The Moral And Spiritual Roots Of The Western System
From The Western Democratic Tradition by M Cooray

My view, in the context of my analysis of the history of the western tradition, is that true human progress lies in a society organised around freedom — the liberty of the individual, subject to law based on and social institutions supporting, individual responsibility. This dimension is explored above and at this point the analysis is taken further. Honesty finds its embodiment in law, but law which seeks to regulate dishonest conduct cannot be effective in a society where the majority of individuals do not value honesty.

There are values which are important for the future of a society which cannot be embodied in law such as the family which is the basic unit of society. When family life disintegrates, society disintegrates. As men and women become too individualistic they think of their own needs and forget their children and spouses. Excessive individualism makes it impossible to build human relationships which are essential for enduring marriages and strong families. Increasing incidences of marriage breakdowns, permissive and transient heterosexual and homosexual unions are related to a lack of commitment and the inability of a rising generation to build enduring relationships. The institution of the family cannot be established by law. It can be supported by law (eg.tax concessions). Herein lies the importance of a social morality outside the law, the importance of which is recognised by the vast majority of the people.

"My Father, Lin Yutant" by Lin Tain Yi in an article in The Reader's Digest, December 1990, page 177, contains the following simple truth:

"It has seemed to me that the final test of any civilization is, what type of husbands and wives and fathers and mothers does it turn out. Besides the austere simplicity of such a question, every other achievement of civilization — art, philosophy, literature and material living — pales into insignificance".

The family has been an important part of Western Civilisation, indeed, of all civilisations and of primitive cultures too. Parental care and nurture is important even in the animal world (particularly among those closest to man - apes and monkeys). The family provides meaning, continuity and purpose in the lives of individuals. It provides a nurturing and protective environment in which children can progress to adulthood and the best environment for the care of the aged, the disabled and the young.

There is no engine of progress, security and social advancement as powerful as the family, particularly the bourgeois family whose customs and ethics defined western civilization during the two centuries before the Great Unravelling of recent decades. There is no instrument of economic growth, savings and investment, job creation and job training as effective as the middle-class family. There is no cultural institution as ennobling as family life. There is no better way to rear the young, protect the weak or attend the elderly. None. — William J Gribbin, in July 1986 National Review p 33.

George Gilder in Wealth and Poverty New York (1982) pp 88-89, 90-91,92, outlines the importance of the family in the context of poverty:

A married man, on the other hand, is spurred by the claims of family to channel his otherwise disruptive male aggressions into his performance as a provider for a wife and children. These sexual differences alone, which manifest themselves in all societies known to anthropology, dictate that the first priority of any serious program against poverty is to strengthen the male role in poor families ...
... poverty stems largely from the breakdown of the family.

Traditionally, the family has played an important part in the maintenance of law and order. It is not possible to have policemen on every street. Control which parents traditionally exercised over children (a control which is no longer effective in the same way) helped to maintain law and order. The breakdown of the family and the decay of discipline in the schools which the progressivists (so-called) have engineered has contributed in a very large measure to the growth of teenage vandalism, crime, drugs and alcoholism. The escalation of these problems from the 1960's onwards corresponds to the decline of the family and familial discipline and to the growth of permissiveness.

The decline of the importance of the family unit creates not only social consequences but also economic effects.

"An ever increasing proportion of nations' families can no longer fulfil the basic function for which the family exists — to act as the primary system for the delivery of welfare, health and education services to the young, the sick and the old" Newsweekly, August 20, 1980, p 16.

When these primary services are greatly reduced, or even totally disappear, they do not cease to be essential. Children have to be fed, cared for and educated. The sick must be treated, the old must be assisted. All that happens is that the services of great economic value, once performed by the family without economic cost, are transferred to the government, which has to pay handsomely to ensure that the same services are provided by professionals, teachers, doctors, nurses, social and welfare workers, the proprietors and staff of hospitals and homes for the aged and other individuals and institutions. This is one of the basic reasons for the explosion of welfare expenditure which has far-reaching economic and budgetary consequences.

There is no society which can survive without strong family relationships. Moral values and the family were an integral part of Roman and Greek civilisation at their zenith. The influence of permissive values contributed to the decline of these civilisations. Moral values were important in the rise and development of these civilisations. Is it too late for western civilisation to heed this supreme lesson of human history and endeavour?

Western society was founded on freedom, which is liberty, subject to individual moral responsibility. Liberty without morality is the road to anarchy.

