The foundational question in political theory is, “what is the nature of man?” Without a concept of human nature–implicit or explicit–it is impossible to create a theory of how people should be organized politically.
Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate is an excellent overview on this topic. Pinker expertly documents the effects that the concept of a nature-less humanity has had on politics, social science, and academia. Building new and better humans has always been a pastime of both totalitarian regimes and hippie communes.
In the late 60s leftist German intelligentsia took this philosophy to a bizarre and disturbing place–the sexualization of young children. Germany’s Der Spiegel has a fascinating and appalling article on this phenomenon. As the article describes one school:
Even a cursory review of the material revealed that the educational work at the Rote Freiheit (“Red Freedom”) after-school center was unorthodox. The goal of the center was to shape the students into “socialist personalities,” and its educational mission went well beyond supervised play. The center’s agenda included “agitprop” on the situation in Vietnam and “street fighting,” in which the children were divided into “students” and “cops.”
The educators’ notes indicate that they placed a very strong emphasis on sex education. Almost every day, the students played games that involved taking off their clothes, reading porno magazines together and pantomiming intercourse.
According to the records, a “sex exercise” was conducted on Dec. 11 and a “fucking hour” on Jan. 14. An entry made on Nov. 26 reads: “In general, by lying there we repeatedly provoked, openly or in a hidden way, sexual innuendoes, which were then expressed in pantomimes, which Kurt and Rita performed together on the low table (as a stage) in front of us.”
Frightening, disturbing, but not surprising. In the Soviet Union children were taught that there are two races of humans: Homo Sapiens, the capitalist, self-centered man, and Homo Sovieticus, the selfless, community-centered man.
There is something that libertarians can learn from this failed experiment. Often libertarians will bemoan the fact that “people don’t get it” and wonder what the world would be like if “everyone just understood economics.” This is certainly an understandable lament. I agree that a little economic literacy can go a long way.
It is a fine line, however, to cross over into the “clued-in” theory of political thought. “Clued-in” political philosophies try to mold the raw materials (humans) rather than molding the institutions that react to the raw materials. Although libertarians are reluctant to force behavior upon people, I often worry that some libertarians may find themselves, in twenty years, advocating mandatory economics classes.