More of a "moral streak" in America than elsewhere in the West?

Having a hard time putting this in the right words but it seems that in many facets of American life, and especially politics, there is more of a “moral streak” here than in the rest of the West. Be it the political left or right, a great many things and debates center on whether something is morally right or wrong (“it’s immoral to support gay marriage” “It’s immoral NOT to support marriage equality” “It’s immoral to kill babies via abortion” “It’s immoral to separate kids from parents at the border”) Every side seems to couch their argument in moral terms and portray the opponents as immoral.

There is also much more intense public scrutiny over sexual issues (for instance, I think a European once commented that Bill Clinton’s flings with Lewinsky was an enormous scandal in America, especially among the right, but wouldn’t even raise eyebrows had he been a European politician) and more of a tendency for witch hunts.

The rest of the West, on the other hand, seems to focus more on what’s pragmatic or practical, and morality enters less into the equation. This isn’t to say that they don’t talk in moral terms - Europe talks a lot about the morality of helping refugees from Syria, etc. - but that there just seems to be much MORE about morality, morality, from American liberals and conservatives.

Is this a spillover effect of American Christianity into American politics and attitudes, even among American atheists? Or is it something else?

Well, if we substitute “moral”, with “ethical”, then I think arguments all over the world are done on “moral” grounds. But yeah, I think you’ll hear “moral” thrown out there more in the US than other places because the word “moral” is more closely associated with religiosity than ethical. And the US is the most religious country in the developed world.

Progressivism began as a Protestant project. They peeled off the Jesus layer, but the rest remains intact and as strong as ever.

They still hold onto the Jesus suit for when it suits them.

Here’s my theory developed exactly 2 seconds ago. It’s all about population density. Once a population becomes so dense, community styles of social groupings become impractical and we have to shift to society styles of social grouping. In the US, we have a very large rural population that still uses community types of social structures. Communities are much more likely to talk in terms of ‘rightness’ which corresponds to a general social push from the community to act in a certain manner. The impetus behind ‘moral rightness’ is to encourage consensus and discourage any outlying opinion. Societies care much more about ‘justness.’ They are more likely to rely upon the power of the state to encourage conformity and there is less of a need to appeal to moral right. In a more dense Europe, society has become the dominant social model, so the language of community models is much less pronounced. In the US, we have two conflicting social models and so there is still a great deal of community style language in our political sphere. Discuss.

As others have mentioned, it is the product of religiosity. Americans cling to religion far more than Europeans. More importantly, the right is overwhelmingly focused on “moral” issues because the Republican Party figures out that focusing on a handful of highly emotional and religious topics (like abortion) was an effective way to create single-issue voters whose arguments could be conducted in a factual vacuum. The left often adopts the same vocabulary, but the emphasis for the left is on the practical effects of a policy (eg the morality of caring for the poor). It is essentially a case of deontological vs utilitarian ethics.

As far as I’m concerned, Americans must be mentally diseased to persist in pursuing their (fake) religious values even when facts indicate their policies are damaging or counterproductive. Some European countries have done an excellent job of bringing their country together to improve themselves, while Americans continue down a road of anti-intellectualism and religious fervor while (dishonestly) calling it “freedom.”

I think though that religiosity is actually part of the whole community/society divide. I think that community/society actually defines it better than religious/areligious.

The same issues mentioned in the US are defined in terms of “acceptable” and “unacceptable” or just plain “good” and “bad” in Spain: that the acceptability axis is morality is simply elided.

There are behaviors that Americans consider normal and people from Western Europe find career-ending scandalous: that VP in my employer who wrote to every worker at home office asking people to vote for his good friend Senator Whatever because “he understands the needs of our industry and jobs may be lost otherwise” would have found its way to a catfight between Labor tribunals (threatening employees) and the Electoral Commission (so, tell me darling, just how close are you two and how much of his chalet in Majorca did your company pay for?). The Spaniard (hi), German and French people in the team got a collective Euro-headache; the Americans needed a very slow explanation to finally accept that yes, to us that was capital-W, size=10, blinking red Wrong.

One thing that occurred to me, that may or may not be relevant:

Arguably the biggest political issue in American history has been slavery. And opposition to slavery is all about how it’s immoral, not about how it’s impractical.

I think this is a really interesting thread. I was surprised during the healthcare debate that liberals focused on universal healthcare as a “right” rather than it being cheaper, making it easier for people to switch jobs, lowering burdens on employers, and other practical considerations.

Miss a few meals and see how long our vaunted morality lasts. As Ben Sisko said: “It’s easy to be a saint in paradise.”

I don’t buy it.

If you aren’t perceiving moralism in other cultures it’s because what they’re moralistic about isn’t the same thing as in the USA.

Sure, Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky wouldn’t have been a big deal in Italy, but there are matters of moral outrage in Italy that Americans could find inexplicably trivial. Everyone n the world has some moral outrage in them that has to come out before they die.

I think a greater proportion of the morality discussion in the US is based on artificial “morals” that people have laboriously learned, as opposed to the real morals that every sane and developed person has naturally.

