And I told of how my inquiry hit a nerve, with respondents investing less energy into fleshing out that assertion than in contesting it. The result was an intense, and worthwhile --albeit somewhat irritable-- discussion.
Despite that irritation, the subject is too important to avoid. And so, I decided to dive back into the topic with a second installment.
Fight to Win, Work to Heal
It will require that both liberalism and conservatism clean their own houses.
It is part of the nature of polarization that each side throws overboard what is valid in the other, which means that each side embraces error along with its half-truth. And so the healing of America requires that each side sees its errors, and that it learns what the other side has to teach it.
America has been failing -- as a whole cultural system-- at putting together this kind of Whole morality. Failing as a whole and, as that whole becomes polarized into two warring camps, failing in each of its major parts. These parts can be called "liberalism" and "conservatism" as a short-hand to identify the main currents in the moral/cultural/political flow of the system.
This is why I feel it is important --even if it is possibly also irritating-- not to drop this issue. For just as major elements of the right have become excessively authoritarian and moralistic, so also have major elements of the cultural left become overly permissive and skittish about pronouncing -much less enforcing""moral standards.
When Good People Let Bad Things Happen
A number of people have objected that liberals are not immoral or amoral people. Quite right. I did not intend my question about the "moral problem" of contemporary liberalism to imply that liberals are not as decent, and upstanding in their conduct, as any other group.
But such personal decency does not necessarily prevent these same good people -because of certain aspects of their worldview""from contributing to the corrosion of morality in their society.
Working with students swept up the liberalism of our culture in the 1970s, and then again in the 2000s, I have found them almost with exception very decent young people. At the same time, they were also unable and unwilling to defend any of their moral positions as being anything more than their own personal opinion or preference.
They held fine moral beliefs. But they did not see these beliefs as having any solid foundation or elevated standing.
I would ask them why it is --if moral positions are so unmoored in any real foundation, so arbitrary, as their speech indicated""that I could be confident I had no need to lock my valuables around them. Why is it that, out on a wilderness trip with such students, I needn't have any worry that I'd be murdered in my sleeping bag? Why, if it was all so arbitrary, weren't the rules that governed their own conduct all over the map?
These liberal-minded kids were indeed moral, but their morality was ungrounded in any worldview that allowed them to hold their real goodness with deep conviction.
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