January 23, 2009

CUTTING OUT THE HIGHEST PART OF THE SOUL:

Francis Fukuyama as Teacher of Evil (Peter Augustine Lawler, Winter 2000, First Principles)

The aim of conservatives for some time now has been to resist what C.S. Lewis called “the abolition of man.” One effort at that abolition was communist ideology, another is the therapeutic pragmatism of Richard Rorty and others. But the most dangerous threat today comes from the science of biology. Denial of human distinctiveness is increasingly rooted in the homogenous materialism of evolutionary biology. And advances in biotechnology are providing the means to destroy what is qualitatively different about our species. Especially troubling is the uncritical acceptance of biological reductionism by writers often called conservative. Here I use Walker Percy’s defense of the goodness and mystery of the human being to expose the misanthropic implications of this reductionism in the influential writing of the “neoconservative” Francis Fukuyama. I present this effort as an example of what conservatives should be doing as the twenty-first century begins.

The philosopher-novelist Walker Percy says, contrary to modern thought, that the human being is by nature an alien. People, he adds, feel more like aliens than ever. Modern science has made great progress explaining everything but the human self and soul. Scientific experts tell people that they are fundamentally no different from the other animals, and so they should be happy in a world where lives are more free, prosperous, and secure than ever before. Their feelings of homelessness are either basically irrational or merely physiological. They can be cured through a change in environment, soothing therapeutic or ideological platitudes, or the right mix of chemicals.

The experts are evil, Percy contends, because they want to deprive human beings of their distinctive humanity, of their longings that point them beyond the satisfactions of this world and toward each other, the truth, and God. Their efforts may never completely succeed, but allegedly wise experts—from communist tyrants to therapeutic psychotherapists—have destroyed or needlessly diminished a huge number of human beings. The experts claim, in part, to be motivated by compassion. They want to provide the freedom from misery that the Christian God promised but could not produce in this world. The compassion they claim to feel for others they really feel for themselves. They, too, are aliens, and they want to free themselves from their trouble. They think that by reducing others to comprehensible or simply biological beings they can raise themselves to something like angels. They seek to be at home not in the world of human beings but through its complete transcendence. The world they have created is for angels and pigs, for theorists and consumers, not for human beings.

For Percy the best human life is to be at home with one’s homelessness or alienation, and so to be free to enjoy the good things of the world in consciousness of their limitations. This life is easier for Christians, who have an explanation for why the human being feels like an alien in this world. But it does not necessarily depend on religious belief. It is available to one who can tell the truth about one’s self and live well in acceptance of it. We are born to trouble, and doomed to failure and death. But we have compensations in the joyful sharing of what we can know with others, and in the love of one human being, one self-conscious mortal, for another. And those human goods are only given to aliens, to the beings with language, who can explain everything but themselves. Percy would restore the Socratic or psyche-iatric tradition against psychotherapy. People can be happier as human beings not through platitudes or drugs but through the search for the truth about their extraordinary natures.

From Percy’s perspective,a leading American teacher of evil over the last decade has been Francis Fukuyama.


The tragedy of neoconservatism is that its adherents like the words but can't hear the music, so they imagine the End of History to be the end, where in reality it is just a means.


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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 23, 2009 8:15 AM
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