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The Demise of Moral Relativism – and Its Consequences
The claims of moral relativism have been the bane of modern society as it has risen in popularity. Its origins started centuries ago, but as Progressivism has continued to dominate the Democrat party, it has paradoxically forecast its own death — and deadly consequences for American society. How has that happened and where will it lead us?
So that we’re all on the same page, let me provide a definition of moral relativism. Here’s one:
Moral relativism has steadily been accepted as the primary moral philosophy of modern society, a culture that was previously governed by a ‘Judeo-Christian’ view of morality. While these ‘Judeo-Christian’ standards continue to be the foundation for civil law, most people hold to the concept that right or wrong are not absolutes, but can be determined by each individual. Morals and ethics can be altered from one situation, person, or circumstance to the next. Essentially, moral relativism says that anything goes, because life is ultimately without meaning. Words like “ought” and “should” are rendered meaningless. In this way, moral relativism makes the claim that it is morally neutral.
Yet George Washington in his September 19, 1796 Farewell Address to the nation said the following:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars.
To embrace moral relativism, therefore, a person has to reject our Judeo-Christian heritage. You simply can’t believe in a Creator who has provided laws to live by, and hold to the belief that “anything goes.”
Moral relativism is the system that has dominated culture, politics, and legislation for years, and yet the public has become inured to its consequences. It has been portrayed as a foundation for tolerance, equality, and fairness. We have instead come to see that moral relativism is only about intolerance, elitism and a degradation of the human spirit and ability to grow and prosper.
Recently I realized that Progressives have begun to recognize the limitations of their own commitment to moral relativism. As they become enamored with power and possibilities, they understand that they are really not interested in their original premises. In fact, there is little about the establishment of this country and its foundations that they understand or appreciate. They now realize (or are finally admitting) the direction in which they want to lead us.
The future is not about tolerance, equality, and fairness. Instead, it is about rejecting and demonizing ideas that are out of sync with their own. Those conflicting ideas are not only to be criticized, but they are to be banned out of the mainstream discussion. They do not truly believe in equality for all: they demand that those who have more must sacrifice their own fortunes for anyone who has less. They have set no limits on how much they think they are entitled to confiscate; the abuses by those who have more than others (because their riches must have been ill-gotten) are inexcusable, no matter how they say they were acquired. Finally, fairness is about making sure that everyone is taken care of, no matter their conditions or how they found themselves there. Anyone who has less is entitled to more, no matter what opponents say. Those who have more must give to those who have less. Period.
Larrey Anderson described this incoherence in the American Thinker in this way:
A standard of standard-less behavior… Where society agrees to a social contract to have no social contract…fostering a cult of tolerance, where those who enter avoid the difficult process of making an actual (moral) choice and get to feel good about it…where political correctness enforces this ‘approved’ way of thinking, contradicting the very concept of tolerance that they elevate.
So moral relativism is on its last legs. Those of us who recognize its incoherence see that it’s becoming too difficult to maintain the illusions of past definitions. Everyone is not entitled to his or her ideas, nor to those things they have earned or acquired. They must sacrifice their fortunes to those who have less. We must embrace a new belief system, a 21st-century religion. And those who say this process has failed in the past don’t understand the power of Progressivism (known by those hidden behind the curtain as totalitarianism.)
Welcome to “The Fair Society.”Published in Culture
I think that your diagnosis of the deficiencies of moral relativism are absolutely correct.
You do not note one of the major problems. Moral relativism altogether fails to give any guidance to young people. This has catastrophic consequences for sexuality and family. Abortion, illegitimacy, divorce, late marriage (and often ensuing childlessness) are all symptoms of the problem. Our lives are short, and the clock is ticking, especially for building a family.
I must dissent from your conclusion that: “We must embrace a new belief system, a 21st-century religion.” I think that this is completely incorrect. I think that this is precisely the problem that has caused us to stray from our society’s Christian roots.
I take small issue with calling it “Judeo-Christian.” I do not, for a moment, deny the Jewish foundation upon which Christianity is built. My savior, king, and God is a Jew. But I do not think that there was any post-Old Testament Jewish contribution to the American founding that was of significance.
I do think that our ancestors often didn’t do Christianity very well, and we will continue to struggle with this. If your idea of a Christian is a Bible-thumping preacher going on about the Ten Commandments and fire-and-brimstone, then you don’t understand the faith. I’m not saying that those things aren’t in there, but they’re a very small part of the story.
A real challenge is that returning to the Christian roots of this country will necessarily exclude the very, very many people who do not believe. They may well be a majority. We used to have a strong Christian moral consensus, even as the number of adherents to the faith waxed and waned. This is no longer the case, and we have a new opposition that is more actively hostile to Christianity than anything I’ve seen since Communism.