The crux of the problem of modern government and law reform is that it has moved away from the moral basis of law and is an attempt by fallen men to solve human problems — an attempt by man to play God.

The primary aim of the traditional legal system was to prevent man from harming his neighbour in a morally reprehensible manner (the fault principle).

Distribution of power — a key factor
An important facet of the democratic tradition which requires emphasis is the distribution of power. Distribution of power may exist at many levels in the public and private sectors.

The primary distribution of public power is between the three organs of government -the legislative, the executive and the judiciary.

The legislature is itself divided into sections. In the Westminster tradition it consists of three parts — (i) the sovereign or a President, (ii) a Lower House (House of Representatives, Assembly, Congress) and (iii) an Upper House (Senate).

The executive consists of different tiers — the political executive (Prime Minister, Cabinet, President) and various levels of the public service and statutory authorities.

The courts consist of a judicial hierarchy of many levels.

Federalism is another method of distribution of power.

Private power is even more widely distributed. Private enterprises consist of the corporation or company (established within the laws passed by the legislature) or structures less than incorporation (partnerships). The multiplicity of corporations (big and small) is a vital feature of the system.

The decline of small business (largely due to over taxation and industrial laws) and the growth of big business at the expense of small business (accentuated by the government regulationism) has undermined a key facet of the private enterprise system.

Other important areas of private institutions and activity include the church and the institutional structures of other religious and connected religious organisations; private charitable bodies; the professions; media; associations and organisations in the fields of sport and pastimes, private education, private health, art, music, drama, literature, writing etc.

The contrast is striking with countries where the state and its institutions, to varying degrees, exercise control. This was the situation in an earlier era of countries of the democratic tradition. Unfortunately the areas of the private are being gradually trespassed upon by the modern state.

The abiding faith in centralism has been basic to communist societies and also to democratic socialist states (which means all countries of the original democratic tradition). Small government promotes small institutions. The failure of the communist experiment points to the problems of centralism. Democratic socialist societies have yet to learn the real lessons of the failure of the communist experiment. By comparison to the centralised state, small institutions (whether private or public) in free societies provide important advantages. Small government promotes small institutions (including small business). Big government promotes big institutions (including big business). The small organisation (government or private) tends to be more in touch with its clients, consumers and those who are affected by its actions. The bigger the organisation, the more likely there is for wasteful bureaucratic activity.

The distribution of power has another advantage. The debate and discussion engendered in the process of decision making ensures the consideration of a wide spectrum of views, in contrast to totalitarian and authoritarian countries where decisions are made by the dictatorial few with little consultation and consideration. Decisions taken in this manner are more likely to represent broader interests of the people, than the sectarian interests of particular groups.

In the regulation of private power in the original tradition, the state had its role and place and did not trespass into the jurisdictions of the "private". The modern State, however, has overleapt its boundaries. It is fast consuming the jurisdictions of once independent institutions and reducing them to shells or to instrumentalities of the State. Many have come to depend upon State patronage either through state monopolisation of cultural markets or simply by accepting state funding and spending to an extent which makes them reliant on the continuation of such funding.

The existence of a multitude of independent institutions is one of the most characteristic features of Western civilization, reaching back to ancient times. This feature reached its height during the middle ages and is still important today, although in a truncated form.

These characteristics of institutions can be traced at two levels. The first level is the independence from state and from one another, of the various kinds or categories of institutions, such as church, state, university, professions, trade, mercantile, cultural and sporting associations. The second level is the independence and diversity within each of these main categories.

The existence of a multiplicity of independent institutions is conducive to personal freedom. In a society characterized by such an interdependent structure, the individual has the option of entering into, or giving his allegiance to, any one (or perhaps more than one) of these institutions. Furthermore, he has the option of leaving one in which he is engaged and transferring his allegiance to another. This affords him a measure of direct protection from abuse at the hands of any one of, or even a collusion of, the various groups and institutions. The man who is persecuted in one denomination may join another. The man who is persecuted in the civil services may go into business.

The sterility of totalitarianism is the result of the monopolistic direction of all the varied affairs of human activity by persons whose expertise is confined to one area (usually political survival skills) in conformity to the precepts of a totalitarian ideology and the censorship of all activity which is not in conformity with the precepts, and conducive to the goals, of that ideology.

Modern western nations has received the legacy of a free society. It remains to be seen whether that legacy will be preserved.

This is a very brief sketch. But it touches on one of the nerve centres of the traditional western system.