US Attorney General William Barr, in an invitation-only address to students and faculty at the law school at Notre Dame, summed up the current, chaotic state of affairs in America as less a function of moral decay than a program of active, targeted destruction.
The great experiment in self-government that is America has, like any other modern society, roots in antiquity. The Greeks began asking the great questions about mind and matter, morals and governance. Homer recognized the most pathetic of all creatures, the hearthless, lawless, stateless man, living outside the civic order. This great conversation developed and matured over millennia culminating in the work of the great minds of the Scottish Enlightenment.
Morality, law, commerce, and government were understood to be inextricably linked. Let's not forget that Adam Smith's first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), preceded Wealth of Nations (1776) by nearly 17 years. The key to living a good, full, productive life was to be lucky enough to live under good government. The key to good government was a free and moral society where moral strictures flow not from a despot above, rather they emanate from within each and every one of its citizens.
The Scots' Common Sense philosophy made its way to these shores and was taken up by a group of men who, aside from being great thinkers, were great doers. The soul of the Enlightenment found a body in America's Founders. Established on the principle that liberty flowed from the Creator and government flowed from the people, a constitutional republic was formed that thrived like no other society in history. The United States of America was born.
Now, 250 years later, Barr has identified a counter movement which, under the guise of moral evolution, has set about to effect the destruction of this society.
"The campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage, and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism, ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy."
"The force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the progressives, have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values."
While we all appreciate the virtues of freedom of speech and freedom of religion, we also feel the oppression of the reverse. "The problem is not that religion is being forced on others. The problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith," Barr asserted.
The Attorney General asks the question, what system of values will replace the one we are abandoning? The answer is one that we have doubtless heard percolating up from the masses: the religion of secularism.
"One of the ironies, as some have observed, is that the secular project has itself become a religion, pursued with religious fervor. It is taking on all the trappings of a religion, including inquisitions and excommunication. Those who defy the creed risk a figurative burning at the stake – social, educational, and professional ostracism and exclusion waged through lawsuits and savage social media campaigns."
Now, unlike the Founders and succeeding generations who espoused the principles of self-governance and personal responsibility, the progressives look to the State for instruction, protection, and control. There is a growing functional disconnect between action and consequence, industry and reward.
"So the reaction to growing illegitimacy is not sexual responsibility, but abortion. The reaction to drug addiction is safe injection sites. The solution to the breakdown of the family is for the State to set itself up as the ersatz husband for single mothers and the ersatz father to their children. The call comes for more and more social programs to deal with the wreckage. While we think we are solving problems, we are underwriting them. We start with an untrammeled freedom and we end up as dependents of a coercive state on which we depend."
Not at all surprising is the response of the progressives. Barr has struck a nerve. He has been condemned as a closet theocrat, extremist, disturbed, and even dangerous. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman remarked in the New York Times that Barr sounds like, "America's most unhinged religious zealots, the kind of people who insist that we must keep experiencing mass murder because schools teach the theory of evolution."
As they worship, mostly unaware of the irony, at the altar of progressivism they carry with them the remnants of the Enlightenment attached to some of their most beloved institutions.
The motto of the ultra-liberal University of Pennsylvania, adopted by Founder Benjamin Franklin and Provost William Smith in Philadelphia in 1755, Leges sine Moribus vanae is translated Laws without morals are in vain.
And, so they are.