Emotivism & Barbarism

“In his book After Virtue, philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the present cultural moment to the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. He argued that the West has abandoned reason and the tradition of the virtues in giving itself over to the relativism that is now flooding our world today. We are governed not by faith, or by reason, or by any combination of the two. We are governed by what MacIntyre called emotivism: the idea that all moral choices are nothing more than expressions of what the choosing individual feels is right.

“MacIntyre said that a society that governed itself according to emotivist principles would look a lot like the modern West, in which the liberation of the individual’s will is thought to be the greatest good. A virtuous society, by contrast, is one that shares belief in objective moral goods and practices necessary for human beings to embody those goods in community.

“To live “after virtue,” then, is to dwell in a society that not only can no longer agree on what constitutes virtuous belief and conduct but also doubts that virtue exists. In a post-virtue society, individuals hold maximal freedom of thought and action, and society itself becomes “a collection of strangers, each pursuing his or her own interests under minimal constraints.”

“Achieving this kind of society requires

  • abandoning objective moral standards;
  • refusing to accept any religiously or culturally binding narrative originating outside oneself, except as chosen;
  • repudiating memory of the past as irrelevant; and
  • distancing oneself from community as well as any unchosen social obligations.

“This state of mind approximates the condition known as barbarism.”

From “The Benedict Option” (p. 19) by Rod Dreher