Posts Tagged Kenneth Minogue

Reviving Character: Diversity, Conformity, and the Moral Life

The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil I recently finished up James Davison Hunter’s book, The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age of Good and Evil, which provides a marvelous critique of American moral education, chronicling our gradual descent from a focus on virtues and eternal truths into a modernistic abyss of slippery and subjective “values clarification.”

Hunter’s diagnosis, from the prologue:

A restoration of character as a common feature within American society and a common trait of its people will not likely occur any time soon. The social and cultural conditions that make character possible are no longer present and no amount of political rhetoric, legal maneuvering, educational policy-making, or money can change that reality. Its time has passed.

These “social and cultural conditions,” Hunter believes, have been replaced with Enlightenment-heavy, inclusivist fantasies, believing that morality is “self-evident” in and of itself and all we must do is help individuals “clarify” what is right and wrong for themselves. Anything else is too dogmatic, too sectarian, too potentially offensive.

Particularity is inherently exclusive. It is socially awkward, potentially volatile, offensive to our cosmopolitan sensibilities. By its very nature it cuts against the grain of our dominant code of inclusivity and civility. In our quest to be inclusive and tolerant of particularity, we naturally undermine it. When the particular cultures of conviction are undermined and the structures they inhabit are weakened, the possibility of character itself becomes dubious.

Indeed, there’s something about particularity that scares us, regardless of our own particular beliefs in our own particular moral philosophies. The secular progressive is afraid of the conservative Christian. The conservative Christian is afraid of the Muslim. The Muslim is afraid of the secular progressive. And so we fight for control over the monopoly on the narrative.

So if this inclusivist approach is ineffective and actually undermines the ways in which morality is formed, how is morality actually formed?

Hunter answers:

Morality is always situated—historically situated in the narrative flow of collective memory and aspiration, socially situated within distinct communities, and culturally situated within particular structures of moral reasoning and practice. Character is similarly situated. It develops in relation to moral convictions defined by specific moral, philosophical, or religious truths. Far from being free-floating abstractions, these traditions of moral reasoning are fixed in social habit and routine within social groups and communities. Grounded in this way, ethical ideals carry moral authority. Thus, it is the concrete circumstances situating moral understanding that finally animate character and make it resilient…

A morality conceptualized without basic links to a living creed and a lived community means that the morality they espouse entails few if any psychic costs; it lacks, in any case, the social and spiritual sanctions that can make morality “binding on our conscience and behavior.” What is more, without the grounding of particular creeds and communities, morality in public life can be advocated only as yawning platitudes—variations of the emotivism that now prevails everywhere. Critics who point to the absolutist quality of this moral pedagogy are not far from the point. Outside the bounds of moral community, morality cannot be authoritative, only authoritarian. In the end, these alternatives [i.e. any modernistic attempts to instill virtue] do not advocate virtue, but at the their best, it is virtue on the cheap.

This, of course, is very much in line with the thesis of this blog. If we want to achieve a just, or as I would prefer, a Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments

Love That Ends in Bloodshed: G.K. Chesterton on Division and Unity

G.K. Chesterton, OrthodoxyI recently wrote a piece at Ethika Politika discussing the problems we encounter when we pursue unity for the sake of unity. My basic argument — which is partially borrowed from Kenneth Minogue — is that moderation lends itself toward ambivalence, and ambivalence wanders from truth.

Shortly thereafter, my good friend RJ Moeller pointed me toward an excerpt from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodox, which illuminates similar similar points from a Christian perspective.

In this case, Chesterton points to the differences between artificial unity and active love (a close cousin of truth).

It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division.

It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say “little children love one another” rather than to tell one large person to love himself.

This notion of being “living pieces” translates quite well into an individualistic approach to our public endeavors, particularly when we consider the benefits that can come from active struggle and engagement.

Chesterton continues, noting that Jesus made it clear his blood and sacrifice would provoke division, not soften it:

We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments

The Age of Moderation: Western Ambivalence and the Moral Life

The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes Moral Life, Kenneth Minogue, London School of EconomicsToday at Ethika Politika, I discuss the value that division and conflict can bring to our pursuits of moral truth.

The problem, however, is that divisiveness is particularly out of fashion these days. Indeed, many seek to force “unity” on others from the top down — a feature of modern society that Kenneth Minogue likes to call “Western ambivalence.”

Here’s an excerpt from the post:

We are told to “soften our rhetoric,” to “reach across the aisle,” and to “find common ground.” We are reprimanded for framing matters of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in moral terms. No longer should our debates be about the merits of this vs. that, but rather, we are to concern ourselves with the supremacy of neither. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t get us too excited about anything.

