Can the Common Sense of Ordinary Americans Turn the Tide?

Murdoch presented a non-theistic alternative to the rampant relativism of Western elites.

By Jim Tonkowich Published on September 11, 2017

I was listening to sports talk radio the day in 2009 when the news about Tiger Wood’s extra-marital sexcapades broke. Now, sports talk radio hosts are hardly pure as the driven snow nor are they shy about letting the audience in on their lives. Nonetheless, they went utterly Focus-on-the-Family that day.

How could he cheat on his wife like that? What a scumball! What a lowlife! I never want to see him play golf again. And the like. I was amazed — and encouraged. Who would have guessed?

My son would have guessed. When I mentioned it to him, a sports and sports talk aficionado, he explained that sports talk talkers and the listeners tend to be down to earth, common sense, basically moral people who have a visceral notion of good and bad, right and wrong, fair and unfair.

Common Sense

I thought about that recently as I read Iris Murdoch’s essay “The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts” for an interview on The After Dinner Scholar, the Wyoming Catholic College podcast I host.

What emerges from atheistic thinking is typically a lot about creating meaning and value in a meaningless and valueless existence.

Murdoch was an atheist. “We are,” she wrote, “what we seem to be, transient mortal creatures subject to necessity and chance. This is to say that there is, in my view, no God in the traditional sense of that term; and the traditional sense is perhaps the only sense.”

As to the nature of human beings: “I assume that human beings are naturally selfish and that human life has no external point or τέλος [telos].” Life for her had no transcendent meaning or purpose.

What emerges from that thinking is typically a lot about creating meaning and value in a meaningless and valueless existence. Life is about will, power, freedom and courage. You read the news from our college campuses, so you know the drill: Invent your own truth.

Life for Murdoch had no transcendent meaning or purpose.

Murdoch refused to go there. Instead she criticized modern philosophy beginning with Kant and Nietzsche to existentialism and positivism. Murdoch wrote that we’ve seen it all before “in the work of Milton: his proper name is Lucifer.”

In addition to calling much of modern thinking satanic, Murdoch wrote about virtue, beauty, reality, humility and the Good (with a capital “G”). “[A]nything which alters consciousness in the direction of unselfishness, objectivity and realism is to be connected to virtue.” And beauty for her was a critical way to alter consciousness.

Murdoch presented a non-theistic alternative to the relativism of Western elites. Though she believed that the Good is, in the final analysis, undefinable, she believed that we nonetheless know what is good, right and loving. “Good is the magnetic centre towards which all love moves. False love moves to false good. False love embraces death. When true good is loved, even impurely or by accident, the quality of the love is automatically refined, and when the soul is turned toward Good, the highest part of the soul is enlivened.”

In this she, like the sports talk talkers and listeners, had a common sense intuition about the real and the Good. She wrote, “The ordinary person does not, unless corrupted by philosophy, believe he creates values by his choices. He thinks that some things really are better than others and that he is capable of getting it wrong.” Elsewhere she says, “It is a task to come to see the world as it is.”

Common Sense Against Elite Relativim?

I added the italics to “unless corrupted by philosophy” because while few study philosophy, the secular, existential, create-your-own-truth worldview is implied, taught and propagated in classrooms, in politics, in the media. Heck, it’s even on ESPN.

The good news is that not everyone is buying it.

Murdoch presented a non-theistic alternative to the rampant relativism of Western elites.

As Victor Davis Hanson noted in at National Review, “There is a populist and growing resistance to the Orwellian idea that free speech is hate speech, that equality of opportunity is defined only by equality of result, and that identity politics determines the degree of government-mandated penance and reparations.” Those things are all wrong; and “unless corrupted by philosophy” people may feel shamed into submission, but they don’t believe and are beginning to say, “No.”

Donald Trump rode this common sense into office. He, as Hanson notes, “capitalized on, but hardly originated” the resistance. He gave people a way to say “No,” and they responded.

Others who with greater virtue and a stronger sense of the common good than our forty-fifth president can do the same. And it might just turn what has lately seemed an unstoppable tide.

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