You point me to an institution, business, university, or any public entity, and I’ll show you a mission statement that espouses above all the virtues of inclusivity, tolerance, and diversity.
At universities, presidents are creating entire tasks forces, committees, and research initiatives dedicated explicitly and exclusively to the maintenance and deepening of a diverse climate.
Commercial entities bend over backwards to cater to their consumers’ sensibilities regarding tolerance and inclusivity.
Even the courts are participating in this trend, intensifying (broadening) the definitions of bullying—to a sometimes puzzling degree—as a means of safeguarding the triad of America’s sacred virtues.
The casual observer might be tempted to inquire as to why this trend should surprise anybody; aren’t intolerance and exclusivity apparent vices, and isn’t uniformity a short way from full-fledged boredom, or worse, majoritarian prejudice?
But the casual observer might also ask himself why, given how obviously undesirable are those alternatives, we are just now seeing an ubiquitous cultural obsession with the sacred triad. He may ask himself whether those alternatives are even the true alternatives to the sacred triad.
Society will never be rid of prejudicial opinions, lazy generalizations, or genuine oppression, rooted ultimately in either malice or ignorance. The reality of vicious citizens is an unavoidable one for the polis.
Still, whence the proliferation of public programming, educational campaigns, and judicial activism concerning this sacred triad of virtues?
The question is particularly vexing when posed against the backdrop of the entire classical tradition of Western thought, the canon of classical Western literature, and the rich Tradition of the Catholic Church, in none of which can be found as extreme an homage to these three virtues as modern man offers. Indeed, one hardly hears tell anymore of the virtues that were of chief concern to the aforementioned traditions—faith, hope, charity, temperance, fortitude, prudence, justice, magnanimity, mercy, piety, chasteness, wisdom. And one wonders according to what causal process this displacement proceeded.
Put simply, one should be suspicious of the new canon of virtues given its a-historicity, or even anti-historicity: For many classical thinkers, unity was the primary (or a primary) end and fruit of true philosophy.
Now, one might raise the objection that the intention behind the proliferation of the sacred triad is to ensure justice for persons or classes of persons whose rights and dignity have heretofore typically been disregarded. After all, the cry for “social justice” is ever on the lips of those who espouse the triad perhaps most forcefully.
This objection, I think, actually indicates that the real genesis of this dominant contemporary lexicon exists elsewhere than a relatively recent enlightenment—a newfound appreciation that wholly eclipsed the great minds of the West—the conclusions of which require as many cultural apparati as possible to ensure. Tolerance, exclusivity, and diversity all ultimately take root in a thirst for justice, (which vis-à-vis the broader structures of society morphs into “social justice”) for like treatment of like things—or in this case, persons.
And here, the break with the Western tradition comes to the fore. For while Western thinkers past would likely agree with some of the justice claims presently safeguarded by the sacred triads (although those thinkers past would likely correspond those claims to a different virtue or set of virtues, such as simple charity, or humility), many of the present justice claims being advanced in the name of the sacred triad would certainly be unintelligible to many of those thinkers. A university-designated diversity task-force designed to hire as many professors from different countries as possible, not for the sake of academic excellence, but for the sake of diversity as an irreducible good, would hardly be sensible to Saint Thomas Aquinas, or John Henry Newman.
Ultimately, I suspect that the thirst for justice that undergirds and gives life to the sacred triad is rooted in a misplaced egalitarian notion of truth; by which I mean a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of the ideas that essential objectivity exists, and that traditions—and the educational, religious, and social institutions that preserve and build up those traditions—are ultimately the safeguards of the same anthropological, metaphysical, and cosmic knowledge upon which authentic justice always stands in a relationship of epistemological dependency.
There is a deep and unavoidable connection, then, between the diffusion of the new kings of virtue and the increasingly well-documented (and alarming) dismantling of humanities departments across secondary and higher education. (UCLA recently demolished its entire English department.) The same patrimony through which the wisdom of millennia has arrived to the present, and the institutions that have promulgated and reinforced that wisdom, are now dually associated with if not outright blamed for the same injustices and omissions against which tolerance, inclusivity, and diversity are seen as defenses. In place of the liberal arts, universities boast of fresher programs, such as Diversity Studies and Feminist Studies. Such programs are understood by their promoters to be corrections to the classical educational vision, which was shaped, influenced and taught by too many privileged white men to be truly tolerant, inclusive, or diverse.
A culture in which the new kings of virtue occupy the fore of social consciousness is a sick culture, one that has committed itself to the abolition of education, tradition, and any lasting institutions that can stabilize communities and integrate and foster virtue. As such, any culture in which the new kings of virtue reign supreme is certain not only to give rise to the same injustices against which it believes it is doing battle (intolerance, exclusivity, and oppression); it is certain to usher in new and terrible forms of injustice, inadmissible of any past parallels.
Fitting, in a way.