Secular liberalism with a conscience
Posted on July 28, 2011
Susan Jacoby is thinking what I’m thinking (or am I thinking what she’s thinking?). Last week I wrote an essay in which I argued that moral considerations should play a larger role in economic policy debates. On the same day, Susan wrote an essay arguing for something very similar. Take a look:
Secular liberals, however, have had very little to say about the moral aspects of economic issues-and that is a great weakness of the secular movement. Where are the forthright, persistent secular voices of those who ought to be making a case, based on reason, that it is not only immoral but economically foolish to balance the budget on the backs of those least able to fend for themselves? If one’s heart does not bleed for a young man with no hands, then let the brain consider what that man will cost taxpayers if he remains a beggar for years-even the rest of his life.
For secular Americans, this is a time to decide whether we will turn back toward the dreary 19th-century secular conservative philosopher Herbert Spencer, who perverted Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection in a state of nature into what he called “social selection” and opposition to all state aid to the poor, public education, and health laws. Of the poor, he declared, “If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well that they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best that they should die.” Best for whom?
Or will we heed the voice of Darwin himself, who stated clearly in The Descent of Man that the tooth-and-claw laws of nature become subordinate to environmental factors-and man’s own moral evolution-in a state of civilization. “If we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless,” he wrote, “it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil.”