Genetically engineering the New Man is invariably the goal of each new totalitarian society; in 1980′s The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler pondered if one was needed in today’s era, before running down the earlier Nazi and Soviet attempts to build one. (Since Toffler’s book is inexcusably not yet on Kindle, this passage was OCRed from my dead tree version, apologies if a word is missing or misspelled):
As a novel civilization erupts into our everyday lives we are left wondering whether we, too, are obsolete. With so many of habits, values, routines, and responses called into question, it is hardly surprising if we sometimes feel like people of the past, relics of Second Wave civilization. But if some of us are indeed anachronisms, are there also people of the future among us — anticipatory citizens, as it were, of the Third Wave civilization to come? Once we look past the decay and disintegration around us, can we see emerging outlines of the personality of the future — the coming, so speak, of a “new man”?
If so, it would not be the first time un homme nouveu was supposedly detected on the horizon. In a brilliant essay, André Reszler, director of the Center for European Culture, has described earlier attempts to forecast the coming of a new type of human being. At the end of the eighteenth century there was, for example, the “American Adam” — man born anew in North America, supposedly without the vices and weaknesses of the European. In the middle of the twentieth century, the new man was supposed to appear in Hitler’s Germany. Nazism, wrote Hermann Rauschning, “is more than a religion; it is the will to create the superman.” This sturdy “Aryan” would be part peasant, part warrior, part God. “I have seen the new man,” Hitler once confided to Rauschning. “He is intrepid and cruel. I stood in fear before him.”
The image of a new man (few ever speak of a “new woman,” except as an afterthought) also haunted the Communists. The Soviets speak of the coming of “Socialist Man.” But it was Trotsky who rhapsodized most vividly about the future human. “Man will become incomparably stronger, wiser and more perceptive. His body will become more harmonious, his movements more rhythmical, his voice more melodious. His ways of life will acquire a powerfully dramatic quality. The average man will attain the level of an Aristotle, of a Goethe, of a Marx.”
As recently as a decade or two ago, Frantz Fanon heralded the coming of yet another new man who would have a “new mind.” Che Guevara saw his ideal man of the future as having a richer interior life. Each image is different.
Yet Reszler persuasively points out that behind most of these of the “new man” there lurks that familiar old fellow, the Noble Savage, a mythic creature endowed with all sorts of qualities civilization has supposedly corrupted or worn away. Reszler properly questions this romanticization of the primitive, reminding that regimes which set out consciously to foster a “new man” usually brought totalitarian havoc in their wake.
It would be foolish, therefore, to herald yet once more the birth of a “new man” (unless, now that the genetic engineers are at work, we mean that in a frightening, strictly biological sense). The idea suggests a prototype, a single ideal model that the entire civilization strains to emulate. And in a society moving rapidly toward de-massification, nothing is more unlikely.
In his post yesterday in the context of ObamaCare, Andrew Klavan explored “How Nice People Crush Freedom:”
In other words, there’s always a good reason to take your freedom away — your health, the poor, your evil opinions, the lousy way you raise your kids — and never a reason to preserve freedom except the love of freedom itself. Thus, so often, the people destroying the American way of life are actually nice people who just want to help.
As C.S. Lewis observed:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Conscience? I’m sure we can genetically extricate that…
Related: At the Weekly Standard, Andrew Ferguson on “Declaring War on Newborns — The disgrace of medical ethics.”