All of a sudden the term “liberal” is off the table, and everyone is using the term “progressive.”
Your only assignment in this first post is to listen carefully—more than just once— to Franklin Deleno Roosevelt’s fourth inaugural address in 1945. Keep in mind that Roosevelt was dying of congestive heart failure with his blood pressure well over 300 mm Hg. Listen to the power of the optimism in his voice as he recalls what his school rector, Endicott Peabody had told him as a boy:
The great fact to remember is the trend of civilization always has an upward trend, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.
Franklin Roosevelt was the repository of the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.
In its place, we now have a far more tepid progressivism held over from the 20th century that holds that the benefits of science and medicine—some might add free enterprise—has resulted, and will continue to result, in progress. But that entirely misses the depth of the conviction held by President Roosevelt through Reverend Peabody.
First, Roosevelt was not referring to material progress, but moral progress—that there is a steady diminishment of evil and an increase in virtue over time. It is an understatement to say that such a view has fallen out of favor. But much more important . . .
The deep philosophical issue is our beliefs about what constitutes our own human nature
Human nature is the subject of this blog and a topic I have been pondering for four decades as a clinical psychiatrist and student of human evolution.
A brief history of the 20th century view of human nature:
Darwin demonstrated that we are descended from apes;
Freud convinced us that our ape-like id is the most powerful drive in human nature, and…
Hitler seemed to prove him right.
This view of human nature as an ape-that-recently-got-smart-and-created-a-constitution is underwritten by the academic establishment as “scientific.” For example a recent book on human evolution entitled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (with a ringing endorsement on its cover by Jered Diamond) authoritatively states on page 4: “The most important thing to know about prehistoric humans is that they were insignificant animals with no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish.”
This “scientific-conservative” view of human nature is that we are fundamentally apes, but that our founding fathers, armed with reason, constructed a constitution that essentially tamed our inherently war-like nature into an continuous contest. The endpoint of the human animal in this vision is an ongoing competition—in sports, business, international relationships—and in our relationships with one another. This is a view ourselves as contestants involved in a never-ending game show.
So what we now have playing out before us is the bizarrely entangled endgame of two tired old controversies: (1) scientists against religion and (2) businessmen against Marxism. The result is a model of human nature based on Donald Trump, and a Cruz-style religion based on worshiping the constitution.
Looking for a more up-to-date vision of human nature? Read this post
. . . and stay tuned for more.