This is the second in a series based on Mrs. Pearcey’s just-published book, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning.
Nations do not live by economics alone, and although issues like jobs and unemployment top voters’ concerns for November, social issues are now coming to the fore. According to Campaigns and Elections, “voters’ positions on the economy have largely crystallized” which means that social issues “are set to resurface in the next few weeks.”
The conference sought to mobilize voters around family, marriage, sexuality, Hollywood, and other social issues.
But success in November—and beyond—will depend on a fresh strategy that cuts to the core of the secular liberal worldview.
Every good strategy starts by analyzing the other side’s game plan. America is a knowledge-based society, where information counts as much as material resources. Therefore those with the power to define what qualifies as knowledge—to determine what are the accepted facts—wield the greatest social and political power.
Thus the most common liberal strategy is to treat secular views as if they were neutral and science-based. Public truth. By contrast, moral or theologically based views are treated as if biased and subjective. Private preferences. And of course private preferences have no valid role in the public square.
In areas from sex education to stem cell research, to abortion and euthanasia, to welfare and family structure, moral perspectives are discredited as “anti-science.”
For example, when the Iowa Supreme Court imposed same-sex “marriage” on that state in 2009, it claimed that plaintiffs “presented an abundance of evidence and research,” while opposing views were “unsupported by reliable scientific studies.” The court denigrated the historical definition of marriage as nothing but “stereotype and prejudice.”
In August, when a federal court overturned California’s pro-marriage Proposition 8, it employed the same strategy. Judge Walker claimed that the plaintiffs presented “overwhelming evidence,” while opposing views expressed merely “private values.” (The evidence that Prop 8 supporters did present was dismissed as irrelevant.) An article in Slate said the case pitted “fact against prejudice.”
In the social sciences, there’s a label for this strategy: It’s called the fact/value split. The phrase does not refer simply to the age-old distinction between factual and moral statements.
Historically, both kinds of statements were understood to refer to an objective reality. People might debate which principle to apply in a given situation; but they knew there was a genuine right and wrong, not merely personal preference.
The fact/value split signals that America’s ruling elites no longer believe that. And the give-away is the term values. It does not mean moral truths. As literary theorist Terry Eagleton writes, it “means whatever is valued by certain people in specific situations.” Whatever they approve or disapprove, like or dislike.
This explains why Judge Walker attacked the motives of Prop 8 supporters, saying they acted out of “unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples.” He alluded to a 1996 Supreme Court case in which Justice Kennedy said the only conceivable reason for opposition to the homosexual life was personal “animus.”
Where did this drastic redefinition of morality come from? The fact/value dichotomy arose out of the philosophy of empiricism, the claim that reality is limited to what can be known by empirical science. Obviously, moral truths cannot be stuffed into a test tube or studied under a microscope. As a result, moral statements were no longer considered truths at all, but individual preferences.
The most radical empiricist was the 18th Century philosopher David Hume, who reduced morality to individual “taste and sentiment.” Today his radical views have gone mainstream. A 2009 study asked American philosophers which nonliving thinker they most identify with. The top choice was Hume.
Plato said philosophers should rule the world, and they do—hundreds of years after they die.
Today the fact/value split functions as the most powerful intellectual gatekeeper to disenfranchise targeted groups of social and political power. This explains the complaint of ordinary citizens, like the Tea Party movement, that “Washington is not listening.” Their principled convictions are treated as mere expressions of emotion—hatred, fear, anger, bitter “clinging.”
Of course, scientific studies are easily slanted, especially when conducted by advocates. All too often, liberals use the banner of “science” as a cover to impose their own private values. Secular ideologies may preach liberty, but they practice tyranny.
In an election season, the news cycle accelerates. But liberals understand the need to stay focused on the underlying ideas that drive the news. In the Atlantic, Marc Ambinder wrote, “Yes, the election is about control of Congress. But at a larger level, it’s about competing visions of the world.”
The election is an opportunity to advance the “vision of the world” at the heart of the enduring American mainstream. The constitutional republic bequeathed by the Founders is a profoundly moral enterprise, grounded on the fact that every individual is endowed by the Creator with inalienable moral worth. Thus the reduction of morality to private values threatens the very foundation of liberty.
It is time to reassert the transcendent moral truths that gave birth to American freedoms in the first place.
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter