Just finished skimming Ernst Cassirer‘s The Myth of the State. The thesis isn’t (as I originally thought) “the state itself is a mythical construction;” rather, it’s “each state has its organizing myth.” This is a truth we seem to have forgotten, that’s worth revisiting.
Any human organization larger than the immediate family develops its organizing myth. Clans worship ancestors, tribes (two or more clans) have their totems, two or more tribes together end up with some version of a divine-right monarch. It wasn’t until the 17th century AD that a competing myth arose and had enough power to challenge divine right: The idea of natural rights, and from it, the social contract theory of government.
Since we’re stewed in it from birth (and because our educational system sucks), we forget just how much of a myth the social contract really is. Read Hobbes, for instance. As much as I love him (I consider Hobbes pretty much the only political philosopher worth reading), he’s just wrong about some fundamental ideas. There never was a State of Nature. Life in mankind’s dawn was nasty, poor, brutish, and short, all right, but it sure as hell wasn’t solitary — people are evolved monkeys; we have monkey firmware; monkeys have the most elaborate social structure in the animal kingdom. If ever there were a “social contract,” it was between meta-monkey troops living in nearby caves.
Which raises another obvious question: If there are such things as “natural rights,” where along the evolutionary chain do they kick in? Could Australopithecus consent to be governed, in either the Hobbesian or Lockean sense? What about Homo erectus? “Natural rights,” it’s clear, really mean “God-given rights,” minus the messy theological baggage. It’s a way to talk about organizing a government without having to re-fight the Wars of Religion (which is where all this Locke vs. Hobbes stuff comes from).
This myth has been with us right down to the present day. To contract, in either the Hobbesian or Lockean sense, one must be able to know what one is agreeing to. Thus, humans are presumed to be always and everywhere rational, and in full possession of their faculties. That’s simply wrong — we’ve always known it, but after Freud there’s no possible way around it. And yet, all the great social systems, from Capitalism to Communism, assume that rationality is the baseline (forget Freud; if you want to know how wrong the idea of basic human rationality is, look at Communism. Why is it that the self-proclaimed most rational, logical, scientific system in human history is the one with the biggest body count? You’ll never find a more elaborate fantasy than Communism; they’ve never been within 12 parsecs of reality).
The problem now is, replacing this myth with a better one. As Cassirer says, Nazism’s weird techno-feudalism was one fairly successful attempt to do this (Nazism was, obviously, a victim of its own success). It only works in Germany, though, or in a world completely dominated by Germany. The myth of HBD — yes, y’all, it IS a myth, in the “social contract” sense of myth — isn’t going to cut it, either. There’s no buy-in from most social groups, so unless you’re going to go out in a blaze of Thousand Year Reich, we’re going to have to find something else.
It’s not about what people really are. It’s about what you can convince them they are. The Left, bless their moronic little hearts, have conclusively disproven the social contract / Enlightenment myth. It’s up to us to find a new one… or else.