“Thoughtful conservatives who are less concerned with waging culture wars have begun to admit that a paradigm shift from what is accepted as morally right is occurring.”
Four years before he was hoisted to Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan declared, “If you ask me what the biggest problem in America is, I’m not going to tell you debt, deficits, statistics, economics --I’ll tell you it’s moral relativism--”. It is a bold claim given the depth of the economic recession, which began years earlier. Moral relativism has been a conservative boogeyman since at least the Cold War. Conservative stalwarts like William F. Buckley claimed that liberals had accepted a view that morality was culturally or historically defined --“what’s right for you may not be right for me”-- instead of universal and timeless. Thoughtful conservatives who are less concerned with waging culture wars have begun to admit that a paradigm shift from what is accepted as morally right is occurring. The subjective morality of yesterday has now been replaced by an ethical code that, if violated, results in unmerciful moral crusades on social media. David Brooks argued that while American college campuses were “awash in moral relativism” as late as the 1980s, a “shame culture” has now taken its place. A culture of shame cannot be a culture of total relativism. One must have some moral criteria for which to decide if someone is worth shaming. “This system is not a reversion to the values that conservatives may wish for. Instead of being centered on gender roles, family values, respect for institutions and religious piety, it orbits around values like tolerance and inclusion. From the Cold War to the War on Terror, conservatives have protested the “evils” of moral relativism for decades, and now it may be a relic of the past. But although conservatives got what they wanted, they didn’t get what they expected. It’s hard to say for sure whether they’re better off now than they were before. It depends on how you look at it. Or, as some might say, it’s all relative.