What is Morality? Ruthless Criticism

What is morality?

Everybody says that the world is lacking in morals:

These are all widely reported examples of the widespread lack of humanity, common sense, feelings of responsibility.

Almost all people fail to measure up to the moral standards of the Good that are always kept on hand by members of bourgeois society as ready and all-purpose explanations for their bad social and interpersonal experiences. If only everybody would behave as virtuously and responsibly as they are supposed to, then the world would be ok and everybody would get what they deserve!

Hardly anybody says that they are lacking in morality themselves. One obeys the law, pays taxes, does one’s job and one’s duty to one's family, shows consideration for others, and even sometimes participates in environmental causes and donates to the poor. One’s appraisal of oneself and of others evidently deviate quite a lot from each other.

Everyone sees himself surrounded by egoists, con artists and scoundrels, and knows one person who is especially virtuous: oneself. This is only one of the self-righteous stupidities of moral consciousness. With this consciousness, people conceive themselves as – worthy – members of bourgeois society and see themselves appointed to be guardians of the correct behavior of their fellow humans. This in itself creates quite a lot of hostility among people.

Our thesis:

The world suffers by no means from not enough morality; rather it already has too much of it. Moral thinking is the biggest obstacle to an objective assessment of the society that it originates in and of one's own and others’ interests, which it enforces. So we offer a brief presentation on the relationship between law, justice, morality, conscience and hypocrisy.

1. The pervasive call for (more) morality

Everyone in this country is called upon – in addition to, alongside, and apart from the usual pursuit of their interests (when “job creating” just like when working for a living, in family life, as tenants or as landlords, etc.) – to practice consideration, to show responsibility, and to not just make use of others, but show them respect.

This call for moral behavior presupposes something about the nature of legitimate interests in this society: they are in conflict. The success of one is the failure of the other. Competitive interests are assumed if – next to and in addition to them – morality is taken to be a necessary corrective to them.

The call for morality is the uncritical self-criticism of the competitive subjects. It is uncritical because it does not openly make the real content of interests a subject of investigation (then one would quickly arrive at freedom, equality, private property) but takes them for granted. On the basis of these interests, one demands that they be pursued within a certain degree of self-imposed restriction – which then should lead the world towards Good.

The desire of moralists for a decent world, which would correct itself if only everybody would restrain themselves a little bit in regard for others, remains illusory: the conflict of social interests exists nevertheless – but nobody wants to deny them their legitimacy; which is why morality is forever in demand.

2. The concept of morality

Anyone who wonders about every experience that they have whether it is lawful or not sorts every deed (that of their neighbor, colleague, the President) into Good and Bad; this thinking follows the method of a lawyer, summarizing every human act into two categories: permitted and forbidden.

With this method, the moralist not only emulates the legal professional as an amateur: in approving or rejecting actions, he also measures them, thus judges whether they fall within the state's framework of law and order, which can be consulted for which rights are legitimate: someone who steals not only gets in trouble with the police and the law, but also the consternation of all honest citizens.

In comparing how citizens socially interact with one another to the exercise of their rights, a morally calculating subject does not simply obey laws that are imposed by force, but internalizes them: he makes the law his own, demands its observance and monitors it and demonstrates that he may stress it because of his own good behavior.

Underlying this internalization of the law is an incorrect conclusion that people draw from their subordination: they interpret the rules of the capitalistic social order, which are imposed by force, as positive conditions for them to follow their interests, viewing them as the means to successfully organize their lives.

How do they arrive at this idea? On the one hand, they think of this set of rules as sufficient for guaranteeing the possibility of their private benefit, which they pursue because they are instructed to do so. On the other hand, in pursuing his private advantage, the citizen is dependent on all others being restricted, in that they keep within the law. Thus the citizen identifies in principle with his state power and, as its beneficiary, appoints himself to be a judge of law and order. However, he does not do this as a policeman or a lawyer, but opens up a vast terrain in which to exercise his freedom.

By internalizing the justice system, he changes it into a subjective conception of justice. If the honest citizen puts his own actions and those of strangers under a magnifying glass and judges them, then he does not have the fine print of the law in mind, but the yardstick of rights in an altered form: as his entirely personal view of the generally valid standards for behavior, of morality.

