I came across the passage found below in David Cayley's George Grant In Conversation a few days ago. In it, Grant asserts that it was Nietzsche who inaugurated the use of "value" as an ethical concept, in a peculiarly modern evisceration of what had been the core of the Western ethos--the "Good".
Later, Grant goes on to explain how amusing it is that so many who believe themselves conservative (i.e. the defenders of "values") are utterly unaware that they are using an ethical grammar invented by an ideological arch-enemy--the man who stands most firmly (even more firmly than Marx) for everything they hate. As you know, I consider "conservatives" opposed, not just linguistically but philosophically, to most of what's been best in the Western tradition. I coined a term, "Steynian", to describe this phenomenon.
I confess that I simply fail to see how the ethical premises of anything that spews out of Ann Coulter's mouth can be extracted from the Sermon on the Mount, The Republic, or the Reflections of the Revolution in France. I will say, though, that, in the art of ingeniously employing shameless casuistry to contort arrant solecisms until they attain a marginal plausibility in the eyes of precocious undergraduates (and inattentive adults), free-market fundamentalists and utopian libertarians have no peer.
Anyways, I think Grant's explication of the concept of "values" is apposite to a society that builds its communities around Home Depots rather than churches. I am particularly interested in Grant's last sentence. It has never seemed coincidental to me that the post-war, U.S.-dominated world over which the grammar of "values" has triumphed has endured the most anti-intellectual era since the beginning of the Dark Ages (actually, that's not entirely fair: druids, scops and bards likely enjoyed the esteem of Celts, Angles, and Saxons on a scale far grander than our own thinkers have had cause to expect over the last few generations). Here goes:
It seems to me that Nietzsche is clearly saying there are no inherent purposes in the world. What people previously meant by "good" was what anything was fitted for: a horse as good if it could run fast or pull. "Good" was what we were fitted for, or what we are fitted for. That implies purpose...Nietzsche no longer believes that there are these purposes; the purposes have been destroyed. He wants a new language to express how we decide what we should do, and therefore he substitutes for the language of good (what we are fitted for), the language of "value".
Nobody has ever been able to tell me what a "value" is...It seems to me an obscuring language for morality once the idea of purpose has been destroyed, and that's why it is so widespread in North America--everybody talks about "our values"...Clergymen talk of values. Everybody talks about values, night and day, when they're trying to make pious, secular sermons; and yet it comes from the greatest enemy of all this, Nietzsche. The language of value is above all the language of Nietzsche. It is what is left once you have eliminated the idea that there are purposes that intrinsically belong to Being...The ancients called thinking a good because it belongs to human beings to think--that is their nature.