If you believe that people are basically good
12/31/2002 12:00:00 AM - Dennis Prager
No issue has a greater influence on determining your social and
political views than whether you view human nature as basically good or not.
In 20 years as a radio talk show host, I have dialogued with
thousands of people, of both sexes and from virtually every religious,
ethnic and national background. Very early on, I realized that perhaps the
major reason for political and other disagreements I had with callers was
that they believed people are basically good, and I did not. I believe that
we are born with tendencies toward both good and evil. Yes, babies are born
innocent, but not good.
Why is this issue so important?
First, if you believe people are born good, you will attribute
evil to forces outside the individual. That is why, for example, our secular
humanistic culture so often attributes evil to poverty. Washington Sen.
Patty Murray, former President Jimmy Carter and millions of other Westerners
believe that the cause of Islamic terror is poverty. They really believe
that people who strap bombs to their bodies to blow up families in pizzerias
in Israel, plant bombs at a nightclub in Bali, slit stewardesses' throats
and ram airplanes filled with innocent Americans into office buildings do so
because they lack sufficient incomes.
Something in these people cannot accept the fact that many
people have evil values and choose evil for reasons having nothing to do
with their economic situation. The Carters and Murrays of the West --
representatives of that huge group of naive Westerners identified by the
once proud title "liberal" -- do not understand that no amount of money will
dissuade those who believe that God wants them to rule the world and murder
all those they deem infidels.
Second, if you believe people are born good, you will not stress
character development when you raise children. You will have schools teach
young people how to use condoms, how to avoid first and secondhand tobacco
smoke, how to recycle and how to prevent rainforests from disappearing. You
will teach them how to struggle against the evils of society -- its sexism,
its racism, its classism and its homophobia. But you will not teach them
that the primary struggle they have to wage to make a better world is
against their own nature.
I attended Jewish religious schools (yeshivas) until the age of
18, and aside from being taught that moral rules come from God rather than
from personal or world opinion, this was the greatest difference between my
education and those who attended public and private secular schools. They
learned that their greatest struggles were with society, and I learned that
the greatest struggle was with me, and my natural inclinations to laziness,
insatiable appetites and self-centeredness.
Third, if you believe that people are basically good, God and
religion are morally unnecessary, even harmful. Why would basically good
people need a God or religion to provide moral standards? Therefore, the
crowd that believes in innate human goodness tends to either be secular or
to reduce God and religion to social workers, providers of compassion rather
than of moral standards and moral judgments.
Fourth, if you believe people are basically good, you, of
course, believe that you are good -- and therefore those who disagree with
you must be bad, not merely wrong. You also believe that the more power that
you and those you agree with have, the better the society will be. That is
why such people are so committed to powerful government and to powerful
judges. On the other hand, those of us who believe that people are not
basically good do not want power concentrated in any one group, and are
therefore profoundly suspicious of big government, big labor, big
corporations, and even big religious institutions. As Lord Acton said long
ago, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Lord Acton
did not believe people are basically good.
No great body of wisdom, East or West, ever posited that people
were basically good. This naive and dangerous notion originated in modern
secular Western thought, probably with Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Frenchman
who gave us the notion of pre-modern man as a noble savage.
He was half right. Savage, yes, noble, no.
If the West does not soon reject Rousseau and humanism and begin
to recognize evil, judge it and confront it, it will find itself incapable
of fighting savages who are not noble.