The consequences of this appear quite clear. Without a drive toward engaging ideological struggles (and the ability to do so), how will the moral life ever flourish?

Here’s another excerpt:

The danger of today’s widespread ambivalence, therefore, is not necessarily that everyone might pretend to submit to a single, unified “truth” (although they certainly might), but rather that they would be too ambivalent to know it. As with our competitive endeavors in economics, a retreat from the active, heightened struggle of what Minogue calls the “moral life” will lead to an unauthentic, untried society in which ambivalence equals unity, and unity trumps morality.

As already indicated, Minogue’s views provide some valuable insights on this matter; thus, I found it helpful to leverage a few ideas from his recent book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life.

To read the full post, which contains more of my thoughts on Minogue’s book, click here.

Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments

The System Is to Blame: Kenneth Minogue on the Threat of Political Idealism

Kenneth Minogue seems to be heavy on my mind these days. I recently finished his newest book, The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life, and it has provided me with lots and lots to chew on (some of my initial comments are here, a full review is forthcoming).

In a video I came across last week (not connected to the book), Minogue does a fine job of outlining the threat of political idealism on our political development (what Minogue calls “civilization”). Minogue’s definition of such idealism basically boils down to any sort of excessive trust in the perfectibility of human systems. He even indicates that libertarians are often guilty of it (worshippers of the market…that sort of thing). In many ways, Minogue’s opinions align very closely with those of Thomas Sowell.

Watch the video here:




This discussion comes in the wake of what Minogue sees as modern society’s attack on libertarianism and individualism. In order to respond to such an attack, Minogue argues, we need “something more sophisticated than Hayek and Adam Smith and the glories of the free market.” The ideas offered in this video are indeed part of Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Baby Can Stand: A Lesson in Empowerment, Risk, and Reward

Josiah, Barbaric YawpMy eight-month-old son has always been extremely forceful about pushing the limits of his physical capacity. With each new skill he has learned — whether rolling, sitting, or scooting — he has immediately set his sights on pursuing the next thing. (At a mere three weeks of age he was able to lift up his head completely on his own.)

Over the past week he has learned a new skill: standing.

He can’t stand independently, but as with every previous pursuit, he certainly thinks he can. He pulls himself up on anything he can find — our couch, his toys, his crib, whatever — and each time he is successful, his eyes light up, his muscles flex, and his voice sounds out what Walt Whitman would surely call a barbaric yawp.

He is empowered. After all of his struggling, all of his toiling, and all of his striving, his muscles are finally ready to support his body sufficiently.

But alas, standing is not good enough. Within minutes he moves away from his object of security toward the nearest open space. Slowly and intentionally, he begins to test the unknown, moving one hand away from his support until finally falling to the floor with a resounding thud.

This type of failure is continuous, but it does not discourage him. Within seconds, he pulls himself up and once again pushes away from his support, fighting feverishly to Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment

Melting Pot (or Not?): Democracy and Cultural Diversity

Melting PotI’m in the middle of reading Kenneth Minogue’s new book, and so far it is all-around brilliant.

The basic premise is that democracy has wrongly evolved from a mere process to a supreme ideal. More and more, Minogue argues, the West is substituting individual moral responsibility for a superficial form of collective salvation. In short, decisions at the ballot box have subtly become the supreme authority on moral truth.

I’ll be reviewing the book in the near future, but at the moment I wanted to focus on a point Minogue makes in a chapter called “Democratic Ambiguities.” In the chapter, Minogue highlights various elements we need to understand before holistically evaluating democracy. One of Minogue’s many points therein centers around the social conditions necessary for successful democracy. One of those conditions, in Minogue’s view, is cultural homogeneity.

As Minogue writes:

…[T]he ideal of democracy has little purchase on plausibility unless “the whole people” is a relatively homogeneous set of people who “speak the same language” (even if it is only in a metaphorical sense, as in states such as Spain, Switzerland, and Belgium).

But what about the claim that there is no definitive “American culture”? Minogue apparently disagrees:

The United States established its cultural homogeneity as virtually a condition of admission to its shores. A pays politique can hardly exist unless individuals share similar sources of information and talk to each other in mutually comprehensible terms.

To prove his point, Minogue offers several examples where democracy has failed due to competing cultural (or “tribal”) forces. By examining situations in Lebanon, Spain, Northern Ireland, and Africa (no country in particular), Minogue concludes that some degree of cultural Read the rest of this entry »

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Comments