3 November 2006

On abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research, people get exercised if the state isn't standing firm and reinscribing symbolic boundaries (circumscribing personhood, socially endorsed union and human/other distinctions) that stabilise a moral ecology. That's in the US, at least. Less so here.
Also amenable to a moral reading are balance sheets. Under normal economic conditions, is widespread credit card debt more serious as a moral problem than as an economic problem? Is it purely a misnomer when economists refer to bailing out people/countries as a "moral hazard" rather than simply economic bad practice? Who sets the rules of the game?
As head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt sees his role as more than that of a functionary: "I am responsible for the Army, to make sure that its moral compass is well aligned and that we live by what we believe in". He's said of radical Islam in the UK, "I hope it doesn't make undue progress because there is a moral and spiritual vacuum in this country". Could it be our animal rights extremists also prosper under these circumstances?
I'm not sure whether what we're supposed to be filling here is a deep-seated human need for a kind of moral chiaroscuro, or an opportune gap on a sparse and moderate political spectrum. Do we really need the state to be more dogmatic in setting the moral tone for the nation qua national project? Make burning flags illegal? Do we need the Ministry of Values? Conservatism says we do. But then... they would, wouldn't they.

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