You’re probably right overall, but there’s a lot of moral outrage about things that in practice are morally agnostic, or should be. To wit, gay marriage. Here’s how I always understood it- if you get married at the courthouse, you’re legally married, but not necessarily married in the eyes of <choose your deity>, and to do that, you have to undergo the proper rites and rituals for your faith. The reverse is true- if you are Catholic, and you participate in the Sacrament of marriage, you’re entirely married as far as the Church is concerned, even if the State doesn’t know.

So in practical terms, gay marriage should always have been a secular thing, as religions could choose to not recognize those marriages in their own congregations as they already do for stuff like say… common law marriages.

But people got wound up about it because of this moral component- they essentially decided that this secular procedure has a moral component, and opposed it on those grounds.

I had the opportunity (:dubious:) to observe that in america there is a large subset of persons who consider learned morality to be the best morality, to the degree that no effort whatsoever is made to encourage people to develop real morals through analysis, empathy, and introspection.

I speak, of course, of getting your morals across a pulpit. Many americans confuse obedience with morality with predictable and unfortunate results. What it meant for me was that when I accepted my atheism I realized I had no idea how to be moral at all - my parents hadn’t taught me anything about morals beyond ‘do what that dude tells you’. It took me a while to figure it out.

This is not to say that all theists lack morals - many of them figure out a certain amount of morality despite themselves just going through life. But it’s not really encouraged - the idea is that your church should have all the answers and tell you everything you need to know.

It seems reasonable to conclude that the societal effect of this is to push morality (or rather “morality”) to the forefront of discussions in america; it doesn’t matter whether it’s practical to sit for hours in church on sunday, you do it because it’s right. This colors all sides of the discussion because if a liberal tries to argue that the other side’s “morals” should be overturned for reasons of practicality that sounds like immoral temptation. You gotta answer them with moral arguments or you’re the person saying that you skip church because you’d rather sleep.

The American Civil War is very far in the past, too, and North and South generally reconciled (by a mutual agreement to trample the rights of black Americans in various ways), so there’s less concern here about where disagreements can lead if they get too deep. Political disagreement in Europe has tended to take place within a narrower and quieter spectrum than the US since WWII, because in living memory over there, political disagreement that got too heated could lead to the Communists or the Fascists.

France’s “laïcité” seems as morally-driven as any counterpart attitudes in the US.

As another example, many European societies are more restrictive about assisted reproduction (IVF/surrogacy/sperm and egg donation).

It’s not that you weren’t taught, it’s worse. It’s that you were specifically taught to deny real morality and replace it with an approved list. It’s Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four done in religion instead of in politics.

It seems to me that religious beliefs fueled BOTH the right and the left in the US, from the very beginning. The left has had some falling away of this source of support as it leans toward more of a European-style socialism/atheism than it once did.

It is hard to imagine a Martin Luther King in Europe – a Baptist minister leading a social justice movement. Or for that matter a Jimmy Carter.

Three different examples, focusing on Europe:

  1. In the United States, some individual folks get all bent out of shape over women in burqas, but no US jurisdiction that I know of has banned the burkini. Bans on religious clothing are far more common in France, and although they’re sometimes dressed up in “public safety” concern, there seems to be a “moral” concern at the heart of them.
  2. AIUI, homelessness is regarded as an appalling moral crime in large swaths of Europe, whereas in the United State, we tend to shrug our shoulders and regard it as an inevitable byproduct of capitalism.
  3. The agonizing we tend to experience over free speech for Nazis isn’t really a big deal in much of Europe, where it’s pretty clear that it’s immoral to let Nazis speak their lies.

I’m oversimplifying in all these cases to make the points quickly, but I do think they’re all illustrative of what Europe treats as moral concerns that we don’t, necessarily, treat as such.

It’s anecdotal, but I’ve seen more beggars in European cities than in US cities. And the Europeans have far less of a leg to stand on with respect to some things- the treatment of Roma (“Gypsies”) is pretty atrocious in a lot of European countries- as bad if not worse than US treatment of blacks.

So yeah, the moral streak is there in either place, but I think the big difference is that European countries don’t have to contend with large religious segments of the population trying to impose the tenets of their religions on public policy.

Then again, some of them do stuff like have Parliament approve the actions of the General Synod of the Church of England, so that’s really weird from our perspective.

It’s weird though… In the UK, in theory only and only at some level, the official church and the state are bound together. They used to be bound together in practice as well; the originators of the colonies in America mainly left England because they rejected the official religion, and they were not free to do that while remaining in that country. Those colonists created a situation in a new place where they were free to be themselves, and enshrined it (wrong word? ;)) into their laws.
Fast-forward many years: Today, in practice, people in the UK have complete freedom of (and/or freedom from) religion, except as a negligible technicality. Today, in practice, the US discriminates against non-christians. (Just try getting elected to anything in the US while openly advertising that you aren’t a Christian.) The Pilgrims’ intentions completely backfired; they would have done better in the long run if they had stayed home.