The excellent Wretchard at The Belmont Club
points out a debate between Victor Davis Hanson and Ronald Edsforth
on the nature of justifiable war and whether Iraq was such.
The debate ranged over a number of issues, but it touched on something I've found to be a profound difference--perhaps the
profound difference--between the Left and the Right. That difference is the nature of human nature: is man fundamentally good or fundamentally evil? Broadly speaking, those on the Left believe that people are fundamentally good and indeed are getting better (hence their fondness of the term "progressive" and the progress it implies.) From this perspective, perfectability is achievable through more thought, planning, and will. History is useful in order to isolate and condemn behaviors but offers little insight in dealing with current matters; the "new" philosophy or ideology or institution will handle that.
So Prof. Edsforth talks about the "usurpation" of the U.N.'s moral authority. He claims, "Evolution [of human behavior] is a fact...It didn’t stop back in ancient times… We are capable of learning as humans and changing our environment in such a way that that which we abhor is less and less likely." He doesn't want to "turn back the clock" and thinks that these modern men view "war as a legacy of the imperialist era."
The Right, on the other hand, believes that men are fundamentally evil, fallen creatures in a fallen world. In this view, perfectability is not
within our grasp. To study history is to grow skilled at recognizing the familiar patterns of human behavior; that which was is that which will be, and there is no new thing under the sun. This is the view that Hanson defends when he says that "[h]uman nature is set...primordial, reptilian." Hanson states, "We have not reached the end of history," to which Wretchard responds:
While man struggles on, his final chapter is postponed for yet a little longer. Man may be reptilian, yet the snake was always destined to be crushed beneath his heel; pride and envy may rule yet always be at war with man's better nature. The more interesting philosophical question is whether we could abolish war without abolishing ourselves. The possibility of heaven is purchased at the risk of hell and the gift of fire balanced by the danger that we should set ourselves ablaze.
What to take from this? First, that this distinction is far more fundamental and less negotiable that the other aspects that separate Left from Right. It explains why the Left trust the State to impose social policies to care for people and improve their lot (and lives) but distrust it in its role as social corrector (police, military, etc.) while the Right tend to believe the opposite (while both sides accuse the other of hypocrisy all too often.)
The Left's increasing hostility to traditional religion and its expression comes, I think, from this fundamental belief. Certainly postmodernism is tailor-made for distrusting the "wisdom of the past"; this impulse might also subsume the Marxist appeal to the inexorable dialectic of history as well. It puts the Right's resistance to international bodies and "brave new world" rhetoric into perspective; indeed, it might be said that the Right's fondness for the new Middle East democracy movement comes from a confidence that we've seen this sort of thing before.
The second aspect to consider is to wonder whether indeed east is east and west and west and ne'er the twain shall meet. Part of the dream of rational discourse is that, at heart, reasonable people can come to agreement on most things. But the gulf between these two positions seems to me to be so profound that any bridge between them will be rickety at best. To bend on such foundational premises endangers (and surrenders) so many other factors that compromise must be understood as a temporary beast only.
Finally, I've long thought that the Fallen Man vision (which I hold) is, contrary to an initial impulse, is so much more comforting
than the contrary vision. For if one believes people are fundamentally good, what disappointment there must be in the sheer vastness of the pettiness, avarice, and viciousness in the world! How much evil there is to explain away! And as for the good, what credit is there if people are simply obeying their nature? But for my side, each act of charity and mercy comes from a struggle against inclination and habit. Evil in the world is far more understandable as darkness is the natural element--but then how so very precious and brave becomes each heartlight to drive the darkness away! And as we were once, so may we be again, though not through our agency but Someone Else's.
What is the hope for those waiting for human evolution? As Wretchard puts it, "What was the dreamed-of Worker's Paradise except the same old places repopulated by the New Soviet Man?" But the hope for those who have fallen is that they may one day be lifted back up. I know what dream captures my hopes and imagination.