Re: Government...and the promotion of virtue.
Ought government to be in the job of promoting 'virtue' in its citizenry?
A fundamental notion of the Straussian neoconservatives, now a powerful influence on this White House, is that government indeed ought to involve itself in raising the level of virtue of citizens. It's an interesting question and not a simple one, I think. I recently put the question to two friends, both thoughtful, well-educated and liberal of persuasion. The first, an education administrator replied, without pause, "Definitely not." The second, a writer and parole officer replied, again no delay, "Yes".
Participative governments are formed by people who appreciate that the ordering of society is necessary,and, in many ways, quite difficult. Certain responsibilities are ceded to the government, and as a result certain rights are voluntarily waived.
The intent behind the ordering of society is to, at least, preserve and, preferably, advance society. Towards this end, a government has a responsibility to promote any element of human behavior that preserves and advances the society over which it has been given stewardship, just as it has a responsibility to deter or prevent any element of human behavior that weakens and destroys it's charge.
If we assume that the growth of virtue among the members of a society improves the chances of preserving and advancing that society, it stands to reason the government has a responsibility to do what it can, within the limits of the authority granted to it by society, to promote the growth of virtue.
In fact, we can define "Virtue" as any element of human behavior that promotes the preservation and advancement of society, and "Vice" as any behavior that weakens or destroys society.
Some people get touchy about this subject because they fear that a government's definition of virtue will not coincide with their own, and that some of their less than virtuous (as defined by the government) practices will be curtailed or prohibited.
Education can easily be considered a virtue, under any of the accepted definitions of the term, and very few people have any problem with the government promoting it.
Monogamy can easily be considered a virtue as well and yet, here, the comfort with government's promotion of the concept is not quite as unanimous.
Same sex marriage has for quite some time been seen as a virtue and now the willingness to see government promoting it is a point of societal contention.
Sidebar: It's interesting that those virtues
which most reliably lead to or have the greatest potential for contention all seem to have something to do with pleasure, and most often sexual pleasure. I think there's a whole other thread here.
From government's perspective the issue of pleasure, sexual or otherwise, should never be considered in light of it's impact on the human soul. That very definitely is not an area where government should become involved.
It should, however, consider it based upon its impact on an ordered society.
It's also interesting that your friend, the school administrator, would have government serve merely as an administrator and yet I am willing to bet large sums of money that he doesn't believe that his role, relative to the students with which he deals is one of simple administration.
It's not all that surprising that the parole officer who regularly comes face to face with human vice and witnesses its negative impact on society would be of the opinion that government needs to promote virtue in the defense and advancement of society.
Sidebar: One of the consistently ironic aspects of American politics is the fact that the Left, which one would expect to be focused on communal welfare, is so fixated on individual rights, and the Right, which one would expect to be championing the rights of the Rugged Individual is so often arguing against individual rights for the perceived good of the whole.
To answer your question: Yes, government ought to be in the job of promoting virtue in its citizenry if that virtue preserves and advances society. It ought, as well, be in the job of deterring those vices in its citizenry that threat the stability and growth of society.
The rub has to do with the extent to which government moves beyond promotion and deterrence into enjoinder and proscription.
Since, in the case of a participative government, the tools of enjoinder and proscription have been, by the members of society, voluntarily granted to the State along with the cession of responsibility and authority, it is up to these members to democratically establish the box within which they can be used.
Individuals and minorities, in the end, remain within the greater society at the sufferance of the majority. Our system of government does an admirable job of keeping the negative aspects of majority rule in check, but ultimately society has to serve the interests of the majority or its not much of a society and won't last very long.
Of course what the majority doesn't always appreciate is that promoting the rights of the minority and the individual often benefits the overall society.