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Wednesday, September 22, 2004
The social consequences of cultural liberalism

Johnathan Pearce is depressed by the preponderance of warning signs one now sees particularly in public sector buildings in which the most obvious courteousies and decency are explicitly requested or demanded, as they cannot any longer be taken for granted. As he notes, "[i]t is now routine for London Underground stations, railway stations and hospital waiting rooms to have signs warning us not to be rude to staff and to refrain from beating them up".

The picture these signs give us of the society which requires them is not misleading. The last example is presumably a tenth-hearted response to the up and coming practice of the angry and youthful arriving at a doctor's surgery, making clear to their GP the ever-present threat of violence, and aggressively demanding the free - ie. taxpayer-funded - prescription of whatever drugs they desire.

There is a wise recognition in the post that this is a problem of far more than law enforcement.

In a healthy civil society where moral standards are 'internalised' and tacitly accepted, it is not necessary to state what ought to be blindingly obvious to the average man or woman. Telling folk with signs to behave decently is a reflection of how infantilised our society has become, and tells us everything about the mindset of those who run what are laughably called our "public services". It is a lame admission that once-widely accepted standards of conduct are no longer part of the common stock of human knowledge, but have to be spelled out as if explaining maths to a five-year-old for the first time.

It is this ever diminishing set of internalised moral standards upon which all of civilised life ultimately depends. In their absence, only the iron fist of force, suspicion and surveillance can keep order, and that iron fist is itself utterly incompatible with liberty.

The moral standards that Western societies took many centuries to develop have produced for us the inheritance of a historically rare combination of freedom and order. Self-restraint and self-control replaced control by the overbearing state, and so permitted the safe distance of government from so many areas of life. It is New Left liberal thinkers, whose purported love of freedom is a sick joke in face of the empirical reality, who have done so much in recent decades to blow that inheritance by undermining and deconstructing the moral consensus on which our liberty is ultimately based. Assuming that human nature is much too malleable and society much too multicultural for any shared moral standards to be necessary or appropriate, the nearest substitute they could manage for any sort of ethical consensus was the widely heeded advice: "If it feels good, do it". The responsibility for the twin expansion of crime and disorder on the one hand, and the state's size and reach on the other, can be laid fairly and squarely at their door.

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