The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 21, 2023 - 4:35:21

Public morality and the common good

Katie van Schaijik, Oct 18, 2011

Over at the Witherspoon Institute Robert George has a characteristically thoughtful and helpful article on pornography and public morality.

He shows the limits of the distinction (favored by liberals and libertarians) between public and private acts.

Theorists of public morality—from the ancient Greek philosophers and Roman jurists on—have noticed that apparently private acts of vice, when they multiply and become widespread, can imperil important public interests.

(And this is not yet to mention the still deeper moral truth that even my most secret and isolated sinful act has repercussions for others; that every wrong, no matter how small and hidden, proportionately lowers the tone and quality of the moral atmosphere we all share.)

It’s an illusion to imagine that our society could legalize and normalize such things as pornography, drug abuse, prostitution, polygamy and homosexual relationships without drastically undermining the common good.  For instance, such social conditions would make it difficult if not impossible to raise children in innocence and with due reverence for the dignity, beauty and life-giving purpose of human sexuality. This in turn would make strong, lasting and chaste marriages less and less the norm, meaning more and more children would be raised in broken homes and prone to all the pathologies and dependencies that follow.

It is in a special way a matter of justice to children. Parents’ efforts to bring up their children as respecters of themselves and others will be helped or hindered—perhaps profoundly—by the cultural structure in which children are reared. Whether children themselves ever get a glimpse of pornographic images in childhood is a side issue. A decent social milieu cannot be established or maintained simply by shielding children from such images. It is the attitudes, habits, dispositions, imagination, ideology, values, and choices shaped by a culture in which pornography flourishes that will, in the end, deprive many children of what can without logical or moral strain be characterized as their right to a healthy sexuality. In a society in which sex is de-personalized, and thus degraded, even conscientious parents will have enormous difficulty transmitting to their children the capacity to view themselves and others as persons, rather than as objects of sexual desire and satisfaction.

Awareness of this reality is one of the reason I am alarmed and dismayed to hear so many politicians and pundits speaking of the so-called “social issues” as a distraction from the economic crisis our nation is facing.  The reverse is nearer the truth.  The economic problems are a symptom of a much deeper moral crisis.