On Politics Part Two — On the Human Condition

The axiomatic truths of reality can eliminate from consideration any political view not based on sound metaphysics.

So much any philosopher could deduce of the human condition in the privacy of his armchair, merely by observing the operations of his own mind and analyzing his unspoken assumptions behind his own thought processes. But if he flings open the door of his cell, or stares in wonder from the window, certain truths too obvious to deny will impress themselves deeply upon his awareness.

Three great natural truths should impress themselves on any man who opens his doors or opens his mind, and looks with unclouded eyes at his fellow man, at the pages of history, or at the looking glass.

The first is that men are mortal and do not wish to be so.

To sustain the life within them, men must toil as huntsman or husbandmen or herdsmen, and employ the scarce resources of nature to secure the physical necessities of food and shelter.

The second natural truth about the human condition is that humans are bisexual and altricial, that is, we reproduce by mating and must raise and protect our children, lest the species fail, and educate our children, lest society fail. While other animals can instruct the young in their instinctive arts of hunting or singing, man alone passes experience by means of speech and writing from one generation to the next. The continued transmission of language and mores and mental habits over generations is called culture, and it includes both specific rites and rote learning, as well as imponderables such as judgments of value.

Moreover, the female of the species brings forth children in pain and travail, and can bear many children over many years, but has not the strength of limb to protect and feed them all without the aid of mate and tribe.

Since men are neither solitary beings nor dumb animals, part of the scarce resources of time and labor are spent in pursuit of the social necessities of honors and dignities, the spiritual necessities of devotional rites and sacraments. Whether the company or other men is worth seeking or not, the brute fact is that men seek it. Whether the company of heaven is worth seeking or not, or an ultimate meaning of life, or an answer to the mystery of the human condition, the brute fact is that men seek it. While it is true that hermits can live without society, and atheists without devotions, the overwhelming majority of human life cannot or will not, nor can these outliers exist absent a core society on which they depend who do not share their peculiarities. Man is a political animal; man is a spiritual animal.

Happily, nature has placed in the breast of every healthy human certain passions which incline men to mate and to rear the young. These natural affections connect man to wife, parent to child, and brother to brother, so that the formation of families and tribes is the common and the natural human experience. The familiar and tribal unity is naturally suited to the cooperative effort of obtaining physical and social and spiritual goods. Hence,  without any particular calculation or sustained attempt, men naturally find themselves in a society of family and band and tribe and clan which transmits education across generations, and hence sustains a cooperative organization and culture.

Unhappily, there are passions which incline men to the opposite. The third natural truth about the human condition is that many of these aforementioned goods can be obtained by force or fraud rather than by honest labor or barter.

Hence, in the absence of laws to deter them, the strong and the crafty will prey on the weak and gullible, and on each other, with a severity, a pertinacity, and a malign viciousness that far exceeds the viciousness of beasts of prey.

Men are also motivated by fear and honor and rivalry to demean and maim and slay each other.

Hence, men have good cause to fear each other, and, in order to assuage that fear, men have good cause to combine against each other for their mutual protection.

In order to combine, some must lead and others obey, and leaders must be honored and their rivals and inferiors dishonored. Such is the nature of organization. Hence all men even a small bands seek honor, that is, men must to seek imponderable signs and tokens of respect and submission from inferiors and clients, and signs and tokens of respect and patronage and reward from superiors or patrons. Whether signs of respect are worth seeking or not, it is a brute fact that men crave such signs, and some men to the risk of their lives.

And again, their natural sexual passions inclines many a man to seduce or rape any comely or helpless female, and his self interest inclines such men to father children whom another man, mistaking for his own, will raise and tend.

It hardly need be said that not all men follow their own passions or in the same way. Good and just men of saintly and sagacious temperament even if thrown into a company of savage barbarians might perhaps retain their upright character. Nonetheless, the absence of reward for doing so, and the presence of reward for doing the opposite, will tempt all men in barbaric circumstances to be barbaric, particularly when the reward or expected result of righteousness is humiliation or bondage or suffering or death.  Hence, by the very nature of the subject being discussed, we perforce must discuss the general habit of mankind in a general way.

In sum, the third great natural truth is that men know the difference between right and wrong, and hardly ever cease from wronging themselves and each other. All human experience beyond dispute has shown that the natural passions which incline men to form families and tribes are insufficient to render natural family and tribal life peaceful, tolerable, or preferable to the alternative.

The alternative to the natural life of man, rightly called barbarism, is rule of law, rightly called civilization.

To recapitulate: The three natural truths which form the axioms of politics can be summed up as three rules.  The Rule of Adam says that man is mortal and must toil and till to earn his bread. The Rule of Eve says that it is not good for man to be alone, and that women needs a mate to protect and rear children. The Rule of Cain says that man is a murderer, and is ever tempted to prey on his brother.

If this is too clear and colorful for modern tastes, I can phrase the same rules in the colorless and inaccurate language preferred by pseudo-scientists. The first is the rule of labor, which says that labor is a scarce resource always in demand to bring forth the goods and services needed to preserve vital energies. The second is a rule of cooperation, which says that it wastes less of this scarce resource if men cooperate so as to take advantage of specialization of labor. The third is a rule of self-interest or rent-seeking, which says that men will turn to force and fraud to achieve the benefits of the labor of others if not hindered by a system of social cooperation whose sanctions deter and discourage force and fraud.

The system of social cooperation whose sanctions deter force and fraud is called civilization.

To Part Three