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. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Ed G.:

    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.

    I think the realities mean it is not just academic.  Marriage is a thing connected to biological realities no matter what civil authorities say.  In other words, even though civil authorities say some same sex people are “married” in my mind, they are “garried”.  They have some state sanction for something, but it is not really marriage no matter what the state says.  I’m not going to teach my kids or my Sunday School class that such couples are “married” because I don’t believe they are.  In other words, what the state says and what people believe and understand are not necessarily the same thing.  And when the issue in question is so closely connected to biological realities and the state is so stupid, well, buckle up.  It’s going to be quite a ride!

    • #61
  2. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Merina Smith: The other way is more compassionate methinks.

    Youthinks wrong.

    • #62
  3. Merina Smith Inactive
    Merina Smith
    @MerinaSmith

    Jamie Lockett:

    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?

    But you are against having an idea of the good.  You regard that as forcing values on someone. Without an idea of the good that conservatives get behind and support through education, political battles and everything in our arsenal, you won’t have the thing you think you support.

    • #63
  4. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Merina Smith: But you are against having an idea of the good.

    Umm no I’m not. I’m against using government power to force your idea of the good on others.

    • #64
  5. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    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?

    It’s not that we’re incapable of learning, but that we don’t, typically, learn—at least not until we’ve suffered a lot more damage.

    We know about the unique value of marriage mainly thanks to Revelation—first the Ten Commandments. It happens that this was part of the first reading at Catholic masses yesterday:

    In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God,which I enjoin upon you,you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Observe them carefully,for thus will you give evidenceof your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,who will hear of all these statutes and say,‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’

    And lo, it happened as he prophesied. Living according to God’s law resulted in human flourishing. Whenever they departed from God’s law, they ended up back under slavery of one kind or another.

    • #65
  6. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    I’ve said before around here that I’m convinced that the Judeo/Christian vision of marriage as the permanent, monogamous, life-giving bond of one man and one woman is the single greatest cultural item explaining the superiority of the west over the rest.

    The contrast with Islam and polygamy is especially stark these days.

    • #66
  7. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    katievs: We know about the unique value of marriage mainly thanks to Revelation—first the Ten Commandments.

    Or through tens of thousands of years of trial and error.

    • #67
  8. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Merina Smith:

    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… to draw the right lessons from suffering, but it’s hardly impossible, either…

    The other way is more compassionate methinks.

    I’m not saying don’t promulgate traditional morality, irrespective of government. Obviously, I neither write nor live as if traditional morality must be kept secret, whether the government is overbearing or not.

    I think, though, if we delay government retreat until the populace has recovered its moral bearings, we could be waiting forever. And that doesn’t strike me as compassionate.

    • #68
  9. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: 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.

    I think it’s worth noting that Midge’s hypothetical here is if state-run welfare were repealed entirely and relatively quickly. That wouldn’t happen even if Rand Paul were elected president and congress was replaced with a 535 clones of Fred Cole.

    But I think the point is absolutely sound: people can adapt to changes in circumstances and incentives, albeit not quickly as we’d like and with a fair deal of mistakes and suffering. All of us experienced this in our own lives to some extent and have — generally — come out of it wiser and better. If I was still the idiot I was when I was younger…

    Those who’ve come from broken homes have built-in disadvantages, especially if there’s abuse involved. But those people’s sufferings can be helped and their period of learning expedited by the churches and charities that will doubtless fill the void, and will almost certainly do a better job.

    • #69
  10. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: If I was still the idiot I was when I was younger…

    *ahem* Facts not in evidence, sir.

    • #70
  11. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Tom Meyer, Ed.: That wouldn’t happen even if Rand Paul were elected president and congress was replaced with a 535 clones of Fred Cole.

    It might happen if congress was replaced with 535 Mike H’s though. ;)

    • #71
  12. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake: 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.

    I think it’s worth noting that Midge’s hypothetical here is if state-run welfare were repealed entirely and relatively quickly. That wouldn’t happen even if Rand Paul were elected president and congress was replaced with a 535 clones of Fred Cole.

    Yes. I was thinking of people experiencing a sudden reduction in the welfare state, considerably more sudden that what I would think of as “fair”. I likewise doubt that political considerations would ever permit such a sudden change, even if I did think such suddenness was “fair”.

    • #72
  13. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Jamie Lockett:

    katievs: We know about the unique value of marriage mainly thanks to Revelation—first the Ten Commandments.

    Or through tens of thousands of years of trial and error.

    You can say that, but it would be ahistorical.

    Whether or not a person accepts the Authorship of God, that the Old and New Testaments of the Bible had profound effects on human history, law and culture (particularly in the west) can’t be intelligently disputed.

    The Jews of antiquity didn’t say, “Let’s try monogamy and see how it works out.” They said, “Let’s accept and obey the Law given to us by God through Moses.” They did, and lo!, they flourished, except when they strayed, and then they suffered.

    Same thing happened when the NT took things still farther. Marriage is not just a practical arrangement, but a Sacrament, an image of the Christ’s love for the Church and the Godhead as a holy Trinity. No one has to believe it, but that belief in it was a vital source of the cultural and legal tradition of the west is a plain fact of history.

    • #73
  14. Tom Meyer, Ed. Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Ed.
    @tommeyer

    Merina Smith: But you are against having an idea of the good.  You regard that as forcing values on someone. Without an idea of the good that conservatives get behind and support through education, political battles and everything in our arsenal, you won’t have the thing you think you support.

    There are at least three ways this needn’t be true. Jamie might adopt any of the following (non-exclusive) arguments:

    1. Consequential: Jamie has a clear sense of the good, but thinks that the costs of implementing/enforcing it are prohibitive.
    2. Moral: Despite the good being clearly known as well as a method to implement/enforce it, Jamie may conclude that it is not his place to do so, outside of circumstances where others will be directly harmed.
    3. Uncertainty: Jamie may have suspicions — perhaps strong suspicions — that something is or is not good, but feel his certainty cannot be adequately justified to take action beyond persuasion and setting an example.
    • #74
  15. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    I’d also hazard this speculation:

    Except for the elements of Revelation and religion, monogamy—like other extremely demanding moral norms—never would have been tried on a large scale.

    Humanity would have stuck with polygamy and tribalism, and would have remained primitive and unfree.

    • #75
  16. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    So we’re no longer making the argument that marriage is based on natural law evident in the simultaneous development of the institution by different cultures at different times? Now it is solely a western civilization revelation?

    • #76
  17. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    katievs: Marriage is not just a practical arrangement, but a Sacrament, an image of the Christ’s love for the Church and the Godhead as a holy Trinity. No one has to believe it, but that belief in it was a vital source of the cultural and legal tradition of the west is a plain fact of history.

    I also consider Christian marriage an icon of the Trinity. I am less sure, though, that many elements of monogamous heterosexual marriage would inevitably fail to attract or compel those who lack Christian revelation, though.

    God is the author of nature, too, and it is precisely because traditional marriage does promote human flourishing (as we would expect most of God’s gifts to humankind would) that I think it’s possible to sense that it involves an archetype of something special and valuable even for those who don’t recognize that something as an icon of the Trinity.

    • #77
  18. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    katievs: I’d also hazard this speculation: Except for the elements of Revelation and religion, monogamy—like other extremely demanding moral norms—never would have been tried on a large scale. Humanity would have stuck with polygamy and tribalism, and would have remained primitive and unfree.

    Would you care to hazard any more claims that happen to confirm your biases?

    • #78
  19. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake:I also consider Christian marriage an icon of the Trinity. I am less sure, though, that many elements of monogamous heterosexual marriage would inevitably fail to attract or compel those who lack Christian revelation, though.

    “Elements” of marriage will always attract some individuals. But I am talking on a society-wide scale, and I’m not talking about now, but about then.

    Now we have, besides Revelation, millennia of experience of the benefits (morally, culturally, economically, etc.) of a strong marriage culture.

    • #79
  20. katievs Inactive
    katievs
    @katievs

    My claim that the western view of marriage came through Revelation and religion is a historical one. It’s not at all opposed to what I also hold, namely, that the truth of marriage is given in natural law.

    So, you don’t need to be a Jewish or Christian believer to see it and adhere to it, or to justify its privileged place in law and society.

    The idea that we would have arrived at it without Revelation, through trial and error, is every bit as speculative as the idea that we wouldn’t have.

    The fact is, we got it through Revelation and religion. And now, thanks to that fact, we can also view it from the point of moral philosophy and natural law and social science and all that.

    • #80
  21. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    katievs:My claim that the western view of marriage came through Revelation and religion is a historical one. It’s not at all opposed to what I also hold, namely, that the truth of marriage is given in natural law.

    So, you don’t need to be a Jewish or Christian believer to see it and adhere to it, or to justify its privileged place in law and society.

    The idea that we would have arrived at it without Revelation, through trial and error, is every bit as speculative as the idea that we wouldn’t have.

    The fact is, we got it through Revelation and religion. And now, thanks to that fact, we can also view it from the point of moral philosophy and natural law and social science and all that.

    Even if someone woke up one day and said, hey, I have this great new idea to construct families! People still had to try it and it’s benefits would have been self evident whatever the origin of the suggestion. To say that revelation was required seems to suggest people had to keep doing it despite overwhelming bad consequences.

    But I’d have to believe that there are people with a heavy natural bias towards monogamy. Like gays, monogamists have always existed. So the trial and error wasn’t really required since there have always been plenty of takers.

    • #81
  22. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    I’m sorry Katie but you occupy a parallel reality that I just don’t recognize. Since the first recorded marriage contracts date back to Mesopotamian times and in Rome marriage was a strictly civil affair I don’t see how marriage sprung from Christian revelation. The Church didn’t even declare marriage one of its sacraments until after the fall of Rome. And that is just in the middle east and Europe – we haven’t even touched on eastern cultures or Africa. This idea that marriage springs solely from Judeo-Christianity is a fiction you have created for yourself to confirm your biases and has absolutely no basis in history.

