The metaphor of Moral Order fits naturally with the metaphor of Moral Authority, as well as with the literal parental authority central to the Strict Father family. This metaphor is based on a folk theory of the natural order: The natural order is the order of dominance that occurs in the world. Examples of the natural order are as follows:
God is naturally more powerful than people.
People are naturally more powerful than animals and plants and natural objects.
Adults are naturally more powerful than children.
Men are naturally more powerful than women.
The metaphor of Moral Order sees this natural hierarchy of power as moral. The metaphor can be stated simply as:
• The Moral Order Is the Natural Order.
This metaphor transforms the folk hierarchy of "natural" power relations into a hierarchy of moral authority:
God has moral authority over people.
People have moral authority over nature (animals, plants, and natural objects).
Adults have moral authority over children.
Men have moral authority over women.
But this does not merely legitimize power relations, since those in a position of moral authority also have a moral responsibility for the well-being of those they have authority over. Thus, we have as a consequence:
God has a moral responsibility for the well-being of human beings.
Human beings have a responsibility for the well-being of animals, plants, and the rest of nature.
Adults have a responsibility for the well-being of children.
Men have a responsibility for the well-being of women.
The Strict Father model of the family is, in part, a reflection of the moral order, as defined by this version of the metaphor. The father has a moral responsibility to support his wife and children and to regulate their behavior.
The Moral Order metaphor plays a crucial role in an important interpretation of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. It is an entailment of this metaphor that God cares about human beings in the same way as parents care about their children or shepherds care about their flocks or farmers care about their crops. Logically, after all, there is no reason that a supreme being should care about lesser beings. But if the order of dominance is a moral order, then God does care about mere mortals; setting the rules and enforcing them is how he shows he cares, and in return for his care, we owe him obedience.
The consequences of the metaphor of Moral Order are enormous, even outside religion. It legitimates a certain class of existing power relations as being natural and therefore moral, and thus makes social movements like feminism appear unnatural and therefore counter to the moral order. It legitimates certain views of nature, e.g., nature as a resource for human use and, correspondingly, man as steward over nature. Accordingly, it delegitimizes other views of nature, e.g., those in which nature has inherent value. In addition, it focuses attention on questions of natural superiority, and so stimulates interest in books like The Bell Curve. The issue raised by The Bell Curve is not just whether it is a practical waste of time and money to try to educate nonwhites. The real issue is virtually unmentionable: whether whites are naturally superior to nonwhites and hence, according to this metaphor, morally superior to nonwhites.
The metaphor of the Moral Order has a long history in Western culture – a history which is, from the perspective of contemporary American liberal values, not very pretty. It is referred to in a more elaborate version as The Great Chain of Being (see References, E, Lovejoy 1936; Al, Lakoff and Turner 1989, chap. 4). In earlier versions, the moral order included the nobility having moral authority over commoners. Nietzsche's moral theory rested on the Moral Order metaphor, especially on the version in which nobility confers moral authority. In Nazi morality, Aryans ranked higher in the moral order than Jews and Gypsies. For white supremacists, whites rank higher in the moral order than nonwhites. For superpatriots, the U. S. ranks higher in the moral order than any other nation in history. And there are people (typically, wealthy people) who believe that the rich are morally superior to the poor. Indeed, that belief is explicit in forms of Calvinism, where worldly goods are a reflection of righteousness.
The idea that the rich have moral authority over the poor fits American Strict Father morality very well. Start with the American Dream, the stereotypic assumption that America is truly a land of opportunity where anyone with self-discipline and talent can, through hard work, climb the ladder of success. It follows that anyone who has been in the country long enough and is not successful has either not worked hard enough or is not talented enough. If he has not worked hard enough, he is slothful and hence morally weak. If he is not talented enough, then he ranks lower than others in the natural order and hence lower in the moral order. The rich (who are disciplined and talented enough and who have worked hard enough to become rich) deserve their wealth and the poor (either through lack of industry or talent) deserve their poverty. The rich are thus not just more powerful than the poor, they also have moral authority over the poor and with it the moral responsibility to tell the poor how to live: build self-discipline, work hard, climb the economic ladder, and so become self-reliant.