By Ararat Kostanian
The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union has shifted the world into a unipolar system in which liberal capitalist ideology has become the undisputed champion, shaping not only the political, economic, and social formation of states, but also serving as the main driver of globalization under the rules and form of liberal order. Postmodernism, on the other hand, has disappeared as a political force, due to the collapse of the framework of socialism; but it has continued to animate as a critique of liberalism in academic circles, and makes continued appearances in leftist movements, particularly in the West.
The problem is that both ideologies, liberal capitalism and postmodernism, have excluded the concept and importance of morality in shaping societies.
In liberal capitalism, the emphasis has been placed on the market economy and man’s material wellbeing, and morality has come to be seen as a personal preference rather than as an institutionalized social formation. Moreover, morality in liberal capitalism has been understood only in terms of good behavior and not as a correlated mechanism of morality, faith, meaning or identity. In postmodernism, meanwhile, morality serves merely to denounce liberal capitalism and accepts only certain cultural traditions as moral by dint of rejecting others; this is nothing more than fictional morality with elements of racism, and lacks any moral framework based on faith, spirituality or national identity.
The elimination of morality in Western societies and its disappearance from daily interactions among subjects has brought about a vacuum in social interactions, where priority is given to individualism and the accumulation of wealth, at the expense of any duty towards humanity. The eradication of morality has returned modern societies to the pagan era, with its absence of faith and moral conduct towards oneself or other members of society. Moreover, liberal capitalism has shaped a foreign policy that imposes its own rules on other countries and cultures to form a single global market model, and the waging of wars has been justified as a means of shaping the global order.
The first part of this essay clarifies the meaning of morality and its essentiality in our current world condition. The second part of the essay will present the ideological historical framework and the contemporary image of liberal capitalism, with both its positive achievements and faults vis-à-vis morality, in comparison with postmodernism. Lastly, the essay will reveal the new condition that the world is facing amid the formation of the multilateral or multipolar world order, where signs of a revival of morality are apparent, due to the failure of both the liberal capitalist and the postmodernist systems emanating from the West.
The fundamental aspects of morality
It is evident that among psychologists and philosophers, there is no single definition of morality or its essential role in modern societies. For instance, Ross Poole maintains that morality is an aspect of social life. On the other hand, Bernard Mandeville argues, “Morality can only be a system of illusion”. In contrast, Kant argues that “[m]orality is about duty related to what individuals ought to do towards the promptings of self-interest.” Robert Greene implies the essentiality of morality as a factor in achieving goodness and peace in the world, whereas Mark Twain insists that it is “emotion, not reason, that lies at the heart of morality.”
Given this difficulty of definition, morality should first and foremost be understood as a spiritual and ethical concept, not created in the rational mind of human beings, but instead implemented through religion and patriotism towards a given community and nation that has its own set of rules and that undergoes a cycle of transformation through generations and millennia. It is not only the driving force in the formation of societies, giving meaning to a community so as to allow its members to interact and develop humanely in conditions of self-respect and mutual coexistence, but also places humans under an obligation to value the other members of society and to dispense with selfishness.
For example, the Islamic world often shows a unity of voice when there is an outrage against the Palestinians or an assault on Palestinian land or Islamic sacred sites by Israeli forces. Similarly, the leftist movements in various parts of the world dutifully gather in protest upon request to call for the release of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. The demands in both cases have to do with a reaction to injustice, and those gathering show their aroused frustration, which is not a personal demand but a moral stance against inhumane actions and behaviors. Thus, the notion of morality succeeds in joining people together in a specific community for a purpose, and is not an individual phenomenon.
Moreover, the notion of the existence of God is the main source of morality that has been revealed to human beings since ancient times. It is the relation of faith to morality that first brings the “idea of good and evil[,] and it is fundamental to all religions that [it] has a function of offering moral guidance to society.” Confucius described that “Heaven is the source of moral order; moral order is maintained by goodness.”, Jesus Christ “wanted the liberation of the entire world from evil to save the distorted values of [the] human kingdom that would be overturned,” In Islam, “Sharia contains religious law and moral codes.” Moreover, Mary’s role in Islam as the mother of a prophet is praised because it “is related to morality.”
