The 1861-1865 war was essentially one of the defense of traditional, decentralized American communities, as established after the Revolution, against a centralizing liberalism which sought to establish hegemony in Washington. The latter was victorious.
Morality and Community
“Morality, as traditionally conceived, supposes, first of all, a metaphysical vision of the nature of man and the sort of life that is good for man. Virtues are cultivated dispositions of character that enable the soul to live out the life that is good for man. A virtuous soul, with much training over a long period of time, may come to love those things that are truly good as opposed to those that merely appear as such.
Second, morality presupposes community. A man cannot know what good is independent of a concrete way of life, lived in community with others, in which the good is exemplified. A man becomes good through emulation and by apprenticing himself to a master craftsman in the art of human excellence.
The marks of a genuine community are the temple, the graveyard, and the wedding celebration. The favorable connotations that attach to this essential structure of human life are inappropriately applied to associations that are not communities at all – for instance, the “business community,” the “entertainment community,” “gated communities,” or the “homosexual community.” IBM does not have a burial ground; homosexuals do not marry and beget children; and “gated communities” are often places where affluent strangers move to escape the aftermath of social disintegration. These associations have value, but they are not communities.
This is how Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Christians and Muslims traditionally understood morality. These traditions had different understandings of what the human good is, what the virtues are, and how they should be ranked, but they never questioned the metaphysical postulate that there is such a thing as the human good and that morality is the adventure of critically exploring it on a concrete form of life.
Liberalism rejects this fundamental assumption, arguing that a metaphysical vision of the human good is not something human beings can agree on. Since compromise over questions of the ultimate good is not possible, liberals argue that constant and implacable conflict is inevitable.
Liberalism gradually began to shape American public policy after the Civil War and kicked into high gear after World War II. The Bill of Rights, designed to protect the States – distinct political societies capable of pursuing radically different forms of social life – from the central government, was turned upside down to protect the autonomy of the individual from the States.
The regulation of morals, law enforcement, and religion, which gave legal protection to distinct ways of life, was transferred by judicial social engineers to the central government. The education of children, which had been the province of local schools financed by real estate taxes, was now regulated by the federal courts.
By the 1980s, the earlier philosophical rejection of the Western conception of morality was cashed out in the colleges of many of the institutions necessary to sustain it. The United States was becoming a spiritual desert, and the signs of moral decay were ubiquitous: a spectacular increase in crime, divorce, falling educational standards, promiscuous abortion, illegitimacy, anomie, and a society with little desire to reproduce itself. If we wish to make the world safe for substantial moral communities, we must consider serious political alternatives to the master creation of liberalism, namely, the large-scale centralized state.”
If we wish to make the world safe for substantial moral communities, we must consider serious political alternatives to the master creation of liberalism, namely, the large-scale centralized state.”
(Communitarians, Liberals, and Other Enemies of Community and Liberty: Scaling Back the Enlightenment, Donald W. Livingston, Chronicles, July 2002, excerpts pp. 23-25)