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Of Liberals, Conservatives, Rationalists, and Moral Foundations


The world is pretty good; all we have to do is not ruin it.

The other moral foundations -- justice in the sense of just desserts, loyalty, respect for authority, and sanctity -- were important, no doubt, with important benefits, but also very dangerous. Moreover, they were usually applied incorrectly. The formal justice system was obviously unfair, loyalty was to narrow groups instead of all humans, respect was accorded to undeserving authorities, and sanctity had been exaggerated into superstition. These moral foundations needed to be redesigned rationally, with built-in limits to prevent abuse. Unfortunately, that meant that they are no longer moral foundations but flexible principles of social engineering.

The French Revolution soon turned into the Reign of Terror, which in turn gave way to a brutal militaristic emperor and decades of weak governments, despotism, revolution, and pointless wars. Sadly, this was not the last nor the worst disaster from well-intentioned attempts to free society from traditional oppressions. That dubious honor belongs to the 20th century, which had the horrors visited on the world by Communist and Fascist totalitarian superstates.

The attempts of sincere socialists to reduce the power the dangerous moral foundations have on society boomeranged. Stalin murdered the internationalists who held true to the Marxist theory of worldwide socialism and made loyalty appeals from Rodina-mat, the Mother Homeland. Hitler favored sanctity metaphors, which may not have been metaphors, to urge extermination of filthy untermensch who would pollute Aryan purity. Mao raised respect for authority to heights undreamed of by his predecessor emperors. In less than four years, the Angkar courts of justice found cause to execute between a fifth and a third of all Cambodians.

Of course, socialist dreams do not always lead to abomination. Sometimes programs to make society more caring, equal, and free succeed. At other times, they fail less spectacularly. Failed reform may cause a weak government to collapse, often followed by anarchy or military takeover. In many countries in the 1970s, and many more today, socialism led to stagnant economies and unpayable debts.
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