Learning Liberals 1

James Burnham was an American philosopher and political theorist. In his book, Suicide of the West (1964), he catalogs 19 ideas/beliefs/values that typify the liberal (or leftist) mentality. For contrast, Burnham presents for each liberal conception a corresponding non-liberal conception. Here is Burnham’s first pairing:

Elements comprising the doctrinal dimension of the liberal syndrome:

L1) Human nature is changing and plastic, with an indefinite potential for progressive development, and no innate obstacles to the realization of the good society of peace, justice, freedom and well-being.

One possible set of contrasting nonliberal elements:

X1) Human nature exhibits constant as well as changing attributes. It is at least partially defective or corrupt intrinsically, and thus limited in its potential for progressive development; in particular, incapable of realizing the good society of peace, justice, freedom and wellbeing.

I recognize L1 from liberal commentary that has appeared at Tidewater Forum over the years. I also recognize X1 from conservative commentary I have come across in many other venues over the same period. As a result I think Burnham may indeed be describing an actual liberal mentality.

It seems to me, however, that whereas L1 is clearly naive, X1 is likely inaccurate. I tend to think of human nature as essentially perfect and good in the sense that it is the product of developmental (or evolutionary) conditions. Simultaneously, it happens to be the case that human nature is not well or comprehensively understood in any manner that approaches scientific certainty. So — at present at least — it is impossible to have a verifiable opinion in the matter.

Which is a bold mark against the “liberal syndrome,” because: To believe L1 you must believe in unprovable things.

2 thoughts on “Learning Liberals 1

    1. You make an interesting point that raises all sorts of fascinating questions. For example:

      • What were human societies like thousands of years ago when societies were congruent with the human nature that evolution gave us?
      • What caused social change to diverge from the optimal model; or did it?

      • Is it feasible for society to become congruent with human nature again; should we even want such a thing?

      I don’t believe that prehistorical human societies were idyllic, but neither do I believe that “the good society of peace, justice, freedom and wellbeing” is impossible.


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