sábado, diciembre 06, 2008

The Place of 'Human Nature' in Political History

The Place of 'Human Nature' in Political History
The current crisis and the historical evolution of man in society

Alfredo Ascanio (askain)
Published 2008-12-06 16:44 (KST)

Edited by Rich Bowden: Editor's Note
Differing interpretations of the concept of human nature has had a varied political history in modern times, the development of which can be seen clearly if we trace the ideal back to its origins.

In the 17th and 18th century - during the Age of Reason and the early Romantic Movement - "human nature" referred to man's naturally sympathetic sentiments, his communicative faculties and inalienable dignity.

However once this human nature was powerfully enlisted in revolutionary struggles against courts and classes, poverty and humiliation, it began to invent and support progressive education. Human nature unmistakably demanded liberty, equality, and fraternity.

As an heir of the French Revolution, philosopher and political revolutionary Karl Marx kept true to much of this concept. Sympathy recurred in his works as solidarity. Though dignity and intellect were perhaps still in the future, he found an important new essential: that man is a maker - he must use his productive nature or be miserable. This too involved a revolutionary program, to give back to man his tools.

During the course of the 19th century however, "human nature" came to be associated with conservative and even reactionary politics. The later Romantics were historically minded and contended that man was inherently traditional and preferred not to be uprooted. A few decades later, narrow interpretations of Darwin were being used to support capitalist enterprise and racial and somatic theories summoned to advance imperial and elite interests.

It was during this later period that the social scientists began to be diffident about "human nature." Politically, they wanted fundamental social changes, different from those indicated by the "natural" theory of the survival of the fittest. Meanwhile scientifically, it was evident that many anthropological facts were being called natural which were overwhelmingly cultural.

Most of the social scientists began to lay all their stress on political organization, to bring about reform.

In our own century, especially since the 1920s and 30s, the social scientists have found another reason for diffidence. It seems to them that "human nature" implies "not social" and refers to something prior to society, belonging to an isolated individual.

Reacting to Freudian thought, they have felt that too much importance has been assigned to Individual Psychology and this has stood in the way of organizing people for political reform.

It is based on this view that growing up is now interpreted as a process of socializing some rather indefinite kind of animal, with the term "socializing" a synonym for teaching the culture. The society to which one is socialized would then have to be a remarkably finished product.

But it is, of course, hard to grow up and socialize when there isn't enough work and this remains one of the most serious issues in our current economic crisis.

Alfredo Ascanio is a professor of economics at Simon Bolivar University in Caracas, Venezuela.
©2008 OhmyNews
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