Thursday 2 June 2011

The nationalization of virtue - James Kalb


From The Tyranny of Liberalism by James Kalb (re-paragraphed):


Recent moral progress is an illusion.

What has happened, in effect, is that fairness and decency have been turned into nationalized industries.

Instead of people having to treat each other decently, each does what he wishes and society at large is expected to provide the decency.

From the standpoint of the managerial state, which even mainstream conservatives have come to adopt, the consequence is that fairness and decency have finally come into their own.

The actual consequences have been those common to all nationalized industries: inputs have shot up, while outputs have dropped in quantity and still more in quality.

Petty tyrants get cushy jobs as economic planners or diversity consultants while the people suffer from crime and abusive conduct. Things no one cares about like celebrations of diversity are overproduced while things desperately needed like integrity and trust are impossible to find.

Why should nationalization work better in the case of something as hard to force and easy to fake as fairness and decency than it does in the production of shoes?


Many regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the work of Jim Kalb - and if you are not you should be! - at least if you are interested in understanding political correctness:


Kalb's work is the definitive treatment of Liberalism (hence PC); and many of my own ideas are perhaps most obviously regarded merely as an independently re-discovered, simplified and in-your-face version of Kalb's more sophisticated analysis.

So much so, that I needed to stop reading Kalb and avoid engaging with his magnum opus The Tyranny of Liberalism until I had my own thought clear, and had finished writing my book.


But now I can allow myself the great pleasure and enlightenment of reading the ToL - and expect to be posting on the subject of this book for a while.


The nationalization of fairness and decency, their absorption into national state bureaucracies, has had an amazingly powerful negative effect on society - it is responsible for that sense of being unable to 'do good' in the West which drives so many idealists abroad to help third worlders, especially (at present) Africans.

They are seeking a place where there is a 'market' in fairness and decency, and where virtue is still open for moral entrepreneurs.

But of course to talk in this way seems to be to regard alms-giving as primarily required for the benefit of the giver, rather than for the relief of the sufferer.

Yet whichever way you look at it, the nationalization of virtue has failed. It devalues the giver, it is less effective at relieving suffering; and even the administering bureaucrat gets very little out of it except a pay cheque, since he is merely following rules.


The nationalization of virtue continues anyway. It claims to guarantee security and impartiality, it seems to 'sort out' the problem (ha!), it harnesses spitefulness against those who give charity.

(The Left's venomous hatred against charitable people is really something! - evangelical Christians and Mormons are simply loathed for their large scale and effective charitable work. They are taking bread from the mouths of bureaucrats!)

But perhaps the biggest incentive for nationalizing fairness and decency is that we ourselves no longer have any obligation to be fair and decent.


Under PC we can be as partial and selfish as the rules allow; and if we are not effectively prevented from this then it is the fault of the rules, not our fault.

We can, and in a sense should behave as badly as the law allows us; since it is the business of the law to define and enforce good behaviour, and bad but law-abiding behaviour only demonstrates the need for a change in law.

(Yet, of course, the Left also say that 'you cannot legislate morality' - as if legislating morality wasn't the core and essence of law! But what they actually mean is that traditional values, Natural Law, should not be legislatively imposed. When it comes to moral inversions, the Left naturally devise and enforce such behaviour, and do so without a second thought.)


This is all part of the demoralization induced by political correctness, and which itself sustains PC.

Civil society is destroyed, churches are destroyed, marriage is destroyed, alternatives are disallowed, individuals are left on their own with nobody to trust - and the essentials of life are provided (or not provided) by nationalized bureaucracies.


The possibilities of an individual actually practising fairness and decency (rather than merely administering f&d) are now so limited that people can only feel good about themselves in an officially-sanctioned way (and that only temporarily) by joining in hysterical campaigns of persecution of the non-PC.


It is a new nationalized sport for the elite! Attacking the non-PC!

You get to gang-up on isolated victims, you get to humiliate and harm them, and yet you feel good about it!

Come on! Even if you can't join the mob inflicting the actual punishments, you can still experience the solidarity of cheering from the sidelines.



dearieme said...

"Instead of people having to treat each other decently, each does what he wishes and society at large is expected to provide the decency."

That's a v fine apercu.

dearieme said...

I sometimes think that the only charities I should subscribe to are the Lifeboats and the Saldals. And I'm an atheist who hasn't sailed for decades.

Bruce Charlton said...

OK - I give-up - what are the Saldals? Salvation Army?

Alex said...

When compassion has been abstracted and standardized as a bureaucratic function, the individual feels released from any personal responsibility in augmenting happiness and/or reducing misery. Moral duties have been appropriated by the government and their administration is carried out by 'them'. Many people are quite pleased to find themselves, for PC reasons, actually encouraged to be self-absorbed.

Human suffering is everywhere, but 'they' should be doing something about it. Of course, 'they' fail to do anything at all - unless making matters worse is regarded as an achievement.

dearieme said...

"Saldals? Salvation Army?"
Mais bleedin' oui.