The liberal-progressive program of the last two centuries is to change human nature through political and social reforms — and thus achieve progress. Some of the reforms have been for the good. Some have caused more harm than good. But essential human nature has stayed the same.
If human nature is pliable like soft putty and is easily corrupted by urban life, it can be changed for the better if the environment of urban life is improved. If man is naturally good and has the means to change his nature, then progress is inevitable.
Progress towards what? A future utopia. If there is no utopia at the end of the road, the concept of progress loses its meaning. Without the idea of progress, mere “change” has no inherent value. Nineteenth century liberal-progressivism was filled with imaginary utopias. The hope it engendered supplied the energy to push through countless reforms and filled the air with a fever for change.
The whole idea of “progress” and “utopia” is a myth. Human nature has not improved one whit. Communist regimes were committed to changing human nature, had the resources of dictatorship to force the project through, and were not shy about using dire methods. The results were horrible. Millions died. The human nature of the survivors was not perfected as promised. Their spirits were crushed and mangled. Their minds were haunted by flashbacks to horror. Their families were scattered. Their culture was ruined. So much for the “proletarian worker’s paradise.”
Human nature is intractable. It cannot be forced to change in its essential nature by blunt human instruments. It can be refined along certain lines by a high culture. But only divine grace can work a deep and fundamental transformation — and that seems limited to specially susceptible individuals. Man’s essential design is set by the Creator and we are stuck with it. The nature of man cannot be changed and the fall of man cannot be reversed by a social program.
With the exception of a few philosophers, most liberal progressives were vague about what their utopia would be like. The cloudier, more poetic, and more abstract it was, the better. This way each person can fill in the blanks with their own desires and with their own imagination. Such individuals are always carping about “change.” They are committed to “progress” and are comfortably fuzzy about their utopia.
A few novelists have fleshed out their happy lands of Shangri-la. Far more have told horror stories about the brave new world. Imaginary utopias are doors to dictatorship. Follow the yellow brick road and Oz looks splendid from a distance. The prospects become more chilling after the high iron gates close behind you.
May 3, 2012
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst