CRACKING UP? Culture and the Displacement of Virtue

Unease has been growing that something has changed for the worse in our culture. The change is perceptible but often defies precise description; yet it provokes this unease because of a concern that the foundations of our common social life have become unstable. This sense of instability is marked by two related features. The first feature is a move away from the communal — and with it, a diminishing civic readiness to live with difference — towards the individual, and a concomitant demand that threats posed by difference must be eradicated so that any behaviour deemed to harm individual dignity be proscribed by law.  The second feature is that emphasis on the primacy of the individual away from the communal is evident in the eclipse of the moral language of virtue by the language of values. This is important because values language cannot successfully serve as a language of morals. This paper calls for a renewed understanding of culture as that which expresses a shared, common vision for our human and social flourishing — an understanding that is passed on in our traditions to future generations. Only in this way can culture give full meaning to human experience.