The world is becoming more violent, unstable and conflicted. Aeroplanes and airports are attacked. Police officers are ambushed in America. In France, a senior police officer and his wife were stabbed to death. Again, in France, a track kills over 80 people. We have witnessed the rise of Donald Trump, Brexit, growing animosity towards Muslims in Europe, the rise of “far-right” parties in Europe; we see politically correct authoritarianism in universities and workplaces — all these things point to the fact that politics is becoming more polarised, tribal, and emotionally charged. Many different kinds of conflict can be observed in our new chaotic age: physical conflicts but also political, religious, cultural and philosophical.
Globally, there are now serious tensions developing between America, Europe and Russia. America and China; the West and Islam; EU supporters and skeptics; as well as the old divisions of “left and right” and now globalists and nationalists.
Political analyst, Christopher Coker, in a recent talk on Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisations thesis, stated that the world has never, in his view, been more divided. Coker’s claim, echoing Huntington’s, is that culture — and thus cultural conflict — has returned; In fact, as he claims, it never went away.
Coker in his book The Improbable War claims that great power conflict is over the “rules of the road”, the laws, norms and values of the international system. It is, also, Lenin’s formulation of power dynamics: who/whom? Who should rule and whom shall be ruled?
The conflicts that we all observe today are concerned not just with power and material conditions (wealth, prestige and power,), but with ideas as well — ideas that are both religious and philosophical.
Contrast the present with the past. When Caesar fought the Republicans, it was not because of ideology or religion. It was a war to determine who would rule Rome — Caesar or the Republicans, it was a question of power and status, as much as it was about governing effectively. Likewise Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor, he did not have a missionary religion (like Christianity or Islam) or a universalist ideology (such as Communism or Fascism) when he ruled Rome. Despite this lack of universalist ideology, Augustus increased the power and prosperity of Rome and ruled prudently.
Many of the wars of the last several centuries, by contrast, have been bitterly fought over religion and ideology. The 21st century is not likely to be any different. Given the technology that currently exists and the technology that will, this is quite simply terrifying. Perhaps this is — as Martin Rees thinks, and is the title of his book —our final century. Technologically advanced human civilisation is possibly self-defeating due to human conflict.
There is a pattern to political conflict, however. One observes eerily similar patterns throughout history. This pattern emerged clearly in the French Revolution. One also observes a systematic pattern to moral and political beliefs as well. Don’t you find it curious that someone who is in favour of the free market is also likely to be critical of the welfare state? Is it not odd that someone who has long hair and supports drug decriminalisation is also likely to support abortion and gay marriage? Why is it the case that if someone supports the death penalty, and believes in gun rights, they are more likely to oppose abortion?
This pattern is not accidental; the pattern is not the product of cultural indoctrination, but an expression of human nature — two different types of human nature. We are all familiar with the left and right (from the French assembly prior to the revolution), but the division did not originate there; it is a persistent theme of Western intellectual history.
This distinction, this recognition of difference, became clear during the enlightenment and the revolution. However, one can see the similar patterns of division in the past: Athens and Jerusalem; Athens and Sparta; Plato and Aristotle; Stoic and Epicurean. The Chinese philosophers, such as Mencius, speculated much like Greek philosophers, on the nature of human nature: one thought human nature was inherently good, one thought it inherently bad.
The economist and author, Thomas Sowell, has elegantly provided us with a framework for understanding the conflicting visions of human nature in his masterpiece A Conflict Of Political Visions. Following Sowell, there are two visions of human nature and two visions of politics. Philosophers have articulated and refined these visions for the last 400 years. The visions of human nature — the kind of animal humans are — more or less lead to their political visions directly.
For example, if you believe that human nature is basically good by default (peaceful and cooperative), then any observed incidents of aggression or exploitation is because…. because society is aggressive and exploitative. However, if you think that humans have a natural (a biological) capacity for aggression then you will have other explanations. Clearly, the policies that the governing class will adopt will reflect their understanding of what causes what.
