The rot, and how it started

Nov 29, 2021 by

by Peter Mullen, TCW:

THE delusion of perpetual progress began with the 17th century Enlightenment – that era which has led to so much darkness. The big cultural shift which took place at that time was occasioned by a revised definition of human nature.

The Enlightenment was the beginning of the secularisation of Europe. John Locke was the prophet of ‘natural rights, particularly the rights to life, liberty and the ownership of property’. This notion is so absurd that even the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham described it as utter nonsense, nonsense on stilts. If human rights are natural, the lions and tigers, the wolves and the bears must be told about this!

It is obvious – or it should be – that a right can exist only if there is an institution which provides it and has the power to enforce it.

It is also obvious – or it should be – that if I, for instance, am deemed to have a right, then someone else has a responsibility to provide it.

Thus, if I am to be free, someone else must have his freedom curtailed and limited in some way.

To understand more clearly the origin of the doctrine of natural rights, we must return to that cultural shift, that dissociation of sensibility, which took place at the Enlightenment.

Before the Enlightenment, it was believed that human beings acted – individually and morally, communally and politically – out of interests.

To say one acted out of interests does not imply a selfish, greedy free-for-all. To believe that leads inevitably to a contradiction: for it is usually in my interest to compromise, and to refuse to compromise results in conflict in which the victor carries all and the loser is left with nothing.

A morality and politics based on interests goes with the grain of human nature. But natural rights is an abstract principle and therefore unnatural!

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