In a small book published in 2005, The Cube and the Cathedral, I raised a question that is even more urgent today than when the book was first published: Can a culture without agreed moral reference points to guide its public life sustain democratic self-governance over time?
The answer that history has given since 2005 is hard to avoid: No, it cannot. The difference now is that this hard truth has become evident throughout the democratic West. The democracy project – the freedom project, if you will – is in serious trouble around the world, and the basic reasons for that are cultural.
The claims of some political scientists and sociologists notwithstanding, democracy is not a machine that can run by itself. No matter how well-designed the machinery, democracy will become brittle, and may ultimately crack and fail, if it is not sustained by a citizenry steeped in certain virtues: men and women committed to the dignity of the human person as the first principle of just governance and dedicated to the pursuit of the common good.
This hard truth is denied by the post-modern high culture of the West; indeed, the truth that there are truths about the human person and human community essential to democracy is regarded by many post-modern thinkers as an undemocratic sentiment, behind which lurks a creeping authoritarianism. Yet the opposite is true across the West: it is the radical moral relativists for whom there is no “truth,” but only expressions of personal preference and will, who are busily enforcing their judgments on society in the name of “tolerance”. You may find them wherever the western democratic project is understood primarily as a machine for the satisfaction of individual willfulness – wherever the imperial autonomous Self is understood to be the idea of the human person that best suits the democratic project.
Read more at Ethics and Public Policy Center.