“Stop Moralising!”: Modern Conservatism and The Tension Between Liberty and Morality | Bradley Goodwin
As someone relatively new to writing for online publications, I admit that before I did so I deliberated about it for some time, not being sure what to expect. I have to say, the potential concerns holding me back were unfounded, and I made the right decision. Of the articles I have written, all have been well received with a consistent amount of agreement and limited criticism.
The only criticism that has stuck out in my mind is one I found slightly strange. Referring to a previous article I had written concerning my own views against the legalisation of cannabis, the common criticism was that my argument was ‘moralising’ the actions of other people and a comparison to having a ‘nanny state’ approach.
Regardless of the issue of drug legalisation, I did find the idea of being of ‘moralising’ as a criticism to be a strange one. The idea seems to lend itself to the classical liberal tendency of ‘letting bygones be bygones’, that it’s nobody else’s business what one chooses to do if it at worst it only harms the person themselves.
That key part of classical liberalism and libertarianism seems slightly perverse, and contrary to how we behave with each other. Obviously, there are some nuances regarding our human faults and personal indulgences in our poorer qualities at times, but by and large we surely want what is good for our fellow man in the same way we seek what is best for ourselves, and we act upon that desire too.
What I think is really at the heart of the problem is a conflict between unrestrained liberty and morality that inherently exists. It seems that the classical liberal or libertarian would like us to believe that liberty is morality, that the moral thing to do is to give someone the choice to act as they wish, even if it is at a detriment to themselves.
At the very least, I would suggest that the libertarian or classical liberal ignores this natural tension, even if they accept it. By this, I mean that they may well accept and express a moral disdain for someone’s choices (be it drugs or some other choice), but that it is still not their business to dictate someone’s personal behaviour.
The whole thesis seems to treat morality as politeness, despite the fact that the figures we often look up to for moral guidance aren’t always polite. For a more religious age, the example was Jesus Christ, whom I’m sure wasn’t seen as polite by those he accused of turning the Temple into a den of robbers, who flogged and flipped over the tables because of their immorality and love for money over genuine service of God.
Hardly the peaceful hippy pacifist modern Churches and Leftists turn him into, eh?
But even the role models some people look up to in our era, from both Right and Left, are hardly people known for always being polite. From Thatcher to Churchill, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King, to those who regard them as heroes, they are heroes not because they were polite, but often because they were impolite. They all stood up to those who were behaving immorally and held them to account in the face of politeness.
As to the ‘nanny state’, giving restrictions and dictating how individuals should live their lives, with ridiculous proposals on the littlest things, from the food choices we make to alcohol consumption, I am in general against such things. I find modern policies such as the ‘sugar tax’ pointless exercises in penalising individuals without achieving the intended result they even aim to.
I do, however, think that the counter-argument of ‘nanny state’ misses the reality of the modern state. In its unadulterated, unfiltered sole focus on fighting taxes and product bans, the full picture remains behind a self-imposed veil.
Behind the veil, the real interference is in the social condition of our country. To assume economic interference is the full picture is to make the same fatal mistake of Marxist theories: that man’s welfare is derived solely from his economic condition.
Karl Marx in his romanticism of the worker’s liberation hinges his dreams for man on his relation to his labour. Marx’s paradise arrives when man fully recognises himself in his labour, free from capitalism’s tyrannical distortion of our labour-dependent identity.
In a similar way, modern conservatism has created its own version of this tale. Rather than the capitalist being man’s oppressor, the tax is likened to a mythical creature with the same level of menace towards the worker. The higher the tax, the higher the oppression and man will only be free once he is free of this tool of burden (as far as is economically possible anyway).
Once again, I stress that I am not a ‘nanny state’ proponent. My own view is that the state has no inalienable right to taxation as the socialist seems to think. The State’s approach to tax should, broadly speaking, be thus: at their minimum, existing only as a necessary evil where there is an inescapable morally pressing need.
My specific problem is the fact the conservative philosophy against tax has become convenient for a new philosophy that achieves political convenience at the expense of accuracy.
As I said, the State’s key realm of interference is social and cultural, the economic interference merely an offset of this cultural interest, more or less the means of bringing social interference about.
In the modern Leftist quasi-religious dogma of ‘social justice’, the demonstration of the problem is seen in action. The Leftist value of ‘equality’ that comes with social justice is all pervading and at the ideological core of the movement. Its influence in the main, as the name quite obviously implies, is on social issues, such as the family, relationships, race, gender and so forth.
Its influence has become wide-ranging to the point that it is dogma not only to its political proponents, but to the spheres of influence beyond politics, such as media circles, academia and the like, with the prospect of being ostracised from any form of influence for not subscribing to their views. In a sense social justice has hence made society an ‘oligarchy of cliques’, power concentrated in them, with strict conditions for entry being a compliance with social justice ideology, with refusal of entry for ideological dissidents.
This ideological domination is typical of Marxism, a heavy-handed imposition from top to bottom. These groups have gone from beyond freezing out dissidents to making sure those beneath them in their sphere of influence subscribe to their theories too. This comes in the form of ‘diktats’, which are in the form of laws, application policies, training days and all other manner of schemes and proposals to make sure nobody says or thinks anything that would be anathema to the social justice religion.
This ‘oligarchy’ is the true suppressor of liberty. The liberty most in danger is that of thought, belief, and expression of views against the imposed ideology of the diktats.
While taxes are the hallmark of the Leftist state and a symbol of its disordered philosophy, the libertarian approach has disconnected conservatives from the full extent of the damage Leftism has done.
A tactical focus on the economic as a way of ‘owning’ the modern Left has maybe been politically expedient but with unnoticed costs attached.
The Left have gotten away with their cultural conquest. At best, conservatives have acknowledged the problem but wilfully ignored it as trivial. At worst, conservatives have convinced themselves that such changes are instinctively ‘conservative’, and been at their forefront. The war on society has been won by the Left and we have become complicit in their victory.
Like any problem, we can’t fully fight to solve it unless we acknowledge its extent. And until the scale of the problem is seen by conservatives, we won’t be able to solve this one either.