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Reviewed by:
  • Morality Matters
  • Dennis E. Lambert
Roger Trigg . 2005. Morality Matters. London: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 192.

In somewhat the same way that an American bumper-strip admonition such as 'Save the Bay' (a reference to our nation's environmentally endangered Chesapeake Bay) strikes us as an incontestable good, we may come upon a book titled Morality Matters and ask whether something so obvious requires yet another scholarly treatise. On reflection, of course, we recognise that the statement 'morality matters' merits far more of us [End Page 190] than thoughtless agreement. Certainly most of us who take up Professor Trigg's book agree that morality does indeed matter. But just here his work demonstrates that a discerning response can be neither simple nor easy and, as important, serves to remind us of just how much is at stake in contemporary debates over human rights, law and justice, and the role of patriotism in the search for any global ethic.

Morality Matters is a relatively short work that covers a great deal of philosophical turf. In seeking a common ground for universal moral values Trigg provides brief but helpful treatments of natural law, human nature, the rule of law, pluralism, and the relationship between human nature, natural law and morality. While at times the range of topics and the book's rapid pace threaten to overwhelm, the patient reader will be rewarded with thoughtful insights regarding the interconnectedness of the critical issues of our day. Certainly Trigg's discussion on the origins and moral significance of 'human rights' is one of them. Writing as an American, I believe Trigg has something useful to say about the ambivalent, often dangerous role of patriotism as we seek to affirm that morality matters in international relations.

We know that patriotism, driven by particular circumstances, national self-interest and insecurities is always buttressed by appeals to universal moral values. But sinful human nature, seeking to mask its creaturely insecurity and finitude, constructs moral absolutes of its own design. However we may recoil from the idea, Nazism did reflect a morality, repugnant to be sure, grounded upon the idolatrous worship of power. Though the Barmen Declaration reminds us that there were faithful souls in Nazi Germany who did not bow the knee to the Baals, the great majority of its people accepted a morality of 'might makes right' and in which poweris answerable only to itself. Here, the stridency of nationalistic religion abetted by the complacency of ordinarily 'good' people of faith helped fuel a demonic fury that plumbed the depths of evil in human nature. Here was patriotism of power that in its time perverted what it could of philosophy and religion and intimidated into silence what it could not pervert.

In his discussion of human rights and the use of torture Trigg provides a timely warning against the abased morality of blind patriotism in theera of international terrorism. Trigg nevertheless cautions those he calls liberal 'cosmopolitans' who 'think that a country has no significant role in the transmission of morality'. Here he notes Martha Nussbaum's rejection of patriotism as morally dangerous, citing her appeal instead to 'the very old ideal of the cosmopolitan, the person whose allegiance is to the worldwide community of human beings'. Yet Trigg is not convinced, as he apparently believes Nussbaum is, that patriotism must be ruled out of court in [End Page 191] the search for justice among the nations. He believes that there may be, even must be, a role for patriotism in upholding moral standards applicable to the people of all nations. The 'cosmopolitan' perspective may avoid the evils of blind patriotism, but it does not escape the reality that among wilful and selfish humankind power is necessary for even relative justice. If the cosmopolitan looks to the day of world government, wherein disinterested power is asserted in the cause of justice, that day is not yet. To pretend otherwise is a flight from present responsibilities and thus to abet injustice.

Rather, Trigg finds that a discerning patriotism may place power in the service of justice. It 'need not be a love that shuts out the rest of the world, let alone subordinates everything to the...


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pp. 190-192
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2009
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