LTE: "Recapturing the Lost Art of Gracious Victorian Living", by Linda S. Lichter

Ms. Lichter makes several good points in her nostalgic ode to Victorian morality as she shreds the “chaotic muddle” which goes for morality these days. However, before jumping on the “traditional family values” bandwagon, it is worthwhile to examine the particular differences between Victorian morality and what passes for morality today.

Victorian ideals stressed a rigid code of values that came from God himself. Being Good was the sole purpose of these values, regardless of whether they brought happiness and success or required the sacrifice of one’s dreams and desires to preserve an image of “true nobility and god deeds.”

Unfortunately, Queen Victoria’s morality died with her. Men who had been enjoying sex with whores suddenly felt free to enjoy sex with their own wives. They concluded that the Victorian morality was too “idealistic” and adopted a pragmatic approach to life. If morality is a set of rules to govern one’s actions, the first rule of today’s morality is that there are no rules!

For example, take sex. Where Victorian ethics preached sexual decency (no sex until marriage, and then only on the Sabbath.and don’t even think about enjoying it!) today’s moralists tell us to “Have sex whenever you want…with two or more people/sexes at a public!” Consequences of actions are divorced from their causes: “If you get AIDS, take some protease inhibitors and lobby the government for more research to “solve the AIDS crisis.” If you find yourself unable to have meaningful relationships with the strangers you wake up next to, take Prozac!

Clearly, Victorian morality is just as “impractical” as today’s anti-morality — if living successful, happy lives is our goal. Victorian ethics divorce morals from their fundamental purpose (to serve as a guide for a happy and productive life) and today’s anti-morals divorce actions from their consequences by claiming that following whims and urges is sufficient guidance for achieving all of one’s goals without suffering the consequences of self-destructive and contradictory actions.

Ms. Lichter is correct in arguing that society has abandoned the very idea of morality as a principled guide to one’s actions. However, the foundation of morality is not to discard individual happiness and pursue self-sacrifice, but on the contrary, to seek individual happiness by means of a moral code. While the Victorian era’s morality may be an improvement over the modern-day wholesale rejection of morals, it lacks the logical foundation of morality, based not on an idealized concept of God, but on the idealized concept of principled man.

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