Sowell calls the two views the constrained and unconstrained visions of human nature. The constrained view of human nature sees human nature as real, persistent and determining man’s physical, intellectual, moral, political and economic possibilities. Man, in this view, is literally constrained as a physical being. Man has a physical, moral and emotional constitution — a given nature. At the more extreme end of this view, man is fixed (constrained) completely and is impossible to change. The unconstrained view, however, sees man as unconstrained, as self-determining, without any natural, biological desires, and is, therefore, capable of being educated and moulded into anything society desires.
The constrained view of human nature produces the tragic vision of politics; the unconstrained view, meanwhile, produces the utopian vision.
The tragic vision of politics is a vision of perpetual trade-off among competing goods at best, endless conflict and oppression at worst. The utopian vision, in its most utopian, sees a society free of conflict and competition, where perfect equality has been obtained for all.
The unconstrained vision ground the tragic vision, because if human nature is more or less fixed, then conflict over the liberty to live differently, over scarce resources, over the need to prevent cheaters and free-riders will always occur; furthermore, human desire for power, wealth and prestige — driven by greed, envy and ambition — will always happen, because humans have natural desires.
The unconstrained view of human nature leads to the utopian vision, meanwhile, because human nature is either sufficiently malleable or non-existent and so can be morally guided and political instructed to be “virtuous.” Furthermore, conflict, competition and oppression can simply be engineered out of society by political managers.
Sowell’s framework corresponds to the left/ right pole. The reason that political conflict among “left” and “right” persists to this day, and has a discernible pattern, is because the conflicts can be traced to basic, unspoken and implicit, assumptions about human nature. Human nature is the base, while culture, politics and economics is the super-superstructure
The two towering figures of each pole — unconstrained and constrained — is Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke. Sowell perceptively notes that you could be forgiven for thinking that these two men were writing about two different types of species in their work.
The point that Sowell correctly makes is that, if one starts with different assumptions about human nature, one will design social, political and economic structures based on those assumptions, and naturally there will be different consequences given those designs because of those assumptions. Many of these consequences will be, of course, tremendously important for the stability and wellbeing of people and society. In fact, they can be horrific. Also, ironically, many of the consequences are the exact opposite, or the very thing, the political design or policies were meant to avoid. Furthermore, supposing that there are, at least, two very different kinds of human nature, a society in which one vision triumphs may well be “right” and pleasurable for one type of human, but it will be uncomfortable and oppressive for another type of human. Consequently, the basic assumptions, the fundamental premises matter.
William James remarked that in his view the history of philosophy is a consequence of a clash of different temperaments. Nietzsche remarked that a philosopher’s worldview was a confession of his own soul. Plato, in The Republic, outlined different types of human, as did Aristotle. Hume talked about human nature as consisting of elements of both the wolf and dove. I would wager that practically every great philosopher who has reflected on the fundamental questions has a vision, a theory of what human nature is.
Nevertheless, how did philosophers and thinkers like Hobbes, Mandeville, Shaftesbury, Hume, Smith, Rousseau, Godwin, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud and Franz Boas come to such startlingly different, and mutually contradictory conclusions about human nature? Did they just make it all up? Is it not plausible that observation, historical reading and philosophical reflection played some role in their writings?
So far, we have the fact of conflict and division. There is a pattern to such conflicts. Throughout history, philosophers have observed, theorised and proposed theories about human nature that serve as a foundation for their subsequent theories of political organisation. Thomas Sowell, reflecting
upon philosophy, history and economics, claims that we have approximately two different views of human nature and as a result two different kinds of political and social philosophies. Continuing on in this vein, I ask, as an empirical (not moral) question: are humans all the same in temperament and character? Before answering, let’s look at Jungian archetypes.
Many worry that archetypes and the concept of type personality (such as Myers-Briggs) is no better than astrology. I won’t concern myself with this dispute here. My point is that even considering the possibility of different personalities (Jung has four) can be an interesting thought-experiment and a useful consciousness raiser against the prevailing backdrop of what Steven Pinker calls the Blank Slate view of human nature.
