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The Science Of Progressive Morality

In a recent editorial, the members of the editorial board of the Hartford Courant profess astonishment because – I am quoting from “End Harassment At The Capitol” -- “It is almost incomprehensible that legislators in this state, known for its progressive policies, fail to adequately police their own and ensure that the halls of the Capitol are safe places for everyone.”

The editorial makes reference to a “survey conducted by the Office of Legislative Management" that shows – again I am quoting from the editorial – “Eighty six people who work in the state’s General Assembly said a legislator had sexually harassed them in a way that created a hostile work environment. Another 15 [per cent] said the harassment involved a quid pro quo for sexual conduct.”

They should not have been astonished, because editorial page editors are grown-ups who should understand that Eros is no respecter of ideologies. Both conservatives and progressives sometimes yield to what moral philosophers used to call the “sins of the flesh.” In our secular age, we’ve abandoned the whole notion of sin, partly because it is a religious concept, and progressives have progressed far beyond the boundaries of outworn religious doctrine, which they find illiberal and inhibiting. Harvard and Yale may still have chairs in moral philosophy, but the current science is not what it was when the subject was attached by a pedagogical umbilical cord to theology, once known as the queen of the sciences. In any case, most editorials are not written by moral philosophers.

Progressives are not more saintly than conservatives.

Central to the mini explosion that set off the #metoo movement were the moral delinquencies of Harvey Weinstein. It would not be a stretch to call Weinstein a progressive; certainly his filmography, when it was not pornographic, carried progressive messages.

Weinstein’s ethics and his view of morality can properly be traced to the Marquis de Sade’s libertine novels, rather than, say, Augustine’s Confessions. Libertinism is absolute, unrestrained liberty in matters of sex and morals as understood by Augustine and Jeremiah, two reputable ethicists. The Marquis de Sade was its high priest, Weinstein its altar boy. Neither of the two can properly be described as conservative.

De Sade, an aristocrat in rebellion against the French aristocracy, which prudently locked him up in the Bastille, was not a conservative in any sense; nor was Weinstein or, to pick another moral reprobate, former Democrat congressman in New York's 9th congressional district Anthony Weiner, given to sending pictures of his unmentionables to young women he knew only through the internet. Weiner, drummed out of politics by morally outraged women and men – including not a few old, white men – was the husband of Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and vice chair of her 2016 campaign for President of the United States. Hollywood is full of libertines. Only a few twinkling Hollywood stars, huddling together in dark corners, are conservatives.

In this one respect conservatives may be more sinned against than sinning. Traditional morality lies at the center of conservativism, which itself has religious roots. This is not to say there are no conservative deviants. When they depart from their roots, conservatives tend to stink more than progressives for reasons stately eloquently by C. S. Lewis. Drawing from a Shakespeare sonnet, Lewis tells us “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds." It’s a good rather than a bad thing that progressive moral reprobates still astonish editorial writers. Astonishment, related to wonder, is at the center of moral philosophy. One who cannot be astonished by moral evil cannot be moral. There really is such a thing as the moral sense, and those who abandon it fall precipitously into moral nonsense.

We have abandoned a theological language, the language of sin and redemption, preferring instead the language of pseudo-science and psychology to map out our ethical infrastructure, and the language does not fit the reality of our existence. Among progressives, the progressive cult is related to ethics pretty much in the way fish are related to milk; the connection between the two, if there is any connection at all, is remote and incidental. Progressivism has become a breastplate to spare self-righteous progressives from ethical assaults; hence the astonishment of the Courant’s editorial board editors. How in God’s name can a progressive who favors, say, partial birth abortion, violence in answer to rational debate and fish in their milk possibly molest women?

Why affect surprise at this? There is no salvation from sin, the ruination of the soul, by way of astonishment. Even de Sade knew that.

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