I have found some apt descriptions and good insights in Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences. My edition has a foreword by Roger Kimball. ISBN: 978-0-226-09006-1. Some quotes below, which I may add to, as I have time.
Kimball, in the foreword:
The point is that the choices life presents us with, especially in wartime, are often not between good and bad but between bad and worse. That is a central conservative insight… (pg xv)
Weaver, in his introduction:
In considering the world to which these matters are addressed, I have been chiefly impressed by the difficulty of getting certain initial facts admitted. This difficulty is due in part to the widely prevailing Whig theory of history, with its belief that the most advanced point in time represents the highest development, aided no doubt by theories of evolution which suggest to the uncritical a kind of necessary passage from simple to complex. Yet the real trouble is found to lie deeper than this. It is the appalling problem, when one comes to actual cases, of getting men to distinguish between better and worse. Are people today provided with a sufficiently rational scale of values to attach these predicates with intelligence? There is ground for declaring that modern man has become a moral idiot. So few are those who care to examine their lives, or to accept the rebuke which comes of admitting that our present state may be a fallen state, that one questions whether people now understand what is meant by the superiority of an ideal. One might expect abstract reasoning to be lost upon them; but what is he to think when the attestations of the most concrete kind are set before them, and they are still powerless to mark a difference or to draw a lesson? For four centuries every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics, and the consequence is an anarchy which threatens even that minimum consensus of value necessary to the political state. [Emphasis mine]
[More quotes below]
So true, so true! Weaver has put his finger on phenomena I see unfold me virtually every day and in countless interactions. I couldn’t help but think of this when watching this interview [17:45] by Jeffrey Goldberg of Nancy Pelosi. Goldberg asks Pelosi, “Do you think the president knows right from wrong?”
There is hardly a better example of a moral idiot than Pelosi, except perhaps AoC. What makes Goldberg think that Pelosi is competent to “mark a difference or to draw a lesson”? Or, in Goldberg’s phraseology, on what basis does he think Pelosi’s ‘moral compass points true north’
Goldberg (and his sympathetic audience) presumes that we have a “minimum consensus of value”, which is indeed, as Weaver asserts, “necessary to the political state.” But it is clear, on an objective review of the facts (as of 9/30/2019), that their outrage is contrived. The whole lot of them have discarded any reasonable basis for making value judgements, being their ‘own priests’ and ‘professors of ethics.’ Without an objective basis for their moral determinations, on what possible grounds can they decide this or that is moral, or more moral than another option.
Lacking any real foundation, they give themselves into our outrage culture, which at bottom is just someone’s way to mask their lack of factual supports and detachment from the real world and general sense that they live meaningless, trite existences, which they are powerless to alter. By giving into an orgy of self-pleasuring rage-sensations, they can deceive themselves into thinking that they are actually doing something. To know whether or not what they are doing is better or worse, in the context of value judgements, or whether or not they have selected the least bad of their bad options, would require an appeal to universals–which they deny exist (but only as it suits them; see below). They are the quintessential “moral idiots.”
Unfortunately, my post today may age in such a way as to vividly reveal that this kind of “anarchy” is not without serious consequence. Baseless moral assessments are part and parcel of a stark disconnect from the world as it really is (starting with their unwillingness to accept that they, we, are in “a fallen state”), and cannot but end, somewhere, somehow, in unspeakable horrors–unless they are checked by people who are not “moral idiots.” Every day, we come closer to the day when that day of reckoning arrives, and it is not by any means certain that the people who are morally grounded will prevail in stopping the madness.
It would be better if it was curtailed before that point comes, but unfortunately another aspect of reality is that the lawful are perpetually at a disadvantage to the lawless, who will exploit the good restraint of the lawful. It is one of their favorite tactics, openly confessed by folks like Saul Alinsky (paraphrase… “make them live by their own rules… so you, the one who obeys no rules, can take advantage of them.”) Indeed, in this anarchy, you can’t even have a discussion with a ‘moral idiot,’ because the ‘moral idiot’ is not concerned about the truth of something, but only about whether or not they can achieve a tactical victory in getting you to drop your objection, stand aside while they march on, or acquiesce to whatever it is they are trying to achieve. To them, even a ‘minimum consensus’ is just a Machiavellian tool.
One of the sure signs that you’re dealing with an Alinsky-style anarchist is that they are silent–completely and utterly silent–about the very same deeds done by the people they approve of, which they demand you join them in being outraged when it comes to the people they don’t. Are they silent because they are ignorant of these things?
It is possible. For example, using Pelosi as my example means little to many people who have not bothered to inform themselves of her rank corruption and open disdain for the Constitution and the ‘law’ (Pelosi keeps talking about ‘lawlessness’ when in fact she furthers it whenever possible), but for those who do, they will recognize just how funny it is to turn to Pelosi for ‘moral’ pronouncements.
But their ignorance is not ‘exculpatory,’ because if they were concerned about truth, then they would have already sought to make themselves aware of such things, and proportioned it all accordingly.
More likely, and more commonly, they are aware of such things, but they are either indifferent or outright approving when their fellow anarchists do them, and only hate it when the other “side” does it–which only shows that they are only saying they hate it. They don’t actually ‘hate it’ at all. What’s to hate? Having discarded of any basis for making moral determinations beyond one’s own ‘priestly’ determination, it isn’t like they can really believe that anything is actually, legitimately, morally wrong. There are only things that they like or dislike, much like one person likes vanilla but another likes chocolate.
Except in this case, the people who merely like vanilla intend to run roughshod over the people who merely like chocolate. No biggie, its just ice cream, ya know? And then reality breaks in.
I offer this reflection on the application of Weaver’s remarks, although they stand alone and could be illustrated by any number of things, because it is clear to me that one of our biggest problems today is that the ‘moral idiots’ who reject all universals explicitly intend to exploit those who accept the existence and binding weight of universals.
An analogy which might be much closer to reality than we would like would be as if two people, both of them armed, meet to have a discussion. The ‘moral idiot’ successfully ‘persuades’ the ‘morally grounded’ that firearms are dangerous and bad for society, so that the ‘morally grounded’ gives up his weapon–at which point, the ‘moral idiot’ promptly shoots him.
You may be ‘morally grounded,’ but that doesn’t mean you should also be naive. When Alinsky says “make them play by their own rules” this is precisely what he wants to achieve–you drop your gun, so he can safely execute you. Today’s ‘moral idiots’ play by the same playbook. Plan accordingly.
More quotes from Weaver to come, perhaps.
Another great quote:
The twentieth century ushered in the leader of the masses, though at this point there occurs a split whose deep significance we shall have occasion to note. The new prophets of reform divide sharply into sentimental humanitarians and an elite group of remorseless theorists who pride themselves on their freedom from sentimentality. [pg 8]
Weaver, writing just after WW2, observed first hand what I have seen in the primary sources, and occasionally today. At one point, I even wanted to elaborate at length on these observations, in a series appropriately titled ‘the drone wars.‘ The ‘sentimental humanitarians’ I called ‘dupes’ and the ‘elite group of remorseless theorists’ I called ‘managers.’ I elaborate on those themes in that post so I won’t repeat it here.