Examining the change in attitude toward morality in the West over the past century, Jonathan Sacks sees the collapse of the principles on which liberal societies are built:
Morality achieves something almost miraculous, and fundamental to human achievement and liberty. It creates trust. It means that, to the extent that we belong to the same moral community, we can work together without constantly being on guard against violence, betrayal, exploitation, or deception. The stronger the bonds of community, the more powerful the force of trust, and the more we can achieve together.
Morality is essential to freedom. That is what John Locke meant when he contrasted liberty, the freedom to do what we ought, to license, the freedom to do what we want. It is what Adam Smith signaled when, before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments. It is what George Washington meant when he said, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” And Benjamin Franklin, when he said, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” Or Thomas Jefferson, when he said, “A nation as a society forms a moral person, and every member of it is personally responsible for his society.” Lose morality, and eventually you will lose liberty.
When I went as an undergraduate to Cambridge University in the late 1960s, the philosophy course was called Moral Sciences, meaning that, just like the natural sciences, morality was objective, real, part of the external world. I soon discovered, though, that almost no one believed this anymore. Morality was held to be no more than the expression of emotion, or subjective feeling, or private intuition, or autonomous choice. It is whatever I choose it to be. To me, this seemed less like civilization than the breakdown of a civilization.
As for the consequences of our choices, these have been outsourced to the state. Bad choices lead to bad outcomes: failed relationships, neglected children, depressive illness, wasted lives. But the government would deal with it. Marriage was no longer needed as a sacred bond between husband and wife. . . . Welfare was outsourced to government agencies, so there was less need for community volunteering. As for conscience, which once played so large a part in the moral life, that could be outsourced to regulatory bodies.