I have been arguing for decades that any conservative point of view, to be usable or even defensible, has to be grounded in an understanding of human nature derived from observation of man's nature and history. In an age where a Church may dictate morality, this understanding may be less necessary, though it must be said that Thomas Aquinas' arguments are rooted in Aristotle's methods and observations. Whatever the justification Christians may once have had for ignoring the material realities of the big-brained apes that we live among and are, the Darwinian revolution consigned all that rubbishy speculations to the dustbin.
Liberal and Leftist revolutions, while their ultimate purpose is to eliminate our love for our Creator, are devoted directly to destroying first our understanding of nature and the natural necessities of human existence and then to warping and redesigning our very nature. Marxism, feminism, homosexualism, and environmentalism all have this in common, a hatred of man as he is made both as natural being and in the image of God and a contempt for the objective that stares us in the face and blocks our every attempt to reinvent the human species as something other than what it is.
In this chapter, therefore, I propose both to go over some of my old arguments advanced first in The Politics of Human Nature and then in The Morality of Everyday Life and to introduce some of my more recent reflections contained in my never-ending work that I am not entitling The Cities of Man. I shall begin by stealing a few pages from chapter two of the new work, some bits of which may have been put on this website some months or years ago.
Philosophers since Socrates and Plato have been rather too prone to submit all human traditions to skeptical analysis, sometimes in the name of a scientific investigation of nature but more often out of a desire to subject human nature to the categories of a set of rational preconceptions. Since Descartes, in particular, moral and political philosophers have turned away from ordinary human experience and drawn up moral codes and political schemes that seem more like Aristophanes’ Nephelococcygia (Cuckoos-in-the-Clouds) than any human polity. Classical liberals wanted to eliminate or attenuate formal social classes, established religion, and irrational bonds of kinship; Marxists would abolish property and economic distinction; more recent radicals want to banish sexual differences and to subject the family to governmental control. The goal of all these projectors was a rationally designed society controlled by the state and based on principles of perfect justice without regard for personal ties or historical tradition. This ambitious objective, however, has remained largely unrealized. Men, good and bad, still pursue wealth and power. Even incompetent and negligent parents typically love their children, and though fewer and fewer men and women in the West are getting married, the institution is far from extinct.
The persistence of our primitive passions even in postmodern conditions should come as no surprise. The human race is old, not, perhaps, when measured either sub specie aeternitatis or by cosmic time or geological ages, but rather old nonetheless. If we can believe the palaeo-anthropologists, some creature like Homo sapiens has been around for about 120,000 years. If there are roughly 3 generations per century and something like 3000, per hundred thousand years, then the 15 or so generations since the Renaissance represent .5% of the generations of the past 120,000 years or, in terms of total years, our culture represents about .4% of human history.
The experience of Homo sapiens, as long as it is, constitutes only a small part of the story. Man has been a work in progress for some time: Homo erectus, a species with a brain highly developed enough for speech, emerged about 1.8 million years ago. As a percentage of 1.8 million, 500 ends up as 0.000 on the primitive calculator I started with, and we have not even considered the careers of more ape-like predecessors. From this perspective, our little experiment in rational living in no particular time or place almost disappears from sight, and the facts of love and hate appear as inescapable as the doom that overtakes the heroes of Thomas Hardy’s novels.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.