Belonging Again (Part 11)

Can law replace moral orders and still be a moral order?

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In the name goodness, justice, and truth, as opposed to humility, the doctrine of tolerance can reduce the categories of good, evil, justice, etc. to subjective preferences, hollowing out their authority. The society still uses these categories, usually and ironically in the interest of the State and/or doctrine of tolerance that hollows out these categories. Conyers noted this irony, writing that ‘when moral issues strike as urgent, or when they regard our intimate life of the home, when they flare up before us as something dangerous and imminent, then we likely fall back on classical language about what is right or wrong.’¹ We don’t seem able to escape these classical categories, even if we think we have and resist imposing a moral order upon others. Perhaps this is because ‘a society, any society, is a moral order.’² In his book Evangelism, James Hunter wrote:

‘[A society] is comprised of a complex structure of social definition, or norms. These norms have, at root, a metaphysical character: they define reality — what is real and what is illusory or fictional. They also define what is right and wrong, correct and incorrect, appropriate and inappropriate, and good and evil in society. Very simply, they define the proper way people should think, behave, and relate to others in everyday life.’³

Audio Summary

Where there is a society, there will be a moral order: it cannot exist without one. Hence, to live in a society is to live in the midst of a moral order, and no matter how much we may think we transcend classical categories of truth and goodness, for good and for bad, we never escape. Not realizing this, it is likely we will be inaccurate when we appeal to ethics.

Conyers argued that ‘while an idea of the good is clearly essential to the organic community, it is not strictly necessary to the organized community; for the organic community grows out of its purpose, but an organized community reflects its alien authority or its formal principle.’⁴ And yet organized communities like the State are still filled with moral convictions, often to the aid of the doctrine of tolerance that flattens communities and their authority. The State isn’t society, more so “over” it (with its laws and force), and where there is a State, there is always a society and moral order. If Conyers is correct that society is increasingly “toward” the State, then the moral order of society is increasingly superseded by the State (not necessarily suspended, but in a perpetual state of “could be suspended”). In this state, the State doesn’t necessarily need this moral order: the State only needs law and organization versus organic unity (a legal order, per se). And yet no matter how “toward” the State a society becomes, society will entail moral convictions, convictions which may feel increasingly squashed or hollowed out by the State. And yet they will still be there, hopefully organized and calmed by democratic debate and liberal science (assuming people still believe in these institutions).

All societies entail moralities, and there will inevitably be disagreement about what constitutes justice, ethics, truth, etc. Everyone will necessarily feel that what they believe is the “objective” truth, justice, ethics, etc. (or at least “truer” than other possibilities, for otherwise, they wouldn’t believe it), and so it is important that there is a system that manages these factions without violence and mitigates internal conflict without resorting to authoritarianism. Rauch makes the powerful case that liberal science is that system, and he certainly has convinced me that if our Pluralistic Age is to keep from collapsing, we desperately need it.⁵ Otherwise, the people will likely turn to the State and a legal order for a stability, if not outright authoritarianism (which will grow in appeal).

The doctrine of toleration attempts to achieve peace as does liberal science, but pushed as a dogma for the State versus a practical consequence of liberal science (in the form of humility), tolerance ends up increasing authoritarianism and eroding communities, and though this perhaps lessens the probability of “the banality of evil,” I’m not convinced tolerance does so more effectively than does empathetic humility. Conyers noted that ‘the latter day doctrine of toleration serve[d] the agenda of organization, the attempt to use groups for purposes not strictly demanded by the nature of the group itself.’⁶ Tolerance attempts to organize social arrangements in a manner that lessens the probability of internal conflict — a manner approved of by the State and that necessarily places the State as the highest authority. Where there are communities, there is the potential for disorder, and the State attempts to create order ‘by attacking the most obvious sign of disorder,’ which (unintentionally) ends up being the community itself.⁷ The State is ‘by definition in the business of outlawing the spontaneous and the non-political — that is, that which has not been organized.’⁸ The State necessarily exists in tension with all social arrangements that it cannot organize, and compelled by moral impulses of goodness and justice, the State often infringes upon these arrangements for the best of reasons. Without liberal science (or a reduction of the prominence of its role), the likelihood that the State will do this when it shouldn’t — taking a great risk not worth the costs — is much higher.

In tolerance with the State eroding the gravity and depth of moral orders (communities) in societies that require moral orders to be themselves, a paradox develops: the State requires communities to cease being themselves in order to be allowed to keep being themselves. This creates a tension that pulls communities and society at large apart, which the State tries to hold together, but its only tool is law and order. Law is like a moral order, and law is supposed to reflect ethics, but law is not necessarily equivalent to ethics. Furthermore, while moral orders are emergent, legal orders are forced, and so a people’s relationship to them are very different. Since legal orders may embody moral orders, they will not be outright rebelled against, but a question mark will hang over them, cementing potential for an unstable relationship that could burst apart. The larger the legal order becomes and the more it replaces moral orders, the higher the likelihood the people question the legal order and that the “bursting apart” occurs (unless that is the forces of the State are powerful enough to stop them — a totalitarian and undesirable outcome). Of note, the more tolerance spreads, the more the legal order is likely to spread with it, both to enforce tolerance and because the authorities of communities wane.

If the people believe the legal order is justified (and there has to be a legal order of some size, though the larger the legal system is the more difficult it will be to maintain a sense of justification), then the people will not likely rebel against it, but it is precisely in the act of the legal order replacing the moral order that it’s justification is drawn into question by the effected people. Thus, to the degree toleration results in an increase in the legal order is to the degree the order’s legitimacy will weaken, perhaps causing internal destabilizing. In this situation, liberal science will be especially important to provide the people a way to “vent” and feel like they had an equal opportunity for their beliefs to be treated as knowledge (and so specially treated by the State which has weakened their moral orders but through liberal science stayed open to the moral orders, making it possible for the people to perhaps accept the actions of the State); if in this situation liberal science is weakened, the internal destabilization could be dire.

If it is the case that the State weakens and possibly erases “the moral order” as it replaces it with law, the foundation and standard that makes it possible for the law to be determined as “just” will be lost. The law becomes its own grounding and justification: the law is just because the law says it is just. And perhaps it is, but without alternative moral orders to “check and balance” the law, it is hard to say for sure, meaning we may suffer notable existential anxiety before it. Unless that is the law “is all we know,” suggesting that a totalizing version of the law is what we are likely to head in, hoping that if “everything is law, nothing will feel like law,” and so the existential anxiety will be effaced. Moral visions are already by definition totalizing — if I think murder is wrong, then I “practically must” believe murder is wrong in all circumstances and that everyone should agree — let alone with an existential motivation to make it “invisible” by making it all-consuming. For this reason, as law replaces moral orders, law will seek to totally replace them, making it seem as if there was never a “real” alternative to law (a “flip moment,” per se). When law wins, it was never opposed.





¹Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 170.

²Hunter, James Davison. Evangelism. The University of Chicago. 1987: 157.

³Hunter, James Davison. Evangelism. The University of Chicago. 1987: 157.

⁴Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 227–228.

⁵Rauch’s project reminds me much of Jürgen Habermas’ work.

⁶Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 243.

⁷Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 166.

⁸Conyers, A.J. The Long Truce. Dallas, TX: Spence Publishing Company, 2001: 61.




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Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose

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O.G. Rose

O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose

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