THE PERFECTIBILITY OF MAN….By coincidence, I’ve run across several conservative commentators lately claiming that the reason liberals are fundamentally mistaken in their worldview is because of their belief in the perfectibility of man. This naivet?, presumably, accounts for our unending efforts to make the world a better place through social legislation.
This strikes me as odd, however, because when I examine my own beliefs, I find just the opposite. I’m a liberal precisely because I have a rather dim view of human nature. I am, I suppose, a neo-Hobbesian of some kind, and I fully agree that life in a state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short.
The thing is, I think that’s a bad thing, and, like Hobbes, I believe that the purpose of government (and civilization in general) is to force people to act like decent human beings even if they don’t want to. Ronald Reagan’s claims notwithstanding, all of human history leads to the conclusion that not only can you legislate morality, it’s actually the primary purpose of governments everywhere. The other tasks of central governments tend to be little more than glorified bookkeeping.
But maybe that’s just me. Is it true that most liberals hold their beliefs because of a fundamental conviction that most people are good and will work to become better on their own if you give them a chance? Or are there lots of other liberals like me who believe that the veneer of civilization is thin indeed and that we fundamentally become better people only when the social contract itself becomes stronger, more liberal, and more compelling?
To put it as baldly as possible, it seems to me that most people only become better if they are kicked, prodded, and ultimately dragged kicking and screaming to do so. Given this, we agree amongst ourselves to form a government that will force betterment on us since human nature is too weak and frail to expect us each to do it on our own. Thus is human progress slowly but surely made.
Anyone else feel the same way? Just curious.