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Government...and the promotion of virtue.

 
 
blatham
 
Reply Tue 3 Aug, 2004 07:15 pm
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".
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Type: Discussion • Score: 1 • Views: 5,402 • Replies: 93
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 3 Aug, 2004 08:31 pm
Argh.

"Virtue"?

I mean, refraining from killing someone even though they really, really irritate you is a virtue. I'd like the government to do a few things to encourage that virtue, such as, what, having insurance plans cover counselling, punishing those who do go ahead and kill, etc.

Even just tax is in a way enforcement of virtue. People accept that if it was left to those with money to spare to give enough funds for roads and schools and homeless shelters, they wouldn't. So the government promotes and enforces that virtue.

I have a feeling any discussion will be derailed by semantics. But interesting question.
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Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Tue 3 Aug, 2004 08:37 pm
Re: Government...and the promotion of virtue.
blatham wrote:
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.
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Centroles
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 12:56 am
how about for the sake of this discussion, we limit virtue to refer to actions which otherwise cannot harm anyone else.

i doubt anyone would argue with the govt. promoting virtues such as not driving while intoxicated and not killing people.
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princesspupule
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 02:29 am
Will wisdom be the first virtue promoted? And does that mean Bush is out- or is there a drug at Lilley promoting wisdom these days? Razz

Seriously, I'd have to say no, it's not a good idea. At least not the way I understand Straussian neoconservatives use it. Aren't they generally advising using it as a tool to maintain order and control over people? Virtue as a tool is just warped!
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 04:24 am
What Soz and Centroles refer to is what i would term the social contract--means by which humanity in a self-consciously ordered group assure stability and the most security for all, hopefully with the least impinging on personal liberty.

No, i don't for a moment believe that government has any business attempting to impose "virtue." Its rather like Burke's dictum that evil prospers when good men do nothing. Evil is usually not universally recognized outside the tenets of the social contract, and who good men are is a subject for divisive and bitter contention. The same applies to virtue. My personal feeling is that the "virtuous" right in America preens themselves on subscribing to a narrow view of "correct" human behavior which they then use as a stick to belabor those who do not share their opinions.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 08:30 am
I suggest that this thread be moved to the Philosophy forum -- you'd get a better class of people there.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 08:33 am
What about dogs?

Could one expect a better class of dogs in that forum?
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Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 08:55 am
Re: Government...and the promotion of virtue.
blatham wrote:
Ought government to be in the job of promoting 'virtue' in its citizenry?

No. If virtue needs promoting in the citizinery, it shouldn't be promoted by so corrupt a source.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 09:03 am
Setanta wrote:
What about dogs?

Could one expect a better class of dogs in that forum?

No.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 09:08 am
Thanks, Boss, i am much relieved . . .
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blatham
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 09:16 am
joefromchicago wrote:
I suggest that this thread be moved to the Philosophy forum -- you'd get a better class of people there.


That's very funny Joe.

Actually, I didn't even consider the philosophy forum. Indeed I haven't even peeked into the philosophy forum, or any other forum but politics for three years. Too many obsessive types in those places.

Very interesting viewpoints here. Let's follow centroles clarification that we will be talking about acts which do not cause harm to others (but as the gay marriage debate demonstrates, such a claim of harm can be made about damn near anything.)

finn and set suggest that the virtuous is that which promotes overall community stability and survival. Yet they answer the thread question with opposite responses. When I'd asked the question of my two friends, I didn't follow in with counter arguments but recognized that I could probably quite quickly have them in agreement with the opposite of what they had originally answered.

Here's a lovely piece from Kinsley after the revelations of Bill Bennett's fun in Los Vegas...
Quote:
If there were a Pulitzer Prize for schadenfreude (joy in the suffering of others), Jonathan Alter of Newsweek and Joshua Green of the Washington Monthly would surely deserve it for bringing us this story. They are shoo-ins for the Public Service category in any event. Schadenfreude is an unvirtuous emotion of which we should be ashamed. Bill Bennett himself was always full of sorrow when forced to point out the moral failings of other public figures. But the flaws of his critics don't absolve Bennett of his own.

