The Case for an American Revolution in Morals

Source: Wall Street Journal.

This brilliant essay crystallizes several themes I have tried over the years — with far less success — to convey in my own words.

One note. Where the author mentions “the core disciplines of the humanities: grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry, moral philosophy,” he is referring to the Trivium/Quadrivium order that once was the basis for a liberal arts and science education in western societies. In less fancy language that order would be called grammar school and college and the different curriculums that characterize them.

18 thoughts on “The Case for an American Revolution in Morals

  1. Virtuous leaders is a bit much to ask for when they are elected by a corrupt people.

    Virtue is hard to instill in a fractured society, we would do better to simply restore the consequences to irresponsible choices.

    Winding back to the 1950s, a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock faced a hard life. Her best hope was a family who would help her through pregnancy and arrange an adoption. The worst case was a lot worse. That was tragic for her, but it was a powerful disincentive for other girls to be promiscuous and to instead reserve their favors for a man who would stand by her and be a father to the child. It is not a matter of morality so much as self-interest that kept her chaste, or at least selective. And young men had an incentive to make something of themselves and demonstrate they could be a partner and provider if they wanted to get laid. No morality required, just self-interest.

    But then the Great Society came along and offered teenage girls an escape from their mother’s rules, their own apartment and a stipend just for having babies out of wedlock, To be sure, it was still poverty, but it was an alternative millions of young girls embraced. And young men will be no better than what young girls demand. Suddenly they were free of the burden of supporting a family to get sex, they need only support themselves and be attractive and able to finance a date.

    With the magic wand of the welfare state, the incentives for marriage and responsibility were swept away.

    The same is happening now with crime. Now felonious assaults and robbery are plea bargained down to misdemeanors or often never prosecuted at all. Thugs are out of jail with no bail before their victims are out of the hospital. We have, at least in major cities, removed the incentive to be merely civilized.

    I don’t see a way to restore virtue on a time frame less than half a century, but we can reconnect irresponsible and wicked choices to their consequences in a couple of years. That will do for now.


        1. “Not at all the same.”

          I understood what you wrote. Maybe you don’t? Read it again.

          You want something to keep girls chaste and “reserve their favors” Our morals went bad, according to you, when the punishments for a lack of chastity were more severe. And, as is typical, you seem to forget it takes two to tango.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Well, to some extent, as if the girl got pregnant, the guy was expected to marry her, or at least provide for the baby.

            But there is a difference between ‘punishment’ and allowing people to suffer the consequences of their actions.

            It is requiring others who had no part in the tango to provide for the baby instead of the hardship falling on the dancers that is the unnatural act.


          2. “ It is requiring others who had no part in the tango to provide for the baby…”

            Punish the child for the sins of the parents?

            Gosh, that is your, and others, premise for restricting abortion.

            So once the child is born, he is one his own.

            Liked by 2 people

          3. Prior to the Great Society, no babies starved. There were always relatives or adoptive parents ready to care for them,

            Of course, now that we’re paying girls to mass produce them, it would be hard to find places for all of them. But that is because we offer incentives to produce them.

            But you can excuse all kinds of folly “for the children” including dooming them to generational poverty.

            There is hardly any problem Democrats cannot make worse.


          4. Well, we have removed abortion, and for many, the morning after pill, as a backup to unexpected or unwanted pregnancies in the lower income quintiles.

            A lot of changes from the decades gone by have taken place. Abortions were secret and often dangerous. Gays were beat up, fired, or blackmailed. Schools were segregated. Domestic abuse was tolerated or ignored. Poverty was higher. Medical care rudimentary. Lifespans shorter. Teen gangs rampant in cities,(but guns hard to get). Priests, were raping children without penalties.

            Infant mortality in 1950 was almost 6 times today.

            We just ignored most of it and watched Ozzie and Harriet.

            Hard to roll back any one issue while ignoring the rest.

