Comment On Imposition of MoralitySave this online in Del.icio.us. [?] Vote For this Post
The role of government was written about here yesterday by my co-blogger Ryan. I have a comment/response to make on his editorial, "On the Imposition of Morality."
Loyal readers will know that I think highly of Ryan "Blue Grit" and his political commentary. We often disagree, but he makes intelligent arguments, so I respect him. Yesterday's argument was founded on false premises however, and I think it requires rebuttal so that nobody should be confused as to the role of government.
Ryan argued that it is not government's role to legislate morality. On the surface, the argument sounds reasonable, as we associate "morality" legislation with things like gay rights, abortion, etc. However, morality means much more than what Pat Robertson and the US' Christian Conservative movement would have us (and Ryan, obviously) believe. Ryan recognized this, and went so far as to say that regulating speech is not something government ought to do. However, I think morality encompasses even more than that.
The core of morality, or ethics, is about judging what is good or bad. Whether one asks what are the qualities of an ethical person, or whether one asks what is the ethical/moral thing to do in a particular situation, there is always judgement being passed.
In order for government to function, it must exercise its judgement to determine what is good or bad for its constituency. In other words, government makes a moral/ethical judgement. Therefore, it is obvious that government's very nature is to impose morality of some sort.
To argue that government ought not to impose morality is to misunderstand government's role. Ryan wrote that government is here to protect people. While that may be one of the things it does, government's true role is to pass legislation with the aim of providing "peace, order and good government," as per the Canadian Constitution. This will ensure our rights to "life, liberty and security of the person," as per the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms ("life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" are the US equivalent).
I want to cite an example from Ryan's text to demonstrate how his argument self-contradicts, and can therefore not be accepted. We already noted that government is here to provide peace and order, and to ensure our rights to life and security. If we don't outlaw hate speech, which is inevitably an incitement to violence, it will be impossible to protect people's right to life and security, let alone peace and order.
Indeed, Ryan recognizes this and says it is a moral imperative to be intolerant of intolerance; that is, we cannot be tolerant of racism, anti-semitism and so on. However, his argument that it is not up to government to oppose intolerance with legislation is entirely implausible. Even if we were to accept his skewed definitions of ethics and government's role, government would still need to legislate against these things. It is not enough to outlaw murder - we need to make efforts to prevent it.
To conclude, government's role is inherently tied to ethics. It makes judgement calls on various issues based on an ethical-moral code and then legislates in accordance to this judgement. In Canada, government's role is specifically to provide for peace, order and good government, which involves protecting our fundamental rights to life, liberty and personal security. In fact, in a rare instance of me agreeing with the United Nations, life liberty and personal security are univeral rights! Allowing hate speech to thrive would be counter to government's essential duty. Evidently, it is up to government to impose morality.
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