Equality. Liberty. Virtue. These are all features which all citizens of almost every state will agree are good and required for a civil and stable union in some measure. I’ve claimed before that today’s progressive/liberals, libertarians and conservatives differ largely in that the different groups differ in the relative importance they place on these values. That is liberal/progressives value equality the most, libertarians liberty, and conservatives virtue. And it’s not that progressive/liberals find virtue or liberty bad, just that these things are less important than equality and so forth.

What does it mean that one values virtue in a civic sense? There are certainly things it should not mean but often does, that is often this is confused with the idea that particular virtues are required and preeminent. The Greek political thinkers thought that the primary purpose of the state was to create an environment in which the virtues of its citizens would and could be cultivated. Virtue for them was the road to happiness. In our day and age, so many confuse happiness with pleasure and therefore forget the importance of virtue. Now, the Greek city states were small enough that a much more pronounced uniformity of opinion about what constitutes virtue could be established in one community. This helped of course but is not essential.

C.S. Lewis in the The Abolition of Man suggests the notion of a universal sense of right and wrong within all people. Put in the context of virtue, there is a common core notion of what virtues are which all societies and people hold common. Different societies value different virtues with varying gradings and, again at the periphery, some virtues are thought vices and vice-versa, for example modern educators think self-esteem is a virtue and many Christian fathers taught self-esteem a vice. The existence of these differences is however often used mistakenly to suggest that the common notions of virtues in the main are held all cultures and societies.

From the standpoint of political thought and theory however the matter is that a multicultural society, of which most of us belong, can and should foster the development of virtues in its citizens and that this can be done without prejudicing which virtues its citizens value and are being in effect fostered and developed by the state. The primary purpose then of a state is to create an environment in which its citizens can cultivate virtue. So that we can be come better, happier as individuals. As a consequence this requires freedoms (liberty) and equality. But the goal of that liberty (and therefore also where it may and might be restricted) is to foster virtue. Again, where the purpose of equality between citizens is to allow each to cultivate his or her own virtues. Enforcement and encouragement of that equality is not for the purpose of granting equality qua equality to each but to allow each full opportunities to cultivate individual virtue.

Filed under: ConservativeLiberalMark O.

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