Morality versus morals

May 28, 2014
Source: District of the USA

Image above: close-up of the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle in The School of Athens fresco painted by Raphael (1483-1520).

We offer here in English some comments of the French "peasant-philosopher", Gustave Thibon (1903-2001), from his 1940 work, Diagnostics. Thibon wrote several philosophical works dealing with various modern errors and fallacies.

Pastor's Corner for Sunday, June 1

A distinction is being wedged between morality and morals. Today it seems as if we are mostly imbued with morality but the morals have been lost. The terms are different indeed. We call morals the sum total of things human which are done instinctively, by tradition and social life. On the other hand, morality designates a conscious behavior following a given rule of life.

Let us take extreme cases. Behold an old peasant, greedy and deceitful in business but, at the same time, he is very attached to his land and his large family. This man ‘has no morality’ but he has good morals. Here is another one, a townsman, very scrupulous and noble, enamored of universal justice who, by weakness, abstains deliberately from having children. His morality is better than that of the first man but his morals are corrupt.

This may be the image of the modern society as compared to a century ago. The peasants of the early 20th century were truly more hardened and greedier than today; they were less open to morality and to love. Their grandchildren have a heart more sensitive and a broader mind. But, despite this almost ‘immoral’ narrowness of soul, these old peasants possessed a deep capital of religious and family wisdom.

They were glued, personally and by heredity, to the earth which they cultivated, and thus, played an organic role in the city. Their children have squandered this capital. Their aspiration is only to become civil officials, anonymous and parasites. The former were, perhaps, brutal with their children, but they had them: their children surround theirs with more tender and loving care, but they hardly have any. Worse still—and this give the measure of the monstrous divorce between the moral sensibility and the deep morals—it is precisely in our Western countries, where man has become so meek, so human for his children, that we count yearly over a million abortions, that is to say, over a million children murdered!

On the one hand, we spoil the children; on the other, we kill them. It is the same hand which murders the innocents and corrupts them by caresses. The first must die so that the others may be more spoiled and adored. Human sacrifices are offered to these little gods! What of this person who had killed four children in her womb out of weakness, and who found it cruel to strike a child in need of correction. This gap between the affective sensibility and profound morals is best measured by the distance which exists between the murdered child and the spoiled one.

Formerly, men possessed biological and collective instincts which benefited the species and the city. Unconsciously, they were far sighted and contributed to build harmoniously the future society. The great benefit of healthy morals is to render easy and natural things which, of themselves, are very difficult for the pure morality of the isolated individual.

Today, modern man, deprived of sound morals, falls into the worship of the immediate and sensible interest. He has no children: the potential one who is killed is not felt, but the repose which this procures him is very much felt! He does not correct those he has: the good which would accrue is too distant and not sensible, but the tears and their caresses are! The young peasants rush toward civil employment. How could the vision of a distant disaster equate the attraction of an immediate security? The exhaustion of healthy morals has brought about the religion of ‘ease’.