• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Liberals, Conservatives and Human Nature

    What explains such passionate philosophical disagreement between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party? The seemingly insurmountable divide between left and right is perhaps most clearly understood by their respective concepts of human nature.

    As understood by our Founders, human nature is innate. In the words of the Declaration of Independence, individuals are “endowed by their creator” with “natural rights,” among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Beyond that, individuals are born with different faculties and talents. Government should allow individuals to freely cultivate these traits.

    So, how, then, did the Founders determine what constituted a “right”? Thomas West defines a right as “a claim that a person may rightfully make against someone who would deprive him of what is his own.” If I take the sweatshirt of my neighbor, my neighbor may rightfully make a claim against me, as he has the right to own his sweatshirt.

    Importantly, every right corresponds with an equal duty: An individual’s right to liberty means that he or she has a duty to respect everyone else’s right to liberty.

    John Dewey, a philosopher and pioneer of early progressive thought during the late 19th and early 20th century, turned the above concept of human nature on its head. Dewey believed that individual talents—the things our Founders and modern-day conservatives say humans are born with—are created by societal conditioning. He wrote that behavior, or habits, are “forced upon us,” adding that “social arrangements…are means of creating individuals.… Individuality in a social and moral sense is something to be wrought out.… These are not gifts, but achievements.” In other words, human beings are nothing on their own. Society—government—must create the individual.

    Modern day left-wing philosophers, such as Richard Rorty and Peter Singer, echo Dewey. Rorty has written that “there is no such thing as human nature, for human beings make themselves up as they go along.”

    This progressive line of thinking has serious implications. If individuals are not born with innate faculties—if society conditions them, as progressives argue—then what is there to prevent rights from expanding to whatever we as a society determine is necessary to create those faculties? Even Dewey himself made this point: “The state has the responsibility for creating institutions under which individuals can effectively realize the potentialities that are theirs.” Hence the left’s clarion calls for universal (meaning government-provided) health insurance, education, housing, transportation, food, and more.

    This understanding of rights goes beyond the natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness proposed by the founders. If I have a right to health care, that means someone else, by definition, has the duty to provide me with it. But in forcing someone to provide me health care, I’m taking away his liberty.

    One’s understanding of human nature will likely determine whether he’s conservative or liberal. At a time when our country is deeply divided, understanding the difference between the left’s and right’s concept of human nature has never been more important.

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to Liberals, Conservatives and Human Nature

    1. West Texan says:

      Natural rights are freely inherited. They cost absolutely nothing to anyone. Social progressive demagogues, however, become annoyed with such freedoms. To the point that they go from equal protection to selective oppression under color of law. Healthcare is a paid for service both private and public. Like police and fire protection, it's a domestic affair that doesn't belong at the federal level. It's up to our country's 50 different sovereigns how healthcare is provided and paid for within their respective states. Time to boot Obama, Reid and Pelosi out of office with their gaggle of supporters. Good riddance.

    2. stevefakeballmer says:

      Liberals have little to do with anything natural

    3. Beardhd says:

      If what they claim is true, then the "underclass", welfare types etc, are in those situations because they have PUT THEMSELVES in those situations! Isn't it funny how the "progressives" talk out of both sides of their mouths at the same time?

    4. TryingToHelpRepubs says:

      "Importantly, every right corresponds with an equal duty: An individual’s right to liberty means that he or she has a duty to respect everyone else’s right to liberty."

      So, since heterosexual couples have the right to receive government benefits from being married, you are saying that it is conservatives' duty to respect and allow homosexual couples to receive the same government benefits from their union. This is not the attitude that conservatives have, however, who pursue government prevention of homosexual unions and homosexuality in general.

      You also claim that our founders understood: "individuals are “endowed by their creator” with “natural rights,” among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
      Isn't denying any person the right to love an appropriately aged partner denying them liberty and preventing them from pursuing happiness? Does not the creator create every individual and know how they will behave in their lives, how and what can make them happy?

      "Beyond that, individuals are born with different faculties and talents. Government should allow individuals to freely cultivate these traits."
      Definition of faculty: "Any of the powers or capacities possessed by the human mind". So if it is in the capacity of an individual to love a member of the same sex, should not the government allow them to freely cultivate this trait?

