Friday, January 07, 2005
Variation on the Theme
Jonah Goldberg offers up this cogent piece on National Review Online that is a concise explanantion of what I have been trying to say these past few nights. Some of the highlights:
How many people consider "whatever you can get away with" to be the moral standard today? Answer: too many. What Holmes took for granted were the reasons people tried to cluster around the "external standard." A more Hayekian — heck, a more reasonable — man would understand (or in Holmes's case, care) that men have good manners and good values not because they are taught good manners are more efficient (though surely they are) but because good manners and good values are simply right. A good mother might very well explain to her children that proper manners and respect for others will make their lives easier. But, a good mother will surely explain that proper manners and respect for others is the right thing to do even if it makes your life more difficult. As the saying goes, character is what you do when no one's looking.Read the whole thing.
But here's the larger problem. The law can never be perfectly neutral; it can never be value-free. The only question is which values will triumph. I'm not arguing for "theocratic" norms or any such thing. But since we are talking about how we should organize a vast and diverse society, it's important to ask which general rules will apply. Holmes wanted to strip the law of that thick gauze of morality surrounding the efficiency-conducting rules underneath. Unfortunately, that morality wasn't gauze, it was more like insulation. Stripping away insulation may make the wiring more efficient in the short term, but it guarantees corrosion over the long term.