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

Claes Ryn’s fine essay asks perhaps the most difficult and important question of our decadent era, namely “how do we act morally in desperate times?” As our republic reaches the nadir of governmental lawlessness, social chaos, and cultural disintegration, it is well worth considering how we can act as we ought. Being no ideologue, Ryn offers no pat answers, instead focusing on what he sees as a deep problem within the Western tradition. The problem? A tendency to define morality “as adherence to a preexisting rational or ideal standard.” There is much to this criticism and to Ryn’s alternative of conscientious integration of imagination, reason, and historical experience. That said, I have a somewhat different understanding of tradition and especially of the role of rules in guiding proper conduct, such that a response may be worth making. In brief, I fear that Ryn’s approach to morality in desperate times would undermine the rule of law and the promotion of virtuous examples necessary to maintain the habits of conduct and imagination needed to re-establish order and virtue. I may well be overstating my disagreements with Ryn as I follow through on some implications in his argument and welcome correction of any such errors in his reply.

The Problem of Ideology

The bulk of Ryn’s fire is aimed appropriately at contemporary ideologues. Whether self-identified as on the left or on the neoconservative “right,” those who see in any particular idea, principle, or value a model to be used in restructuring society undermine moral conduct. The monomania of the left is, of course, relatively easy to see, if difficult in corrupt times to combat. Any who would impose a vision of equality end by repressing those who disagree with them…

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