Thus, the most essential aspect of morality that has to do with religion is the notion of the existence of God, heaven and hell, and good and evil. To community members and societies, morality becomes a duty whereby individuals should be aware of, and perform, acts of mutual respect and beneficial works not only for themselves but for all members of their society, and towards humanity in general.
Faith is therefore an essential attribute, that not only teaches what morality is but even shows us how to perform it, and that keeps humans from wrongdoing. As Reza Aslan puts it, “Religion’s moral effect on society can mitigate the social effects of selfish behavior in a group.” A survey conducted by psychologist Will Gervais revealed that religious people are more moral people compared with atheists. Chandra Muzaffar notes that the decline of religion means the growth of capitalism: a finding which confronts us with the incompatibility of morality with the liberal capitalist system.
As well as arising from faith per se, morality has to do with the accumulated knowledge of history and with the experience that revealed religion gives the individual and society a moral identity as a member of a religious community. Thus, morality is not a matter of self-interpretation nor a method to be learned individually, but rather a clear mechanism with set of rules and tasks interconnected with faith.
Morality is alien to liberal capitalism
Liberalism as an ideology emerged as a result of the French Revolution, which followed the onset earlier in the eighteenth century of the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain. The primary motive of the French revolutionaries was to expound ideas such as human rights, human freedom from religious institutions, the priority of the individual in society, the progress of science, and the free market that had been made possible by the thinkers of the Enlightenment. With the advancement of innovations, the West attained a level of development in the late modern era that enabled it to spread its achievements to other parts of the world and ultimately to win the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
This accomplishment gave the West the ability to champion the spread of liberal values and in due time to use globalization as a tool to advance its markets and to impose the capitalist system upon the rest of the world through corporations and international organizations. As an ideology, liberalism prioritizes individual rights and sees morality as a personal duty: it is up to oneself to decide what is good or right to function in life. Moreover, in liberalism, the emphasis is placed on material wellbeing and the accumulation of wealth, and the key motive of liberal capitalism is to gain profit out of people-to-people interactions or from one’s society. Yuval Harari has set out this view:
Capitalist creed today: The profits of production must be reinvested in increasing production […] capitalism gradually became far more than just an economic doctrine. It became now an ethic-a set of teachings about how people should behave, educate their children and even think […] economic growth is the supreme good, because justice, freedom and even happiness all depend on economic growth.
Similarly, Benjamin Wiker expresses the threat posed by liberal capitalism to morality thus:
Materialism cannot accept the virtue-based morality that follows from the existence of God and the soul, but only a hedonist morality. If nothing exists but bodies, then good and evil are ultimately defined by physical pleasure and physical pain.
Thus, liberalism societies have largely given rise to an institutionalized consumerist mentality where faith and religious duties, while not banned outright, are excluded from the mainstream of societal life, where morality is absent in the lifestyle of the person, family and society relations—leading humans to focus only on productivity and consuming goods.
The purest expression of liberal capitalism is the huge shopping malls that have now sprung up all around the world, where we can find endless shops with the most varied kinds of products, thronged by innumerable consumers. In the liberal capitalist world, producing and consuming is the primary source of satisfaction and happiness. As Michael Sandal notes:
Since human beings are capable of freedom, we shouldn’t be used as if we were mere objects, but should be treated instead with dignity and respect. This approach emphasizes the distinction between persons (worthy of respect) and mere objects or things (open to use) as the fundamental distinction in morality.
In other words, liberal capitalism turns the human from a subject into an object, keeping profit as the primary goal: one that opposes all forms of moral values.
Thus, society becomes a mass of individuals deprived of moral values and commitment to God, family, friends and to the rest of one’s own community. One of the most prominent of Enlightenment philosophers, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, rejected that morality which limits the satisfaction of sensual pleasure as artificial, and declared morality bad manners. Moreover, Rousseau denies that humans are the creation of God and describes human beings as a creation of nature: as unconnected individuals with no obligations nor morality.