    • #82
  23. Augustine Member
    Augustine
    @SaintAugustine

    genferei:‘A‘ VirtuCon manifesto, not ‘the‘ VirtuCon manifesto. I suspect there are more visions of how virtue theory and conservatism can and should interact than there are actual VirtuCons. This rough first draft is a contribution to the conversation 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 2000 years of philosophical reflection.

    Well done!

    I’m inclined to quibble about the ancients and the moderns.  This is great stuff, especially respecting the Aristotle-Augustine-Aquinas-MacIntyre tradition, but I’m not sure it incorporates everything a VirtuCon manifesto should incorporate from folks like Locke, the Founders, and Tocqueville.

    In particular, I think “pursuit of happiness” referred to private property (though that was not necessarily its only meaning).  In Locke, Property = Pursuit of Happiness.

    I don’t see any inconsistency here with what you have.  But there’s more we can have.

    • #83
  24. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Jamie Lockett:…  Since the first recorded marriage contracts date back to Mesopotamian times and in Rome marriage was a strictly civil affair I don’t see how marriage sprung from Christian revelation.  …

    I have seen a pretty good case that Israelite ideas about marriage and family spread both eastward and westward after the Exodus, which was over 800 years before Rome was founded.

    • #84
  25. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Katievs !

    It is good to see you back at Ricochet.

    Were you completely dropped out, or have you been lurking ?

    • #85
  26. Jamie Lockett Inactive
    Jamie Lockett
    @JamieLockett

    MJBubba,

    Was that the Jewish tradition of polygamy practiced by Abraham, Solomon and David? Or the revealed form of marriage that God for some reason kept to himself for the first 1/2 of the bible.

    • #86
  27. Joseph Eagar Member
    Joseph Eagar
    @JosephEagar

    Jamie Lockett:I’m sorry Katie but you occupy a parallel reality that I just don’t recognize. Since the first recorded marriage contracts date back to Mesopotamian times and in Rome marriage was a strictly civil affair I don’t see how marriage sprung from Christian revelation. The Church didn’t even declare marriage one of its sacraments until after the fall of Rome. And that is just in the middle east and Europe – we haven’t even touched on eastern cultures or Africa. This idea that marriage springs solely from Judeo-Christianity is a fiction you have created for yourself to confirm your biases and has absolutely no basis in history.

    Oh I don’t know.  People seem to spend an awful lot of time talking about the ‘bourgeois marriage’, which we’re supposed to believe is purely an invention of the Industrial Revolution.  I tend to think we overestimate the sexism of the past (especially the pre-Napoleon past), and ‘marriage’ is older than that.  But it still seems a bit absurd to me to say that Christianity had nothing to do with the formation of Western marriage norms.

    • #87
  28. Joseph Eagar Member
    Joseph Eagar
    @JosephEagar

    I have to admit, I’m a big believer in the value of virtue as a social ideal.  People always get hung up on the sexual aspects of traditional morality, but there’s a lot more to traditional American morality than that.  One of the things I’ve come to understand it is the natural state of affairs for upper-middle-class people to feel disdain for everyone else (they sometimes strike me as hating all other income classes than their own).    Affluent people have to be properly socialized to resist this impulse, otherwise they become social predators.  I’ve yet to see an institution other than religion that provides that socialization.  Even in the case of movement conservatism (which I think does a fairly good job at this) the main driving force for public morality is religious conservatives.

    • #88
  29. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor
    Midget Faded Rattlesnake
    @Midge

    Joseph Eagar:I have to admit, I’m a big believer in the value of virtue as a social ideal. People always get hung up on the sexual aspects of traditional morality, but there’s a lot more to traditional American morality than that.

    Agreed.

    • #89
  30. Mike Rapkoch Moderator
    Mike Rapkoch
    @MikeRapkoch

    There’s a serious and sometimes missed ambiguity in discussions like these, i.e., frequent equivocation in the use of the word liberty. In the classical formulation, man’s highest practice was to free himself from the passions so that he could live the life of reason, develop an informed and ordered conscience, and thus live as a social, relational, rational animal, and thus flourish as homo sapiens, i.e., wise man. The truest form of slavery was to be controlled by our passions.

    The other definition is that of being free from restraint so that man can best satisfy his appetites. The latter is best associated with John Locke. who, of course, greatly influenced some of the founding fathers.

    The argument is about  the true nature of liberty, and the human ends toward which it is ordered.

    These arguments tend to go nowhere because the analysis is primarily about means, rather than the end, each side believes to be preeminent. Perhaps we should ask whether we believe liberty to be an end in itself or a means to an end. Then ask what is the end and how should we think about liberty in the context of the end.

    • #90
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