Jung postulated four basic types: Artisans, Guardians, Idealists and Rationales. Guardian types are seen as traditional, commercial, family orientated, agreeable and reliable. Guardians are the backbone of any society. Rationales, however, are analytical, critical, unconventional and often disagreeable. Could anything like this be even approximately accurate? Is it possible that different personalities, different thinking patterns, intensity (or lack) of emotions and dispositions could lead to fundamentally different views about human nature, philosophy, politics and society?
Psychological dichotomies abound as much as philosophical ones: introversion v extroversion. People orientated v thing orientated. Preference for efficiency v other’s feelings; openness to new experience v preference for routine; agreeable V disagreeable etc. Social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, proposes six different “flavours” to moral thinking and feeling: liberals and the left focus on harm and care and equalitarianism; conservatives, meanwhile, conservatives not only have these two values but also on group loyalty, authority, and purity. These ways of thinking are inseparable from personality. Parents who have more than one child understand intuitively personality differences. Teachers understand it, as do managers, as do the great novelists and poets. Yet, it seems, Western civilisation as a whole, and especially the elite within it, seem to have forgotten this.
Personality typology — such as Myers-Briggs — are used by companies and career consultants to help people in their careers. Certain jobs require certain skills and personality. A dour, critical hyper-rationale introvert is not likely to make for a masseuse. Or, an empathetic, fun-loving extrovert might not enjoy being an accountant. Some jobs require memorising vast amounts of detail, razor-sharp reasoning, fluent verbal skills and mathematical ability. While the concept of multiple intelligences may be both true and useful, it seems to be plausible that for many careers IQ really does matter. IQ is clearly correlated with power and wealth. Supposing that IQ is a predictor of power, wealth and social status, our question is: does everyone start at the “start”?
The philosopher, Bruce Waller, his book Against Moral Responsibility, criticises fellow philosopher Dan Dennett’s racetrack as life analogy. While Dennett thinks the runners in the race of life don’t start in the same position (the starting line) he thinks that, nevertheless, luck evens out in the end. Does it? Waller thinks not. Waller claims that, on the contrary, those blessed with good cognitive capacities, a “good” personality, supportive family, good social position and a modern country will, on the whole, have an easier time succeeding because “luck” is cumulative. Success leads to success in other words. Dispositions, temperaments and cognitive capacity are not doled out equally, as in a welfare system but operate more like a lottery
Is this not the most obvious thing in the world? That people don’t start at the “start”. Surely, the political left and right can, at least, agree on that.
Here, again, our spade is turned.
This is the dark enlightenment. This is what it all has been building up to —reforming and restoring our understanding of what it means to be human. The dark enlightenment is ultimately about the philosophy of human nature. The claim is twofold:
1: Radical human diversity is real. Physical and psychological diversity is real. Intellectual, emotional, psychological, cultural, moral and political diversity is real. The cause, the reason, the explanation for this, is, ultimately, biological. Nature and nurture interact, of course. But biology is the base because man is an animal.
2: This understanding, this fact about human nature must form the basis of any modern worldview if it is to prove sustainable, never mind preferable.
A third claim, however, follows naturally from these two:
3: Any universal ideological moral or ethical code, any universally prescriptive political or legal doctrine is false and dangerous — except for the universal claim of universal diversity (in all its many forms, good and bad).
While these claims appear rather sheepish and blandly obvious; they are, however, momentous in their ramifications for Western civilisational self-understanding. These claims and the claims outlined in Part 1 (Modern Life Is Rubbish) are nothing less than a wholesale reactionary rejection of modernity— a reaction against the “enlightenment” — or at least the received enlightenment, the enlightenment of the French Revolution, Rousseau’s revolution.
In the next part, I will outline the basis of a reactionary worldview: the dark reformation.