In two senses of the word it is absurd for Leftists to spread the idea, or Conservatives to entertain the idea, that the Left somehow occupy the moral high ground rather than, say, a moral sewage sump. It is absurd in the sense of being logically incoherent; and absurd in the sense of being sufficiently risible to provoke the grim mouth of Hell itself to laughter.
Because of their rejection of the idea of truth, even Leftists who might otherwise admire virtue must oppose it and promote vice. Allow me to explain.
A conservative will assume men are imperfect, or, to use the correct term, Fallen. He says that the guilt we feel when we sin is because we fall short of the standard virtue sets, and therefore we must try ever harder, with the help of good laws and good customs, to achieve virtue. Some conservatives say this is the point of civilization.
A progressive will assume men are always growing more perfect. He says the guilt we feel is a hindrance to happiness, if not a psychological disease. Therefore we must try ever harder to abolish taboos and guilt complexes and hang up, that is, to eliminate modesty, decency, shame, and lower the standards of virtue. The progressive dismisses traditional standards of virtues as being meaningless (hence the word “taboo”) or unhealthy (“guilt complexes”) or irrational (“hang up”). The elimination of virtue is to be done with the help of social engineering by ever more intrusive experts granted ever more intrusive powers over our lives, eliminating law and custom and replacing it with experts armed with arbitrary powers. Some progressives say this is the point of progress.
In sum, the conservative think we should avoid guilt by adhering to a standard of acting virtuously; the progressive thinks we should eliminate the guilt by eliminating the standards, and then acting in any way we damned well please, and the consequences are someone else’s worry.
Now, I have made an outrageous assertion: not that Leftists are indifferent to virtue, but are openly hostile to virtue.
Outrageous, perhaps, but there is no difficulty in proving the point; the Leftwing positions on abortion, on homosexual so-called marriage, on euthanasia, on so-called social justice, on egalitarianism, on secularism, on the glorification of violence and terrorism in social causes, are none of them secret. I assume all readers know the core Leftist positions, so we need not pause to recite examples.
The Leftist promotion of vice is not random. If it were random, then the Left would sometimes be on the right side of a moral question, just as a stopped clock is right twice a day.
The core Conservative idea is that truth is not a buffet and not a ballot. When it comes to reality, you cannot pick and choose and you don’t get a vote. This includes moral reality; if a thought, word or deed is wrong, it cannot become right just because you wish it, not any more than Tinkerbell springs back to life just because you clap your hands.
The core Leftwing idea is that judgments are judgmental. Their idea is that saying reality is inflexible is too cruel a thing to say. Hence there can be no rule of right reason, no right answer to any moral question.
This is a seductive idea.
This seductive idea sounds as if it is promising wars between nations and quarrels between people will cease, once we all forswear this cruelty called judgment. But what actually happens is not that many different ideas of virtue compete in the marketplace of ideas for the hearts of men, but that virtue is ostracized.
No doubt you are scratching your head, dear reader, and wondering why tolerating all opinions always and everywhere exiles virtue. Are there no exceptions? Let me explain what the vice mislabeled tolerance actually is; and then explain what virtue is.
In the real world, tolerance means holding your nose and putting up with something disgusting or painful or wrong. Unwary victims are forced to tolerate the sight of my flabby belly when I go swimming, not because flab is beautiful, but because that is the price of swimming in the same pool with a fat man in swim trunks. In the Looking Glass world of the Left, tolerance means decreeing nothing to be wrong nor painful nor disgusting; my flab is beautiful.
The two concepts are opposite. The first means seeing an evil and suffering it patiently. The second means pretending one sees no evil.
The word virtue itself merely means power. Specifically, virtue is power over oneself, power to resist the glamour of temptation, to resist the flattery of worldly opinion, to resist the lust of vainglory. The cardinal virtues are prudence, fortitude, justice and temperance.
Prudence is putting aside appetite, pride, passion and self-interest to follow the wise course, even when this is not what you want to do. But in the Looking Glass world, there is no objective right reason to follow, hence no wisdom to follow. There is nothing in the Looking Glass world to follow aside from appetite. The Leftists since the time of Freud have indeed denounced the idea of putting aside passion as repression, sure to lead to unhealthy psychological consequences. Putting aside pride cripples the self-esteem. Putting aside self-interest merely makes you a victim. Being authentic, acting on impulse, dreaming impossible dreams, wanting everything in life without any regard to costs, and indeed everything celebrated as liberating by the Left is indeed the mere opposite of prudence.