      It is apparent to myself and I guess your foundation that social issues such as homosexuality have no place in government, and therefore that Libertarians have the most constitutional philosophy. Individuals have the right to oppose homosexuality to themselves, but trying to force big government into people's personal lives is a blatant disregard for our constitutional rights. People are not blind to this hypocrisy within the Conservative party. It is the reason that Republicans are not dominating the political scene. Everyone would love lower taxes, no taxes even, and everyone would love to see governmental power being brought down to a more local level. It makes far more sense to determine healthcare state by state. I would love to vote Republican, but the party's views on social issues is such a smack in the face to the founding fathers and the constitution, that voting Democratic (who very smartly accept homosexuality) is the only option. Liberty is liberty, and myself and many others are willing to pay financially for it, versus pay nothing and not have it. It is time that Republicans seriously consider this message, as embracing homosexuals and their allies could easily yield victory after victory across the country. The way things seem right now it is either that or watch homosexuality become acceptable anyway while the Democrats turn us into a welfare state.

      • Bobbie says:

        "Isn't denying any person the right to love an appropriately aged partner denying them liberty and preventing them from pursuing happiness?"

        Isn't looking for everyone's (governmental) approval denying your own personal liberties? Today and in no part of history, homosexuals are given "special" consideration because of their personal matters of preferential sex that should be no one's business but their own. Insinuating the act of sex is a necessity to survive? for perverts maybe… Social issues are not the role of government but the more you make them their role the bigger government grows, which will NEVER turn out in anyone's favor.

        here, as an example: if I have to know who you are before I can smile at you, something's wrong in America!

        Human nature is instinctive to survival unless the mind is conditioned otherwise.

        • TryingToHelpRepubs says:

          I agree with you, which is why I believe it would best help the Republican party and their real goal of small government if being a Conservative didn't mean actively preventing a group of people from having the same "household" benefits of everyone else. I'm not saying that every Conservative should go have homosexual relations; my argument is basically that the reason so many people have a problem voting Republican is because you can't claim "don't tread on me" then tell people how they should behave in their bedrooms. Similarly, corporations can't claim the same then purposely be discharging waste into public air and water, knowing the consequences of these actions very well. These problems need to be worked out within the Republican party. The hypocrisy is too daunting, and the only way the party will continue to recruit members will be to cozy up with extremists that will produce candidates who won't be electable in general elections or worse, do nothing but roadblock the political process entirely because they are far too passionate about a single idea to compromise. The Democrats have used and are still using the extremist ties of the GOP to soil the party's entire platform, including small government and constitutional rights. The GOP and especially Conservatives must drop their social and religious stances as they apply to the government because those issues can be battled outside of the government and they are really, reallllly doing a lot harm to the party. Just look at who the younger generation of Republicans want to be president… Ron Paul: a Libertarian. People don't want special treatment, they just want Liberty.

    5. Bobbie says:

      I’m not sure why this selfish issue became as big as it has? IT’S PERSONAL AND PRIVATE! Nobody is telling anyone what to do behind closed doors. the homosexual community came out in full force to be identified as married for benefits? self made victims of deprivation! what benefits aren’t people of the homosexual preference getting that they need to be identified under a false definition? If liberty is what people want then they better think about what they’re doing demanding it under government rule… any government recognition on personal issues, only promotes socialism and defeats liberty! Marriage is one of each gender living in unity. No other establishment has that balance and adding homosexuals as married throws off that balance. if homosexuality was of human nature, humanity wouldn’t exist. People have to grow up and accept the truth!

      • Homosexuality has been part of 'human nature' since the beginning. Do your research.

      • Eric B says:

        "what benefits aren't people of the homosexual preference getting" First, it's not a preference. I've got gay friends who would much prefer to be straight in this society; they are not accepted by their own families or by most conservatives.

        Joint tax filing. (I would argue that, alternatively, this tax preferential treatment could be done away with entirely because it also discriminates against unmarried people of all types, but that's not likely to happen.)

        Hospital visitation rights when one's spouse is sick. (Only 13 states allow this for homosexuals, but 50 states for straight couples.)

        Inheritance when one's spouse dies.

        Not being fired from employment for being homosexual. (Only 16 states prohibit this.)

        Eligibility for Family and Medical Leave Act. (Married = family)

        I'm not gay so I could only think of a few, but I'll bet if you find a gay person and ask them nicely, they'd tell you more – or you could just Google it or go to a gay rights website and learn more.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×