Soul, Self, and Society

Soul, Self and Society Book Cover

Soul, Self, and Society: New Morality and the Modern State

Social theorists and political commentators regularly decry the decline of morality in the modern world, and even proponents of modern developments often concede the point. But what is really occurring is that one moral system is declining and another one is arising in its place. As Soul, Self, and Society explains, the old moral system demanded that people devote their lives to higher purposes. It favored social hierarchy and the subordination of women, restricted sex to procreative efforts within heterosexual marriages, and viewed child-rearing as a process of inculcating moral restrictions, often by means of punishment. According to the new morality, people should strive for personal fulfillment and plan their lives so that their future is fulfilling when it becomes their present. This morality of self-fulfillment favors:

  • Social equality
  • Full opportunity for all people to pursue their chosen careers
  • All sexual relationships that are voluntary and enjoyable
  • Parenting that enables children to develop fulfilling lives

Both moral systems are intimately connected with the mode of government that prevailed at the times when they predominated. In the old morality, the state was people’s higher purpose in the realm of politics. In the new morality, the purpose of the state is to facilitate the self-fulfillment efforts of its people. In other words, the previous view is that the people serve the state, while the modern one that the state serves the people.

For a government to achieve its modern purpose, it needs to be administrative, or regulatory, so that it can enact and implement social welfare programs. Thus, according to the new morality that is rapidly becoming dominant, it is immoral to oppose social welfare programs that provide people with the minimum requirements of subsistence, housing, health and education that will enable them to seek their self-fulfillment.

The Christian religion, which had previously adapted itself to changing social attitudes, has definitively allied itself to the morality of higher purposes. As a result, it has been in steady decline during the past two centuries, as that morality was gradually displaced by the morality of self-fulfillment. This threatens to reduce Christianity from the West’s dominant religion to a minority sect. But there is nothing in Scripture that prohibits Christian leaders from accepting and indeed embracing the new morality. The continuing significance of their religion in the Western World depends on their willingness to do.

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This book has two separate sources. The first is as a follow-up to an earlier book I wrote, Beyond Camelot. The theme of that book is that many of the concepts we use in political and legal theory originated in the Middle Ages and reflect medieval modes of thought. These include the three branches of government, power, discretion, legitimacy, law, human rights, legal rights, and property.


Since the Middle Ages, however, government has been transformed by the advent of the administrative state. As a result, the concepts we inherit from our past are no longer accurate or useful descriptions of our contemporary political and legal systems. If scholars want to understand those systems, I proposed, they need to bracket these concepts—to set them aside or at least recognize their premodern character—and think in different terms.


Having argued that the advent of the administrative state changes the way that scholars should think, I began to wonder whether this transformation of government has also changed the way that people—scholars or otherwise—actually do think. My original inclination was to explore people’s attitudes toward law and politics, but then it occurred to me that both could be generalized as ways by which the government manages people’s lives.


Private morality does the same thing. According to some definitions, it is the other half of our normative framework, in the sense that it includes any general rules for human behavior that are not imposed by government as a matter of law. So I began to wonder whether the advent of the administrative state had produced a corresponding transformation of morality. This led me to the converse question: Were changes in morality at least partially responsible for the advent of the administrative state?


The second source for this book is my own life experience. Some years ago, I became aware that events that I remembered clearly are now being taught in college history courses. My first reaction to this was similar to my reaction when I was told I needed eyeglasses—a mixture of denial and existential dread. On reflection, however, I realized that I had in fact lived through a period of enormous change.


When I was in elementary school, racial segregation was still rampant in the South, people could not only lose their jobs for being gay but even for suggesting that people shouldn’t lose their jobs for being gay, and occupational equality for women was virtually inconceivable. There was a game called twenty questions where a kid would describe a mysterious event and the other kids would ask yes or no questions to figure out the explanation. One such event went as follows: A young man comes into a hospital emergency room needing an operation, but the doctor says, “I can’t operate on him—he’s my son.” The doctor is not the young man’s father, however. What could the explanation possibly be? Fairly often, no one could unravel the mystery with the allotted twenty questions.


It occurred to me that a great deal of current political controversy could be explained by people’s differing levels of comfort or discomfort with the massive changes that had taken place in the relatively brief duration of a human lifetime like my own. I realized as well that these reactions are indicative not only of social attitudes but also of morality—people’s basic sense of right and wrong. At the same time, of course, people’s reaction to change determines their political positions, and those positions—translated into law and policy—strongly influence the pace of change. So in my life experience as well as in my academic speculations, I found that morality and government were intertwined.