Fortitude is being willing to suffer wounds and death for a noble cause prudence says is greater than oneself. But if prudence is silent and appetite rules in its place, there can be no noble causes. The derision of the Left for the flag of the nation or the banner of the Church is too well documented to need repeating here. Indeed, the persons congratulated for their “bravery” in the Looking Glass world of the Left are not those who display the most noble stoicism and fortitude, but instead the ones who most loudly and ignobly complain and whine and play the victim card.
Temperance is using one’s fortitude to bridle and domesticate the appetites. Usually the word, these days, this means being moderate in alcohol, but it is by no means restricted to that.
Chastity is temperance. Chastity is an old fashioned word meaning self-control, honesty and honor in the matter of sexual appetites. No single moral rule has been more completely overthrown in the Looking Glass world. Even to hint that one should control any sexual impulse, natural or unnatural, is anathema to the Left, and provokes sneers of scorn and harpy-shrieks of hate. And yet the modern attitude toward no-fault divorce, toward contraception, toward prenatal infanticide, toward sodomy, toward celebrating sodomy with the solemn sacrament of marriage, all these and more are premised on the undesirability and impossibility of temperance of the sexual desire.
Divorce is the act of breaking something much stronger than a contract. It breaks the most sacred promise one can possibly give to the one person whom you vowed means more than anything in life. Divorce wounds children and cripples their own ability to form a happy marriage. Broken families lead to nearly all social pathologies afflicting the modern generation – everything from gang violence to drug abuse. Divorce is like suicide. We would never look at a 50 percent suicide rate in society and claim that society is hale and healthy. Unchaste sex counts for more than honor.
Abortion is retroactive birth control, and it is a sacrament to the Left. The Leftist feel about unborn babies as Hitler felt toward Jews: that we will never be free of these evil parasites ruining our lives until we kill them scientifically. Abortion kills more children than Aztecs ever sacrificed to Huitzilopochtli or Tezcatlipoca. And yet to kill the innocent would never be tolerated among us except if sexual self-indulgence demands it. Unchaste sex counts for more than life.
Contempt for temperance has resulted in a society which is the most sexualized ever—we even use the luscious bodies of women to sell crass commercial products (including on this very page)— and also the least sexualized ever, since romance and femininity have been ostracized, and masculinity is being ostracized, especially in young boys, by drugs if lesser means fail. We are the only society in the history of time who ever managed to make sex boring, or convinced glancing-eyed Venus to yawn.
A similar but far less destructive overthrow of temperance is behind the movement to legalize recreational drugs, and the impulse to overthrow temperance is never far from the minds of advertisers in all media. They refer to the temperate habits of thrift and moderation as ‘sales resistance’ and seek to erode it.
Justice is rewarding the innocent and punishing the guilty, praising the praiseworthy and blaming the blameworthy, no matter who they are, no matter whether they are friend or foe, yourself or another. It means holding all to one standard. That means using your temperance to control the otherwise insatiable appetite to be partisan for oneself or for one’s own. Justice means being blind to all that.
To a just man, a beggar stealing a penny is as blameworthy as a prince stealing a province.
Leftism dismisses justice as a mere trick by the powerful to oppress the weak. The Left therefore demands social justice, set-asides, quotas, racial reparations. Leftism means putting partisan politics first, always and everywhere, and eliminating justice. Social justice by definition is and must be the promotion of injustice: punishing the privileged because they are happy, nor because they did wrong; and rewarding the weak because they are unhappy, not because they earned any reward.
The main injustice of our time is treating women and men as interchangeable. We are not. Men are decidedly inferior to women at being womanly. Women are decidedly inferior to men at being manly. Those who promote this injustice are called feminists. To call these creatures who hate femininity more than they hate anything else “feminist” is like calling cannibals cooks.
To be on the Left means to be unjust on principle, intemperate, craven and imprudent. It means dismissing virtue as trickery or cruelty or madness, and welcoming vice as liberation.
Read last week’s column: Leftists Can’t Handle the Truth.
John C. Wright is a retired attorney and newspaperman who was only once hunted by the police. He is a graduate of St. John College (home of Mortimer Adler’s “Great Books Program“). In 2004 he foreswore his lifelong atheism and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He has published over 10 SF novels, including one nominated for a Nebula award, and was described by Publisher’s Weekly as “this fledgling century’s most important new SF talent.” He currently lives in fairytale-like happiness with his wife, the authoress L. Jagi Lamplighter, and their four children.