In fact, then, Rousseau’s theory of human nature and morality begs the question: it expresses the very assumption that liberal ideology has not only excluded morality and faith but has also returned humanity to the pre-civilizational era known as paganism: a world deprived of faith, obligations, and morality. Whereas material satisfaction is essential for individuals’ basic needs and social cohesion, humanist moral values, religious duties and patriotism are meant to enhance the meaning of life, to provide an identity in religious communities, and to enable loyalty towards one’s own country.
Furthermore, nationalism is a social order that reveals how the individual might live, posits a community with unique identity, and has elements of both self-awareness and awareness of others that liberal ideology lacks. Similarly, all religions put the emphasis on lifting up the status of the oppressed and on showing support, sympathy, and solidarity to the poor and the powerless. Liberalism, on the contrary, advocates a self-superiority and exceptionalism that is evident not just in the political arena but also in most Hollywood movies, where the star is cast as a hero capable of immense power and abilities.
Furthermore, the wealthy have advantages in Western societies, and the notion of “the wealthier the better” not only works against morality but also creates greed in society and generates a marathon of endless competition without leaving room for spiritual necessities, performing good to others, and showing positive feelings with no profit motive. Nietzsche explained the rise of a bourgeoisie caring only for comfortable self-preservation as the outcome of an excessive growth resulting rom the formation of classes with a growing disbalance between the rich and the poor in the West.
For instance, in the West itself, degradation has been evident since the financial crisis in 2008 that followed rising inequalities, and such growth as there has been recently has flowed primarily to the wealthy. Francis Fukuyama states:
Many working-class Americans feel that their dignity is not recognized, and the government gives undue advantages to people who are not willing to play by the rules, social crisis in United States such as death of more than 60,000 citizens in 2016 due to drugs and rise in the numbers of single parent families to 36% in 2017.
On the contrary, the boundless opportunities of the free market and enhanced economic growth have revealed the notion of the individual to be the highest value in liberalism and among the bourgeois class. Liberalism satisfied the elite and the transnational corporations; Chandra Muzaffar labels the phenomenon “casino capitalism.” Similarly, as Michael Hudson puts it:
Neoliberalism is an exponentially expanding financial dynamic seeking to concentrate the world’s most profitable and highest rent-yielding resources in the hands of financial managers, mainly in the United States and its client oligarchies that act as proconsuls over foreign economies.
Yet neoliberalism has been unable to fulfill the needs of the population during recent crises caused by fuel tax rises in France, which brought Yellow Vest protestors onto the streets due to the inability of the rural French to pay high prices for daily driving. Social and economic problems have become evident at the very heart of the liberal camp, in the United States: growing poverty, and disgust at the killing of George Floyd, ignited the issue of racism once again, which has been evident for decades. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes that “racism in America and Philadelphia is both systemic and institutionalized.”
Moreover, the United States, despite being the most advanced country in the world, has not been able to manage the crisis arising from the Covid–19 pandemic. Anti-Asian sentiment in the United States reached federal level, with President Trump naming the pandemic a Chinese virus, instead of calling it by its proper term, Covid–19. Moreover, police assaults on peaceful demonstrators in both the United States and France calls the very human rights and freedom of expression into question that the West has been presenting as its core principles in the paradigm of liberal ideology.
Thus, liberal governance is insufficient during large-scale crises, and material sufficiency alone is not capable of dealing with issues such as racism and violence, because of the social inequality associated with racial discrimination, which is the opposite of what ideologues and intellectuals have been uttering for years regarding the exceptionalism of American liberal ideology. Hence, the crisis that has arisen in the West is a result of the moral vacuum in societies based on liberal capitalism that are incapable of functioning during financial or pandemic crises, and this due to the absence of a moral theory based on faith and patriotism or that transcends operations based on individual tasks and interests.
The member states of the EU proved unwilling to show sympathy and help to each other during the rise of the Covid–19 pandemic, and the first states that reached Italy with help were countries outside the liberal capitalist camp such as Russia, China and Cuba. A medical mask crisis developed between the United States and Germany. Andreas Geisel, the interior minister of the Bundesland (State) of Berlin, described the diversion of masks paid for by Germany as “an act of modern piracy” and pressed the German Government to intervene and demand that Washington follows international trade rules: “This is no way to treat trans-Atlantic partners […] Even in times of global crisis, there should be no Wild West methods.”
