Morality Versus Reason

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David Hume observed that there is a difference between statements about what is and statements about what ought to be. Hume’s law or Hume’s guillotine has become an axiom of philosophy ever since. That axiom is that you cannot move from descriptive statements to prescriptive ones. Put another way, there are things that are true based on observation like the movement of the stars. Then there are things that are true based upon a set of rules, like ethics or religion.

Despite the fact–value distinction, people tend to conflate factual truth with moral truth, especially in politics. For example, you could make a solid economic argument in favor of slavery in certain areas of the economy. Your reason could simply be to make a larger point about economics or maybe labor in that field. That would not stop people from condemning you as a heretic. The moral rule says that any mention of slavery must be in a spasmodic condemnation of whiteness.

On the other hand, given the direction of American morality, you could probably cook up an argument for assessing everything in blackness. Since America was built on the backs of black labor, everything should be valued in those terms. It is ridiculous as a matter of fact, but the present morality would probably be receptive. Taken to its logical conclusion, we could very well end up denominating all goods in Africans, because the moral framework has sacralized black people.

No matter how rational and logical the argument, it cannot overcome morality, but moral claims can easily overcome factual objections. In the example above, the facts about labor markets and the reality of servitude will never make a dent on public opinions regarding slavery, because being opposed to slavery is a central part of the moral framework of the current age. On the other hand, if slavery can be recast to fit within that moral framework, then it will be eagerly embraced.

This is the central problem of politics within a liberal democracy. The spring of democracy is morality. The popular will always bends toward the general morality, even when it goes against public interest. In fact, the public is more easily persuaded to do things against their interests than in their interests. The reason is sacrifice is always a part of morality. Asking people to sacrifice in the name of some moral cause turns their sacrifice into piety, which is the coin of the realm.

This is why liberal democracy seems to be shaking itself apart. In theory, liberal democracy is supposed to be a representative government constrained by the principles of liberalism. These principles are enshrined in a constitution or a body of laws that limit the actions of citizens and the government. Since everyone is equal before the law, everyone has the same rights and privilege. Free speech and freedom of association, for example, are inalienable rights of everyone.

In reality, that spring of democracy easily overrides the principles of liberalism, always in the name of same great cause. You see this here in a post from someone calling himself a conservative. He writes, “Racism was such a dark chapter for our country that, in striving for its extirpation, we adopted anti-discrimination, public-accommodation, and even affirmative-action provisions that are in tension with aspects of liberty and the principle of equal protection under the law.”

The word “tension” there is a gratuitous assertion. There is no tension between the moral orthodoxy regarding race and liberal principles. The former overrides the latter and even so-called conservatives celebrate it. He finished that paragraph with “The prudence of some of these provisions is debatable, particularly their effectiveness in achieving their lofty aims. We’ve maintained them nevertheless as a sign of commitment to a society that is repulsed by racism.”

What is the logic behind reorganizing society in such a way that the world knows we are “repulsed by racism”? There is no such argument. There cannot be a rational argument against racism, as racism itself is a social construct, something that only exists within a set of rules created by current society. It is a devil created by progressivism a century ago as one justification for their cause. As God slowly receded from their moral framework, he took Old Scratch with him, so they invented racism.

In a democracy, even a liberal one, “is” must always yield to “ought” because morality is the organizing principle of a democracy. That morality is defined by and expressed as the will of the people. If the people are convinced that Africans are sacred people, they will conjure unlimited arguments in defense of the notion, despite the objective reality around them. To stand against the majority, even one conjured by the mendacious, is to stand against accepted morality.

This is, of course, why various forms of conservatism and libertarianism have all failed to make a dent in Progressivism. In a democracy, you must win elections and that means getting the majority to agree with you. You can do this my changing enough minds to win the election or you can lie convincingly to enough people so that you win the election. Put another way, you can organize people around new moral arguments, or you mobilize people with some version of the old moral arguments.

Obviously, convincing people that their old beliefs are in error is a lot more difficult than flattering them in some new way. Inevitably, conservatism takes the latter course and comes up with some way to flatter people’s existing sense of morality. Their promotion of Tim Scott, for example, is a way to flatter white people on race. The result of this is the people who claim to oppose the Left end up reinforcing the moral claims of the people of the Left and are assimilated into them.

This is why bourgeois objectivism is no match for left-wing ideology. The cold reality of being correct can never overcome the warm satisfaction of being right. Those descriptive statements about reality are cold, while the prescriptive statements about what ought to be are warm and comforting. People will sacrifice everything for the warm glow of self-righteous certainty. The only antidote to the morality of liberal democracy is an alternative moral framework that promises more than sacrifice.

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