Monday, August 1, 2011

The Politics of Human Nature

            We are not born civilized. 
            We acquire civility, if at all, only later.  The truest and best way to acquire civility is under the guidance of a wise moral order, and under the nurture of a well-functioning traditional family.  While other paths to civility are possible and sometimes work, the happy combination of family and wise moral authority is the most dependable way to gain access to the hard-won wisdom of our ancestors, wisdom gained slowly and painfully over the centuries in the crucible of real life and in the light of revelation.
            In other words, because we human beings are not born civilized, we are always only one generation from barbarism. We must domesticate each new generation, just as we were domesticated in our turn.  To convert the brutes we all are born into the civilized persons we ought to be requires nothing less than the wisdom of God.  Barbarism is not behind us; it is within us, and it is persistent.  Our demons die hard, if at all.  If they are to die, God must kill them.  Government cannot.  The deepest and most profound human ills have no political solution.  To think and act as if they do is foolish.  How much time, effort, and treasure we have wasted trying to do by means of government what can never be done is far, quite far, beyond calculation.
            Faced with the perennial challenge of civilizing the next generation, and fully aware that in order to civilize it they must begin with God, Christian conservatives turn first to revelation, to the works and words God Himself, works and words graciously bestowed upon this fallen and twisted world, a world utterly lost and never to be found without them.  Thus, while Christian conservatives might value the good, the true, and the beautiful, they know that without God we can never find them or preserve them.  Indeed, without God we could not even convincingly define them.  While Christian conservatives set about conserving things like justice, the traditional family, and even civilization itself -- things always at risk and under siege -- they know that the best defense of them is the revelation of God, by which, and only by which, can things be seen and done aright.  I am not saying that we cannot begin without God.  I am saying that we cannot begin well without God.


Joe said...

Question: How does Rousseau's 'A Discourse on Inequality' and what it teaches line up with what you have said here? Or would it be an example of not beginning well?

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

I do think it means he's not beginning well.

Nevertheless, the idea of inequality seems to me to be true on so many counts. Given what I call "the snowflake principle of human existence," where, like snowflakes, no two persons are the same, it's an enormous challenge to think of even way in which we all are equal. We are not equal in intelligence, appearance, physical abilities, morality, social opportunities, even luck.

I think, therefore that all good political theory takes into account human differences, not just human depravity. We all are wicked and we all are different. Any political agenda that begins by assuming we are good, or all alike, will be wrong headed, and any that aims to make us good or make us all alike will fail. It will have crashed on the rock of human nature.