Right and wrong are black and white. It is the role of civilization to come to as close an understanding of right and wrong as possible. No civilization gets it completely correct, but some are better than others. I mourn the demise of the common law as one of the indicators that we no longer believe this to be true.
I’ve gotta light a candle, rather than curse the darkness, @skyler: as long as it exists in one mind and heart, it’s not dead yet. It’s part of what motivates me, these days, to keep trying to influence my young’uns….
In 1 Kings 19, the prophet Elijah whines, “..I have been very jealous for Jehovah, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.”
This is the response he hears from on high: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
@nandapanjandrum has the right of it.
Never forget Psalm 23.
Well, of course, there was Alexander Hamilton, who also curiously was the only founding father to eschew slavery–no surprise given the story of Moses and the pharaoh. :-)
There are probably other important points I didn’t include, but certainly you point out an important one.
I don’t know if that is so, since we don’t know what rested in men’s minds. As a Jew, I’m happy to note the Torah credits!
We must embrace a new belief system, a 21st-century religion. And those who say this process has failed in the past don’t understand the power of Progressivism (known by those hidden behind the curtain as totalitarianism.)
This statement was unclear. I meant that the Progressives believe they need to embrace a new ideology, which of course is not new at all. Sorry.
Who told you that? Seven of them were Quakers and as I recall they despised and despise slavery.
I didn’t know how to address the future, as you could see, Nanda, which is pretty discouraging. I’d like to think we can stop the movement toward socialism and totalitarianism before it gets up to speed.
I stand extremely happily corrected. :-) I’ve seen it said so many times that I became brainwashed.
I suspect the hullaballoo about the Hamilton musical has convinced a lot of people that the unstable and irresponsible Hamilton, who loved central government power, was the greatest man the country ever knew. He wasn’t. In the end, his silly affairs and his stupid insistence on attending a duel mark him as mostly a fool who managed to do some good work too.
I’ve said this a couple times in various places (not sure if here or not), and I don’t want to sound like a broken record or someone with a hobby horse they beat past death, but…
I’ve noted there are several areas in our culture where the left has systematically deconstructed, removed God, and then re-assembled into their likeness, creating a knock-off of the original institution.
This seems highly questionable to me. You link to an 2016 article proffering a new theory. Even this theory posits that Hamilton’s alleged ties to Judaism ended when he was 13.
By the way, Benjamin Franklin was strongly anti-slavery, as was most of the North. Even many Southerners, like Jefferson, had moral objections to slavery, but didn’t see a practical way to end it immediately.
I didn’t say that there were no Jews whatsoever involved in the Revolution. I said that there was no contribution “of significance,” meaning compared to the overwhelming contribution of mostly English Protestant Christians, mostly Nonconformist. I imagine that we could all list 20 to 30 important founders off the top of our heads. None of them are Jewish. Few are anything other than English in ancestry, though there are a few of French and Dutch descent.
There’s a strange tendency to object to the undeniable historical fact that it was English Protestantism, and especially the Nonconformist variety that came to America, the formed the foundation of our country.
Everybody can join. But to really join, you have to accept the founding principles, and they are what they are.
Look, my biological ancestors came from Italy and Poland in the late 1900s. But I do not live in their culture or civilization, and I do not want to. I cannot claim the Founders as “my people” in a biological sense, and I couldn’t care less. I am their inheritor because I am committed to their ideals, morality, and religion, and so are all of you who share these beliefs.
I think that the urge to connect the American founding to other ethnic groups and other ideologies is not just misleading, but dangerous. It is a symptom of the pernicious “diversity and inclusion” ideology, a brilliant lie of the Devil that promotes division and ethnic hatred under a mask of brotherhood.
Susan, thanks for clarifying. I think that the misunderstanding is more the fault of me as the reader, rather than you as the writer.
That’s a good way to describe it, Stina. And they do it pretty well.
I missed what you were intending to say, @arizonapatriot. (I realized what you meant by later comments.) I think it’s possible that Jews were not in politics at the time because they were busy in other professions in society, especially as merchants. That was their traditional role in Europe (since they were not allowed to own land there for a long time) and mercantilism was allowed there. I assume that Jews could buy land in America. Was owning land a prerequisite for voting or running for office? I’ll check on this question myself, unless someone already knows.
Edit: Jews could own land, but there was some ambivalence toward them in America:
Thomas Jefferson thought Jews needed more secular learning so that “they will become equal object of respect and favor,” implying that without such learning they could not expect to be respected. Writes Arthur Hertzberg in The Jews in America (p. 87):
This idea that there was freedom for you in America as long as you were not “too Jewish,” kept most Jews away. Until 1820, the Jewish population of America was only about 6,000!
