The essay to which Isaac Whitney linked this morning comes right up to a question that is almost so obviously right at the center of questions about morality that nobody ever asks it: If people are coming to their own conclusions about morality, where are they coming from?
In one of my favorite quotes, Thomas Sowell says, “…each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late” (162). If, God forbid, the death of freedom should arrive, its death will be a result of our refusal to civilize these little barbarians. Our downfall will begin with our fear of infringing upon their personal autonomy, and our playing into the individualistic American gospel that says we must be free to choose our own path, find our own morality, and speak our own truth.
If everyone were rational, you’d expect this notion of radical autonomy to overlap with small-government and religious perspectives. One oddity is that those who most vociferously proclaim that society has no right to impose a moral code also tend to emphasize the use of our most compulsory institution — government — to solve problems and disputes. Another oddity is that you would expect people who trust in our ability to discern morality would also believe that there must be some form of deity dispensing it. The opposite seems to be the case.
Of course, people don’t tend to be rational, especially in these areas of thought. We tend to come to the conclusions that we want to be correct and then fit arguments to that image.
Consequently, as Isaac suggests, we risk coming un-moored. Whereas conservatives would suggest that God defines an objective morality toward which we should guide each other by the least coercive means feasible, radicals object to any coercion at all (except where they want it to be total) on the grounds that there is no objective standard (except the one they trust us all to follow).