Finally, as an example of such vision of substantive goods (as evoked by Roger Scruton, above), let me share a tidbit from an important essay against same-sex marriage (made world famous by the Pope’s high praise) authored by France’s chief Rabbi Gilles Bernheim. I have just finished translating this essay, very soon to appear in First Things.
“Genesis finds the similarity of the human being with G-d only in the association of the man and the woman and not in each one taken separately. This suggests that the definition of a human being is perceptible only in the conjunction of the two sexes. Because of his sexual identity, each person is referred beyond himself. From the moment a person becomes conscious of his sexual identity, he is thus confronted with a kind of transcendence. The person is required to think beyond himself and to acknowledge the independent existence of an inaccessible other, that is, of one who is essentially related to oneself and desirable, yet never wholly comprehensible.”
Conservative Lockeanism, like the Tocquevillean strategy of smuggling real goods into an interpretation of the American soul under cover of “self-interest well understood,” made a lot of rhetorical sense when the residues of a Christian and Greek civilization were robust enough to support a near-universal assumption or sense of the reality of goods of the soul. But now that Lockeanism in its reductionist essence has penetrated from elite ambition into actual popular consciousness, trying to spin goods out of meager thread of rights will no longer do. The ideological challenge is large, perhaps indeed impossible, but for my part I can see no hope for our souls or for the social functions they perform that would not involve some kind of explicit and public repudiation of that reductionist essence. There is no way to halt the self-erosion of rights that does not involve learning to talk again about real goods that are neither mere individual satisfactions nor mere social functions.
There are still higher goods left to be conserved, and there will no doubt always be some (that we are “stuck with”), but there is no chance such goods will prosper and characterize us as a people if we cannot restore or learn ways of naming such goods, and praising them (unlike Locke and even Tocqueville, except in asides), not instrumentally, but directly, explicitly, publicly.