Oct. 23, 2012
Constants in the world include the Rock of Gibraltar, Mick Jagger, and human nature. The first of these is immovable. The second is incomprehensible. The third is the subject of this short essay.
A national election occurs two weeks from today. It is, in a sense, a referendum on human nature. Conservatives argue that because man is imperfectible, our long, diffident, inconsistent struggle out of barbarity should be welcomed, even celebrated, as we continue to strive to do better.
Liberals argue that because man is perfectible, our erratic strides toward human dignity are ignoble, inadequate, and embarrassing. This is why massive statist intervention to re-craft both man and his society are, to the Left, so profoundly important: The enlightened few, the Gnostic elite, should guide the pathetic masses with firm benevolence. From the size of their soft drinks to the partners they marry, endless adjustments, large and minute, can be made through the guidance of those whose vast wisdom will die with them.
Our intellectual achievements are beyond impressive: from nanotechnology to the quantum theory, we’re sharp cookies. But are we really any different from those who, building their tower to the heavens, find their grand plans and pretensions shattered in confusion? Are we so unmindful of our finitude and so confident in our potential for perfection that like lemmings moving in herd-like solidarity, we eventually find ourselves drowning after falling, unexpectedly, off the cliff of our own arrogance?
Even as the Internet has opened vast vistas of personal communication and international commerce, “about 2 million sexual predators are online around the world.” In an era of almost immeasurable abundance, nearly 11 million children die annually of hunger. We fling our intricate machines to the stars and murder one another with increasing diligence.
The point: Conservatives should aim to foster virtue, in individuals, cultures, and governments. But this side of heaven, man cannot be perfected. Moral character is best formed early, in family and church and the decent communities they form. Let’s work to that end, and be ever leery of those whose relentless dissatisfaction - animated by a false understanding of man’s promise - assures us that our country is, because imperfect, permanently ignoble.
We are both the image-bearers of God and sons of Adam . We cannot fulfill the hope of the first characterization without a sober recognition of the permanence of the latter.