Friday, February 06, 2004
John O'Sullivan has written an interesting article on the German Cannibal. He discusses the tendency of modern liberalism to ignore ancient societal mores in favor of strictly rational basis analysis of various issues before society.
Moral intuition has had bad press in recent years. It is felt to be an unsure and variable guide. But is total reliance on rational criticism any safer? A society that seeks to root all its laws in consciously derived rational-critical principles, and to ignore the promptings of moral intuition, will soon find itself wandering down the blind alley of nihilism. Ten years ago the English social critic, Digby Anderson, imagined in NR how a case of necrophilia would be handled by our self-consciously critical age:
You might call a philosopher. He would explain that absolute moral standards were not the issue in this multicultural society... He could easily show that necrophilia harms no one in the usual and mortal use of that term. Not a single complaint has been made by the object of a necrophiliac's attentions.... A classical liberal economist could easily be found to talk impressively about costs imposed on others, externalities, private and public good, and Pareto optimality. He would reach a similar conclusion: it hurts no one. A psychoanalyst would go further and point out that necrophiliacs were more likely to hurt others if their desires were repressed.... Necrophiliacs should be not only allowed to practice but encouraged to talk about their practices. Assorted necrophiliacs would then sift through history to find all sorts of generals, kings, bishops, and scientists who were necrophiliacs or who would have been if they had not lived in societies irrationally prejudiced against necrophilia.
Overwhelmed by this torrent of detached analysis, we soon forget the basic truth that necrophilia (and cannibalism) are vile, horrible, and wrong. We ought to be able to take this truth for granted and to meet these vices with disgust, contempt, and, at times, ridicule. Unless we recover this ability, we will find ourselves terribly satisfied at our own clever debating as we walk into a trackless swamp, starting nervously at the cackling sounds of the night.
This analysis seems spot on. The problem with modern liberalism and rationalism is that it tends to ignore thousands of years of societal customs and mores regarding certain issues. If one looks at things in the wholly abstract, rational principle of "It's okay if it does not cause other harm", then ancient taboos such as consensual adult incest, necrophilia, polygamy, even, quite possibly, pedophelia, suddenly become much more acceptable.
It frightens me that we are moving in that direction.