Society really does depend on the imperfect virtue of its members. Self restraint and moral behavior, even only realized in part, really are the foundations of liberty. If too many people do the wrong things too many times, nothing can protect us from the consequences.
The weaker the hold of virtue on a people, the stronger the state needs to be. If people don’t voluntarily comply with, for example, the tax codes, the enforcement mechanisms of the government need to be that much stronger. If more people lose their moral inhibitions against theft, and against using violence against the weak, then society has to provide a stronger, tougher police force — and give them more authority under less restraint.
Yet at the same time the state becomes stronger, it loses control of itself. When the moral tone of a people declines, bureaucrats and the police are not exempt from the decay of morals. Perhaps a stratum of high minded elites and civil servants can keep up a moral tone that is significantly higher than the declining standard around them, but lesser officials and the police will reflect the society around them. They will steal; they will abuse their authority; they will manipulate the processes of the state to serve themselves and their favored clients. The courts become corrupt; the security services link up with the crime syndicates. Night falls.
This is not some abstract fear; history and the world today are full of places where the collapse of moral values blights daily life and undermines the prospects for development. I’ve been to many countries where nobody trusts the courts, the police, the politicians or the journalists. None of these countries are nice places to be, and more than anyone else it is the poor — those who most need the state and most need justice — who suffer the accumulated consequences of the moral failures of their society.
Sadly, people do not spontaneously choose to behave like angels. Virtue has to be cultivated and developed. Young people have to be persuaded, cajoled, admonished and above all inspired to seek wisdom, self control, a life of service and all the other virtues that are necessary for our civil lives as well as for the fullest development of our true selves. Older people have to be reminded of their ideals, encouraged to live up to them and to continue fighting the good fight through the long years of adulthood and on into the twilight.
Found here. Click to read the whole thing.