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. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    It’s wonderful to have KatieVs back, hobbyhorses and all (she would be among the first to acknowledge she has a few).

    I appreciate the kind words, Midge, but for sure I would object to my opposition to the legalization of SSM being characterized as a hobbyhorse. Flashpoint, yes. But it’s too deep and central a concern, and discussing it with opponents is too unpleasant for it to be thought of as preferred leisure activity.

    I speak up because I feel I ought to, not because I think it’s fun to lock horns with fellow members.

    • #31
  2. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Bringing the discussion back to the original post:

    What are the practical implications of a manifesto like this? From my point of view I see this as being broadly compatible with a libertarian form of governance. I’m sure VirtuCons disagree – how would this manifesto be applied to policy and the scope and reach of government?

    • #32
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    katievs: I appreciate the kind words, Midge, but for sure I would object to my opposition to the legalization of SSM being characterized as a hobbyhorse. Flashpoint, yes.

    Understood. I think most of our “hobbyhorses” are actually things we care deeply about, which is why they end up appearing to others as “preferred leisure activities”. They’re the things we don’t stop thinking about, even when we’re “off the clock”.

    • #33
  4. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Ed G.:

    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.

    I’m all in favor of the principle of subsidiarity and political power being kept as local as possible. But, our system relies for its coherence and sustainability on certain “self-evident truths” and inalienable rights. In other words, the fundamental questions aren’t really amenable to local politics.

    A question like whether or not slavery should be legal, for instance, is one that (as a matter of history and justice) couldn’t be settled locally. Ditto for questions like whether women should be allowed to vote. (When I was a grad student in Liechtenstein, the men of a nearby Swiss town voted down women’s suffrage.)

    So this is a point on which I disagree with those who want the marriage question to be settled by the states. I think that’s hopelessly unreal. Either SSM is a fundamental human right (as the SSM lobby argues), or it’s not. Marriage is not created by the state; rather it precedes the state and is recognized by the state.

    • #34
  5. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: So this is a point on which I disagree with those who want the marriage question to be settled by the states. I think that’s hopelessly unreal. Either SSM is a fundamental human right (as the SSM lobby argues), or it’s not. Marriage is not created by the state; rather it precedes the state and is recognized by the state.

    If you subject something like this to the will of the people you open yourself up to 51% deciding that they can impose whatever definition of marriage on you that they wish. Given the trend in polling re: SSM is this really a path you want to walk down?

    • #35
  6. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    katievs:[…..]So this is a point on which I disagree with those who want the marriage question to be settled by the states. I think that’s hopelessly unreal. Either SSM is a fundamental human right (as the SSM lobby argues), or it’s not. Marriage is not created by the state; rather it precedes the state and is recognized by the state.

    What’s the alternative? Nationalizing and judicializing. I believe that localizing and democratizing are better approaches. Yes, some things are non-negotiable and should be explicitly stated in the charter documents, but that assessment itself is a political question requiring a critical mass to agree first. Bottom up is better in both cases.

    • #36
  7. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    katievs:

    Ed G.:

    […..]

    Marriage is not created by the state; rather it precedes the state and is recognized by the state.

    I do disagree with this. I don’t think the sacrament of marriage is the same as civil marriage; I think they’ve simply been overlapping for much of history and cultures. Evidence is the fact that one can be civilly married without being religiously married and vice versa.

    Either one, though, requires the context of authority and broader culture in order to mean anything since marriage isn’t some action performed by individuals as much as something done by a third party (e.g. a third party pronouncing a status or imposing obligations or protecting rights based on the third party’s own assessment).

    I believe that civil authority emerged simultaneously with human culture – whether in the form of the strongest most aggressive hunter assuming leadership by laying down the law or in the form of formal/conscious incorporation of some sort. Whatever the case civil authority was emergent with human consciousness and social organiztion. Viewing the obvious power of the male/female sexual union doesn’t require any authority. However, turning that reality into an institution which regulates the union certainly does require an authority. The law/culture/religion must precede a legal/cultural/religious obligation.

    Not that I want to go into any of this on this thread. This is just a statement of position to contrast against yours.

    • #37
  8. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Jamie Lockett:Bringing the discussion back to the original post:

    What are the practical implications of a manifesto like this? From my point of view I see this as being broadly compatible with a libertarian form of governance. I’m sure VirtuCons disagree – how would this manifesto be applied to policy and the scope and reach of government?

    I think the first goal of the VirtuCon movement is an attempt at consensus building, including with libertarians. I saw a conversation with Rachel Lu on Facebook where she essentially stated this is why she wrote this article.

