Monday, February 11, 2008

Human Nature and Change

One of the most important fault lines between Conservatives (in the general, non-Jewish meaning) and Progressives in America or between Left and Right in Europe, is the issue of the permanence of human nature. Conservatives think it doesn't change, or if so, only at glacial rates, and thus schemes for the betterment of the human condition are a waste of time or worse. Progressives think that human nature can be changed, indeed must, and therefore programs for the betterment of the human condition are the only moral option.

My reading of history shows that neither side is always right. On the one hand, human nature can be shown not to have significantly changed in the past few millenia; on the other hand, there are quite a number of cases where radical change happened.

One of them is the disappearance of militarism from Europe. Seen from our present vantage point, it's hard to shrug off the rather glaringly obvious fact that a few hundred million people in Europe regard political violence in a very different way than their predecessors did in the previous 2,500 years, as far back as historical memory goes on that continent.

The New York Times book section has a review on a new book that promises to be a fine read on this topic: James J. Sheehan, Where Have all the Soldiers Gone?

Of course, the significance of the European development, while vast for Europe, is far from clear for the rest of us, since the change in the nature of the European humans seems not to have happened anywhere else. It's nice to know that such a change is humanly possible, but that doesn't mean all of humanity will follow suit, now or ever.


Lydia McGrew said...

Ah, but if America didn't still have soldiers, or at least lots of money and weapons build-up, probably Western Europe would have become a set of communist satellite states long ago. So soldiers are indispensible.

Whether the feminization of Western society is a real change in human nature or not is an interesting question. But I'll go so far to say that if it is, then probably it's going to be a short-lived one in the grand scheme. And that's not necessarily an optimistic prediction. My point is that the loss of soldiers may mean the destruction of the West in the end by people with no lack of soldiers and also not much conscience.

Yaacov said...

I would tend to agree. Still, the change is dramatic, it's real, and it has truly happened. On its own, it's even a good thing: Europe at war is a luxury humanity can hardly afford. The concurrent loss of European ability to wage war of any sort, and even to conceive of anyone else doing so, however, is indeed probably not a change for the good.