The Language of Goodness

A debate in which I toook part has just ended. The debate considered the question, "Is morality necessary for good political leadership?" My team was arguing the negative, i.e. that morality is unnecessary. Indeed, in my own statement I went so far as to say that only immoral leaders could properly act in politics. As support, I cited Machiavelli and Morgenthau. (Needless to say, I personally agreed with less than 50% of my position.)

Several times, the moderator stated that the negative was apparently the harder position to argue. Yet we were able to argue the debate to a draw, despite the morally repugnant arguments we made. It seemed to me, rather, that the affirmative position was truly the more difficult one to take. As I said later to one of the staff, it is difficult to argue emphatically for goodness in these cynical times without seeming stale and hokey.

Why is this? Is it that people are genuinely bored with morality? (I hope not.) Such an answer does not seem complete. My impression was that the arguments made in support of morality were all undermined from the start. One girl argued that being moral was simply the right thing to do. Once, this would perhaps have been self-evident, or could have been made so by reasoned analysis. Now, it is mocked as simplistic or even "mystical."

I think that the elevated language once used to defend morality, back when philosophers could still do so, has been systematically weakened and subverted. First, by those oppposed to the Church and to organized religion in general; then, by those opposed to religion in its entirety and Divinity itself; then, by those opposed to even natural law and morality. The effect of this is that it is now nearly impossible to defend the very idea of goodness against naked utilitarianism or even nihilism.

These are all impressions, and I have no direct sources to cite. But this idea chills me to the core, and I will doubtless return to it later.


Ezra said...

It's always frustrating when an idea you don't believe is infinitely easier to argue than a position you fully support. Incidentally -- when are you in DC till?

Mastiff said...

I leave this Sunday. (Yay!) (Awww...)

Maybe we can meet up sometime back where the humidity is measured with TWO digits... (No wonder people here can be out of touch, nobody wants to leave the AC'ed office if he can avoid it!)