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Why the Left Has No "Ethical Vocabulary"

Christine Smallwood's interview with historian Tony Judt in The Nation ended with a much-too-brief exchange about religion and the left. Here it is:

Smallwood: I come from a very religious background, and it seems to me that people on the left are so embarrassed about the language of morality that they've ceded the ground to the right.

Judt: I totally agree. I think it's a catastrophe for both sides. What it means for the left is that it's got no ethical vocabulary. What it means for the right is that it smugly supposes that it's got a monopoly on values. Both sides are completely wrong. There used to be a tradition of left-wing ethics, Orwellian if you like, or pre-Orwell. I'd like to say parenthetically that I come out of a sort of secular dissenting Jewish background, but one with some of the same thoughts of the old dissenting churches—Christian, Jewish—of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in which there was a natural correspondence of social values and ethical criteria. And the divorce between them has been one of the disastrous results of the last half-century. I'd love to contribute to re-forming that link.

More! I want more!

Source: The Nation

julia jones
5/24/2010 9:28:13 AM

In response to Mr. Marshall's statement that "this article was not about corporations, it was about language." Agreed: It is definitely about language and how language patterns were created in history. Clarification: What historian Judt says is that the left has "no ethical vocabulary" and the right "smugly supposes that it's got a monopoly on values." My point here is that the language of the left and the smugness of the right can be tracked back to the influence of the Middle Ages corrupt religious community, business or monarchies seeking riches through colonizing other countries, and the eventual multi-national corporate control of cultural patterns. Put more succinctly: Early religious corruption set the pace for(and permanently influenced)cultural standards of the modern world. As I said earlier: "Ethics, patriotism and religious values were assets of American 18th century founders." These founders are now all dead white men and their values are even deader.


gary ashcraft
5/16/2010 10:04:31 PM

There is a lot more to the "Religious" community than the far right. We have Left, Right, & Center well covered, but a moderate Christian is no fun to mock, in fact we can be far to reasonable to even be baited. Christians are so easy to dismiss if you clasify us all as far right, and dismiss us is what all to many on the "left" like, even need to do. My pet theory is that when Madalyn Murry O'Hair succeeded in taking prayer out of school, it started a chain of events that still ripple through our society. Two things happened, 1st nature hates a void, we started down a path that is deviod of any moral standards (religious or otherwise)and for fear of anyone on the left appearing to be guilty of religious appeasement an attitude of "anything goes" has become a societal slogan. Sadly as another old saying goes "when you stand for nothing, you'll fall for anything", and this has become our national morass. It infects and permiates every aspect of our lives today. Business never had viable ethic's to begin with. The two party system is more obsessed with self perpetuation than anything begining to resemble moral leadership. I could go on noting how each aspect of our lives has become debased but then I would start to sound " self-righteously smug". The 2nd thing that happened was that the Left gave up any interest in a moral high ground, even rejecting morality as "religiosity" and not in keeping with a PC/ACLU view of how society might work best, thus our moral compass spins


ralph marshall
5/14/2010 10:51:15 AM

Are you saying that big business is a product of the left? I'm a pretty strong lefty and you and I have something completely in common: Big business as the '900# gorilla'. But this article was not about corporations, it was about language. One thing we know is that words are cheap. And just using words, over and over, louder and louder, does not advance the cause of justice. Actions speak louder than words, do they not? I think we can agree, yes? I think that the reluctance of the left to avoid the engagement of using the language of the religious comes from the same reluctance to engage in conversation with a crazy man babbling on the street. What would you do? Stand toe to toe with him and argue? He has chosen, and is not interested in dialogue. What you do is just keep moving and get on with building a better world. The religious right is not interested in dialogue; they have chosen and anyone who does not agree with them are labeled with whatever vile word that pops into their heads. To engage in an argument with the self-righteously smug is to lower yourself into an argument with that crazy man. The thing to do is keep moving and get on with building a better world. But shall we allow the right to keep unilateral possession of these words? Shall we allow them to hollow out the meanings with their hypocrisy? We could.. Or... We could take back these words and restore them to their rightful place as tools of growth. Language is important. Just take them back.


julia jones
5/14/2010 9:58:47 AM

The "left" (or the current cultural attitude rooted in greed, including both extreme left and right) has made it politically incorrect to have ethics, to attend or even respect churches and those who believe in God. Add in the political incorrectness of "patriotism" and you have a classic case of big business or multi-national rules for every aspect of life. The left has yet to discover the green movement is a way of building up corporate control. Did anyone ever think about the recycling we individuals do and how those cans, paper, etc., are lining the pockets of the recyclers and big business while we do the work? How about the energy industry raising rates to conserve their profits rather than save the environment? Encourage online billing and statements so paper can be saved? What a joke...those bills have to be printed out by customers to be able to prove the debt was paid. Desperate homeowners are being advised to pay back out-of- control credit card debt, accept that their homes are no longer worth the mortgage amount; but they have to continue paying because it is the right and ethical thing to honor contractual obligations. Big business and government both are allowed to pursue debtors to the fullest even though these two institutions are leaders in creating debt and encouraging debt. Ethics? Don't be silly. Ethics,patriotism and religious values were assets of the founders. They are all now dead white men and their values are even deader.