Wednesday, June 3, 2009


In an article primarily about the abuse of alcohol, Roger Scruton observes "the ease with which puritan outrage can be displaced from one topic to another and the equal ease with which the thing formerly disapproved of can be overnight exonerated from all taint of sin." In contrast to this moral absolutism he commends the recovery of the virtue of temperance, of "feeling the right desire towards the right object and on the right occasion."
.... This puritan legacy can be seen in many aspects of British and American society. .... This has been particularly evident in the case of sex. ....

The old idea of chastity as a form of temperance eluded them. Yet what Aristotle said about anger (by way of elucidating the virtue of praotes or "gentleness") applies equally to sex. For Aristotle it is not right to avoid anger absolutely. It is necessary rather to acquire the right habit — in other words, to school oneself into feeling the right amount of anger towards the right person, on the right occasion and for the right length of time.

In just such a way we should define sexual temperance, not as the avoidance of desire, but as the habit of feeling the right desire towards the right object and on the right occasion. That is what true chastity consists in, and it provides one of the deep arguments in favour of marriage or, at least, in favour of the constraint upon sexual appetite that is offered by love, that it makes sexual enjoyment into a personally fulfilling habit. ....

When sexual taboos were lifted, therefore, they found no further reason to refrain from indulgence. Since no virtue was at risk in our sexual transgressions, these ceased overnight to be transgressions. Thereafter, no proof of the damage done to children by premature experiment, no proof of the moral and medical chaos of uninhibited sexuality, could be heard. Puritanism turned an absolute no into an absolute yes. And it looked around for other pleasures that it could forbid, not because God was offended by them but because they offended the thing that had replaced God in the Puritan conscience — namely the Self. Any pleasure harmful to the self must now be subject to the same absolute condemnation as had been directed against the pleasures of sex. Hence the hysterical campaign against smoking, which has not taken the form of advising against something harmful, but the far more alarming form of condemning that thing as a sin. You can portray young people on the screen as engaging in sexual orgies, beating each other up, swearing and exhibiting every kind of nastiness. But you must never show a young person with a cigarette in his hand, since that will be condoning and encouraging sin. Portraits of famous smokers like Brunel, Churchill and Sartre have been doctored by the Ministry of Truth in order to remove the offensive item from between their fingers, and side by side with the poster on the school notice board that advises 12-year-olds on safe sex and free abortion, is the absolutist edict saying that thou shalt not smoke. .... (more)
And on moral busybodies, the "puritans" of Scruton's essay, C.S. Lewis:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
In Vino Veritas: I'll Drink to That | Standpoint.Online

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