Phony Virtue is Ruining Western Society

Phony Virtue is Ruining Western Society, by William Smith.

What counts as virtue among Western elites? As Aristotle teaches, if you can identify what a society considers to be virtuous or good, you can understand the moral outlook of that society’s institutions, from its schools to its foreign policy. …

The West’s moral outlook is now animated by the widespread belief that virtue is measured by one’s professed sympathy for causes such as combatting homelessness, extending civil rights for various protected groups, and decrying poverty in far-off places. …

Yet the continuing sex scandals of our elites are (pardon the phrase) laying bare the inadequacy of this definition of virtue. In Hollywood and other elite institutions, puffed-up paragons of “virtue” reign, but backstage are characters such as Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer, people wholly lacking self-control, decency, moderation, temperance, and civility. In short, many of “the beautiful souls” who have been telling us how to live are reprobates — or protecting them, either tacitly or directly. …

We might simply chalk this up to the everlasting tendency of human beings toward hypocrisy. Yet something more insidious is at work: Over the past 300 years, Western culture has overthrown its traditional understanding of virtue and replaced it with an ersatz morality. This revolution has allowed personally vile people to claim the loftiest moral standing while, in their daily lives, freely treating those around them with gross disrespect and abuse.

The Clinton Foundation is the cleverest and most cynical exploitation of this perversion of virtue: associate yourself with a smorgasbord of progressive causes while grabbing as much money as you can. Solving the world’s problems is less important than the moral approval associated with one’s public commitment to solving them. In short, morally substandard and self-aggrandizing human beings are the very people who are now regularly engaged in moral preening. …

The left refuses to acknowledge the tragic side of man (see the Vision of the Anointed, by Thomas Sowell), which has the happy side effect (for them) that they can cultivate their vices:

Morality is no longer understood as reforming oneself, thus making oneself a better member of society, but as wishing to reform society. This new morality of social conscience has replaced the virtue of St. Paul and Aristotle, which combined an awareness of the darker side of our humanity with an effort to overcome it and develop our higher humanity. …

Rousseau’s understanding of morality has, of course, had great appeal in the West, for obvious reasons. His morality does not require that one train oneself to avoid very pleasurable vices; one can throw personal restraint to the wind and assume the mantle of virtue simply by attaching oneself to an approved “idealistic” social movement.

Rousseau’s destruction of the long-held definition of virtue has had disastrous effects on Western institutions, from the family to organized religion to government. …

In politics, the re-definition of virtue in elite universities as “service to humanity” has produced a leadership class that believes American domestic and foreign policy is only “moral” when it involves humanitarian goals and crusading.

hat-tip Stephen Neil