It is now nearly thirty years since the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre made crystal clear in After Virtue that the moral system of modernity was rationally incoherent - yet in the past decades piecemeal and casual moralizing has come to occupy an ever greater share of public discourse - such that (in the guise of political correctness) it now exerts an absolute control over what can be said.
This came to mind while I was reading a selection of opinions on that ever-tedious topic of whether JRR Tolkien was a 'racist'.
The absurdity of the 'evidence' brought against him was matched only by the feebleness of those who attempted to 'defend' him.
But it was not so much the specifics of what the protagonists actually said that I found interesting, but the form of this discourse - its framing assumptions.
Underlying this debate is the assumption that 'somebody like' Tolkien (born in 1892, a man, white, middle class, English) was almost-certainly a racist - but he may have been masking this. All that is necessary is to find a single instance where 'the mask slipped' and this assumption can be confirmed.
The method (the game) was essentially that in order to find-out whether Tolkien was 'a racist' the proper procedure was to comb though the utterances of his life.
To win the prize of calling Tolkien a racist, all that was needed was to find a sentence which leftist secular moderns would regard as - well - insensitive, stereotyped, possibly offensive, denigrating... basically anything which would make a liberal sociology professor uneasy or uncomfortable - and that is it!
Clearly this assumption is widespread nowadays - since one single remark which is (more or less plausibly) deemed to be 'racist’ is sufficient for a public figure to be permanently 'disgraced' and ostracized – so long as he is in the demonized category of presumptive racists.
On the assumption he is masked, the mask needs to slip *only once* for people to see the hideous features that were (it was always expected) being concealed.
And once the hideous features under the mask have been seen, they never can be forgotten.
A single ‘inappropriate’ or ‘offensive’ remark will therefore invalidate anything and everything a man may ever have done or said about any other matter.
Against this there is no defence (in particular, contrary to the hopes of many men, lifelong thorough-going leftism is no defence).
This is how it is. A solid confirmation of MacIntyre’s thesis.