Once I began exploring this connection, I realized that it was not only a recent phenomenon, but something that had occurred throughout the course of Western history, at least. I confronted this larger topic with some trepidation. To deal with it comprehensively, one should be a political scientist, historian, sociologist, anthropologist, and several other things besides. My only formal training is in law. The main source of reassurance for me when I decided to proceed was the fact that no one these days has enough specialized knowledge to cover a topic of this scope, so the only alternative was that this book should not be written at all. In addition, I realized that my legal training would provide me with some advantages, not only because law is an integral part of the story but also because studying it tends to focus consideration of government on the local level—the way political systems manage relations among ordinary people—and that this is the level most closely connected with private morality.

Soul, Self, and Society – Table of Contents


  • The Thesis
  • An Illustration: The 2012 Election
  • Plan of the Book
  • The Boundaries and Limits of the Thesis

Part I: Origins of the New Morality

Chapter 1: The Morality of Honor

  • The Privatization of Government in the Roman Empire
  • The Privatization of Governance in Early Medieval Europe
  • The Morality of Honor
  • The Man of Honor in Its Social Context
  • The Co-Causal Connection
  • Privatization and Central Government

Chapter 2: The Morality of Higher Purposes

  • The Publification of Governance
  • The Monarchy as a Higher Purpose of Its People and Government
  • The Spiritualization of Christianity
  • The Morality of Higher Purposes
  • Sexual Love as a Higher Purpose
  • The Co-Causal Connection

Chapter 3: The Morality of Self-Fulfillment

  • The Idea of the Administrative State
  • The Advent of the Administrative State
  • The Morality of Self-Fulfillment: The Process of Secularization
  • The Morality of Self-Fulfillment: The Concept of Mental Health
  • The Co-Causal Connection
  • Resistance to the New Morality

Part II: The Nature of the New Morality

Chapter 4: The Morality of the Self 

  • The Basic Principle: The Self as a Life-Path
  • The Basic Principle: Fulfillment as Pleasure, Planning, and Reflection
  • Secondary Principles: Non-Interference, Incommensurability, and Equality
  • Components of the Life Path: Careers
  • Components of the Life-Path: Family, Religion, and Leisure
  • The End of the Path

Chapter 5: The Morality of Intimate and Personal Relations 

  • The Validation of Sex
  • The Reformulation of Childhood Sex
  • The Deregulation of Sex
  • The Domestication of Love
  • The Personalization of Parenthood
  • The Privatization of Friendship and the Officialization of Work

Chapter 6: The Morality of Relations with Society 

  • The Self’s Relation to the Nation-State
  • The Morality of Self-National Relations
  • The Non-Interference Principle and Negative Rights
  • The Non-Interference Principle and Victimless Crimes
  • The Equality Principle and Positive Rights
  • Moral Action Beyond Voting: Reiteration and Emergent Consequences

Conclusion: The Future of Christianity

  • Christianity and the History of Morality (Chapters 1, 2, and 3)
  • Christianity and the New Morality of the Self (Chapter 4)
  • Christianity and the New Morality of Personal Relations (Chapter 5)
  • Christianity and the New Morality of Relations with Society (Chapter 6)
  • A Final Word


Plate 1

The ruins of the Roman amphitheater in Tarragona, Spain, with a Christian church built on the floor using stones from the surrounding seats. The original church was a Visigothic basilica built during the Early Middle Ages, but the ruins visible today belong to a church built over it following the Christian reconquest of the region.

Source: Whatsinaname, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 2

The Great Mosque of Cordoba, built during the period of Muslim rule in Spain, with a sixteenth-century cathedral rising in the middle of it. Charles V authorized the construction but famously declared, when he saw the results, that the builders had replaced the unique with the ordinary. Ironically, the Muslims built the Mosque over the ruins of a Visigothic church.

Source: Pistachoveloz, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 3

Colonia Ulpia Traiana, on the lower Rhine, during the second century AD, when its population was about 10,000. It was founded in the first century and then, after its destruction, restored by Emperor Trajan, after whom it was named. It displays the standard features of newly founded Roman cities: two long, perpendicular streets, the decumanus (east-west) and the cardo (north-south); a forum at their intersection; an adjacent temple; and an amphitheater (sometimes placed outside the walls). In Christian times, the city was renamed Ad Santos (“to the saints”), or Xanten, which is the name of the Medieval and modern city that occupies the site.

Source: LVR Xanten Archaeological Park

Plate 4

The apse mosaic in the Romanesque church in Monreale, Sicily, just outside Palermo, showing Christ Pantocrator (all-powerful), the triumphant image of Jesus in the Early Middle Ages. The church dates from the twelfth century but uses earlier iconography and is uniquely well preserved.

Plate 5

A detail of the well-ordered state from Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Government, c. 1339, which can still be seen in Siena’s city hall. This portion shows the king as supreme ruler, the higher purpose of a unified political entity.

