Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bernie Sanders: Moralist

As Democrat voters grow increasingly wary of, and disenchanted with, Hillary Clinton and come to view her as representative of all that's wrong with politics and politicians, Bernie Sanders looks better and better by comparison. Whatever one thinks of Sanders' socialism, he certainly seems like an honest man, and indeed he likes to couch his policy proposals in moral rhetoric, describing them as "the moral thing to do."

It may seem naive in this Machiavellian age, but I agree that policy should be first and foremost moral. Nevertheless, my question for Sanders is what does he ground his moral judgments in? He says, for example, that income inequality is immoral, but why is it immoral? Why is it wrong for some people to have more than others? What makes that wrong? Perhaps the answer is that it's not fair, but then the question is why is unfairness wrong?

Perhaps someone might reply that I wouldn't want to be treated unfairly and therefore shouldn't treat others unfairly, but the conclusion in that reply just doesn't follow. It's true that I wouldn't want to be treated unfairly, but why's that a reason that I shouldn't treat others that way, especially if I can get away with it? Where does this notion come from that we should treat others the way we want to be treated? Why is it wrong to treat others however we wish?

Unless, Sanders is a theist (I know nothing of his views on the matter) all his talk about morality is literal nonsense. It's empty rhetoric. Unless moral judgments are grounded in the will of a transcendent, personal, and perfectly good Creator who has the power to hold people accountable for what they do, there simply is no such thing as moral right and wrong. How could there be?

We may have strong intuitions that there are such things, but those intuitions are simply illusions which evolved eons ago as a result of impersonal forces shaping us for life in the stone age. They certainly have no power to impose obligations or duties upon us. The claims that lying, income inequality, or exploiting others or the environment are all wrong is really to claim nothing more than that we don't like these things, but of course our personal likes and dislikes are hardly the standard of right and wrong.

The next time you hear Senator Sanders use a word like "immoral" ask yourself what, in our secular age, he could possibly mean by the term if he's not implying that the behavior he's talking about violates the will of God. If he's not implying that, if he, in fact, is a non-theist, then all he's doing is venting his own subjective feelings and there's no reason anyone should be duty-bound by his feelings.