THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Coercive Virtue?

Can you force people to be virtuous?

The quick and easy answer to that question is no, you cannot.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.”  (Address at Western Michigan University, December 18, 1963.)


You can force people to obey the law and refrain from acts that harm other people or the common good, and even to act in ways that benefit others.  What you cannot do, either individually or through the State or community, is make them do something because they want to do it or because it is the right thing to do.

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, however, that is precisely the idea behind the Great Reset and similar proposals.  All you have to do is change human nature, abolish the natural law, turn human-made society into a Hobbesian “Mortall God,” and all will be well.

On the contrary!

Strictly speaking, it is no one else’s business why someone does something, as long as it does not harm others.  Civil society is concerned with acts, not thoughts.  Civilly, motives only matter if they lead to acts.  If someone does nothing wrong, he should be safe.  “Thought crimes” really matter only to God.

Martin Luther King, Jr.


You cannot force people to be virtuous, only to refrain from non-virtuous acts that harm others directly.  Neither can you punish people for what they might do, or for acts that might have caused harm indirectly, such as taking advantage of a flawed system.  You cannot punish people for what you think they did, but for which you have no proof, either; people are innocent until proven guilty.  Finally, as a private person or group, you are not duly constituted authority; you cannot take the law into your own hands.

It is true that people are frustrated by the condition of society today, but whether we are talking about economic, political, or religious conversion, coercion is always a bad idea.  From a non-personalist perspective, however — particularly one trapped within what Kelso and Adler called the slavery of (past) savings — there does not seem to be any way out if matters remain as they are.  Society, human nature, or both are rotten and will have to change, and the only way to do it is to force people to do what is right, even if it violates their rights or offends against their dignity.

Louis O. Kelso


This depressing conclusion appears in large measure to be due to the control of social thought by socialists, capitalists, and moral relativists of all degrees.  This in turn is probably due to two key omissions from various proposals for social reform that enabled supporters of the new things either to reject it, ignore it, or turn it to their own purposes.

The first of these we covered before: omitting a just and financially feasible means by which ordinary people could become owners of capital.  The second omission is what we will address now: some means by which ordinary people can gain direct access to the common good.  This is critical, because the common good consists of that vast network of institutions within which people as moral beings become more fully human, that is, virtuous.

Strictly speaking, the institutions of the common good do not force anyone to be virtuous or vicious.  We have free will and can always resist, even if at a very high cost to ourselves and others.  They do, however, provide the environment within which people can become virtuous or vicious, and thus encourage virtue or vice, depending on how they are structured.



Unfortunately, while human beings are what Aristotle called “political animals”(“Man is by nature a political animal.”  Aristotle, The Politics, 1253a), there is a strong tendency to act in non-political ways, especially — ironically — in matters relating to politics and political economy.  Part of this is due to a lack of understanding of our political nature by individualists (capitalists), collectivists (socialists), and those who try to blend individualism and collectivism into the Servile State or the Great Reset.

Eventually it dawns on people that, no matter what they do, being individually virtuous is not going to solve social problems.  It can make matters better for a time and improve conditions for some of the less fortunate temporarily, staving off the inevitable end for a while, but it will not solve the problem.  As we mentioned before, God is not going to do it for them, no matter how much they insist they are acting in His Name.

The question then becomes, What can be done?  We will start to look at that in the next posting on this subject.