Probably the first paradox presented to a young person is the age old question. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? For most people, this is a fun puzzle, which is why it has remained a popular gag for so long. Aristotle concluded that both must have come into being at the same time, as to have either come first violated the logic of causality. Marxists used this example to “prove” that linear thinking was false. Instead, we have to admit that the egg creates the chicken just as much as the chicken creates the egg.
Evolution answers this by pointing out that eggs existed before birds existed in the fossil record, so the egg preceded the chicken. If you reject evolution, this apparent conflict can only be solved one other way. Some agent, outside of observable nature, was the first cause. It created either the chicken or the egg first. It created all of life, setting off the great chain of causality that controls the natural world. Plato believed that all things in the natural world existed in spirit, as an idea, before coming into being. Jews and Christians believe that God created the natural world just like a clock maker builds a watch.
This is not a post about abiogenesis, but rather a starting point for understanding the great debate of the modern age. What is the nature of man? What is his true and natural state, outside the artificial constraints of society? Did society naturally arise, or was it imposed? This is the question that haunted the minds of the Enlightenment thinkers and it is the question that has animated the great political movements since the French Revolution. If we can know the nature of man, then we can built a just society where virtuous men can be free.
One solution to this question, one that is at the core of every Leftist movement in history, is that man is born as a blank slate. Humans come into the world as a formless blob that is shaped into a person by their parents and community. Eventually they are shaped into a citizen by their society. The reason a person born in France becomes a Frenchman is he was shaped and formed by French society to become a Frenchman. A person born in Niger is what he is because he was raised by Hausa. It takes a village to make a man.
There are a number of implications to this that are critical to understanding the last three hundred years of Western history. The first is that all people are the product of their environment. Therefore, if a person turns out to be a criminal or a bad thinker, it is the fault of society. The good citizen was raised correctly and given the proper education, while the criminal was failed by his parents and society. Of course, it is never too late. The criminal can be rehabilitated and people can change. Our nature is infinity malleable.
That leads to the second implication of the blank slate ideology. The virtuous have a moral duty to remake society so that it creates virtuous citizens. Collective guilt is an inevitable byproduct of the blank slate ideology, because all of us are, by definition, our brother’s keeper. That also means we are collectively responsible for “fixing” the defects that arise from our social institutions. This is why Mussolini said “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” Society is a unified living organism. When one bit fails, it all fails.
The alternative to this line of thinking is that people are born with qualities they inherit from their parents. Long before anyone knew about genetics, people could see that the son resembled his father or mother, sometimes both in various ways. People saw that the daughter would usually marry a man like her father and a son would marry a girl like his mother. It was assumed that each person was the result of their line of ancestors, which is why the children of great families took up places in the elite, when they reached adulthood.
This was the standard view of humanity up until the Enlightenment. People all over the world just assumed that the people in various lands were the product of their lands. They did not understand biology, but they knew that Africans were different from Persians and not just in appearance. They knew that the Welsh were different from the Angels and the North-men who showed up on long ships. It was always assumed that nature did not distribute her gifts equally among people or between peoples.
The result of this is that the customs and methods of rule are a reflection of the people who compose the society. Arabs have their ways, because they have their own unique history that has shaped their culture and people. China is the way it is because it is full of Chinese who have lived the way they have lived for thousands of years. In other words, there is no transcendent order that applies universally. There is only a natural order that is rooted in the local population. What works in China, will not work in Arabia.
Since the French Revolution, the great conflicts in the West have been over these two conflicting views of man’s nature and the nature of his society. The Left has always assumed that man is infinitely malleable and that virtuous societies make virtuous men. The Right has taken the other side, defending the natural order of man, which is hierarchical and diverse. Since the Enlightenment, the men of the blank slate have held the dominant position, winning the political fights and imposing their views on the West.
It is largely impossible to grasp the last 300 years of Western history without understanding this intellectual conflict. More important, it will be impossible to navigate the coming battles without grasping this. The new science of genetics is largely confirming what people used to know through observation. Not only are people not blank slates, their cultures are rooted in the shared biology of the people. The next era in the West is about the fight between Liberalism and science, the blank slate and the double helix.