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The Left’s Gordian Knot

Bury felt that “a satisfactory social order [may emerge] by the impersonal work of successive generations.” Still, this does not alter the fact that the deepest gradients of the human psyche are distressingly permanent. Nicoló Machiavelli was probably right when, in his seminal treatise The Prince, he posited the immutability of human nature, arguing that men “have and always had the same passions, and therefore of necessity the effects must be the same.” Words of provable wisdom, which our socialist reformers, with their belief in the infinite malleability of human substance and their conviction that natural givens are merely social “constructs,” have neglected to everyone else’s cost. University of Ottawa scholar Janice Fiamengo put it well in an article for the American Review of Canadian Studies: “social hierarchies can be changed by human institutions, but hierarchy itself, stemming from human nature, is probably ineradicable, whatever the triumphalist prophets of progress might declare.”

In short, what the Left has never been able to come to terms with is the Gordian knot of human nature. It will not be unravelled, resisting every effort to separate its strands. As David Horowitz said in a recent speech at the University of North Carolina:

The obstacle to the realization of all progressive utopias is human nature. You can read all of the Marxist and leftist texts ever written and never encounter a consideration of…why it is so difficult to produce a society of human beings that is fundamentally different from the way human beings have lived since the beginning of recorded time.

Therefore, confronted with an intractable dilemma, leftist thinkers and political activists must have recourse to what is known as the “Alexandrian solution,” that is, rather than acknowledge an insoluble complexity, they take a sword to the knot and, like Alexander the Great in Phrygia, slice it in half. This is not a solution but an act of violence and a kind of cheating which does not resolve the problem but merely exacerbates it, creating in the long run more suffering than it purports to redeem.

The Gordian knot of human nature will not be untangled. The Left does not possess the magic touch of Shakespeare’s Henry V, who “Turn him to any cause of policy,/The Gordian knot of it he will unloose.” Nor, as those of a conservative bent understand, does anyone. The desire to cut through the recalcitrant coil of man’s character leads only to eventual harm and mutilation, to which the demise of every socialist experiment on record abundantly attests. There is no such creature as the “New Man.” No matter. Our socialist utopians are convinced they will ultimately succeed and so continue to interpret every disaster they have inflicted upon their victims as a sign of inevitable future success.

To adapt an aphorism from Nassim Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes, the Left is to human welfare as prostitution is to love. An episodic satisfaction is inexorably followed by human degradation masking as social enlightenment. This is, of course, as good as it gets for the ideological Left. This is as bad as it gets for the rest of us.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage by Shutterstock.com.)