The liberal capitalist system affects our understanding of morality when we see that humans prone to act aggressively because of humiliation are capable of stealing medical masks during a purported health crisis at national level out of selfishness. The absence of moral values in this situation arises out of the temptation for individual gain. Thus, the annihilation of morality in the psyche of the Western statesman is an eminent challenge to morality, which shows no signs of being revived in Western mentality.
At a global level, liberal ideologues and politicians orchestrated a plan whereby liberalism would be propagated universally as a successful model for spreading democracy and as a mechanism to enhance the free market through globalization. Francis Fukuyama describes liberalism as the only viable ideology capable of spreading democracy globally and ensuring a free market. Similarly, when he was President of United States, Theodore Roosevelt had an inclination for spreading America’s successes to other continents, and since his term in office, spreading democracy has been a priority for the United States worldwide.
Moreover, Zbigniew Brzezinski emphasized America’s capability of spreading globally democratic ideals and the American political tradition. Indeed, the claimed success of the American dream in the United States, and the country’s Cold War victory over the Soviet Union, gave rise to a deceptively euphoric atmosphere among political scientists and policymakers in the United States, inducing them to turn American liberalism into a global ideology in a unilateral world. The strategy of spreading democracy and of maintaining longstanding world peace has been deflected to that of cherishing the ambition of pursuing world hegemony, creating a unilateral world by imposing a liberal world order upon the rest of the world without taking into consideration the social, cultural, religious and regional differences in the non-liberal world.
The spreading of the liberal order took on imperative proportions for the liberals in opposing countries that implemented religious or nationalist doctrines as their country’s ideology. Most particularly, neoconservatives during the presidency of George W. Bush accompanied this drive with a doctrine of an imperial “rule of law” to impose their own reality (economic and military) on other countries that did not follow US policies. In his memoir, George W. Bush outlined the reasons for the elimination of the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as the following: his being a dictator, his helping the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, and his obtaining weapons of mass destruction.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 stands as an egregious example of the extreme ambitions that the neoliberals have nurtured in the name of spreading liberal values globally, such as democracy and freedom. In the face of such an unreasonable decision and bellicosity, outrage was heard and seen not only in the Arab and Muslim world; there were also anti-war protests in the Western camp, including in the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. The prominent thinker and activist Noam Chomsky has written that “[…] the invasion of Iraq was a far worse crime.”
The agenda of conquest of multiple states reached as far as Syria in the name of a “war on terror”, and US troops were placed in the country’s oilfield areas, simply because access to oil is a priority for liberal colonialists. In this way, the liberal ideology of spreading democracy, freedom and free trade degenerated into continual wars, regime changes and millions of deaths, mostly of innocent civilians. Hence, another aspect the liberal order’s deleterious effect on morality is its ambition to gain profit not only by advancing globalism with liberal-market methods but also by waging wars against sovereign countries intentionally to loot resources regardless of the outcome of wars, resulting of the death of millions of innocent people, thousands of refugees and collapsed societies.
Additionally, the double-standard foreign policy of the West in general and in particular the of United States has committed crimes against morality in conditions where countries has been denounced as undemocratic if they so much as are unfriendly to the West. Others countries are accoladed as democratic if those countries are allies. For instance, the West criticized countries including Syria, Yemen, Libya for crushing protestors during the 2011 Arab Spring, but closed its eyes to peaceful demonstrations in Bahrain and ignored the harsh laws in Saudi Arabia that until recently even forbade women to to drive a car.
Another challenge to morality revealed by the liberal capitalist system has been the appearance of billionaire individuals belonging to the liberal capitalist camp but functioning entirely out of the control of governmental and international institutions. This class has established global corporations that deal not only in trade but also in social issues such as spreading liberal values around the world, gender equality, defending freedoms, transparent elections, and so forth. The most remarkable such figure is George Soros, who is associated with the 1998 financial crisis in Asia and with the generating of of color revolutions in Eastern Europe in the name of defending democracy since 2000. His actual intent has been to to enter new markets by endangering moral values: not only as a trader but also by corrupting the moral aspirations of youth in conservative societies. So far, although globalism has been the driving force of developing economies, science, and innovation, it has on the other hand undermined the notion of morality by giving precedence to profit over morality and human wellbeing.
