A Free Market in Morality

The distinction gives rise to the different domains of the state and civil society, respectively.

In my opinion, morality as defined above, functions to serve as a societal need. Robert Heinlein?s novel The Moon is a Harsh Mistress portrayed a lunar penal colony in which the original male to female ratio was ten to one. As such, norms governing relationships changed drastically. ?Line? marriages, which involved multiple husbands and wives, became common, as they were ?the strongest possible device for conserving capital and insuring the welfare of children -- the two basic societal functions for marriages everywhere -- in an environment in which there is no security, neither for capital nor for children, other than that devised by individuals,? per Professor Bernardo de la Paz. Women became fiercely protected, and had the greater control in line marriages. The lunar society needed a mechanism by which vastly outnumbered women improved their standing, and the civil norms of fierce chivalry, evolved to meet this need.

Leaving the onus of moral judgment on civil society allows norms of decency to change with the changing needs of society. If as Hayek said, societies and institutions are constantly in the process of evolution, and if morality arises to serve a societal need, then morality can evolve as society changes. Premarital sex might have once been condemned due to its tendency to result in bastard babies and the destruction of the nuclear family, but in an age of widespread and easy access to birth control, the denunciations have grown less passionate. This is why Hayek said he was not a conservative: he eschewed traditional morality simply for tradition?s sake, and wanted societies to improve and evolve through spontaneous interactions between free individuals.

I suspect that the citing of Madonna and Dennis Rodman by the good folks at Reason is more a protest at conservatives? predilection for imposing state power to change hearts and minds instead of using the pacific influence of civil society, rather than an embrace of libertine morality.

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