May 17, 2009
The Perfectibility of Mankind and the Left [repost]

This is a post that was lost in the great pub crash of 2009.

In light of recent events, the media’s reaction, and the comments left by various people here who support Obama, I think it is still topical. A few additions are in brackets.

December 24, 2008
The Perfectibility of Mankind and the Left

One of the basic differences between the Progressive Left and Conservatives/Classical Liberals is on whether or not humans can be, or be made, perfect in this world. The perfectibility of mankind.

To Conservatives humans can never be perfect in this world. For the religious conservatives man achieves perfection only when joined with God. In this world perfection is to strive for, but will never be achieved. Failure happens to all and is forgivable. One should acknowledge ones failures. Vow to not have it happen again. Apologize to those injured. Seek forgiveness. Show remorse. Make amends. Be punished if society deems it necessary. In politicians, as in others, perfection is not sought. The perfect not being possible then Conservatives seek the best available in an imperfect world of choices.

On the Progressive Left, the Socialist Left, humans are perfectible. The imperfections seen are explained as due to, the circumstances that people are in, how they were brought up, how they were educated, how they were treated and seen by society. To the Left people would be perfect if the world around them could be adjusted to not destroy their innate perfection. This is the Utopia sought. The world must be perfected so all humans will be perfect.

Politics is the means used so as to bring this perfect world into existence for all humans. Force being necessary to change all the world to the perfect state so all will live in perfection. This brings up an interesting thing.

To change the world so that humans will be perfected someone must know/discover the method that will perfect humans. That person will have to be perfect. They will have either lived a life where the circumstances of their life allowed their innate perfection to exist unchanged and thus their whole life is the method to perfection. Libraries of books are devoted to minute examination of the immaculate life of the “Dear Leader” in these cases. Or they discovered the way to adjust their imperfect life to be a perfection of life. This leads to books written about the way to perfection. Either way they are the perfection of humans. Being perfect they will naturally rise to the leadership of those seeking to perfect humans, the Left.

All charismatic leaders on the Left are assumed to be that perfection of humans, incarnated. They cannot do wrong. They are infallible. And must always be perceived as that, always, every time, everywhere. If shown to be fallible, then their leadership must be rejected. Failure, in a leader, is not an option on the Progressive Left. Any failures brought up by their political enemies must be vehemently, even violently rejected as lies. [The failure surely lies further down the leadership chain with some minion who will be chastized and summarily dismissed. ed] Any acceptance of a fallibility is sure cause for that leader to be tossed aside in the search for “The One” who will lead mankind to perfection.

This also leads to the belief that asserting or proving the fallibility of leaders on the Conservative side will cause those leaders to be rejected by Conservatives. When this doesn’t happen, because Conservatives don’t consider their leaders to be other than fallible humans, the Left finds it inexplicable. We must be in line with every move, every position, every word spoken by Bush, McCain, [Limbaugh, Glen Beck, ed] or any other person seen as a leader on the Right. When we aren’t, and find it amusing that they think we should, they are flummoxed. Much as we are about their rejection of any imperfection in whoever is the perceived leader on the Left. Obama at this time, Bill Clinton in the 90’s. So much time and energy of the Left is spent rewriting all of reality to conform with the belief in a leaders perfection. It is the main occupation of many academics, journalists, and most trolls.

30 Comments  :::   Post a comment »

  1. Comment by RC on 5/18 @ 12:55 pm #

    Are you sure it’s appropriate to conflate Conservatives and Classical Liberals with religious believers? It is quite possible to be a Classical Liberal and either be questioning or even unbelieving about G*d and religious tenets. It is also not necessary for religious believers and non believers to be at odds over topics besides religion. If both get to the same end game, that is, advocating for personal freedom and liberty and against government I’d see them both as comrades and fellow travelers (to steal from the dirty socialists as HF would say).

  2. Comment by sdferr on 5/18 @ 7:40 pm #

    Geoff, pardon me for plunking this down here (though I do believe it belongs, evenso). I apologize right off the bat, however, because I also believe that your post here deserves, and I still hope will obtain, a great deal of discussion, covering as it does such a wide range of important topics of interest. I hope you and others will join in over the coming days.