3. Morality in action

Once a moral consciousness is formed, it sets loose: it examines every trivial or important private or public affair in which people come into conflict for advantages and damages to see whether or not those involved conform to its conceptions of justice. The eagerness to condemn immoral acts finds an abundance of material in the world of competition with its winners and losers; likewise in the hierarchies of political power and the vagaries of private fortune.

Controversies continually inflame because nobody wants to see the socially legitimate interests as the reason for the strange distribution of success and failure, power and powerlessness, but wants to pose the question whether or not they are authorized.

Once the realm of moral debate is opened:

One can marvelously use the legitimacy of moral criteria in the heads of one’s fellow citizens for oneself: morality as a means for successful self-representation. No member of bourgeois society would ever say that what drives him is simply habit or calculation. It is much more popular to proclaim a personality that in every situation pays attention to duty, constantly tries to act in keeping with careful consideration for the Good, and is always conscientious as to whether others also succeed.

If one inspects the whole world to see whether one’s own motives and those of one’s fellow citizens abide by morality or not, then one also suitably represents one’s own interest to everyone in order to justify it and gain recognition for it: one’s own advantage, or whatever one demands, is never the goal; one always wants to serve a higher value – the common good, the general public. This is imagined to hold in all social spheres.

All bourgeois people believe their self-conceptions correspond to morality: they are self-righteous. Sometimes they find that they have been deficient in fulfilling their duties and have to rectify this. Then they show a bad conscience. But usually having a bad conscience proves to oneself that one is ultimately an honest guy, nevertheless.

4. Moral thinking and its consequences

Moralists are notoriously disappointed, constantly exposing every kind of crime, sneaky competitive practice, interpersonal tactlessness or abuse. This is presumptuous because it is an idealistic assumption of authority. Moralists constantly announce which of their fellow citizens' misdemeanors they would forbid. Usually, in their worldview, they arrive at the conclusion that – except for themselves – there are only assholes out there, which is also why they themselves do not have to be so strict when observing their moral imperatives, “given the circumstances.”

Disappointment with the futility of a moral revival consistently follows two directions. The first is about those individuals who have violated the moral code: a character judgment that they are guilty of not fulfilling one or another duty; they are bad. The second aims at finally imposing one’s own conception of justice; but for this – just like for the really-existing legal order – there is only one means available: violence, either in the form of private violence (from the slap at the dinner table reserved only for family members up to murder “out of love”) or in the form of state violence, which is called for so that morality is finally served.

5. The usefulness of morality for the internal cohesion of the bourgeois community

Subjects who accept all the demands and limits of the socially valid rights that justify and define a whole mode of production (and thus what kind of a life one has); who, in all the adversities that they have to struggle with, ask no other question than whether everyone does his duty like they are supposed to; who turn every success and defeat into a moral calculation – these subjects perform a reliable service to the state: their moral worldview habit props up a stable, morally-consolidated political-economic system.

That's why the conversion of state-established positions of subordination into a canon of values and duties which the people hold themselves responsible for out of their own free will is good for nothing other than – besides pedantry – confirmation of the status quo.

6. “But morality is needed because humans are bad!”

Morality has a good reputation in bourgeois society: it is needed to tame humans who are bad by nature. It is easy to picture humans in this society as sheep or wolves: a member of the competitive bourgeois society is someone who must look out for himself at the expense of others. These social roles, which are forced on people by the state's legal system, are misunderstood as human nature. And in this way a human image is concocted that is unquestioned (“from nature”) and apparently provable (“but just look at how people behave!”).

In addition, “humans fortunately have morals which are able to tame their bad side.” Where this comes from and why humans do not simply ignore it – since they are bad – is not worth asking: so morality exists nevertheless! Everyone knows it and maintains it – at least more or less! And the second aspect of the construction is already drawn and the whole world is turned upside down: the state does not make the laws which the subjects accept and make their own in the form of moral convictions, but the other way around: first there is morality, which initiates the universal need for state force so that Good prevails against Evil.