Over the years Ive come to realize that relativism is the wrong way to describe the way in which secular elite culture approaches moral questions. Its obvious that all things are not permitted, which is why Pope Benedict coined the term dictatorship of relativism. One MUST be affirming, inclusive, and non-judgmental. Were heavily policed, as the term political correctness indicates.
Furthermore, the moral norms that progressives endorse arent just of this sort. In America, our secular elites put a great deal of emphasis on subtle forms of moral formation. First there is the imperative of success. Getting into a good college is all-important. This cult of success requires a great deal of self-discipline, and although one often sees a work-hard/play-hard mentality, thats more characteristic of the 1980s and 1990s than the rising generation. Today parents emphasis the need to make healthy choices or responsible choices. That may allow for hedonism, but its a moderate hedonism organized around the larger goal of controlling ones destiny and being successful.
This cult of success carries over to marriage and family. The well-educated and successful in America dont affirm family values, and in fact many are politically and culturally opposed to social conservatives who do. Saying that marriage is morally necessary or even socially normative is exclusive and intolerant, a stance inconsistent with elite commitments to inclusion. Nonetheless, the same elites have a strong culture of marriage and family. Its sustained by a super-subtle moral system only accessible to insiders who know the nuances of responsible choices. This system makes is entirely consistent for a Harvard graduate to have many sexual partners in his twenties and thirties, and then marry and accept the traditional presumption that hes to be faithful to his wife. Making sense out of this requires a profoundly esoteric moral wisdom, one that can parse the differences between relationships that are unhealthy and those that are healthy.
Its this qualitythe esotericismthat is as destructive today as political correctness and the dictatorship of relativism. Im not a fan of the elite approach to sex and marriage, but its shown itself to be a functional systemfor elites. The problem is that for everybody else its mysterious and inaccessible. And so we have no functional social norms for ordinary people. Traditional views are bludgeoned by the elite commitment to inclusion. But nothing clear takes its place. Elites are happy with their esoteric approach, which cant function for society as a whole.
Why the esotericism? Why no commitment to a larger, functional social ethic of sex and marriage?
I dont want to be too Marxist, but I think it has something to do with sustaining class domination. I cant imagine a system more congenial to elite domination than one that demoralized most (the dictatorship of relativism) while allowing elites to flourishing according to esoteric norms that only insiders can apply (healthy choices).