Can we impose morality? Liberals and libertarians often hotly deny that we can. To them the imposition of morality constitutes one of the more egregious abuses of political power. Indeed, their hostile reaction is, not infrequently, the sum of their argument against a given proposal.
To me this has always seems a puzzling reaction. The logic is slipshod. How is it possible to govern at all, having forsworn all imposition of morality? The very interdiction against imposing morality is a moral statement. To say, “you can’t legislate morality” is to make certain (admittedly vague) claims about the kind of being that man is, and the nature of his political society.
In pulverizing fact, all legislation but the most superficial imposes morality. There is no getting around it. That’s what it does. The more substantive, the more strongly felt is the imposition. A legislative proscription of robbery imposes a distinctly moral framework, highly onerous to those inclined toward the robber’s trade. The claims standing behind progressive taxation are emphatically moral in character. The decision by Judge Walker in California, overturning Proposition 8’s prohibition on gay marriage, flowed from a highly refined moral philosophy, a body of doctrine concerning obligations and liberties not at all modest about its intentions. The Judge's opinion commenced start to finish in a tone of ringing morality and was greeted in the celebratory strains of moral justice achieved.
The preposterous notion that only one side of that debate is involved with the imposition of morality will not withstand a moment’s objective scrutiny. Despite this, liberals go on talking quite as if their side operated only from the strictest standards of sweet rationality and even technical legalism. (We are expected, I suppose, not to notice that Judge Walker’s opinion was regularly compared to the Civil Rights Act; perhaps the liberals would have us believe that said Act, too, was a mere technical legal victory.)
I would recommend that liberal readers procure a copy of Prof. Hunter Baker’s excellent book The End of Secularism, and particularly attend to the chapter gamely entitled “Secularists Sit One Out in the Bible Belt.” It concerns a liberal Christian theologian who developed an explicitly scriptural defense of a particular regime of progressive taxation. This woman managed to persuade a conservative Alabama governor to get on board with her cause (which cause, again, was expressly based on scriptural arguments), and this unlikely duo went around the state together barnstorming for a fairer tax code. It will no doubt shock liberals to their very soul to learn that the secularists ... well, they sat out this instance of moral and theological imposition.
The same sort of thing happens when, say, Roman Catholics interpret the Church's social teaching to favor trade unions, anti-usury laws, tougher regulation, more widely-distributed property, etc.
The truth is that secularism in this sense is a transparent charade. It's a debating tactic only. No one holds to it consistently. No progressive denounces calls for anti-usury laws on the grounds that someone cited Scripture or tradition in favor of them. The moment a man is seen arguing from Christian premises to conclusions deemed conducive to liberalism, the secularists abandon their position.
It is no answer to reply that progressive taxation or anti-usury laws are simply “good public policy.” That just begs the question.
Opponents of gay marriage are perfectly capable of showing a compelling state interest (“good public policy”) in the health of the institution of monogamous heterosexual marriage oriented toward the nurture of future generations. The evidence of the advantage to the upbringing of children of the traditional home of a married mother and father is supererogatory. But to the liberal it is also somehow sectarian or tradition-bound and thus inadmissible.
So the first argument here is not about the nature of marriage and the rights inherent therein. It is about the nature of “moral imposition” in legislation. How someone can agree with the moral imposition of anti-usury laws, but declare inadmissible the moral imposition of traditional marriage, is not a question that can be answered by vague gestures toward “good public policy.”
A pretty elementary train of logic that shows us that, if moral imposition is acceptable for purposes of good public policy, the question is no longer, “is moral imposition okay?” but rather “what constitutes good public policy?” It is the pretense of countless liberals to constantly bounce back and forth between these questions, as convenient; such that when a conservative proposes morals legislation, the liberals can decline to even argue with it on merits, pronouncing instead that “you can’t legislate morality”; while when a liberal proposes morals legislation, the liberals can pronounce that it’s “good public policy” and never concern themselves with their previously-asserted scruples on moral imposition.
Me? I strive for consistency. I say of course we can impose morality. That is the business of legislation. And it is the business of self-government to reconcile competing moralities in mutual acceptable ways.
So let's have done with this charade, shall we?