    I predict she’ll constantly be disappointed as libertarian nods turn into a deer-in-headlights look every time she moves from eternal truths to augmenting government to reinforce those truths.

    If on the other hand she wants to eliminate the parts of the government that are actively fighting against truth, she will always find friends among libertarians.

    • #38
  9. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Ed G.: What’s the alternative? Nationalizing and judicializing. I believe that localizing and democratizing are better approaches. Yes, some things are non-negotiable and should be explicitly stated in the charter documents, but that assessment itself is a political question requiring a critical mass to agree first. Bottom up is better in both cases.

    This seems to be my main issue with the VirtuCon project. Small government is good, except when it isn’t. Bottom up democracy is good, except when there is an issue we really want to press.

    Lord knows, Ed and I don’t agree on this issue, but I think we at least agree on the process and the best mode of governance.

    • #39
  10. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Mike H: I predict she’ll constantly be disappointed as libertarian nods turn into a deer-in-headlights look every time she moves from eternal truths to augmenting government to reinforce those truths.

    This. There is next to nothing that VirtuCons talk about that Libertarians wouldn’t either agree with or say “hey if that’s your bag go ahead”. It’s the next step where libertarians balk. The problem is when libertarians disagree with the next step we’re accused of not caring about the underlying philosophy at all, or worse being libertines who only want to watch society crumble.

    • #40
  11. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Mike H:

    I think the first goal of the VirtuCon movement is an attempt at consensus building, including with libertarians.

    That consensus-building would be really awesome, and there are a lot of libertarians on Ricochet who are all for it. So the question becomes, if that’s what’s being attempted, why do the attempts fail so badly?

    I predict she’ll constantly be disappointed as libertarian nods turn into a deer-in-headlights look every time she moves from eternal truths to augmenting government to reinforce those truths.

    To be fair to the most vocal self-identified VirtuCons, it’s not obvious that they are seeking to augment government to reinforce those truths. On the other hand, it’s not always obvious that they would be willing to go much out of their way to avoid augmenting government, either.

    “Usually, we’d prefer to use means other than government augmentation to reinforce timeless truths, but we like to keep our options open,” is not terribly reassuring to those who believe the ratchet effect of government expansion is a very real phenomenon.

    • #41
  12. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:“Usually, we’d prefer to use means other than government augmentation to reinforce timeless truths, but we like to keep our options open,” is not terribly reassuring to those who believe the ratchet effect of government expansion is a very real phenomenon.

    Ratchet effect of government expansion is a real problem, I agree. But the dissolution of the civil society is a real problem too, and the two aren’t unrelated.

    Government grows as the mediating institutions of society—above all family and church—decline.

    When government uses its power to attack and curtail and marginalize those mediating institutions (as it does when it abolishes marriage as the foundational unit of the civil society, or relegates “freedom of religion” to the private sphere ), we have almost reached the point of no return.

    • #42
  13. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    katievs:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:“Usually, we’d prefer to use means other than government augmentation to reinforce timeless truths, but we like to keep our options open,” is not terribly reassuring to those who believe the ratchet effect of government expansion is a very real phenomenon.

    Ratchet effect of government expansion is a real problem, I agree. But the dissolution of the civil society is a real problem too, and the two aren’t unrelated.

    Government grows as the mediating institutions of society—above all family and church—decline.

    When government uses its power to attack and curtail and marginalize those mediating institutions… we have almost reached the point of no return.

    I think we’re in general agreement, with quibbles “only” about certain specifics :-)

    There’s fairly universal agreement among non-Leftists that government growth is somehow associated with the decline of other institutions. This could happen because, as other institutions decline, the populace inevitably demands – and gets – more government. This also could happen because, when government grows, it crowds out other institutions.

    What if the populace demanded more government intrusion, but didn’t get it? Perhaps VirtuCons are more inclined to see this hypothetical as impossible: if people demand more government, nothing can effectively stop them.

    Perhaps libertarians are a bit more hopeful that, if the populace demanded more government and didn’t get it, pretty soon the populace would take measures to solve its own problems anyhow – that is, to use old-fashioned lingo, to govern itself.

    • #43
  14. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: To be fair to the most vocal self-identified VirtuCons, it’s not obvious that they are seeking to augment government to reinforce those truths. On the other hand, it’s not always obvious that they would be willing to go much out of their way to avoid augmenting government, either.

    In a similar way to how libertarians are accused of being for religious freedom until it matters, libertarians often feel the same re: liberty when it comes to SoCons.

