About Me

My photo
Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

AC Grayling on the new puritanism

Kudos to AC Grayling for his trenchant critique of the new puritanism, published in The Herald (Scotland).

The law has no place in the private lives of consenting grown-ups, whether they are playing scrabble or having sex, and whether they are doing the latter for cash or for the long-term project of building a home and family together. When the cycles of moral fashion swing back towards prohibition, criminalisation, and the interference of law in private lives, and when this results in Canute-like efforts to stop people doing, seeing or being something that the moralisers themselves happen not to like, and which makes them wish to stop everyone else doing, seeing or being it, we need to oppose them vigorously. We must challenge them on the facts and argue the case for keeping a level head.


ColinGavaghan said...

I'd had a fleeting idea for a conference/edited book on this very topic - looking at everything from the resurgence of sexual puritanism, to biocon attitudes to all sorts of enhancement tech (including use of 'therapeutic' pharma 'just' to make us feel better), the obsession with the behaviour/diet of pregnant women, etc.

As you can tell, it's a very loose and unstructured idea right now!

Russell Blackford said...

Loose and unstructured maybe, but good! We really need to fight back against all this Talibanish (to use Ophelia's excellent word on another thread) nonsense.

Unknown said...

Yeah, though a lot of it's considerably less overt than that. The Fukuyama/Sandel/Habermas backlash against using enhancement tech & neuropharm for ... well, basically, fun can look pretty moderate - even enlightened - to the casual observer. And the campaigns against, for example, 'binge drinking' is wrapped in medico-scientific (psuedo?)respectability.

My task would be to see if all of these seemingly disparate issues can somehow be shown to be represenatative of a more-or-less coherent trend.

Anyway, no idea if/when it'll get off the ground, but I'll put you down for a paper/chapter if it does! ;-)

Russell Blackford said...

Colin, did you ever see my rather long review of Sandel's The Case Against Perfection - in Monash Bioethics Review, maybe about three years ago? If not, you'd probably find it interesting.

Unknown said...

No, but I'll make a point of finding it, Russell! About the best I could say for that book was that it wasn't nearly as bad as Bill McKibben's Enough.

Tony Smith said...

Where I'd disagree with Grayling is that this swing back isn't starting now but it has been going for 30 years, though those of use brought up in the optimism of the '60s and '70s took half that time to recognise it.

There have been no significant gains on the civil liberties front that had not been in train in the '70s and those tracks which some might claim as having progressed are overwhelmed by the tide of backsliding.

I have recently verified the reference but don't have it here, but it seems most can't believe that there was a point studying psych at Melbourne Uni in the early '70s when authoritarianism was presented as a diagnosable psychological dysfunction.

But the to date successful tactic of the resurgent authoritarian complex boils down to one four letter work starting with f. They promote fear because they profit from it. Why else do we pay lawyers and accountants 20x per hour what we pay the carers of our grandparents or grandkids? And too often the fear promoters are just us doing our day jobs.

Shatterface said...

Apparently less than two pints of real ale now qualifies as a 'binge'.

When I was a teenager a 'binge' usually involved a blackout and waking up in a foreign country with the name of a member of the same sex tattoed accros your buttocks.