Plate 6

Giotto, Madonna Enthroned or the Ognissanti Madonna, c. 1310, originally painted for the church of that name in Florence, now in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, showing the transformation of Christ’s image that accompanied the shift from power to spirit in High Medieval Christianity. But the rigidity of the pose and the gold-leaf background still reveal an iconographic and conceptual connection with Romanesque mosaics. The Ognissanti (“All Saints”) Church was founded by the Umiliati Order but was taken over by the Franciscans, and contains, among its relics, a robe worn by St. Francis. Botticelli is buried in the Ognissanti.

Plate 7

Giovanni Bellini, Madonna with Child, c. 1510, in Rome’s Borghese Gallery. In both the style of painting and the pose depicted, the foreground figures reflect a movement toward spirituality accompanied by increasing naturalism. The gold-leaf background of Giotto’s painting has been replaced by a beautifully rendered landscape, with two peasants going about their daily work.

Plate 8

The Cathedral of the Assumption and St. Stephen, Speyer, Germany, built in the eleventh century and showing the fortress-like construction of the Early Medieval Era’s Romanesque style. The publification process had begun by this time but had not yet exercised a significant influence on artistic styles.

Source: LoKiLeCh, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 9

Burgos Cathedral, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built in the thirteenth century on the site of an older Romanesque structure. The uplift and airiness of the Gothic style, with flying buttresses allowing the builders to replace heavy stone walls with stained glass windows, reflects the spiritualism of the period and its emphasis on higher purposes. The body of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar—El Cid—was transferred to this cathedral in 1919.

Source: Jebulon, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 10

Andrea Mantegna, Crucifixion, c. 1459, painted for the Basilica of St. Zeno, Verona, and now in the Louvre. The spiritualization of Christian iconography is displayed by the vivid depiction of Christ’s suffering and the women’s intense sorrow. But the painting also demonstrates the growing interest in portraying natural scenery and human settings, with the detail and precision of the city particularly notable.

Plate 11

Giotto, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, Bardi Chapel, Church of Santa Croce, Florence, c. 1317. In addition to the naturalism of the setting, it is notable that Giotto depicts St. Francis as entirely alone, in contrast to earlier miracles, which were performed among—and for—the people. This is the concept of a miracle as an internal experience. Although the stigmata would have been visible to others, St. Francis is said to have kept them hidden for the remainder of his life.

Plate 12

Lancelot riding in the punishment cart and crossing the sword bridge to reach the imprisoned Guinevere. From a Medieval manuscript illustrating Chrétien de Troyes’s Knight of the Cart. Having lost his horse, one of a knight’s two essential possessions, Lancelot submits to riding in the cart, but his hesitation to dishonor himself in this way is later seen by Guinevere as indicating that his love for her is not sufficiently all-consuming. The sword was a knight’s other essential possession, but here it becomes an obstacle that Lancelot must overcome, suffering Christ-like wounds for the sake of his beloved.

Plate 13

The Castle of Cardona, Spain, begun by Wilfred the Hairy in the ninth century, showing the nobleman’s home as fortress. The present castle includes High Medieval construction as well. To the modern eye, admittedly, it all looks “medieval;” in fact, the structure was used as the setting for Orson Welles’s film about John Falstaff, Chimes at Midnight.

Source: Lohen 11, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 14

The Château de Meung on the Loire, in France, begun during the twelfth century and fortified during the Hundred Years’ War (when it was captured from the English by Joan of Arc). It was reconstructed during the Early Modern era, once civil order was established by France’s central government, as a manor house that opens out to the world, rather than hunkering down against it. Two of the older fortified towers can be seen in the facade, highlighting the contrast.

Source: Alain Janssoone (

Plate 15

The upper section of the frontispiece for Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), showing the populace constituting and facing toward the sovereign, who rules over city and country. Although the Latin inscription, which reads: “There is no power on earth to be compared to him.” Job 41:24, is from the Bible, the sovereign seems to be composed entirely of human beings, consistent with the modern theory of the state to which Hobbes contributed so decisively.

Plate 16

Another detail from Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Government (see Plate 5). The secular theme is matched by the lavish attention to the quotidian details of urban life.

Plate 17

Joachim Patinir, Flight into Egypt, c. 1524, now in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Patinir, who worked in Antwerp, painted the subject several times. In this version, both the natural and human settings move from the background to the foreground, and the religious figures are not only subordinated, but naturalized to the point that they seem drained of any spiritual significance.

