There is a tension at the core of bourgeois morality. On the one hand, its claims are supposed to be universal. Since its claims presume to govern everyone, the institution requires, both practically and as a matter of ethics, that everyone behave morally. It could scarcely survive without widespread compliance.
On the other hand, bourgeois morality is a matter of the heart. It governs the individual and his intentions. Although it makes universal demands, its demands are not political. Bourgeois morality restricts itself to individual persuasion, proselytizing, praise and condemnation. Whether one behaves morally is ultimately left to individual conscience.
It whacks a lot of my personal boogeymen — Mike Kinsley, Fareed Zakaria, that awful ethicist feature in the NYT magazine (“We are living in a depraved age, while `The Ethicist’ frets about swiping umbrellas from restaurant bins”….heh indeed). But I wasn’t able to understand the difference between what the author class “serious moral discourse” and what he calls “moral sentimentalism”, perhaps because I am one “those on the Left who see morality as mere class ideology”.
Another author at Jacobin counters that:
I disagree heartily with his conclusion: that those of us on the Left must take back morality from the sentimentalists; that we must “revolutionize ethics.” Rather, I see an entirely different path forward for the Left: it’s high time to leave behind this idealistic kingdom of morality and rediscover the realm of self-interest.
I hate the high-mindedness of many on the left. It’s amazing how badly we’ve lost economic arguments by allowing them to turn into some morality play — I tighten up my belt, why shouldn’t the gubmint. The argument in favor of more stimulus is that people need fucking jobs and that you, the voter, could easily be or become one of those people (though I admit in this case, there’s a “common good” argument — the vast, vast majority of the country is better off when the country’s not in a recession).
What do you think? Are moral arguments a waste of time politically? I’m skeptical of their efficacy, and of course all the Brooks/Kinsley-type bullshit is worthless intellectually as well as politically, but I suppose I can see where they have their place on issues like marriage equality….which has become a winning issue for Democrats.