Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"Public morality" destroys private character

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:24 PM |  

Over at Shot in the Dark, Mitch Berg has a great “satire within a satire” review of a Susan Lenfestey’s paen to the locally made documentary “Wellstone!” about the lives of Paul and Shelia Wellstone that appeared in the Star Tribune. He starts out his piece --

Brian "Saint Paul" Ward, perhaps one of the Twin Cities' most capable satirists, turns his pen on WELLSTONE!, a documentary about the late senator who was killed in a plane crash two years ago yesterday. This piece in the Strib, written under the pen name Susan Lenfestey, is as deft a skewering of the myopia, the provincialism, and the disabling paranoida of Twin Cities left as any I've ever seen.
Having set the hook, without altering a word of the original text, Mitch analyzes the column as satire without so much as a blink until confessing at the end of the post --

I'm informed that Susan Lenfestey is not, in fact, Brian "Saint Paul" Ward writing under a pen name, but in fact an actual Minneapolis writer who apparently intended no irony whatsoever. Indeed, Ms. Lenfestey is not just any
free-lance writer, but
appears to specialize in anti-Bush, pro-left articles.
Fun piece of writing, worth the read.

However, on a more serious note, within the fawning prose, Lenfestey makes the amazing statement --

[L]ike Illinois' Democratic Senate shoo-in Barack Obama, he [Wellstone] cared more about public morality (the policies that define a culture's decency) than private morality (the actions that determine an individual's character).

Yikes! In a nutshell that single statement -- if not read as satire -- sums up where liberalism has gone awry.

First, there is no such animal as “public morality.” By definition society is an amoral amalgamation of individual choices and actions. The results of those choices may be good or bad, but that hardly constitutes “public morality.”

The term “moral” can only be applied to individual choice between two alternatives. Individuals don’t have the luxury of “gray” areas. When individuals understand the binary difference between good and evil, when the vast majority chooses good over evil, then you have a good society, but not necessarily a “moral one.”

Wellstone-like intellectually sedentary policies that impose “public morality” rob individuals of the vigorous exercise of making moral decisions that develops strength of character.

When government uses force to impose “public morality,” it destroys the concept of authentic morality that ought to govern the voluntary interactions of persons one with another. It robs some of their self-esteem, others of their ability to be benevolent.

Where is the virtue in A and B getting together to rob C in order to help D, which is the format of so many Wellstone proposals?

Better that Lenfestey’s notion that the policies that define a culture's decency are more important than the actions that determine an individual's character were taken as satire. To consider it seriously, is to undermine the very foundation without which no people can long survive.