Let's also be honest that gambling would not be our first-choice vice if we were designing this fantasy-come-true from scratch. But gambling will do. It will definitely do. Bennett has been exposed as a humbug artist who ought to be pelted off the public stage if he lacks the decency to slink quietly away as he is constantly calling on others to do...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A14057-2003May4?language=printer
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princesspupule
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 10:54 am
blatham wrote:
Very interesting viewpoints here. Let's follow centroles clarification that we will be talking about acts which do not cause harm to others (but as the gay marriage debate demonstrates, such a claim of harm can be made about damn near anything.)


Shoots, then! My thoughts on Wolfowitz and Bush and the war against terror being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan isn't good debate fodder. Evil or Very Mad

blatham wrote:
finn and set suggest that the virtuous is that which promotes overall community stability and survival. Yet they answer the thread question with opposite responses. When I'd asked the question of my two friends, I didn't follow in with counter arguments but recognized that I could probably quite quickly have them in agreement with the opposite of what they had originally answered.

Here's a lovely piece from Kinsley after the revelations of Bill Bennett's fun in Los Vegas...
Quote:
If there were a Pulitzer Prize for schadenfreude (joy in the suffering of others), Jonathan Alter of Newsweek and Joshua Green of the Washington Monthly would surely deserve it for bringing us this story. They are shoo-ins for the Public Service category in any event. Schadenfreude is an unvirtuous emotion of which we should be ashamed. Bill Bennett himself was always full of sorrow when forced to point out the moral failings of other public figures. But the flaws of his critics don't absolve Bennett of his own.

Let's also be honest that gambling would not be our first-choice vice if we were designing this fantasy-come-true from scratch. But gambling will do. It will definitely do. Bennett has been exposed as a humbug artist who ought to be pelted off the public stage if he lacks the decency to slink quietly away as he is constantly calling on others to do...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A14057-2003May4?language=printer


From the article:
Quote:
Bennett's "The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family," and read about how Americans overvalue "unrestricted personal liberty." How we must relearn to "enter judgments on a whole range of behaviors and attitudes." About how "wealth and luxury . . . often make it harder to deny the quest for instant gratification" because "the more we attain, the more we want." How would you have guessed, last week, that Bennett would regard a man who routinely "cycle[s] several hundred thousand dollars in an evening" (his own description) sitting in an airless Las Vegas casino pumping coins into a slot machine or video game? Well, you would have guessed wrong! He thinks it's perfectly okay as long as you don't spend the family milk money.


Bennett is a hypocrit. He's not even justifying his actions by suggesting that he's circulating $8 million back into the U.S. economy, and that is a virtuous act if it were to trickle through the local communities, right?
Quote:
Empower America, one of Bennett's several shirt-pocket mass movements, officially opposes the spread of legalized gambling, and the "Index of Leading Cultural Indicators," one of Bennett's cleverer PR conceits, includes "problem" gambling as a negative indicator of cultural health. So Bennett doesn't believe that gambling is harmless. He just believes that his own gambling is harmless. But by the standards he applies to everything else, it is not harmless.
Unless, of course, his overall income is so great that $8 mil is a nominal amount to him and his family... Idea

Quote:
Bennett has been especially critical of libertarian sentiments coming from intellectuals and the media elite. Smoking a bit of pot may not ruin their middle-class lives, but by smoking pot they create an atmosphere of toleration that can be disastrous for others who are not so well grounded.
This is the problem with virtue & vice, your own aren't a problem, but those guys ones over there: Twisted Evil

Jesus addressed this, though, and I am willing to hold him up as the most virtuous man ever to live. Mt.7:3-5: "Why do you notice the sliver in your friend's eye, but overlook the timber in your own? How can you say to your friend, "Let me get the sliver out of your eye, when there is that timber in your own? You phony, first take the timber out of your own eye and then you'll see well enough to remove the sliver from your friends eye." That Bennett wasn't able/willing to do this before writing his books on virtue, makes him as self-serving as any of the Straussian neoconservatives... Jmo, fwiw.
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Foxfyre
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 11:06 am
Aren't all laws based on virtue; i.e. a basis of right vs wrong, fairness vs unfairness, justice vs injustice? As a people of laws, it is the laws that define our collective sense of virtue. In our republic form of government, only our duly elected representatives are vested with the privilege of determining what will and will not be law. (The exception would be the more democratic method of changing a Constitution.)

