Cloning, gene therapy, stem-cell harvestingare we on the path to a Huxley-like Brave New World? Not really, argues political philosopher and Kass Commission member Peter Augustine Lawler in Stuck with Virtue: The American Individual and Our Biotechnological Future
, even as he admits that we will likely become more obsessive and anxious and will be subjected to new forms of tyranny. Rather, he contends, human nature is such that the biotechnological world to come, despite the best efforts of its proponents, will still fail to make it possible to feel good without being good. It will be harder, Lawler warns, to be virtuous in the future, because we will be more detached than ever from the natural sources of happiness. But we may take some solace in the fact that
virtue will still be the best way to live well with what we really know.
With irony and wit, Lawler delivers the good news about the future of the American individual: We’re going to remain free, because the modern effort to make increasingly individualistic human beings at home with themselves and their environments through technological progress cannot succeed. That is the truth and promise, concludes Lawler, of a genuinely postmodern conservatism.
What They're Saying...
“It might seem strange to call this an optimistic book. After all, Peter Lawler's arguments would seem to undercut the idea of progress itself. But, as he shows us, the bad news is precisely the good news. Those of us who had hoped—or feared—that, in a materially perfected world, the effort-filled and vexingly constrained life of virtue would be rendered obsolete have thought too shallowly, failing to reckon with the inescapable complexity of human existence. It turns out that virtue is no passing phenomenon. It cannot be swept aside lightly, as if it were a flimsy veil of repressive Victorian prudery, standing in the way of the great modern march of individual self-realization and self-determination. Instead, Lawler argues, virtue remains what it always has been—the necessary condition of human happiness and flourishing, grounded deeply in our natures. This witty and crisply argued book is a call for us to remember these things, and thereby to remember who and what we are.”
— Wilfred M. McClay, author of The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America
“Peter Lawler continues to produce more memorable lines per page than any other professor. Here, he explains why we should defend the right to be obsessed, why libertarians and Marxist visionaries have much in common, why it is blessed both to give and to receive but not to claim autonomy, why anxiety and fear can be positive, and why technological good news makes us more anxious.”
— Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief, World
“Peter Lawler is among our most patient observers of the distance human beings invariably place between themselves and their human nature, a capacity often mistaken for both freedom and progress. Stuck With Virtue argues that the latest quest to live the good life in the biotechnical form of eliminating all the probabilities of danger and harm in our midst leads to doubting, blaming, and finally a kind of loneliness that only human beings experience. Lawler's deepest subject is the widespread illusion of an autonomous and free self. He shows in this collection of incisive and lively essays the struggle at present to make ourselves better without making ourselves unrecognizable to history, nature, and the great religious traditions and their teachings.”
— Jonathan B. Imber, Class of 1949 Professor in Ethics and Professor of Sociology, Wellesley College
"These insightful, provocative essays critique what the author sees as America's ever-increasing individualistic habits and attitudes, centered on a view of the individual as self-sufficient and unencumbered. Lawler believes that those infected with this mindset embrace every means, especially biotechnology, to increase personal freedom and safety and to reduce human suffering…However, the author contends that among the results of these pursuits is a crisis in caring: as the populace continually ages, caring and those who provide are devalued…It also suggests increasing dependence, as well as increased state intrusions…This seeming pessimistic view does not lead Lawler to despair; rather, he argues that human virtue will survive. Somehow there will remain a richer, more truthful account of human nature that comprehends the excellences, passions, joys, and miseries of being the only animal that knows, and loves, and thinks about death."
— J.A. Kegley, Choice
"That it raises such deep questions about human existence indicates the vigor and profundity of Lawler's book"
— Larry Arnhart, The Review of Politics
"Lawler’s insightful reflections about human beings in general and modern human beings in particular force us to wonder whether there is something about us or the world that makes human life, even in its most virtuous form, less than fully satisfying…. Lawler’s fine book points to something further, namely, the need for this more natural science to be informed by a philosophical and perhaps ultimately a theological form of reflection that can make sense of all that we know about the nature of man and the universe."
— Marc D. Guerra, Society
"Lawler's conclusions are consoling ones, though he is enough of a realist to admit that there will be much human suffering before the biotechnology project loses its allure."
— New Oxford Review
"The Most important message we can take from Lawler's book is that the biotechnological revolution is about more than just scientific advancement. Biotechnology, not unlike communism or feminism, is an ideology, a worldview that promises to deliver man from the natural necessities of suffering and death. As such, biotechnology is a form of idolatry, a replacement for God."
— Dr. Jameson Taylor, Faith & Reason