    • #44
  15. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Ed, I can’t really agree with you about government getting to define marriage.  Marriage is based on some very central biological realities that government can’t change, try as they might.  As soon as it tries, we start getting three parents, as many “genders” as people can invent and that kind of nonsense.  The left loves power and would like to be free to rampage through the dictionary, 1984 style.  In fact, that is exactly what they are doing with political correctness. But the truth is that there is no there there.  They have no moral core beyond power and identity politics.  Once the emptiness of their arguments becomes ever more apparent, we will have to fall back on reality.  We’ve reached the point where reality is the last resort–if we are lucky.

    As for the feasibility of local control on marriage–I think I’m in Katie’s camp.  I argued for local control in hopes of prolonging the debate long enough for the emptiness to become apparent, but truthfully, recognizing a marriage in one state and not another never did look like a solution.  Now, however, our only hope is to teach our kids what marriage really is, strengthen our own marriages and commitment, and ride out the whirlwind.  My daughter, who is abroad right now with work, tells me that much of the rest of the world thinks we are crazy.  Yup.  But there is some hope in that.

    • #45
  16. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: Government grows as the mediating institutions of society—above all family and church—decline.

    I think you have your cause and effect wrong. Mediating institutions die when government intrudes on their areas of responsibility and the populace no longer finds any need for them.

    • #46
  17. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: as it does when it abolishes marriage as the foundational unit of the civil society

    Is that what it did? And here I thought it just opened up an ancient institution for greater society participation.

    • #47
  18. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs: Government grows as the mediating institutions of society—above all family and church—decline.

    I think you have your cause and effect wrong. Mediating institutions die when government intrudes on their areas of responsibility and the populace no longer finds any need for them.

    I read Katie’s statement as saying nothing explicit either way about causality, just noting the relationship. I think you’re right, though, that disagreements about the weight of causality here drive differences in ideology.

    Me, I think the causality runs both ways, but that warding off government intrusion is the more political project. Cultivating robust institutions independent from government, on the other hand, is less explicitly political and even benefits from a certain apolitical spirit.

    • #48
  19. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: I read Katie’s statement as saying nothing explicit either way about causality, just noting the relationship. I think you’re right, though, that disagreements about the weight of causality here drive differences in ideology. Me, I think the causality runs both ways, but that warding off government intrusion is the more political project. Cultivating robust institutions independent from government, on the other hand, is less explicitly political and even benefits from a certain apolitical spirit.

    I will concede that I probably read more than was actually there.

    • #49
  20. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Midge, the force-them-to-solve-their-problems thing came up on Tom’s thread the other day.  I think the problem with that is that you need some idea about what the good is before you can seek it.  Heretofore we have had an idea about that because of the basic truth that sex produces babies, we need babies in order to survive as a race, babies need a lot of care and do best when their parents care for them, babies who get good care and a good upbringing are far more likely to be good citizens and produce and raise good citizens.  So long as everybody understood these things we got along pretty well.  As Murray has shown, however, these truths are lost among the lower classes.  If welfare were taken away, would they return to those truths?  I don’t think so because they’ve bought into the idea that sex and marriage don’t go together, parents, especially fathers, don’t have responsibilities toward children and so on.  Just because the help goes away, they won’t change their thinking, they will just become more miserable.  And one thing we are not willing to do is to inflict more misery on children.  We certainly should be loathe to do that.  So–what is needed?  That’s where virtucon ideas come in.  We need to have an idea of the good, stand behind it politically and educationally, and work toward moving the population in that direction while scaling back the welfare state.

    • #50
  21. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    There’s fairly universal agreement among non-Leftists that government growth is somehow associated with the decline of other institutions….

    Perhaps libertarians are a bit more hopeful that, if the populace demanded more government and didn’t get it, pretty soon the populace would take measures to solve its own problems anyhow – that is, to use old-fashioned lingo, to govern itself.

    If that’s what libertarians hope, I think they’re in for a reality check. When the family fails; when churches decline in efficacy, one  result is real and urgent human need and real human incapacity. Another result is a steep decline in things like compassion and cooperation. Egotism and indifference increase.

    Self-government relies on exactly the kind of virtue that gets inculcated when family life and religion flourish.

    • #51
  22. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    I hope you’ll all take this in the good humor it’s meant, but sometimes no matter what the subject, some SoCon’s arguments sounds to me like:

    1632697

    :)

    • #52
  23. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. – C.S. Lewis

    I could write a response here, but Mr. Lewis said it better than I ever could.

