Moral Man and Immoral Society

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Puritan Board Senior
Excerpt from "
Idols for Destruction" Herman Scholssberg

The common tendency to seek technical solutions to societal problems is nothing more than the substitution of a technical-rational model for the older religious-moral one. When social pathologies appear, we blame them on the "structures of society" ( or if the religious establishment is speaking, our problems become "structural sin" ). If the structures of society are guilty, and not we, then there is no possibility for personal repentance and no way to deal with guilt. We then do the irrational and destructive acts that maintain the systems of redistribution and humanitarianism, in a desperate and futile attempt to expunge guilt feelings by what seem to be good works. Doing as we please and blaming the result on structures is the moral equivalent of the free lunch. By-passing repentance and judgment, we try to arrest increasing chaos by adding a special investigative officer to the court, increasing a subsidy here or a dole there, implementing a halfway house here, a counseling service there. The diagnosis is wrong, and so the intended cure is futile.

After the deaths of some 900 people in James Jone's Guyana commune, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz searched the whole literature on the the incident and found that universally the politicians, journalist, lawyers, psychiatrists, and other experts had concluded that Jones was insane. New York Times columnist James Reston seemed to speak for everyone when he said that Jones was an "obviously demented man." Yet Szasz could find no evidence that anyone had doubted Jone's sanity before the incident. In fact, a gala fund-raising dinner in his honor, endorsed by seventy-five prominent leaders, was scheduled in San Francisco for December 2, 1978, and had to be cancelled after the massacre. Szasz's explanation makes more sense than that of the pundits and experts: "I think he was an evil man." This is no simply a disagreement in which Szasz interpreted differently from the others. The significant point is that so many people concluded that a monstrous act like Jone's had to be an act of insanity; they no longer believed, if they ever had, that evil acts are done by evil people.

Moral failure has palpable consequences. As the ancient Greeks understood it, overweening pride would lead to downfall, hubris to nemesis. The modern habit of subsuming moral categories into material categories is a debunking process. The most sophisticated social thought places it emphasis not on one's obligations but on one's desires, although those are often dignified by being called "needs" or "rights." The moral foundation is thrown out the window and only the appetite is left. This may account for the fact that virtually every expression of modern idolatry is fatalistic. Moral action is inconceivable without freedom, and the various materialistic reductionisms are inconceivable with it. Marxism, behaviorism, evolutionism, astrology, and all the other environmentalisms insist that people do things only because external events compel them to do so. the real meaning of Erich Fromm's title Escape from Freedom is the flight from moral behavior. This fallacy is now part of the world view of educated people everywhere. Teachers, lawyers, government officials, journalists, social workers, artists--those who comprise the new class--"know" that environment produces character, that morality therefore is an epiphenomenon ( A secondary phenomenon that is a by-product of another phenomenon ) of material conditions and hence must be relative. If pressed to say how they know it, they may reply that social science has proved it, echoing Skinner's false dogma that to speak of freedom and dignity is prescientific.

Such ideas have been exported by the West to poor countries, many of whose leaders were educated in Paris, London, or New York. When Robert MacNamara left his post as president of the World bank in 1980, it was with frustration and bitterness. Although he had transmitted untold billions from rich countries to poor, he saw his work as hardly begun and was weary of constantly trying to badger the donors to be more generous. But it was impossible for the recipients, ruled by ideologues aping the worse of the Western idolatries, to have done more with the largesse of the West. There is no conceivable amount of money he could have given to them that would have changed things fundamentally. Materialist philosophers are unable to see that form of capital that is indispensable is the moral and intellectual strength that creates abundance out of whatever is available. The West and its developing imitators, however, destroy what they have been given.

Materialist ideologies shatter any appeal to ethical limitations on the individual because they do not recognize transcendence, thus denying any reality that lies beyond the tangible and particular. The individual person becomes an island, a cancerous growth of egoism, because he rejects the transcendent, which is all that could teach him that it is not lawful for him to regard himself as the center and purpose of the universe, to whom all else must be subordinated. This cuts away the root and ground of all morality, leaving only vacuous moralisms, which are ignored because they are based wholly on pragmatism. Anyone saying that all moral principles derive from material conditions except this one is rightly hooted from the pulpit.

One of the chief errors in Ayn Rand's philosophy is her idea that the altruism of social democracy is the opposite of individualistic egoism. Seeing the destruction wrought by the former, she argues for the latter. But collectivism and egoism are both derived from immanence, both can live only when the limitations of transcendent law are overthrown, both are symptoms of the same disease. If it is lawful for the individual to do as he pleases, why should it not be lawful for the commissar to do as he pleases? If there is nothing to restrain one lawfully, then there is nothing to restrain the other.
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