I created this breakdown while writing notes for Apocalypse Now part 3 and thought it was good enough to share on its own.
Natural laws: God can violate these, man can’t.
Moral laws: Man can violate these, God can’t.
Logical laws: Neither God nor man can violate these.
Manmade laws: Both God and man can violate these.
A great deal of the confusion in modern life is due to conflation of two or more of these rulesets within a materialist framework. I.e. “All moral laws are abstractions, all abstractions are manmade because the mind is material ephemera, and all manmade laws are natural because man is a purely natural animal, Therefore all laws are natural.” This leads to confusion about the scope of moral prescriptions, because if moral laws are manmade norms then whoever sets the norms can make or break moral laws as well. And who sets the norms will be determined by the law of nature, which is social darwinism. (I’ve recently been discussing with Patrick how this is the Hegelian synthesis of right and left political discourse now: both sides agree that the inferior side deserves, morally speaking, to be bred out of the population.) Thus you have the idea of the ubermensch, the norm/morality-setting leader selected by inscrutable metaphysical laws of nature. It’s a mess.
What reasons might everyday leaders use to justify their behavior? In the chapters to follow, I consider several lines of justification, most of which are variations on the reasons any person might give for breaking rules that apply more generally to others. The morally relevant difference is that leaders who appeal to these reasons seem to be in a relatively better position to build a special case for their rule-breaking behavior. Consider, for example, the leader who lies to followers. What might the response be to questions about why the leader behaved this way? Some plausible responses include the following: the leader did it…
because he has his own morality.
because she does not care about morality.
because he could. because she is special.
because we said he could.
because she had to.
because he has special obligations to his group.
because it was for a higher cause.
Again, any of these responses could be similarly applied by one of the rest of us in an attempt to justify our own behavior. What distinguishes an appeal to these reasons in the leadership context, however, is that the rule breaker’s standing as a leader generally gives (at least the impression of) greater substance to the justification. More so than the rest of us, leaders may well be in a position to develop a convincing argument based on one or more of these reasons.
However, not all mistaken moral beliefs are about the content of morality. Leaders can also be mistaken about its scope – the application of moral rules. These mistakes come in two varieties: mistakes about who is bound by moral rules and mistakes about who is protected by these rules. With respect to the first kind of error, the leader mistakenly believes that he is justified in breaking a moral rule because it does not apply to him at all or, at least, not in his situation. With respect to the second kind of error, the leader mistakenly believes that some individuals do not merit the protection of moral rules. In some cases, beliefs about who is protected by morality will be connected to beliefs about who is bound by morality. For example, social contract approaches to morality generally assume that the protection of morality’s requirements extends only to those who have the requisite abilities for being bound by them.17 For thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes, the rationale for extending the protections of morality to an individual in the first place is to create an incentive for him to adhere to the requirements of morality, thus bringing benefits or preempting harms to other parties to the contract.18
In other words, an abused and deprived person can come to see himself as being outside of the moral community. Given the assumption that he is not a member of the moral community, he is not bound by the rules of morality. This assumption, of course, is false. Abused and deprived individuals are genuine members of the moral community, fully meriting its protections. In some cases, they simply fail to recognize their moral worth. And we can certainly understand why they are completely ignorant on this point. We can also understand the conclusion that they might draw from it – namely, that they are not bound by the rules of morality either.
But a deprived or abusive background is hardly necessary for one to become an adult who engages in ruthless and brutal conduct.28…How do we explain King Farouk’s behavior? One relatively straightforward explanation is that he was reared to see himself as outside of the scope of morality. Throughout his childhood, “[a]s the object of all this attention, he already was preparing for his later role as king…”37 It would not be surprising, then, if he came to believe that generally accepted moral rules applied to him neither as a child nor as an adult, even though these rules applied to others.
(This book has been helpful but it actually starts with the same flawed assumption that morality and normativity are the same thing. I’ll probably do a summary and review sometime in January.)