Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Human Nature and Conservatism

Jonah Goldberg quotes M. Stanton Evans:

The conservative believes that ours is a God-centered, and therefore an ordered Universe [and] that man's purpose is to shape his life to the patterns of order proceeding from the Divine center of life.

So all conservatives are theists? Not so. Evans expresses a very popular conservative belief, but there are conservatives who do not hold it.

Ours is a universe devoid of purpose and without center. There are patterns of order in it that generate a human nature, but there is not the slightest evidence of the existence of a God.

Human nature is the cluster of dispositions which we human beings usually have. We set purposes for ourselves, an activity which ought to be informed by observations, lore and learning about human nature. You can set a purpose for yourself but miss the mark and find yourself unhappy in fulfilling the purpose because it grates against your nature, the set of dispositions you ignored or of which you were ignorant in setting the purpose. You can also set purposes well suited to your nature. Happiness is the fulfillment of such a purpose.

The conservative view expressed by Evans is often beautiful and noble (and is only not so in the hands of perverse religion.) Taken as a metaphor it expresses my atheistic conservatism perfectly. Taken at literal value, it isn't true. But either way, I admire decent conservatives' embrace of it. Some of them have contempt for my conservative view of human nature, but that misdirected contempt is their problem, not mine.

[An aside: Let me reprise a former refrain regarding nihilism. If you suspect nihilism lurking in this atheistic view, you should not. There is nothing that I would take as evidence that nihilism was true. The conservative of Evans's stripe, on the other hand, would have to embrace nihilism if he discovered that there is no God. This is a precarious position, in view of the fact that there is no God.]

Our series on conservatism and human nature continue, overlapping at times. There is much more to say.