Friday, July 25, 2014

Olsen's Criticisms: The Utopian Left and the Denial of Human Nature

A fundamental claim of my argument for Darwinian conservatism--as combining traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism--is that Darwinian science supports the constrained or realist view of human nature as fixed that is embraced by conservatism, as opposed to the unconstrained or utopian view of human nature as malleable that is embraced by the Left. 

Olsen says that I am arguing here against a straw man, because even if the Marxist Left can be rightly identified as utopian in its denial of human nature, the social democratic Left cannot.  But while the Marxist Left is more aggressively utopian in its denial of human nature, I would argue, the social democratic Left is still utopian in assuming that human nature can be changed in the pursuit of human perfectibility.

Marxism is the purest expression of leftist utopianism, in that Marx assumed that once human beings enter the social environment of communism, they will become utterly selfless in their collectivist solidarity, and society will be organized on the principle of from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.  The failure of the Soviet Union, Maoist China, and other Marxist regimes taught many leftists that this utopian vision is a foolish and dangerous fantasy.

And yet, the welfare state program embraced by the social democratic Left is utopian in its own way, because it assumes a malleability of human nature that is denied by Darwinian science.  Consider, for example, five assumptions about human malleability that are implicit in the modern welfare state.  (Here I am making some of the same points that Charles Murray makes in Coming Apart [2012].) 

The first assumption is that people will not respond in selfish ways to the incentives created by the welfare state.  For example, that poor people will not work less when they can make themselves eligible for generous unemployment benefits; and that rich people will not engage in tax avoidance and evasion to avoid the confiscatory tax rates necessary for redistributing their wealth.

The second assumption is that all human beings are equal in their innate talents and character traits.  If this is true, then a society that provides a fair equality of opportunity will produce the same outcomes for all groups of people--such as men and women, blacks and whites, poor people and rich people.  So when the outcomes are not the same for all groups, that must be assumed to be the consequence of some unfair discrimination that must be overturned by governmental intervention.

The third assumption is that human beings are not responsible for their actions.  Those who do well do not deserve their success, because it was due to some undeserved advantages.  And those who do poorly do not deserve their failure, because it was due to some undeserved disadvantages.  This provides moral justification for confiscating most of the property of the rich--Thomas Piketty recommends tax rates of 80% to 90% for the richest people--and for never holding people responsible for their failures.

The fourth assumption is that those who manage the welfare state--politicians and bureaucrats--will do so for the common good and not for their own selfish interests.

The fifth assumption is that the coercive welfare state is absolutely necessary for solving social problems, because if people were left free and held responsible to solve their social problems for themselves and their families in voluntary cooperation with others, they would fail, because they lack the natural ability or inclination to do this.

A biological science of human nature denies these five assumptions.


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