Ethics are a system of moral values dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. They can be highly personal, derived from your understanding of the world, but even personal ethics tend to correspond with public ethics. Every society has to have a set of unwritten rules that govern behavior. Otherwise, you don’t have a society. You have a collection of competing strangers. Those public ethics, the moral framework of society, must rest upon authority to give them vigor.
For most of human history, public morality was rooted in the stories and legends of the people, which described their gods and the role of the gods. At other times, the moral authority was the ruler, who took on a supernatural role in society. In Europe, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Church filled the role of moral authority, along with the evolving social structure. The feudal system established roles and duties for people within the system. Those duties to your station were part of the moral order.
This connection between ethics and authority is what has always haunted atheism, which denies the most common source of moral authority. In fact, atheism is mostly a negative identity, so the atheist invests heavily in attacking the moral authority of Christianity. Oddly, they suffer the same defect in logic as evolution deniers. When they do try to conjure a godless moral code, they inevitably slam into the old problem of Hume’s law. That is, they try to derive an ought from an is.
The struggle atheists have conjuring a moral code without the authority of religion on which to base it gets to a more fundamental problem of western liberalism. A central thesis of liberalism is universalism, the notion that there is one set of rules that are the best for all people everywhere in all times. That means the moral code that comes along with the universal political order must also be universal and timeless. Such a code, of course, cannot answer the question, on whose authority?
This is the heart of the clash between liberal democracy and Islam. When the Mohammedan is told that homosexuals should be allowed to parade in the streets, he asks “upon what authority are you saying this?” The liberal cannot answer, as he acknowledges no authority other than a mystical will of the people. The Mohammedan in contrast has his religion, his imam and the traditions handed down to him. In order to accept liberalism, he must abandon his god and his ancestors.
This is the problem vexing the West. In a liberal democracy, no one can ever know who is in charge, as that runs counter to the basics of democracy. In theory, decisions are made by fifty percent plus one vote. When the vote is secret, no one can truly know who rules over them. The fact that powerful interests manipulate the system in order to get the results that favor them at the expense of society adds to the mystery. People keep voting, expecting a certain result, only to get the opposite.
Of course, the inevitable war on religion that is a natural part of democracy means the other source of authority is slowly eroded. The recent case of the Congresswomen holding orgies in her office is a good example. Otherwise sensible people like Congressman Matt Gaetz are baffled as to why this women resigned, because there is no longer a moral order in America to rationalize such things. In a Christian nation or even a Muslim one, Representative Gaetz would not so confused.
It is only through the shared belief in an authoritative common morality where custom becomes a habit of mind. You cannot have ethics without authority, so when custom and religion are abandoned, as required of democracy, you inevitably abandon any sense of a shared moral order. Eventually, the people, even their leaders, have no reason to support the basics of society. A world of atomized individuals can only be controlled with force and the cost exceeds the benefit
Of course, humans cannot live without a moral order. We have evolved over a very long time to be a part of a community. That means being part of a shared moral order. The void left by democracy’s obliteration of social and religious authority is filled by all sorts of fads and spasms masquerading as morality. It is how we quickly move from celebrating homosexuals as perfectly normal to demanding gay men put on sundresses and begin taking hormone therapy. Morality without authority is chaos.
In this regard, the crisis in the West is due to a lack of moral authority. Democratic systems rest on the assumption that everyone is in charge, which is another way of saying no one is in charge. Since there is always someone in charge, those holding power work to conceal this reality. Instead of powerful men standing before the public as leaders, they hire servants to run for office. Once in office, those servants do as their told, regardless of what they said to the public to secure their office.
The charade of democracy inevitably spills into the culture as a war on any institution that could provide a basis for moral authority. It is not an accident that as democracy spread in the West, religion collapsed. Then it was local civic institutions and then finally the family. The waves of vulgar depravity that have swept the popular culture meet no resistance, because there is no authority for resisting it. There is no answer to why this stuff should not be tolerated, so it spreads like a cancer.
In fairness, the cultural devastation that comes with democracy is more of a dynamic than a causal relationship. The West was already in decline when liberal democracy took root and it was that decline that allowed it to spread. The dynamic between politics and culture is both a symptom and cause of the decline. The fanaticism and insanity of the current age is really just the final spasms of a society that has been in decline for generations. Democracy is the suicide pill for a people out of reasons to live.
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