Monday, May 14, 2007

Legislating Morality

The first shot at this post was too long and confusing. I had been listening to shows where people were going at each other on different topics. The first part of the post was trying to say that you can think something is wrong, but still think it should be legal.

The idea that you have to "legislate your morality" leads to ruin. In the classical liberal view, the government should be concerned with setting limits on behavior and not on defining its ideals. The limits of the law should be outside what you personally consider acceptable behavior.

The second part of the post was trying to put forward the argument that the converse is also a path to folly. Just because something is legal does not mean it is good. The game where you make the limits of acceptable behavior your ideal also ends up leading to folly.

The long post did not adequately convey that idea. For that matter, I didn't realize it was long. I had listened to two different controversies. The first is a religious group wants to excommunicate politicians for voting for abortion. The second was an ACLU case where they sued someone for reacting to a provocation.

Using these cases really didn't make the point I wanted about the difference between ideals and limits.

BTW, I need to watch out. Apparently I am capable of pounding out 4 pages of words in a short typing session while listening to podcasts.


Charles D said...

Nice short post there, but I'd like to hear your views on the criteria a government should use in determining whether a proposed limitation on behavior is legislating morality or how they determine the limits of acceptable behavior. That seems to be the crux of our current controversies.

There are several issues that can be used to differentiate between ideals and limits. Probably the most obvious is sexual behavior of various kinds: pornography, public nudity, etc. Here there are clear differences in what individual citizens deem acceptable behavior and what society, through its governmental institutions, permits.

y-intercept said...

I do not know the ideal place for any of the edges. The government does need to prevent people from doing harm to others. I think the Libertarians are on a pretty good track with their ideas about the government needing to define and protect property rights. Most of the really important issues we face as individuals can be addresses through the common law that evolved around the ideals of property rights.

Where the exact edges should exist is never known.

It is the very nature of logic that there will always be paradox and conflict at the edges of any issue. Each of the pragmas defined by Kant involve paradoxes that will never be resolved. To have a healthy society, we really need to divert our attention from the edges and concentrate on pursuing our ideals as was done in the Aristotelian tradition.

The classical liberal tradition gradually came to the conclusion that laws should concentrate on keeping people from doing direct harm to each other.

The ideals are better defined outside the legal structure.

The modern liberal emerged with the followers of Hegel and Marx realized that you can always use the paradoxes that exist on the edges to create conflict and that you can use that conflict as a path to power.

Anyway, I really don't know where any of the edges should be. I think we are too preoccupied with the edges. We need to get back to defining and pursuing ideals.

Charles D said...

The nature of power is that people are always going to pursue it, and when they obtain it, they may use it for good or ill. In that, I think the left and right are no different.

I don't disagree that we spend too much time on the edges and the extremes (that being the path to power for many in the media), but fundamentally I don't believe we have a clear idea as a society about what our ideals are. I doubt we have a shared public forum in which we can define our ideals.

Unfortunately we have become a nation of individuals, each pursuing our own lives with no sense of community, and no trusted institution to carry on our joint responsibility as citizens to our nation.