    In any event, this talk by Steve Pinker is well worth our attention, representing as it does, a large chunk of the current “best account” of our search for human nature. h/t to Derbyshire at NRO for the link.

  3. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 2:20 am #

    RC, that is why I said, “For the religious conservatives man achieves perfection only when joined with God.” That sentence was to state the exception to the rule for conservatives that man cannot be made perfect. The reiteration of “In this world” is to show that I am discussing what happens here not in whatever afterlife one believes in or doesn’t believe in. I wanted to set the religious argument off to the side with that. Obviously I have failed to do it.
    The rest of the paragraph is to me how in an imperfect world one should handle those failures we all have at some point in our lives whether you believe in God or not.
    I also think that Classical Liberals also do not think that humans can be made to be perfect either but to use the titles of every way to express a political position in opposition to the left gets clumsy to say and I have enough clumsy language as is.

  4. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 2:39 am #


    You are always welcome, and your links too.

    If you see this, on that desk you helped me with. About half way down this page is shown a Nunns & Clark Square Piano, circa 1840, except that mine has a much darker finish, due to age I expect, this is the right design and size. I’d never heard of “Square Pianos” until you. Nice to be surprised as I get older.

  5. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 4:00 am #

    So let’s talk about perfectibility awhile.

    The first thing that jumps out at me about the idea is that I’d presume we would have to know “perfected-toward-what”, that is, we’d have to know the end, the telos of man (or a man, if particularity must take hold), in order to move him to the proper final stance or finish. And if that is so (a big if I’d grant), we’d have to know what his nature is, or what is best for man (or again, a man) to be or become.

    And down rain the questions.

  6. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 4:07 am #

    On the other hand, if we were to begin with religious instruction or faith teachings, our scope of questions would be fairly limited to start with, such as, how are we to discern God’s instruction to us, have we got hold of it correctly, have we applied what God has put down for us properly, and so on.

    Or is that mistaken somehow?

  7. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 1:14 pm #

    You are coming at this using rationality which is a fine good thing but is going to hit a wall because the Utopian left is not based on rational thought but is a religion in search of a human to be their god.

    One other thought. One which I keep meaning to write a post on but have only gotten as far as an outline. The cascade on the left of one group’s ends being another group’s means to a different end.

    The charismatic leaders themselves do not subscribe to the goal of human perfection or utopia. They see it and all the other “isms” on the left as means not the ends which their followers see. They may think of themselves as perfect or not do so, but know that they must be viewed, perceived, as perfect to maintain their position as leaders.

  8. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 2:57 pm #

    I don’t have much reason to doubt or dispute you about the Utopian left as you’ve termed them geoff, though I haven’t as great an interest in them as I do in the abiding questions about human beings as such, questions which may be abiding for a number of different causes, such as; they go yet unanswered; they’re continually re-raised by every new generation, necessarily, as these are new people; new conditions come about, unseating what had been previously sufficient answers, so re-raising the questions (thinking space travel, for an extreme instance, or God speaks anew, somehow).

    I’ve been taught that this pursuit, that is to say, the pursuit of what we are and how we should live, is itself a good thing, and so far, I haven’t been able to overthrow that idea. So I keep pursuing. Perhaps it’s foolhardy (I’ve been told that too), but frankly, I don’t see the harm.

  9. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 3:14 pm #

    “I’ve been taught that this pursuit, that is to say, the pursuit of what we are and how we should live, is itself a good thing,”

    I believe this too, though my own pursuit has not taken me into the realms of philosophy and language which you, SBP and bh were riffing on last night. Life ended my formal education far earlier than I had expected. Catch as catch can learning works sideways to the formal kind and has strange gaps.

  10. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 3:24 pm #

    O hells no geoffb, my formal education, while a great thing as far as it went, didn’t go very far in the ordinary sense of the term formal, at all. Two years of a great college don’t a formal education make, to misspeak intentionally. On the other hand, I have spent the last what, (doing the math on the fingers) 30 yrs in pursuit of the same rigamarol mentioned above, so there’s that.

  11. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 4:19 pm #

    Let me try to boil my view on man’s place and purpose down to a few words, hubris as it is to do so.