    • #53
  24. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: If that’s what libertarians hope, I think they’re in for a reality check. When the family fails; when churches decline in efficacy, one  result is real and urgent human need and real human incapacity. Another result is a steep decline in things like compassion and cooperation. Egotism and indifference increase. Self-government relies on exactly the kind of virtue that gets inculcated when family life and religion flourish.

    All I read here is: therefor government power.

    • #54
  25. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Mike H:

    1632697

    :)

    And rightly so.

    • #55
  26. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs: If that’s what libertarians hope, I think they’re in for a reality check. When the family fails; when churches decline in efficacy, one result is real and urgent human need and real human incapacity. Another result is a steep decline in things like compassion and cooperation. Egotism and indifference increase. Self-government relies on exactly the kind of virtue that gets inculcated when family life and religion flourish.

    All I read here is: therefor government power.

    That’s a misreading if I ever saw one.  The only way to stop government power is to return it to families and civil institutions.  Sometimes the simplest solutions really are the right ones.

    • #56
  27. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Merina Smith: That’s a misreading if I ever saw one.  The only way to stop government power is to return it to families and civil institutions.  Sometimes the simplest solutions really are the right ones.

    Yeah which libertarian has ever argued otherwise?

    • #57
  28. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Merina Smith:Ed, I can’t really agree with you about government getting to define marriage. Marriage is based on some very central biological realities that government can’t change, try as they might. […]

    I don’t say government gets to define marriage, I say it gets to define civil marriage. That it’s not a civil marriage until the relevant civil authority declares it so regardless of the actions and proclamations of the participants is evidence of that, as is common law marriage where the state declares something is a marriage regardless of the intent of the participants. Same with religion: it’s not sacramental marriage until/unless declared so by the religious authority and only the religious authority gets to say what is and isn’t marriage.

    Those central biological (or spiritual) realities are not themselves marriage. I believe that a marriage institution without them is nonsensical and inadvisable, but they’re distinct from one another.

    If you don’t make a distinction between civil vs sacramental or if you think that marriage is something individuals do rather than something a relevant authority does, then none of this will compute. It’s academic now anyway.

    • #58
  29. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Merina Smith: If welfare were taken away, would they return to those truths? I don’t think so… Just because the help goes away, they won’t change their thinking, they will just become more miserable.

    Are humans creatures capable of learning from trial-and-error, though, or aren’t we? If we aren’t, how did humans learn in the first place that marriage is the right place for sex and children in a civilized society?

    My guess: If the help went away, quite possibly the first (and perhaps the second) generation of sufferers might suffer greatly without changing their thinking. Nonetheless, by the second or third generation, I think people would begin to change their thinking, and would continue to learn as the generations progressed. After all, the poor learned quite quickly that the modern welfare state makes traditional family formation among the poor relatively costly by rewarding the opposite behavior. Clearly, the poor can learn.

    It’s not always easy (and often unpleasant) to draw the right lessons from suffering, but it’s hardly impossible, either. Moreover, even people experiencing near-uncontrollable suffering (such as the very depressed or very sick) are capable of some rudimentary rational behavior and can take some steps to ameliorate their lot (even if the amelioration still leaves them in relative misery compared to “normal” people).

    We are learning, adapting beings. Great despair impairs our adaptive powers, no question. But even very great despair rarely paralyzes them utterly. We learn even then.

    • #59
  30. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:

    Merina Smith: If welfare were taken away, would they return to those truths? I don’t think so… Just because the help goes away, they won’t change their thinking, they will just become more miserable.

    Are humans creatures capable of learning from trial-and-error, though, or aren’t we? If we aren’t, how did humans learn in the first place that marriage is the right place for sex and children in a civilized society?

    My guess: If the help went away, quite possibly the first (and perhaps the second) generation of sufferers might suffer greatly without changing their thinking. Nonetheless, by the second or third generation, I think people would begin to change their thinking, and would continue to learn as the generations progressed. After all, the poor learned quite quickly that the modern welfare state makes traditional family formation among the poor relatively costly by rewarding the opposite behavior. Clearly, the poor can learn.

    It’s not always easy (and often unpleasant) to draw the right lessons from suffering, but it’s hardly impossible, either. Moreover, even people experiencing near-uncontrollable suffering (such as the very depressed or very sick) are capable of some rudimentary rational behavior and can take some steps to ameliorate their lot (even if the amelioration still leaves them in relative misery compared to “normal” people).

    We are learning, adapting beings. Great despair impairs our adaptive powers, no question. But even very great despair rarely paralyzes them utterly. We learn even then.

    The other way is more compassionate methinks.

    • #60
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