The shortcomings of postmodernism
With the advancement of liberal capitalism, with its excessive industrialization and accelerated pace of life, a reaction took shape in late modernity which is known as postmodernism, an ideological framework that renounced those Western innovations that were enabled by the era of the Enlightenment and that came to view the achievements of liberalism as destructive for human beings and for societies constructed on the basis of cultural traditions and homogeneity. In other words, postmodernism is essentially a rejectionist doctrine not only towards liberalist ideology per se but with regard to other forms of group interest that are alien to socialism and to the secular humanism derived from socialist ideology. Postmodernism advocates an egalitarian system which grinds society to a halt in order to oppose modernity and development.
Although postmodernism does entail a moral component in shaping cultural tradition—and although it stresses the misconduct of liberalism in its moral values arising from individualism that affected collectivism—morality as a concept in shaping respectable society has not been opposed to rationality, innovation or the development of the world. Rather, morality has been in opposition to how liberal ideology and liberal capitalism affect the moral values of individuals and societies in aspects of how capitalism has been turned into a religion and has shifted the consciousness of the human mind away from dignity and humaneness towards greed and selfishness by downgrading the role of faith and affection towards society and the nation.
Moral ideology as an understanding thus suits the development of human beings, the enrichment of the spirituality of societies and innovations in science, if the motive is not personal profit in and of itself but benefiting the other subjects of society and the nation in general. For instance, nations that place emphasis on moral values are currently the fastest-developing of countries and the newest developed countries, including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, in terms of economy, science and innovations that are challenging the liberal capitalist system with its differing ideologies.
Hence, postmodernism as an ideology has partial elements of morality only in confronting the liberal ideology, but at the same time it opposes the evolution of the society and its rejectionist stance towards the other cultural traditions are challenging to the evolution of societies and interactions with each other, that opposes the moral value of humanity where all religions and national ideologies have been not only in peaceful coexistence, but also have formed alliances; taking into consideration the mutual benefits whether in gaining friendship or in defense against the enemies.
As the former president of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan puts it:
We have nothing to hide; we support the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. We cannot support the right to self-determination and advocate the right to decide one’s independent, free status under some circumstances, and [on the other hand] think, ‘This is Israel, and we should be cautious here’ under other circumstances. No, our position is very clear. 
In a similar manner, the then leader of Palestine, Yasser Arafat, on several occasions showed his sympathy towards Armenians, remarking:
Israel wants to control Jerusalem’s Armenian district, but we will never betray Armenians […] The Armenian Quarter belongs to us, we and the Armenians are one people.
The centuries-old friendly relationship between the Armenians and Palestinians is an excellent national-level example of the advocating of morality in terms of faith and identity. At the same time, it demonstrates that morality is capable of linking societies with different religions and nationalities: something that it is not possible to achieve in the postmodernist system, where the evolution of collectivism impels people to chauvinism and the sentiments of Nazism and racism, due to postmodernism’s rejectionist stance.
Although both liberal capitalism and postmodernism pose a threat to morality and to societies with religious and nationalist identities, the emergency of a multilateral world has come to be seen as a a balancing force that allows nations a distinct faith and national ideology; one where morality is at the core of the newly-formed alliance against Western liberal capitalist ideology. As an example, Russia’s national ideology under the presidency of Vladimir Putin involves elements of Orthodox Christianity as a religious morality as well as elements of nationalism, thereby indicating the uniqueness of the Russian identity.
The philosopher of the new identity of Russia, Alexander Dugin, has described the necessity of an ideology based on moral values as a consequence of the negative effects of liberal capitalism and globalization on Russian society, and has stressed the urgency of establishing a Eurasian geopolitics to confront the liberal camp and particularly the United States. The Russian defense minister has mentioned the inhuman condition of the world, where humanity is at risk of collapse owing to the unrelenting desire to consume.
