Robert Meyer
Modern "equality" activism unlike civil rights movement
By Robert Meyer
July 23, 2013

My Father and I were discussing how perceptions have changed over the years. He has been retired over 30 years now. He told me that once the big talk at his place of employment revolved around the actions of a landlord in that neighborhood. Apparently an unmarried man and woman moved into one of his apartment houses. When he discovered this situation, he promptly evicting them, saying, "I'll be darned if I ever will allow an unmarried couple to live in one of apartment properties."

At the time, many people who discovering this applauded the action. They said among themselves "Here is a rare business person who puts his ethical principles over his wallet." Today, such a person would be held in derision for trying to "impose" his morality on everyone else. Worse yet, he would probably be sued for housing discrimination. Somewhere along the line, George Orwell became alive and well. What was once a virtue is now just hateful bigotry.

One asks the question how such a reversal of ideas has occurred in only a few short decades. The answer is our culture has drifted from the moorings that once grounded morality, and has adopted a humanistic and autonomous approach to the issue.

In 1974, the rock group, The Doobie Brothers, released a record album entitled " What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits." The title was prophetic. Since then we have one-upped the Doobies: What were once vices are practically civil rights.

In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. was incarcerated in the Birmingham city jail. From there he penned a letter justifying his activism, and directed it to fellow clergymen who were critical of his acts of protest, by claiming that they violated the state laws of Alabama. One quotation from the letter is below.

"...One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that '"an unjust law is no law at all."' "Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law..."

In an internet forum, another participant said my temerity to quote Dr. King was jaw dropping. I suggested his surprise was because many progressives thought that Dr. King was their exclusive icon to trot our whenever the situation dictated, but that he was probably unfamiliar with what King actually said.

Dr. King was not merely reasoning from his theological tradition, but also from American legal tradition. Whether it was his intension, in the quotation above, King heavily cribbed off the legal philosophies of Sir William Blackstone, the pre-eminent legal scholar of his era, who was the most frequently referenced legal expert of the Founders in their writings (

King seems to assert that the whole civil rights movement was grounded in the created order; the eternal law. Other contemporary movements that press for "equality" tend to repudiate the created order, and the foundations of law as recognized by Blackstone.

A classic example is the ongoing conflict between those who protest for "marriage equality," versus those advocating for retaining the normative configuration of marriage as it has been historically recognized. The latter group point to the unique contributions of traditional marriage to society. Those opposing this paradigm are prone to use slogans, such as "Keep the government out of my bedroom," Orwell is again lurking in such assertions. I don't know anyone trying to be a voyeur by peering into the privacy of others bedrooms. As illustrated in the opening paragraphs, society today makes little effort to regulate living arrangements, and, in fact, may intervene when individuals take matters into their own hands on personal moral grounds.

Conversely, I see some of the same people complaining about government intrusion, insist that the activities which occur in their bedrooms must be approved of by the state and awarded with benefit rights. Interestingly enough, the institution of marriage is equally accessible to all who have attained statutory age. The issue is not marriage equality, but whether the institution of marriage can be retooled to suit particular proclivities.

An iconic moment in the civil rights struggle occurred when four African-American students staged a sit-in by requesting to be served coffee at a Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The movement gained a momentum, and Woolworth's eventually changed it's policy. Imagine instead of requesting coffee, the students had said that "equal treatment" meant that Woolworth's had to change its menu to provide them with the cuisine they wanted to eat? That would have been seen as absurd and unreasonable. Yet, in principle, modern equality movements seem to go that "Bridge to far." without anyone noticing.

Women's' equality is undoubtedly a noble enterprise, from suffrage to demands for equal pay. But in recent decades the issue of abortion has increasingly come to define the movement. 20 years ago, I called myself "pro-choice," thinking that the abortion issue was an honest disagreement over when life began. Of course, I was mistaken. Abortion was about a type of equality that was measured by limitless personal autonomy. Too many people view the abortion issue as having nothing more at stake than rights of privacy. What if a generation 100 years from now, looks back and views abortion as a barbaric practice, much the way we today condemn the generations that permitted slavery and racial segregation? Two decades ago I thought maximizing choice was virtuous, but came to understand that the virtue of any choice depends on the thing being chosen.

There is a general contemporary view that all, or most cultural change is positive moral evolution. They view morality as something like technology, that progresses in a linear upward motion, rather that something like The Law of Gravity, which is static, objective and if neglected or abused, can result in disaster. The British secular moral philosopher, Mary Midgley, refers to the former position as "The Escalator Myth." The position is a myth because there is no basis for the assumption.

When president John Adams stated "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people, It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other," he was pointing out that internal restraint on the part of a free people was essential to avoid excessive intrusion by government made necessary by lawlessness. Today, the Constitution is used to champion the idea of maximum personal autonomy without such internal moral restrain.

If the highest virtue is that people be empowered to indulge their autonomous appetites with minimal adverse consequences, then moral progress has turned on itself.

© Robert Meyer


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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)


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