Pubic policy in the West is argued on many fronts, but the roots of all of our debates are in the Enlightenment. Arguably, the three most important men of the Enlightenment are Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. They are the giants whose shadows are still felt today. When Progressives, for example, proselytize on behalf of equality and inclusion, they are relying on Rousseau, and to a lesser extent Locke, as the foundation of their argument. Libertarians root their ideology in the ideas of Locke, specifically with regards to property.
The starting point for the men of the Enlightenment was man’s natural state or how they imagined humans acted before civil society. Hobbes imagined that man’s natural state was a “war of all against all” and civil society was imposed to protect men from each other. Locke imagined that man was naturally cooperative, looking out for one another and that civil society was a natural outgrowth of man’s nature. Similarly, Rousseau imagined that man in his natural state was virtuous and altruistic.
Obviously, that is an absurdly generalized version of three of the greatest thinkers in human history. The point I want to establish is that the foundation of modern Western society is rooted in notions about man’s natural state. The men of the Enlightenment did not have access to detailed studies of hunter gatherers. They did not have the fossil record or an understanding of evolution and genetics. They were simply conjuring the possible starting places by working backwards from where they stood in the timeline.
And they were wrong.
While we don’t know the nitty-gritty details of early modern human society, we have some rough contours of how our ancestors lived before settlement and writing. We also have loads of studies of our nearest relatives that allow us to understand what pre-modern man must have been like before we split off on our own evolutionary branch. Even if you reject evolution, we have examples of hunter gatherer populations in the modern age that live, most likely, as our ancestors lived at one time in Eurasia.
What we know, with a high degree of certainty, is that humans were never in a state of nature as Hobbes imagined. We were always in cooperative groups, most likely kin based groups. While conflicts between groups of humans over territory and resources would have been common, these groups exchanged women and food with one another too. Marrying off women from the clan to men of the neighboring clan would have been an important way to keep the peace, settle disputes and bind people together.
Similarly, human societies were not egalitarian paradises as Rousseau imagined. Human beings developed compassion for one another based on familial relations. Trog guarded the interests of Grog because it was good for both. Similarly, they were hostile to strangers for the same reason. Compassion for others is no more or less natural than hostility to others. In both cases, they are driven by biological necessity. One group of humans would share scarce resources internally, but gladly let strangers starve to death
The point here is two-fold. One is that we know a lot about the biological nature of man that the men of the Enlightenment did not know. Genetics is opening up vast new areas of understanding. Continuing to base our moral philosophy on vague speculation that has proven to be incorrect does not make a lot of sense. For instance, we know with certainty that nature does not bestow her gifts equally, but she does so predictably. Continuing to operate as if we are born a blank slate is rather foolish, given what we now know.
Further, we know that human evolution was local and on-going after humans spread out from Africa. Asians have physical characteristics that are unique to people from Asia. Northern Europeans have physical features unique to them. These variations must extend beyond the physical, into cognitive areas as well. Assuming that moral codes, for example, are universal is as nutty as assuming that people everywhere have red hair. The way in which people see themselves, there relationship to one another and their place in nature is not universal.
An assertion like “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” works great if by all men you mean all the men of your tribe, your ethnicity or your lands. It falls on its face when you apply it to all humans everywhere. Similarly, the political economy of Sweden works great when it confined to Swedes in Sweden. It does not make any sense to the people of Syria because they are different people with different natural abilities and cognitive skills.
The Enlightenment came along with the revolution in commerce. The West was suddenly rich and the old feudal order was no longer workable. The industrial age gave us intellectual movements that built on the Enlightenment and attempted to create a moral philosophy to match the industrial world. We have just gone through a technological revolution and we are in the midst of a revolution in the understanding of human biology. Accordingly, a new moral philosophy is certain to develop and evolve to match our new understanding.
The next big thing in public policy will most likely be based in Human Bio-Diversity, unless the good thinkers go the Muslim route and begin to slaughter the men of science. Heading off down the road of mysticism and magic is not out of the question, but the more likely option is the people preaching equality and inclusion follow the Shakers into the history books. What comes next will be a public debate rooted in biological reality. How best to manage the bone-deep differences in human populations.
There will also be a degree of magical thinking as that helps grease the wheels of society, but the disaster of multiculturalism, the memory of it as well as the residue on the ground, will mark it in the same way the Holocaust has marked fascism. Instead, debates about what to do for X people will be bounded by the debate over the limits of compassion for out-groups. Many of these arguments will be just as wrong as the arguments in favor of inclusion are today, but they will be wrong in a different direction.