Friday, July 15, 2005

Santorum and the Postmodern Error

Philocrites points out the absurdity of Sen. Santorum's recent comments, namely the implication that the problem with the Catholic Church leading to the sex-abuse scandal was that Cardinal Law, and Boston itself, was too liberal. For those who missed it, here are the senator's words:


It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.


Santorum's comments as I read them are designed to make his political opponents seem alien and disgusting, without advancing the political discourse in any productive fashion. He ought to apologize.

While on the subject, let's clarify what liberals and conservatives mean by 'moral relativism'. Conservatives usually level this charge at liberals who espouse 'post-modernism,' which they see as ultimately leading to the conclusion that each may do as he pleases. If I may air a simplified understanding (and note that what follows is just one aspect of 'the postmodern'), post-modernists themselves espouse the belief that there is no level playing field between any two different worldviews which allow meaningful discourse. That does not mean post-modernists cannot be utterly convinced of their own western-liberal worldview, just that they believe that someone from a Marxian or Confucian worldview will have no common frame of reference to decide which of the worldviews are 'right'. Postmodernism does not mean that just because I cannot convince you that the crime you are committing is wrong you should escape punishment, but rather it acknowledges that the meaning of the action as a crime is going to be difficult to convey to someone who does not see it as such. Post-modernism is not simple moral relativism, which would in fact say that a criminal has a "right" to commit crimes if his moral system allows it.

This emphasis on a multitude of viewpoints does not logically lead to moral chaos; the problem of pluralism could be, and has been, solved a number of ways around the world--wherever two cultures live in peace. It is intellectually dishonest for academic conservatives (ahem ahem George Will) who ought to know better to level the charges of moral decay they often do against post-modernism. For the record I don't count myself among post-modernists' ranks, but they have something interesting to say and ought not be dismissed outright.

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