    Due to my Christian upbringing which both “took” and didn’t, I do believe in the Christian form of God. A God that is present always in every thing and time.

    Man was created to allow God to see his creation anew. To once more have a sense of wonder at the glory of it all. That God may have other purposes we do not yet understand and some we can not ever understand is also part of what I believe. Our purpose is the journey, the seeking.

    Online is both a wonderful place to discuss this and frustrating at the same time as the limitations of the virtual world show through.

  12. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 5:25 pm #

    That hubris thing is a decidely greekish thing [ ;-) ], take care that it doesn’t sneak in and befuddle your weltanschauung, [to introduce yet another sneaky bunch into the conversation].

    I’ve been persuaded that the religion(s) of Jerusalem haven’t any need of the sort of pursuits I’ve been after all these years, where, by way of contrast, I, by choosing to pursue them, have already chosen myself out of the possibility of adherence to any one those religions. Which makes it difficult for me, to say the least, to correctly (which is to say, truly) construe those religions without doing even unintentional harm to whatever account I might give of them. Still, I strive to do them justice where I can and welcome instruction and correction from believers where it is offered.

  13. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 5:53 pm #

    My own “weltanschauung” is not this one but sprung from my being brought up in two opposing yet alike Christian churches, Seventh Day Adventist and Southern Baptist. Breaking from both and falling into both the left politically for awhile but mostly into the world view represented by this which was the passion of my soul from early youth. That also eventually led me back to God even though I had to drop any formal study due to family financial circumstances. There were no student loans in my youth that I knew or know of. I can hardly offer any instruction to others on Christianity as I know only what was offered to me and have not studied it myself much.

  14. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 6:29 pm #

    Mostly I think of instruction in revealed religion as the account of personal experiences of people unified with a faith tradition in the holy writ (or teaching, where that’s the case), as opposed to say, reading the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, for example (though reading that is good too, I don’t mean to denigrate it, just …. well, I don’t take such works as the story), but mostly, I guess, holy writ taken on its own terms.

    Getting from physical studies to Christianity, is an interesting motion though, one you should detail a bit for me to grasp it, being as it is, somewhat idiosyncratic.

    Weltanschauung doesn’t get us there. It wasn’t meant to, I think, but meant to get somewhere else altogether, and so best to set aside for now. I was stupid to bring it up.

  15. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 8:07 pm #

    Let’s return to human perfectibility though, how’s about? Perfection, as such, would seem on its face to be more or less utterly out of reach, at least for the vast majority of people, wouldn’t it? But striving toward some ‘type’, some solid conception of perfection, stress on toward, isn’t out of reach for anyone, is it? Even believers who conceive their proper perfectedness to be found in an afterlife joined to their God may have designs while living of improving their behaviors, habits of relations with their fellows, doing more justly by them for instance (and themselves, for that matter), making an effort to take courage when and where needed that they mightn’t have theretofore. The like litany of virtues of character can be extended along these lines. So.

  16. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 8:25 pm #

    Weltanschauung I had to look up and this is the definition I found and was using. “A comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint” So not stupid at all I think.

    “Getting from physical studies to Christianity”, unlike our President I don’t have two auto-bios to fall back on. Also not feeling comfortable trying to write a condensed one online. I don’t find it to be idiosyncratic but rather typical of many who think hard about just what the implications are of Quantum Mechanics and/or Relativity. The absolute improbability that what is, is, and can be apprehended by a mass of matter such as I. The very existence of “I” in the first place. Philosophy deals with all that I know but I could never get to the point of doing more than skimming any of them. It all reminded me of the two churches when growing up, so much in common, but each sure the other was wrong on that one tiny little thing over there that blew up to mean everything yet nothing at all. Anyway the best place online that gets to something like the journey I had would be “One Cosmos”.

  17. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 8:49 pm #

    “But striving toward some ‘type’, some solid conception of perfection, stress on toward, isn’t out of reach for anyone, is it?”True. The striving is a good thing, or is if the goal the “perfect” matches with that which is inherently human nature. I know that leads to what I call a “backup problem”. Have to define what is inherent human nature. And so on back and back. That’s not the direction I wanted.

    The difference is that the Left sees an end to the journey. An end that is brought about through human agency. An end that can be and should be imposed on all as it is right and perfect for all. A one size fits all end.

    On the right* the journey is the thing. Any end is either to be found in the after life or will be an individually found, apprehended and fit perfectly just that one person. Others may gain insight and knowledge from another but each journey is unique.

    * I really don’t like the right-left terms as they don’t fit but using all the ones needed to pare the definition down precisely is, as I noted above, clumsy.

    I have to step away to get dinner going. Till later.

  18. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 8:59 pm #

    The thing about weltanschauung is that this part — “especially from a specific standpoint” — has the intended tendency to make this part — “A comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world” — go away in ways that the “thing looked at” by the weltanschauungs creators (Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, etc.) didn’t have.

    I’ve bookmarked OneCosmos and will read there to try to get at it.

    In the meantime, let me suggest that you take another look at philosophy, as being an endeavor, initially at least — which is to say, at its founding or discovery, whichever way you want to put it — as not very different at all from the sense of wonder you expressed just now as “typical of [those] who think hard about just what the implications are of [the] improbability that what is, is, and can be apprehended by a mass of matter such as I. The very existence of “I” in the first place.” (sorry about the quote butchery, please forgive). It is in that sense of wonder after all, a very human thing (as it happens, it is equally very human to abandon it after a time) that it did begin. The sometimes rancorous contentiousness that comes in train, while going with the territory, so to speak, can be overcome in part by a self imposed focus on one body of work at a time, strictly denying oneself the likelyhood of getting caught up in it, whereupon to deal with it latter at one’s own pace and inclination. In other words, read Plato in good translation (not easy to find, by the way), read him with gusto and verve, read him all, give his world the scope to take its own shape in your mind (intentionality practice! bonus!) and once having satisfied yourself that you’ve done, move on to his student.

  19. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 9:16 pm #

    “caught up in it”, the rancor and contention, that is.

  20. Comment by geoffb on 5/19 @ 10:32 pm #

    I’m sorry in one way because telling someone to look at One Cosmos is like saying go look at Protein Wisdom. Hundreds of thousands of words there and on any given day who knows what may be on the table.

    Plato then Aristotle. Not an easy time you give me. Especially as the only book I read that dealt in any way with philosophy as philosophy had both of them as the villains of old. Not that I cared too much about that theme. The book spoke to me because it grounded out in discussions that pertain to my own life and thoughts. Jeff G. uses it to do humorous bits at times, it’s just below “Uncategorized” in his “Greatest Hits”

    I’ll put this ( Plato: Republic (Paperback)
    by Plato (Author), G. M. A. Grube (Author), C. D. C. Reeve (Author ) on my amazon list and see from there.

  21. Comment by sdferr on 5/19 @ 11:31 pm #

    Allan Bloom’s translation of the Republic is as good as it gets geoffb. I can’t vouch for either of those guys one way or the other(?). Do you have a line on them from somewhere?

  22. Comment by geoffb on 5/20 @ 12:14 am #

    Just looking at the Amazon listings and picked one. Let’s see, The Republic Of Plato: Second Edition (Paperback)
    by Plato (Author), Allan Bloom (Translator) Ok, a bit more but they do have some used for less. I have to watch expenses a bit. Got laid off May 2nd and will go back by Sept 7th. A Summer of no work. First time in 40 years. I also have Eco, Sowell, and some Shakespeare that need reading. Funny thing is I have more time to read when working.

  23. Comment by sdferr on 5/20 @ 12:17 am #

    I once recommended A Commentary on Plato’s Meno by Jacob Klein as a good way to begin too. Take the time to read the Meno in whatever trans. comes readily to hand (even one on the internet will do, say here or here), then re-read it along side your reading of Klein.

    One of the troublesome things about Plato though is keeping up with his frequent references to other works, poems by Pindar, the Iliad, the Odyssey, Hesiod, various myths and so on. He never does that sort of thing without a specific purpose in mind, I’ve found, he’s always pointing at something, often something crucial but initially obscure.

    The Phaedo, for instance, mentions the myth of Theseus in the eighth line or so:

    Phaed. An accident, Echecrates. The reason was that the stern of the ship which the Athenians send to Delos happened to have been crowned on the day before he was tried.

