Moral Relativism and Modern Times

Trying to learn some history but the relentless political correctness of leftist authors makes you nauseous?  You need a change of pace. Try Modern Times by Paul Johnson.  It’s still politically correct, but it’s the masculine, almost Rhodesian political correctness of the right instead of the pecksniffing, pathologically pious political correctness of the left.  In accordance with the rules of modern historiography, all the important players are sorted into bad guys and good guys, but the roles are reversed:  Harding and Coolidge and good guys and Roosevelt and the New Dealers are bad guys. 

According to Johnson, the bad guys became evil because they abandoned Judeo-Christian morality, source of such uplifting triumphs of the objective good as the hanging and burning of several hundred thousand “witches,” centuries of genocidal attacks on the Jews, and religious wars beyond counting.  The bad guys, on the other hand, are all “moral relativists.”  In case you’re wondering what a “moral relativist” is, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a very good article about it.  In short, a “moral relativist” is anyone who differs with you touching matters of morality.  As the Stanford Encyclopedia puts it:

Moral relativism has the unusual distinction—both within philosophy and outside it—of being attributed to others, almost always as a criticism, far more often than it is explicitly professed by anyone.

Johnson’s own version of “objective morality” at least has the virtue of being idiosyncratic.  Where academic leftists would use the phrase, “You have to break some eggs to make an omelet” to rationalize the crimes of Stalin, Johnson would be more likely to use it to rationalize Franco’s shooting of more than 150,000 helpless victims after his victory in the Spanish Civil War.  He speaks of the matter as if it were a mere bagatelle, and, after all, Franco was an upholder of “Judeo-Christian morality.” 

Be that as it may, Modern Times is no hack journalist’s history.  Johnson has a profound knowledge of the events he describes, and has much of interest to say about the intellectual currents and personalities of the 20th century.  Any history with such a broad scope is bound to transmute complex human beings into wooden dummies.  That’s not Johnson’s fault.  Given the nature of his book, he’s done his job if he at least points them out to you.  Finding the human being beneath the wooden shell is always something you’ll have to do on your own.

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