Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Human Nature

Paolo Virno states that attitudes towards sovereignty or the civil state are determined by one's belief about human nature--whether humans are naturally good or naturally evil. A recent column by David Brooks provides specific examples, comparing the current Tea Party anti-authority views with the New Left movements of the 60s. But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains,” is how Rousseau put it. Because of this assumption, members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories.

The reference to Rousseau sounds a silent alarm. Brooks notes that neither movement had/has serious plans for what they might do if they actually came into power themselves. History does provide some analogies, beginning with the French Revolution and the Jacobins (declaring Rousseauist principles), responsible for the Reign of Terror (guillotine). Peter Sloterdijk's Critique of Cynical Reason reflects on what happens to so-called enlightened movements (motivated by beliefs in native goodness) when they acquire power. When people (the multitude) resist their ideals, the movements become "cynical." What cannot be achieved by persuasion must then be accomplished by force.

No comments:

Post a Comment