            Liked by 1 person

          5. “ But that is because we offer incentives to produce them.”

            How so? Middle class tax deductions for children are higher than any cash paid for dependent children.

            Liked by 1 person

          6. BTW, in today’s world of readily available birth control, a girl need not be chaste to be responsible.

            So, why are so many getting pregnant?


          7. “Unnatural act”
            We ALL need that their be new generations. Is caring for them really so unnatural?

            “So, why are so many getting pregnant?”
            Not a simple question, but many are deliberately kept ignorant and ashamed by “conservative” parents who (a) want them that way, (b) raise hell with teachers and schools who “usurp” their parental rights by trying to teach them what they need to know, and (c) who make it difficult for organizations such as Planned Parenthood to help them.

            Liked by 1 person

          8. “Prior to the Great Society, no babies starved.”

            What a truly ignorant statement! Not many children may have starved to death but they starved and ended up stunted physically and intellectually as a result. In the millions. Childhood malnutrition is STILL a huge problem and would be even worse without government programs.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. RE: “Virtuous leaders is a bit much to ask for when they are elected by a corrupt people./Virtue is hard to instill in a fractured society, we would do better to simply restore the consequences to irresponsible choices.”

      Well put. I would only note that we need virtuous leaders in any case, and the only way to get them is with proper education. For example, if the principles of grammar and rhetoric were better taught in schools, we wouldn’t see many of the excesses we encounter in social media. Better leaders might emerge from such marketplaces of ideas.

      We may need 2/3 of a century, or more, to reverse course. In the meantime, reconnecting choices to consequences, as you say, will have to do.


  2. I’m surprised by how much of the commentary here focuses on sexual morality when the article that occasioned the post begins with the words, “It’s hard to contemplate American public life in the 21st century and not arrive at the unhappy conclusion that we are led by idiots.”

    The writer goes on to explain how 14th century humanism set new expectations and standards for society’s ruling classes which, since, have been abandoned. The humanist “goal was to uproot tyranny from the soul of the ruler, whether the ruler was one, few, or many.”

    The soul of the ruler, mind you, meaning that part which can be educated.

    How does Forum commentary so thoroughly miss the target?


    1. Re-reading the comments, it is obvious that the first comment was about national morality as expressed by the low income folks. Why? Because they are more visible and vulnerable as well as being a scapegoat.

      The thread stayed there.

      And you are correct that the point was missed.

      Your editorial from WSJ addresses that only tangentially, if at all.

      You have favored a sort of ruling class per early Greek philosophy. And I think there is merit, but not as appointees necessarily.

      Simply put, modern governance requires skills and knowledge beyond what the Founders envisioned.

      I could see a requirement for presidential candidacy being partly dependent upon an educational tract.

      If you were appointed as a judge in VA, you have to attend a series of courses on how to be a judge. Or at least used to.

      The presidency today is very probably way too complicated for a single person to manage.

      How to get a modern Constitution and still contain the powers of governance by some democratic input is the challenge.

      Thiel and friends think they have the “strongman” philosophy down, but that is just another dictatorship wearing a nice suit.

      Democratic control is still very important. Elites, soulless or not, cannot be trusted without substantial accountability, even if a bit inefficient. Dumb presidents might be preferable to smart despots since the ultimate control of a representative democracy still lies with the citizens. The Orbans and Erdogan’s of the world are already corrupt, and their packing courts and legislatures just solidifies power.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Among your thoughtful comments two stand out the most for me.

      RE: “Simply put, modern governance requires skills and knowledge beyond what the Founders envisioned.”

      I find this hard to believe. I’m more inclined to assume that the problem set of governance has always been the same. See the Roman Empire, the dynasties of China, the Mongolian federation.

      RE: “How to get a modern Constitution and still contain the powers of governance by some democratic input is the challenge.”

      I’m going to post separately on the host of issues you touch on here. Briefly, I think the existing Constitution is more than adequate.


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