There is no denying the great cultural achievements of western civilization, its technological brilliance. Virtually all modern innovation, and most of contemporary science comes from Europe and North America- a handful of countries representing a small fraction of the world’s population. Not coincidentally, these are the regions of the world where democracy and economic freedom have flourished. The German-American Jewish anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942) put it this way:
“The poorer in cultural achievements, the greater the number of ingrained rules and proscriptions which work to determine every action.”
Limits and Freedom
Every culture imposes limits on its members. Incest (however defined) or murder are pretty much universal. In many societies, the social structure tells people their obligations, rather than some authority figures. There is “cultural freedom” to do as you please within the bounds of acceptable behavior. A free person is in harmony with his culture.
There is also a concept of moral freedom, which is action in accord with the supreme reason (human, not godly reason) which governs the universe. It’s expressed in the general will of the members of a society.
“It’s to the general will that the individual must address himself to know how far he ought to be a man, a citizen, a subject, a father, a child, and when it is suitable to live or die.”
The philosopher Diderot explained that the general will was truth discovered through the power of reason. Once that truth had been discovered, whoever refused to accept it was “either insane or wicked and morally evil,” an enemy of humanity.
Cultural and moral freedom are not the same. The former changes over time. It responds to undirected shifts in circumstance, be they technological, economic or social. Moral freedom on the other hand presupposes a universal, timeless truth which transcends, or rather over-rides the individual’s ability to choose.
The Cultural Achievements of Political Correctness
Here we have the ideological basis for political correctness, for the moral fascism sweeping contemporary Western societies, condemning their cultural achievements, their science, their progress. The supreme reason governing the universe does not allow for deviance. In socialist countries, this reason is embodied in the State. In democratic nations, the intellectual elite, considering itself trained in advanced reason, considers itself as the personification of that supreme truth. The elite considers itself the West’s greatest cultural achievement.
In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early part of the twentieth century, the primary concern of Western democratic governments was the
protection of individual rights. In the twenty-first century progressives encourage the state to embody the supreme reason which they have discerned. The concern of liberal governments is collective, rather than individual choice. Conformity to universal reason is necessary for the sake of humanity. Dissent can get you fired, or, as some would wish it, jailed. Language must use contrived jargon reflecting the reasoning of those who express the proper moral order of the universe. Violence becomes a political right in promoting the general will.
The Cultural Achievements of the Reign of Terror
It’s the same ideological foundation as failed Marxist totalitarianism. It’s the same foundation as the Reign of Terror which followed the French Revolution. To disagree with unfettered tolerance of aberrant behavior, abortion on demand, social housing, race / gender quotas or even gender-restricted washrooms, is to sin against reason, against morality.
The Cultural Achievements of Twenty-One Thousand Rules
During his years in office, President Obama’s administration imposed twenty-one thousand new rules and regulations upon American consumers and businesses. The progressives who supported him were just as industrious, attempting to regulate behavior, language, thought, and religion. The urge to regulate has been pervasive in Western democracies.
Western civilization has a great record of cultural achievement, technological and scientific innovation. If our societies continue to increase “the number of ingrained rules and proscriptions which work to determine every action,” this record of achievements will be ended, to the detriment of all humanity. This indeed goes against morality, against reason.