January 8, 2019

THE rIGHT IS THE lEFT:

Trump's 'authenticity' is merely moral laziness and cruelty (Michael Gerson, January 7, 2019, Washington Post)

Without intending it, Tlaib and Trump have wandered into an important moral debate. And not a new one. In any ethical system derived from Aristotle, human beings fulfill their nature by exercising their reason and habituating certain virtues, such as courage, temperance, honor, equanimity, truthfulness, justice and friendship. Authenticity -- at least, authenticity defined as congruence with your unformed self -- is not on the list. In fact, this view of ethics requires a kind of virtuous hypocrisy -- modeling ourselves on a moral example, until, through action and habit, we come to embody that ideal. Ethical development is, in a certain way, theatrical. We play the role of someone we admire until we become someone worthy of admiration.

But there is a rival tradition. In any ethical tradition derived from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, authenticity is at the apex of the virtues. This view begins from the premise that man is born free but is everywhere in social chains. Being true to yourself, and expressing yourself freely, is seen as the chief requirement of a meaningful and happy life. In this system, the worst sin is hypocrisy -- being untrue to your real self.

This approach to ethics is also theatrical, but in a different way. In Rousseau's view, we are performers as ourselves, and life is a kind of transgressive art form. Being true to ourselves means being true to our eccentricities. Especially to our eccentricities.

At the root of the Aristotelian approach is the premise that the human person is originally in need of formation. At the root of the other approach is the premise that the human person is only in need of liberation. This has marked a long-standing difference between right and left, with conservatism often on the side of character building and progressivism often on the side of personal expression. But with Trump, something remarkable has happened: The right is increasingly on Rousseau's side as well.

This view of ethics is a perfect philosophic fit for the president's narcissism. 

Morality is the war on human nature.



Posted by at January 8, 2019 4:18 AM

  

« IF THE SHUTDOWN DOES NOTHING ELSE...: | Main | The lEFT IS THE rIGHT: »