Contemporary Morals: Getting Better or Taking a Nose Dive?

The last fifty years have seen a steady progression of values in America. From civil rights to feminism to gay rights, more self-determination is consistently afforded to more people.

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The last fifty years have seen a steady progression of values in America. From civil rights to feminism to gay rights, more self-determination is consistently afforded to more people. We generally take this to represent an uptick in our moral courage, but something pernicious may be happening beneath the surface, says author and cultural critic Angus Kennedy. The more rights dolled out by the state, the smaller the space for moral discussion becomes. Rather than have discussions about what is right and wrong, actions now fall into two camps, says Kennedy: the arena of non-judgement and the arena of moral absolutes.

What's the Big Idea?

Kennedy offers a typically conservative critique of liberal society, defending individualism against moral truths ordained by the state or social movements. He favors enlightenment values and the free individual with agency over his choices; he critiques the modern psychology which sees humans as determined by their natural impulses. Rather than "the Other"--an ethical construct that favors non-judgement and assumes that other people are unknowable in their essence--Kennedy prefers "the Same", viewing people as kindred.

At base are two different definitions of freedom: freedom to follow our impulses and freedom from our impulses through reason. Which do you agree with most?

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