Concern about the ethical condition of mankind has exercised great minds from the beginning of time. In Biblical chronology, the Fall follows only Creation. No longer a denizen of paradise, man began his struggle against himself and the elements, the former proving a consistently more formidable foe. Plato’s description of life in a democratic regime illustrates not only how easily vice can dominate virtue, but how such an ethical inversion comes to be accepted as the norm rather than the aberration:

They praise [democratic man] extravagantly and call insolence good breeding, license liberty, extravagance generosity, and shamelessness courage . . . [i]n fact, he lives from day to day, indulging the pleasure of the moment . . . [t]here’s no order or restraint in his life, and he reckons his way of living is pleasant, free and happy, and sticks to it through thick and thin.

What Plato considered the penultimate level of civil degradation could easily be mistaken for a People magazine cover story regaling the exploits of contemporary bon vivants. Often enough lapses in probity among even politicians and preachers prompt winks and nods as much as reproach. Such is the extent to which American popular culture lionizes the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain, adopting Hobbes’s sensual calculus in place of the classical and Christian…

This is a preview. Read the full article here.