politics.

    Yes in due Hollywood fashion the evil authoritarians are overthrown by the plucky young kids. The fact that those authoritarians existed in the first place should give any “Virtue” conservative pause.

    • #17
  18. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs: I guess that strikes me as a cop-out. I mean, it seems to me that, when it comes to public policy, we’re faced with an unavoidable choice: Recognize and respect as given the sexual difference complementarity of men and women, or deny its relevance.

    Katie,

    I’m glad you’re back, but I’m really not interested in going down this rabbit hole on this thread. If you want to talk about this again I suggest you open up your own thread.

    You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But I hope you’re not suggesting that since you don’t want to discuss it, I should move along.

    • #18
  19. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Jamie Lockett:

    Merina Smith: This is why it is ridiculous and frightening for government to redefine marriage and family and put itself squarely in the business of controlling not only thought, but the most basic unit of society that should be somewhat impervious to government meddling, and hence a hedge against the evils of government coercion.

    From a bottom up perspective wouldn’t it be better for government to take no position on marriage and leave that up to churches and communities?

    I don’t think so because there is no such thing as no position.  Marriage just has too many legal ramifications relating to children, custody, property and the like for government not to have a position.  If government says that marriage is what your community says it is and we’ll enforce your definition, then marriage is meaningless.

    • #19
  20. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:

    genferei: From a virtue perspective I don’t think ‘rights’ are what is at issue. And isn’t the moral (!) of Footloose that Jon Lithgow is persuaded, by the exercise of practical wisdom, that dancing is the better part of book-burning?

    Rights are the only thing at issue when discussing politics.

    Says who? Not our founders, certainly, who also spoke of responsibilities, duties, and goods, especially the common good.

    • #20
  21. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But I hope you’re not suggesting that since you don’t want to discuss it, I should move along.

    I’m suggesting that this particular post isn’t the place for your particular hobby horse. This post was directed more generally.

    • #21
  22. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:

    Merina Smith: This is why it is ridiculous and frightening for government to redefine marriage and family and put itself squarely in the business of controlling not only thought, but the most basic unit of society that should be somewhat impervious to government meddling, and hence a hedge against the evils of government coercion.

    From a bottom up perspective wouldn’t it be better for government to take no position on marriage and leave that up to churches and communities?

    I thought you didn’t want to go down this rabbit hole?

    There is no such thing as no position on marriage, as we can see from the myriad cases now before the courts. “No position on marriage” means, in practical effect, “no one is allowed to have a position on marriage”; the position that there is no just equation between natural marriage and homonsexual partnerships shall be banned from practical effect.

    • #22
  23. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: Says who? Not our founders, certainly, who also spoke of responsibilities, duties, and goods, especially the common good.

    And yet the Constitution is a negative rights document meant to prevent government from infringing on individual rights. When it came down to the political arena the founders recognized the importance of protecting individual rights from government. That was their paramount concern.

    Everything else you listed is best served once government is removed from the equation.

    • #23
  24. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: I thought you didn’t want to go down this rabbit hole? There is no such thing as no position on marriage, as we can see from the myriad cases now before the courts. “No position on marriage” means, in practical effect, “no one is allowed to have a position on marriage”; the position that there is no just equation between natural marriage and homonsexual partnerships shall be banned from practical effect.

    I’m starting to remember why discussions with you always ended in the same place with the same people sniping at each other.

    And you’re quite simply wrong, there is such a thing as having no position on marriage because I hold that position. Its not my fault that you and Merina believe that government is integral to the way you see the institution.

    • #24
  25. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs: You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. But I hope you’re not suggesting that since you don’t want to discuss it, I should move along.

    I’m suggesting that this particular post isn’t the place for your particular hobby horse. This post was directed more generally.

    I see. You can use g.’s post to claim that the government should have no position on marriage, but if I want to use it highlight a contrast between virtue cons and (some) libertarians, using marriage as an example, I am derailing the thread and should move along.

    • #25
  26. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: I see. You can use g.’s post to claim that the government should have no position on marriage, but if I want to use it highlight a contrast between virtue cons and (some) libertarians, using marriage as an example, I am derailing the thread and should move along.

    No one brought up marriage until you did Katie, don’t distort the record. I was quite happy discussing things more generally.

    • #26
  27. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs: I see. You can use g.’s post to claim that the government should have no position on marriage, but if I want to use it highlight a contrast between virtue cons and (some) libertarians, using marriage as an example, I am derailing the thread and should move along.

    No one brought up marriage until you did Katie, don’t distort the record. I was quite happy discussing things more generally.

    Jamie, if you’ll read that part of my post you quote again, you’ll see that I acknowledge it freely. I think the issue of marriage is highly apropos and timely to the question of virtue and politics, as well as to crucial practical differences between conservatives and libertarians.

    You don’t have to discuss it, if you don’t want to. But I don’t have to pipe down just because you dislike opposition to your view of the subject.

    • #27
  28. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs: I thought you didn’t want to go down this rabbit hole? There is no such thing as no position on marriage, as we can see from the myriad cases now before the courts. “No position on marriage” means, in practical effect, “no one is allowed to have a position on marriage”; the position that there is no just equation between natural marriage and homonsexual partnerships shall be banned from practical effect.

    I’m starting to remember why discussions with you always ended in the same place with the same people sniping at each other.

    And you’re quite simply wrong, there is such a thing as having no position on marriage because I hold that position. Its not my fault that you and Merina believe that government is integral to the way you see the institution.

    Individuals can think what they want, but government has to deal with property, custody issues and all the rest.  That’s why they have to have a position on what marriage is, for better or worse.  When marriage stays what it has always been, this is a lot easier. Now we’re in a shape-shifting world where it is all about love, not about kids and certainly not about keeping government out of marriage and family.

    Jamie, you might be sick of talking about marriage.  We might all be sick of it, but it is the basis of civilization, so just get used to it.  The conversation ain’t over by a long shot, and it is utterly central to anything related to virtue because we are talking here about the welfare of children.

    • #28
  29. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs: Says who? Not our founders, certainly, who also spoke of responsibilities, duties, and goods, especially the common good.

    And yet the Constitution is a negative rights document meant to prevent government from infringing on individual rights. When it came down to the political arena the founders recognized the importance of protecting individual rights from government. That was their paramount concern.

    […..]

    I was thinking about this very thing related to Rachel’s thread from the other day. The founders also recognized the importance of letting communities hash out what those individual rights are/should be; the founders also held public good in just as high regard as individual rights – they complemented each other. For instance, the constitution didn’t outlaw state religions, public decency laws, public school, slavery, etc.

    Indeed, when there is no objective answer to the tension between common good and individual rights then the only real remedy is to have the fundamental decisions made as locally as possible.

    • #29
  30. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Jamie Lockett: I’m starting to remember why discussions with you always ended in the same place with the same people sniping at each other.

    Jamie, is it possible that you’re also responding to fellow members here in a manner that invites a descent into sniping, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

    It’s wonderful to have KatieVs back, hobbyhorses and all (she would be among the first to acknowledge she has a few). And we’re under no obligation to remind other members that they have hobbyhorses disagreeable to us – especially if we’d rather avoid them right now!

    • #30
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