Saturday, November 06, 2004

Intellectual Activism: The Revolution will be Philosophic

Here's the week's Broadside column:

According to Edison/Mitofsky Research’s exit polls from last Tuesday’s election, the leading issue on the mind of Americans was not the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq or the state of the economy. Instead, the leading issue was “moral values,” a seemingly odd choice for a nation in the throes of a polarizing war. Of the 22% of people who considered moral values to be the primary issue motivating their vote, 80% chose to re-elect President Bush compared to only 18% for Senator Kerry. Yet of all the issues ranked as important by voters, morality is the most central issue—the one issue that shapes all the others.

There are two competing theories of morality that dominate America today. The moral code that dominates the left is one of subjectivism. According to the left, no lifestyle (and no country) is better or worse than any other; there is no absolute right or wrong, save for one—the American people must defer their interests to the considerations and interests of others.

Contrast the left’s view with the religious code that dominates the right. Under this morality, the subjectivism of the left is repudiated and replaced with the certainty that comes from mysticism and adherence to God’s revealed word. Under this view, the American people must defer their interests to the considerations and interests of the Judeo-Christian God.

Of the two moral codes, it is the religious one that is gaining ground in America. It’s not hard to see why. Rather than treat morality like a free-for-all, religion purports to take morality seriously. One would be hard pressed to find a person willing to tell a recovering drug addict that he needs more subjectivism in his life, but one could easily find a host of people willing to tell the addict that he needs to get right with Jesus. In the absence of a rational code, religion provides its adherents with a moral confidence that subjectivism can not provide.

Yet religion is nonsense on stilts. Instead of relying on rational principles, religion turns morality into an article of faith. After all, gays seeking the right to codify their relationships under the law is not a coercive threat to anyone, let alone an institution as old as marriage. Yet if the success of the anti-gay initiatives in the states is any indication, the religious think otherwise.

Religious nonsense also infects other realms. How many times have we heard President Bush make the moral case for freedom in the Middle East on the grounds that freedom is a gift from the Almighty, rather than a necessary (and rationally provable) requirement of human survival and prosperity?

And how does the president reconcile his argument with a Muslim whose own faith leads him to believe in submission to Allah, adherence to the Shari`ah, and global Islamic jihad? Rather than offer a compelling alternative, the president calls the philosophy that animates the murder of our people a religion of peace. President Bush is leader who makes faith-based arguments against a faith-based enemy. Such a strategy cannot hope to win.

We are locked in a contest between ourselves and the proponents of a new dark age—both foreign and domestic. If the left’s subjectivist morality is impotent and will lead to our downfall, the right’s religious morality is not far behind it. Yet choosing between the two was our only option this election day.

We need better. The answer is not to say all things are equal or all things are in the hands of God. The answer is to reject the past and embrace a new, pro-reason philosophy. The founders did as much when they rejected the divine right of kings and proclaimed that they had a fundamental right to their life, liberty and property. You say you want a revolution? Study philosophy from those who say it is in your power to perceive reality objectively, act according to the evidence before you and form a rational moral code and you will have it.

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