This changed in the 1830s when Reform German Jews, who had scrapped traditional Judaism and were not “too Jewish,” began to arrive. The great migrations of poor, oppressed Jews from Eastern Europe would follow near the turn of the century. But before we take up that story, we must look to see what was happening to the Jews of Europe.
Quote function is berserk again, SQ…That’s not me…
The Atlantic argues that we’re relativistic no more, or at least less:
In The New York Times last week, David Brooks argued that while American college campuses were “awash in moral relativism” as late as the 1980s, a “shame culture” has now taken its place. The subjective morality of yesterday has been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media.
A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming.
It wasn’t me. It was somebody writing for the Atlantic.
Of course it’s you – you brought it to us. :-)
You posted an expression of some thoughts that I was trying to put together.
But in your last statement about a culture of shame, the morals the New Left invokes are not necessarily moral. Wanting every individual in our nation to have equal opportunities regardless of race, or religion, or gender, or sexual preferences is moral.
Deciding that since Western civilization followers discriminated against non whites in the recent past now means that everything relating to Western civ should be chucked out with the bath water is not moral. Instead such a system ends up with someone like Professor Brett Weinstein having to hole up in his office while students pillory him for being on campus during a “People of color only” day.
I am not aware of any research on this issue. I attended an elite college in the late 1980s. My personal recollection is that it was awash in both the moral relativism and the shame culture that you reference from the Atlantic and Brooks articles.
This is consistent with Jordan Peterson’s observation that the post-Modernists were originally neo-Marxists and have now, for the most part, adopted the identity politics approach.
It is inconsistent, of course, to have a moral relativist foundation and yet adopt a moral posture of identitarian or neo-Marxist politics. But they don’t value consistency. In fact, when confronted with the contradiction, they tend to reject reason, logic, and evidence as a tool of the Patriarchy.
I think that the error of Brooks and the Atlantic article is to assume that consistency is required.
Exactly right. They argue with irrelevant information, dodge questions, or ridicule the person who asks. Soon, they will be closing their eyes, covering their ears and say na-na-na-na!
Yeah. And the musical points out another “relative” aspect of modern culture. Perfectly OK to turn the Founding Fathers into a group of wildly diverse rappers and hip-hoppers. Perfectly OK to cast Asians as noblewomen in the court of Queen Anne. Perfectly OK to put women into mens’ roles in a production of The Madness of George III. It’s all good.
But just try to cast a white person into a role that the Left has appropriated for their own. They actually count the instances! Here’s a HuffPo article, 25 Times White Actors Played People of Color and No-One Gave A [expletive]. (Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra is listed here, for heaven’s sake).
The WaPo is even more determined to keep track (100 Times a White Actor Played Someone Who Wasn’t White), but that’s behind the paywall.
The world is upside down. And not for the better.
I’ve thought about it in the past but never researched it as I just assumed it was due to the Old Testament. I have spoken to a number of Christians who don’t see the importance of the Old Testament but I am not one of those people. I find it amazingly important to fully appreciating the New Covenant. Just last night after coming back from a very nice Ricochet meetup (in which Susan was there), my step dad and nephew were getting back from BSF. They’re going through Samuel 2 right now and we had a nice discussion. I have a hard time not seeing it intertwined.
I said I had never researched it before but I happen to be reading American Gospel now by Jon Meacham. I had to skip forward to read about the “Judeo-Christian” term and it seem my assumption is correct. It talked about scholar, Mark Silk, noting the phrase first appearing in 1899 “to connote Christianity’s debt to Judaism in the first century.” It also mentioned “the two traditions’ shared values and individual worth, rule of law, and common decency.”
There’s also another part I had actually just read a day ago, that talks more about our early founding. I don’t know how significant it is but it’s interesting. I’m out the door now so now time to quote at the moment but I’ll come back to it.
I’ve found that when lighting the candle approach doesn’t work, swinging the flashlight around in a menacing way just might. (For teens, not lil kids.)
I apologize for the delay in replying. Here’s the part I mentioned from Jon Meacham’s American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the making of a Nation:
I am not sure how significant the Jewish numbers were throughout the colonies and early US, and as I mentioned, I still believe when we talk about the Judeo part of our values we were founded on, it’s more to do with the Old Testament and what Christianity itself was founded on. However, when I read this and think about discussions I’ve heard about the Founding Fathers’ debate on the 1st Amendment I can’t help but think Judaism was heavily on their minds as we established our values.