When looked at this way, then yes, the government is definitely in the business of promoting virtue. Personally, I want my elected leaders to be an example of virtue as defined here, and I suppot them speaking on and acting on their convictions as allowed within the authority the law affords them. If our leaders' values do not sufficiently coincide with our own, the law also provides the methodology for changing the leaders.

Otherwise, the government should not be in the business of dictating values, indoctrinating our children, or snooping for virtue violations.
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dyslexia
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 11:52 am
Virtue= Moral excellence and righteousness; goodness. An example or kind of moral excellence: the virtue of patience.
given that "virtue" is linked with "moral" which has a theological basis and therefore arbitrary and often capricious, personally I would deem "ethics" as a more valued quality in governing and in all other social activity.
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Foxfyre
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 05:07 pm
But what possible basis for 'ethics' could there be without applying a moral judgments to them?
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Cycloptichorn
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 05:30 pm
Foxfyre Wrote
Quote:
But what possible basis for 'ethics' could there be without applying a moral judgments to them?


Logic. It works much, much better than morality.

Cycloptichorn

P.S. you never even attempted to answer my question to you on the Gay Marriage topic. Do you have any intention, or are you conceding that your argument is incredibly hollow? Thanks.
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ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 06:19 pm
Good luck with your question, cyclo.
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blatham
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 07:23 pm
Sorry to start this and run, guys, but family duty entails it.

A google search using terms "Leo Strauss" and "virtue" brings up some very good pieces, eg

http://www.iht.com/articles/96307.html
http://www.policyreview.org/apr03/lenzner.html
http://www.opendemocracy.net/themes/article-3-1577.jsp
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Finn dAbuzz
 
  1  
Reply Wed 4 Aug, 2004 09:01 pm
blatham wrote:


finn and set suggest that the virtuous is that which promotes overall community stability and survival. Yet they answer the thread question with opposite responses.



Not exactly.

I answered that government should promote virtue in the citizenry.

Set answered that the government should not impose
virtue on the citizenry. By choosing to answer a question not actually asked, and by injecting commentary on the "virtuous right," he has anchored the discussion firmly in the Political forum.

And if there was ever any chance that it might blow away into the airy forum of Philosophy, blatham has set another anchoring post here in politics, with his commentary on Bennet.

But it was started in Politics so no one can accuse blatham of using a bait and switch tactic.

"Impose" is a loaded term, particularly when coupled with "virtue", but the government does impose certain virtues and most people do not oppose the imposition. For example, if education is a virtue, then it is a virtue imposed upon all American children between the ages of 5 and 16.

However, there are other virtues which tend to be perceived as more connected to the hearts and conciences of citizens and which generally give rise to concern when they are combined with the concept of "governmental imposition." Virtues like charity and honesty. It is unsettling to consider the government attempting to impose such virtues upon its citizens, but even more apropos is the fact that it really is impossible to do so. Imposing charity is another term for confiscating. In the case of these sort of virtues, a virtue imposed is no virtue at all.

What the government can and should do is to create incentives and rewards for its citizens acting in a virtuous manner, (e.g. tax deductions for charity), but in so doing, it should only use the tools (e.g. tax laws) that its citizens have granted it.

Positive motivation is only one half of the equation, however, and since there are any number of people who are perfectly willing to forego special rewards if they are allowed to reject virtue and practice their vices, the government must also develop deterrents and punishments for those vices that threaten or damage the general order of society. For example, the government cannot impose the virtue of honesty upon any of its citizens, but it can punish the vice of lying when that lying is a detriment to society e.g. when under oath in a legal proceeding.

In actuality, the vast majority of us are very happy to have the government promote virtue. Some among us get nervous when the practice is put in those terms, but I sometimes think this is a reflexive response born of one part ideology and four parts posturing.

There is not an irresistible political tide that draws the promotion of virtue into an attempt to impose virtue, so that promotion must be forbidden lest in inexorably turn to imposition.

There is the possibility that government will exceed its bounds and abuse the tools granted to it. This is something the citizenry must always be wary of, but governments that move beyond the role ceded to them usually do so in many more venues than virtues.
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