Published Humanitas, Volume XXVIII, Nos. 1 and 2, 2015

In 2014, Claes Ryn wrote an intriguing novel titled A Desperate Man which dealt with the protagonist’s reaction to what he understood to be the moral decadence of the West in general and the United States of America in particular. Ryn followed this novel with an essay titled “How Desperate Should We Be?” in which he offers an explanation of the intentions behind his writing and the purpose of the novel. Both the novel and the accompanying essay are quite provocative and suggest a series of questions that are central to the academic study of moral and political philosophy but are also relevant to considerations concerning moral and political action in circumstances of moral upheaval. These questions include concerns about the relation between moral philosophy and moral action, between the works of moral philosophers and the moral choices of a political community, between moral philosophy and political philosophy, and between moral philosophy and the political actions of a political community. Ryn is also interested in the perennial question of ‘what is to be done?’ Though this question is more often associated with radical and/or neo-Marxist theorists of praxis, Ryn appears to believe that, given the dire moral conditions of the Western world, it is imperative that some other kind of answer be given.

In this essay, I will address several of Ryn’s questions concerning the relationship between theory and practice and between moral and political philosophy, while also examining some of the more specific claims that he makes in his descriptive and prescriptive essay concerning the state of moral and political philosophy and the state of moral decadence in the U.S.

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