Higher And Lower Moralities

When I read Parade’s End, I found Ford Madox Ford talking about the Higher Morality in a manner that reminded me of Chesterton. But then again, I had never been sure what Chesterton meant by it. I was merely certain that, whenever capitalised, it was his enemy.

Searching for the phrase now gets me mostly Nietzsche, and adding Chesterton does not answer my question. Sometimes I think that, for the Edwardians, the phrase Higher Morality probably meant what we might now mean by humanist ethics, or an ethical system without a deity. If religion is 50% ethical philosophy and 50% grifting, such a thing as humanist ethics is perfectly possible. One simply throws away the collection plate.

I can nevertheless understand why calling humanist ethics Higher might get up the noses of devout Catholics and Anglicans like Chesterton and Ford. It does sound rather arrogant; absent any analysis of deeds, the freethinker’s assumption of ethical superiority to the believer must be just as offensive as its converse. Whether the Edwardian freethinkers ever accused the religious of having a capitalised Lower Morality, I cannot say. My own conviction is that the Christian-atheist divide runs orthogonally to that between mensch and asshole. Good people with a religion give it the credit for their niceness, while nasty people who get religion practice it nastily, that’s all.

Without being an expert on the period, I am left with the impression that a generation of non-believers were so defensive about the imputation to them of all vice, a libel that has sometimes lasted into my own lifetime, that they went onto a pre-emptive attack and claimed that their ethical level was in fact higher. Or perhaps they meant that, when not sanctioned by a Sky Man, any identical ethical level was disinterested. Immanuel Kant would certainly agree with me that it must be more praiseworthy to do the right thing for its own sake rather than for desire of reward or fear of punishment.

A second thing seems equally certain: namely that the claim to superiority among the bien-pensants is alive and well under another name, equally tendentious and equally insulting to the outgroup: “woke”.

In Chesterton, Higher Thought seems to be the slogan of grifters of the kind that would now be called New Age. If that cap fits the Woke, let them wear it.

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 1, 2018)

Posted on November 8, 2021 at 15:38 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age

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