‘One plausible view would be that this detachment of rightness from both custom and religion begins with Socrates, who rejected the customers and the gods of Athens in order to make the care of the soul a free-floating concern whose content would be elaborated in philosophical criticism of the received ideas of his milieu. Philosophy was clearly a necessary element here in facilitating the project of detaching the right thing to do from its religious and customary incrustations, and some capacity to isolate the moral from the customary and religious has lived an intermittent life in Western experience ever since. A great deal of philosophy in the Hellenistic and Roman periods was concerned with how one ought to live, and Stoic, Epicurean, and Skeptical ideas have seldom been without influence on modern thought.‘
Minogue, Kenneth. The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life. Encounter Books. 2010. Print. (Pg 131).
From the book summary:
‘One of the grim comedies of the twentieth century was the fate of miserable victims of communist regimes who climbed walls, swam rivers, dodged bullets, and found other desperate ways to achieve liberty in the West at the same time as intellectuals in the West sentimentally proclaimed that these very regimes were the wave of the future. A similar tragicomedy is being played out in our century: as the victims of despotism and backwardness from third world nations pour into Western states, the same ivory tower intellectuals assert that Western life is a nightmare of inequality and oppression.’
Often, I choose to see the world through the lens of the conserve vs change axis, coming down on the ‘conserve’ side.
We all depend upon independent thinkers, men of system, men of scope and genius, and men particularly concerned with injustice for innovation in the West, but I’d prefer most such men to be innovating systems and the natural world directly, not men. Those seeking to change (reform, overturn) what works in our habits, customs and laws, are less likely to understand what works well enough to change very many habits, customs and laws for the better.
Each of us knows relatively little, and what we know is usually a mixture of our natural gifts, fortunes of birth, direct experiences, hard work and luck out in the world.
I’m rather persuaded that in our modern world, many, many people, begin by believing that the West must fundamentally be changed, often without direct deduction to the animating source of the knowledge and truth claims behind the belief.
‘It’s those goddamned corporations’. ‘The whole Catholic church is rotten.’ ‘Every union member is a willing dupe.’
It’s much easier to nurse resentment at the mortal coil, after all, without any specific practice nor satisfying reasons for our impending demise. It’s much easier to blame the personal and professional failures we all experience at the hands of others, living for a time in anger and payback fantasies (I’ve met some who’ve forgiven, but no one really forgets). It’s much easier to blame the jealousy attendant to any lack of status and wealth outwards at the ‘they’ or ‘them’ who are ‘running things.’
Belief in secular ideals becomes something like a religion given the human nature I think we’re all dealing with (engaging the moral sentiments). Furthermore, direct political action becomes, for many, a moral imperative.
On that note, Socrates’ moral corruption of Athenian youth was the primary charge for which he was put to death. This conundrum, and Plato’s work in making the moral case for leaders having moral obligations to the led (some transcendent source for our truth and knowledge), is still worth thinking about.
Is it good to be ambitious? In which domains? Who should be in charge, and of what? For how long?
Are our habits, customs and laws merely the delayed reception by the many from the few?
Thanks for puttering along, here, Dear Reader.