A World Mad With Virtues

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Too much of a good thing, as my mother would say, turns bad.

When Chesterton wrote “Orthodoxy” in 1908, he looked at his modern times and pitied their unimaginative banality. He would surely weep aloud were he to observe our times.

“The modern world,” he wrote a century ago, “is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.”

With two easy sentences, Chesterton sums up the whole “net roots” thing. Amongst the net roots, you will find every Christian virtue evolved freakishly unrecognizable through intellectual incest. The virtues, any combination, depend upon each other. Love becomes onerous unless balanced with Hope and Faith. Courage results in movies like Jack Ass unless combined with Justice, Prudence, and Temperance. Justice without Temperance and Prudence is al Qaeda. And any virtue turns evil without humility.

In Cindy Sheehan, we see complete loss of humility. She believed her own press, and now challenges the woman without whom her anonymity would be complete.

In PETA, we see the virtue of kindness run amok, turned evil by its isolation from humility and liberality.

The whole green thing and global warming mania have turned the virtue of humility into an affront against reason.

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains that virtues must be connected to each other:

Another property of virtues is their connection with one another. This mutual connection exists between the moral virtues in their perfect state. “The virtues”, says St. Gregory, “if separated, cannot be perfect in the nature of virtue; for that is no true prudence which is not just and temperate and brave”.

Individual virtues are isolated on the right, as well, and quite frequently right here in my writings and actions. How often am I challenged, not by enemies on the left but allies on the right, for allowing courage or justice to run unfettered by humility and temperance?

“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth,” said Chesterton; “this has been exactly reversed.”

These virtues cum vices through their isolation led modern man to the end of thinking. If we may doubt the truth, we must doubt all else. If a thing can be doubted, it must be ignored. If God Himself is doubtable, my thoughts must be mistaken. Concluding, Chesterton tells us, with the negative reverse of Descartes' famous postulation: “I am not; therefore, I cannot think.”

I will try to remember to practice the seven virtues–faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude–more connectedly. Perhaps the best we can all do, we who hope to preserve that great Western Judeo-Christian ideal, is to insist the same from the leaders of the modern movements.

But the real danger posed by isolated virtue becoming rampant vice stems from the left, not the right. And this morning, we saw the phenomenon in action. NBC’s Meet The Press staged a showdown between so-called moderate wing of the Democrat part and what has become that party’s nucleus–the net roots. Michelle Malkin is rounding up the real-politik reaction.