In parallel, China, as an emerging superpower in the multilateral system, has presented a New Silk Road project known as the One Belt, One Road Initiative, issuing a direct challenge to the liberal capitalist system that has taken globalization as the pattern for replicating its own economic model on a global scale. In relation to the mentality of liberal capitalism, this Chinese model has distinct notions of morality, based on Confucianism, which links the moral order with the Mandate of Heaven and insists that the only possibility of achieving goodness is through morality. Chinese authorities have often described the One Belt, One Road Initiative as a project beneficial to all parties, insisting that mutual respect is at the core of the new global trade that China offers the word.
Indeed, China’s success in its declared project has integrated countries in various regions—not only those in China’s environs, but with great reach in Africa, Middle East, the Caucasus, Europe, and Latin America—underpinned as it is by trade rules based on mutual agreement. Undoubtedly, this is seen as a challenge to the hegemonic trade policy which the liberal capitalist superpowers impose on small countries, especially as regards oil price fluctuations, which have implications for the generation of profit so excessive that it alters the norms of morality.
Thus, although liberal capitalism continues to dominate the Western camp, the emergence of superpowers leading the establishment of a multilateral world has put the West in a quandary by bringing to light the possibility of a global system where morality, religions and cultural traditions are crucial in advancing societies and in confronting the threat emerging from the liberal capitalist hegemonic system.
This essay has revealed the essentiality of moral values in shaping societies that succeed in integrating into their modes of living not merely the notion of accruing personal benefit and gaining profit from interaction with other subjects of society, but also self-evaluation in regard to spirituality, the patriotic notion of what a society is, and interaction with other communities based on moral values of mutual respect and mutual wellbeing. It has also indicated the challenge to morality posed by liberal capitalism and how that system excluded morality from its ideology by promoting the mentality of material advantage in all aspects of social interactions and even of exploiting society itself as an object for the accumulation of wealth.
Moreover, the greed which is advocated in liberalism is rejected in moral ideology as an act of selfishness. Another challenge to morality in the liberal capitalist system is that that system has tolerated the shifting of foreign policy into a mechanism for waging wars in various parts of the world to gain immense profit by looting the resources of legitimate states.
In parallel, although postmodernism sees liberal capitalism as a threat to cultural traditions and to the wellbeing of those communities that are based on collectivism rather than individualism, the morality that it presents remains insufficient as long as it lacks that morality which is related to faith and to the historical experience of religions, as well as to the ideologies that nations have accrued. In the same manner, postmodernism denies any scope for development or advancement, writing off these notions as pure liberal inventions. That ought to be understood as an irrational evaluation by postmodernism, since it would have been impossible for the emerging great powers such as Russia and China to enter into global competition with the liberal camp without innovation in such fields as economy, science, education and innovation.
The essay has also shown the world’s current dominant paradigm, liberal capitalism, as a substantial challenge to morality, and has examined the deprivation that the West endures by not shaping its societies on the basis of moral, ethical values. At the same time, as we have seen, the new actors in global politics have rejuvenated moral theory by emphasizing its relationship to faith and national belonging. In a world of growing nationalism and declining liberalism, the importance of morality will be on the rise—especially in regions removed from Western influence.
25 April 2023
PhD Candidate, Universitas Islam International Indonesia
Former Research Fellow, National Academy of Sciences of Armenia and Expert at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia
 Rose Poole, MORALITY AND MODERNITY: INTRODUCTION (London: Taylor & Francis e-library, 2005), xii.
 Ibid., x.
 Ibid., 15-27.
 Robert Greene, The Laws of Human Nature: Step Two: Beware the Inflaming Factors (New York: VIKING, 2018), 31.
 David Livingstone Smith, THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL: MORAL PASSIONS (New York: ST. MARTIN’S GRIFFIN, 2007), 133.
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 Ibid., 206.
 Ibid., 250.
 Ibid., 259.
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 Ibid., 361.
 Ibid., 361
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Ed. Gareth Jones, Georgina Palffy, THE RELIGIONS BOOK, 74.