All Commentary
Monday, December 1, 1980

Book Review: Man Is Moral Choice by Albert H. Hobbs

(Arlington House, Westport, Connecticut 06880) • 445 pages • $12.95

It is the mystique of the contemporary social and behavioral sciences that man does not have a nature; he is infinitely malleable under environmental pressures ideologically manipulated. Scant attention is paid to the self-determining qualities of human beings, the demonstrated capacity of men and women to choose, and by an act of will surmount environmental handicaps. Human beings are material for the planner, as the matter is viewed by the ideology known today as liberalism. Dr. Hobbs, a university professor of sociology and a historian of ideas, traces liberal thought back to its unsubstantiated assumptions and prejudices. He has an expert knowledge of the relevant literature and uses a devastating logic to expose the fallacies.

Hobbs, acknowledging an intellectual debt to Edmund Burke’s reaction to the French Revolution, posits “philosophical conservativism” as an alternative to rationalistic-scientism/romanticism. The underlying motif in Hobbs’ philosophy is his belief in capacity for moral choice, which is rooted in the neocortex—that part of our brain which has no analogue in animals. Since stimuli—whether of external or internal initiation—can be facilitated or inhibited on the neocortical levels of the brain, human beings are able to exert self-determining choice over their attitudes and behavior. “When we realize that the initiating factor cannot be incorporated into what we know to be right, we can and should inhibit it so that it does not become a cause of our behavior. To refuse to choose is also choice. If we do not actively inhibit impulses which conflict with what we know to be right, our refusal to do so constitutes immorality.”

Morality, Hobbs asserts, entails a set of circumstances which requires judgment. Those sheltered by their environment or their estate or otherwise insulated from temptation do not earn moral credit for abstention which would require sacrifice on the part of others. Advocates of the “new morality” would lead us to believe that when we have fully adopted their socio-political programs of economic redistribution, socialized medicine, subsidized housing, and universal education, the ills to which the spirit is heir—alcoholism, so-called “mental” illnesses, family disruption, and other indices of disorganization—will be resolved. Their socio-political programs allegedly will elicit the innate goodness of man by eliminating the things which cause badness—social and economic competition and guilt due to outmoded notions of personal morality perpetuated by bigots. Conservatives, by contrast, convinced that the formulas of “social science” provide an escape from personal responsibility but not a solution to our problems and that the socio-political programs which constitute the “new morality” are no substitute for morality, insist that morality involves men, not measures; persons, not programs.

Hobbs recognizes that people will find it difficult to reject the seeming certitude of science and the superficial clarity of rationalism which offers them Utopia Tomorrow for their society and Painless Panaceas for their conscience today. The conservative conception of man may lack the sentimental appeal of romanticism and seems prosaic compared to the visionary utopian promises of rationalism. But the choice is ours, and when the choice is a hard one there is often an extraordinary strength in ordinary people to respond.