Monday, October 31, 2005

Who is Man? Left and Right Respond

From the most recent issue of Literary Review. I've thought this for a long time and am tickled to find others writing about it:
The Left, ever since Rousseau, has seen man as essentially good, in chains only on account of the institutions of a cruel and corrupt society. Loosen his chains, strike off his fetters, and the natural benevolence of his nature will be free to flourish.

For the Left the Golden Age is still to come.

The Right, however, sees our nature as essentially flawed. ‘I cannot but conclude’, Gulliver is told by his master in Brobdingnag, ‘the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.’ This miserable creature must therefore be subjected to order. The Right values tradition because, to quote Burke again: ‘We are afraid to put men to live and trade each on his own private stock of reason; because we suspect that this stock in each man is small, and that the individuals would do better to avail themselves of the general bank and capital of nations, and of ages.’ So the Golden Age is always in the past.

Left-wing artists, however angry, are optimists; right-wing ones, however serene or witty, are pessimists. Yet the same man may be of the Left in his politics, opinions, and daily life, but of the Right in his Art. Graham Greene is a good example: politically on the Left, nevertheless on the Right in the view of man’s nature which informs his novels.