Friday, August 24, 2018

Quickies: An Observation About Morals And Standards

     “Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right!” – “Salvor Hardin,” Mayor of Terminus, in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation

     I puzzled over that statement when I first encountered it. I puzzled even further when Asimov wrote that it had become one of Salvor Hardin’s most celebrated sayings. But in recent years its significance has become clear – and important.

     We in the Right tend to pride ourselves on our morals and standards. That’s to be expected; what else, after all, distinguishes us from the Left, or from assorted vulgarians of no particular affiliation? But it’s well to remember that morals (in which I include ethics for the sake of concision) are not standards and should not be conflated with them.

     Morals are barely different from principles. With the exception of purely religious moral constraints, which need not apply to persons not of one’s own faith, both are precepts of right action with roots in our common human nature. They speak, albeit indirectly, of nasty consequences for their violation, whether in this world or the next. Thus, there are both moral and practical reasons for hewing to them.

     Standards are not rules of that kind. They pertain to “what simply isn’t done,” especially by “the better sort.” The consequences of violating a standard might range from being chided by one’s “set” to being expelled from it and treated thereafter as an outcast. But “what simply isn’t done” is more often founded on questions of style and dignity than on anything else. Moreover, context matters. You may not punch out the bounder who insulted you in private; it’s one of those things that isn’t done. However, were he to insult you – or worse, your wife – in public, thrashing him without soiling the drapes or breaking any of the crystal would be deemed acceptable. Allowing someone to demean you or your beloved in public without consequence is another of those things that simply isn’t done, and in these benighted days in which the option of pistols at dawn has been taken from us, other courses are seldom attractive or available.

     Much of the Right’s quandary over how best to respond to the Left’s torrent of denigrations, calumnies, and occasional outright violence is because we’ve tended to view our standards as equally as binding as our morals. It falls to me to inform you all that this is not the case – and furthermore, to advise you that our failure to fight fire with fire is in large measure how we arrived at a state in which only the emergence of Donald Trump had the slightest chance of saving the Republic from an irreversible descent into socialism.

     Thus Salvor Hardin’s epigram becomes comprehensible – and imperative. Verbum sat sapienti.

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