Plate 18

Any assessment of the new morality’s commercialization must take into account society’s general trend in this direction. In an effort to prevent losses during to moisture, Nabisco (together several other American consumer products firms) transformed the texture of everyday life by packaging a product, in this case crackers, at its factory and marketing them directly to its customers. The packaging reflects the original concern with moisture, but also shows the immediate impact of mass marketing in its design and the product’s advertising-generated name. The Morton Salt girl, who also advertises her product’s resistance to moisture, followed almost immediately, and is still in use.

Source: BrownBox Photography

Plate 19

Yosemite’s El Capitan, a 3000-foot-high rock face, has become a defining challenge for rock climbers. As is apparent, this hobby requires a substantial amount of training and commitment. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier begins with a scene where Captain James Kirk free solos El Capitan before going to rescue some human and Klingon hostages and being forced to search for a God-like entity who turns out to be a sadistic charlatan.

Source: Little Mountain 5, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 20

The amount of time and money that modern people lavish on collecting things is almost incalculable. During any given month in the United States, there are hundreds of baseball-card shows, some quite vast in size, in addition to sales over the Internet and at hobby shops.

Source: Image courtesy Library of Dave & Adam’s Card World LLC

Plate 21

A Star Trek convention, with many of the Trekkies in costume. More than a thousand people in the Western World can speak Klingon, the made-up language of a made-up alien race from the TV show.

Source: Sam Morris/LAS VEGAS SUN

Plate 22

The tympanum of the abbey church of St. Foy, Conques, France, twelfth century, where worshippers were greeted with an image of the damned, to Christ’s left, consigned for all eternity to the tortures of hell. Modern religious thinkers tend to avoid scare tactics of this sort.

Source: Dvillafruela, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 23

Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker. Few of the people who contributed the substantial amounts of money necessary to purchase this ship could personally witness its exploits on the remote seas, but millions were informed about it through modern mass media, and many watched it on Whale Wars, a weekly series that ran on the Animal Planet cable TV channel.

Source: Saberwyn, Wikimedia Commons

Plate 24

Gustave Courbet, The Artist’s Studio, c. 1854, now in Paris’s Musée d’Orsay. The artist shows himself turning his back on a classical-looking model to paint another of the naturalistic landscapes for which he was known. The painting serves as a further image of High Modernity because Courbet, an outspoken political progressive, includes among the people in his studio George Sand, one of France’s first female authors; Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a revolutionary who argued for the abolition of private property; and Charles Baudelaire, the avant-garde poet who may have coined the term modernity.

Plate 25

April 14, 1935, Black Sunday, when a wall of dust rolled across the Great Plains and turned a sunny day darker than night. Some saw the dust storms as God’s punishment, but the Roosevelt administration concluded that they were an ecological disaster that resulted from unsustainable farming practices.

Source: NOAA George E. Marsh Album

Plate 26

Woody Guthrie was here in Pampa, Texas (“in the county of Gray”), on Black Sunday and began writing his famous song “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ye” about the incident: “This dusty old dusty is a-blowin’ me home, I’ve got to be rollin’ along.” These lyrics were suppressed during the McCarthy era.

Source: Clay Robinson / American Society of Agronomy

Soul, Self, and Society – Press Reviews


What is the new morality and when did it start? Was it the 1920’s?

The new morality is the term given to a shift in American society, particularly as it pertained to gender, race and sexuality. It began in the 1920’s and can most accurately be summed up with the word “liberalism,” as it involved the idea that all individuals are entitled to the same level of freedom and equality.

What is the difference between the old moral system and the new morality?

Some of the most noteworthy changes that came about thanks to the new morality include women receiving the right to vote and pursuing higher education and/or careers, films incorporating casts that included both Caucasians and African Americans, and increased visibility of homosexuality. Women also began to discard many social conventions by dressing more provocatively, smoking and drinking. These women are affectionately referred to as “flappers,” and have become an icon of the ‘20s.

What is the difference between Judeo-Christian morality and the new morality?

The main difference between Judeo-Christian morality and the new morality is that the former is based primarily on the teachings found in the Bible. While the two are somewhat similar in some ways, such as the basic concept of knowing right from wrong, they differ in other ways. For instance, where Judeo-Christian morality holds that all men are created equal, this refers more to the basic rights of humans rather than the equality that the new morality brought about, such as political freedom and social equality.

What is the definition of morality?

In simplest of terms, morality can be defined as the principles surrounding the distinction between what is right and what is wrong, or good versus bad behavior. Furthermore, morality can be defined as a system of values and principles of conduct held either by an individual or by society as a whole.

What is social equality?

The concept of social equality refers to a collective group of people, all of whom share the same general status with regards to things like freedom of speech, civil rights, property rights and equal access to the same social services and/or goods. In our society, this type of equality envelopes the right to vote, the right to assembly, equal opportunities for employment and education, equal access to health care and social security, etc.