    Ech. What is this ship?

    Phaed. This is the ship in which, as the Athenians say, Theseus went to Crete when he took with him the fourteen youths, and was the saviour of them and of himself. And they were said to have vowed to Apollo at the time, that if they were saved they would make an annual pilgrimage to Delos. Now this custom still continues, and the whole period of the voyage to and from Delos, beginning when the priest of Apollo crowns the stern of the ship, is a holy season, during which the city is not allowed to be polluted by public executions; and often, when the vessel is detained by adverse winds, there may be a very considerable delay. As I was saying, the ship was crowned on the day before the trial, and this was the reason why Socrates lay in prison and was not put to death until long after he was condemned.

    Then just moments later we get this:

    Ech. Who were present?

    Phaed. Of native Athenians there were, besides Apollodorus[1], Critobulus[2] and his father Crito[3], Hermogenes[4], Epigenes[5], Aeschines[6], and Antisthenes[7]; likewise Ctesippus[8] of the deme of Paeania, Menexenus[9], and some others; but Plato*, if I am not mistaken, was ill.

    Ech. Were there any strangers?

    Phaed. Yes, there were; Simmias[10] the Theban, and Cebes[11], and Phaedondes[12]; Euclid[13] and Terpison[14], who came from Megara.

    Ech. And was Aristippus there, and Cleombrotus?

    Phaed. No, they were said to be in Aegina.

    Ech. Anyone else?

    Phaed. I think that these were about all.

    This is one of the more obvious examples of this sort of thing, which goes on, more or less in every dialog. The dialog then goes on to demonstrate just how Soc. is the true, non-mythical Theseus, fighting the scourge of the fear of death (Minotaur) through a bewildering maze of argument, in the end saving both his companions and himself. (*This mention of Plato by Plato is extremely rare, the only other case I can recall being in the Apology, calling him out by name as present in the assembled crowd.)

  24. Comment by sdferr on 5/20 @ 12:20 am #

    There’s a pretty good chance your local lending library will have a Bloom on the shelf, though if not, I’d go for the cheapest used pb I could get my hands on.

  25. Comment by geoffb on 5/20 @ 2:31 am #

    Thank you. I usually buy at my age. Time and money are trade offs. Now money means less than time, before money was the limiting factor. Younger I haunted the library incessantly. It was only a short ways from home when I was a child and I was allowed an adult card so I could browse the entire place. My library.

    In 1969 they built a new “modern” one next door and turned the old building over to the public school administration. New one has never felt quite right. When they ditched the old card catalog they lost me. If I want to browse a computer I can do that at home.

    My wife Anne worked there at one time. She is the educated one in this house BA and Masters in Library Science from U of M. Both bookworms and packrats.

  26. Comment by sdferr on 5/20 @ 2:53 am #

    That’s a beaut of a library building. Me, I’ve gotten to the point where, as an old friend used to say, “he squeeze th’dollah ’til th’eagle hollah”.

  27. Comment by geoffb on 5/20 @ 3:14 am #

    Time and money, always short on at least one. Being short one both is, I think, the intent for us by this administration.

    tw: grudging enough, I plan to be grudging much more.

  28. Comment by sdferr on 5/20 @ 5:12 am #

    Darleen’s post on atheism prompted me to go looking for an essay by Leo Strauss delivered in 1967 as the first “Frank Cohen Public Lecture in Judaic Affairs” at the City College of New York, titled Jerusalem and Athens, on the internet, in the vain hope that someone somewhere had either digitized it or transcribed it and posted it there. No such luck, but I did run into this essay touching on the Strauss lecture by his friend and collaborator Harry Jaffa, then at Claremont Institute. I thought you might enjoy it geoff.

  29. Comment by sdferr on 5/20 @ 5:13 am #

    Sorry, link.

  30. Comment by geoffb on 5/20 @ 5:19 am #

    Thank you, I bookmarked it to read tomorrow. I have a bed that is looking pretty good right now. Been good talking/writing? with? you. Some how that doesn’t work right and I’m too tired to fix.

    Wish I knew how the program the tw: broke No
    weird synchronicity.

    Good night Sdferr.

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