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The history of debates about human nature can be seen in all existing philosophies and teachings. From the early days, philosophers and scientists discussed the behavior of people and their genetics. Various political ideologies also have their understanding of one’s nature – whether people are good or bad, can they be changed or do their genetics create their personality and other similar themes. It is possible to compare these ideologies to show how differently they treat human nature and what people can do during their lives. In this essay, the debates of nature versus nurture, intellect versus instinct, and competition versus cooperation will be described by discussing such political ideologies as socialism, fascism, liberalism, and conservatism.
Nature versus Nurture
The introduced debate is one of the main topics mentioned in most political schools of thought. It explores the characteristics of people and the conditions in which they can develop them. For example, the nature side of this discussion states that people are born a certain way, and their genetics can influence the way they act (Heywood 2015). On the other hand, supporters of nurture believe that people can be changed during their lives and one’s environment has an influence on behavior (Heywood 2015).
In politics, fascism was and is the main supporter of the first view. This ideology is famous for its desire to manipulate human genetics to create ‘superior individuals’ (Gillette 2007, p. 79). Thus, fascists believe that some types of people are inherently better, based on their origins and family history. For example, some scientists claim that one’s level of intelligence (IQ) can depend on their genetics (Paul 1998). This view created a basis for racial prejudice in fascism and resulted in many violent and intrusive practices such as eugenics and genetic manipulation (Paul 1998).
Other political ideologies do not follow the same train of thought. For instance, socialism firmly believes that all people can achieve the same level of intellectual ability or develop positive qualities with dedication and hard work (Fenwick 2014). According to this point of view, people are equal in their opportunities regardless of their genes and, thus, they can achieve great results only with enough effort and support from the environment. It is an example of a nurturing approach to people’s behavior. Socialism believes that people are not naturally good at something. Instead, the main argument is ‘anyone can obtain the talent… if they practice enough’ (Fenwick 2014, para. 4). This shows the change one can go through because of external factors. Here, people’s genes are not important as they do not contribute to hard work.
Both liberal and conservative ideologies have varying beliefs about human nature. For example, classical liberalism saw people as creatures who were interested in themselves and not in others, meaning that they had an unchanging nature (Heywood 2015). However, some conservative beliefs also state that people are inherently competitive based on capitalism (Heywood 2015). This view of people as individualistic creatures states that nature is unchangeable and people cannot develop a different approach to society. However, both ideologies have had many different scientists and philosophers with other beliefs or a different understanding of nature. While fascism and socialism base their views on the debate of nature against nurture, these political ideologies focus on different problems. For example, the differences between people based on genes are not used in these approaches. Instead, all people are seen as unchangeable, and race or genetics do not matter as much.
Intellect versus Instinct
The second debate creates a divide between rational thinking, logic, and analysis and impulsive behavior guided by non-rational reasons. Socialist and liberal ideologies support the rational side of the argument. Liberalism highly values the autonomy of people and their individualistic nature (Heywood 2015). Therefore, people use their logical thinking and can live on their own, supporting their lives without the need to rely on others or an instinct to create groups. Socialists also use rationalism in their theories, but their approach is different. In this case, the logic of scientific analysis is used to support socialist views and argue against capitalism. The morality, and irrational aspect, of capitalism, is not important as the logical reasons behind its failures (Fenwick 2014). According to this view, rationalism also helps people understand that a socialist lifestyle is better because it produces results beneficial for people’s living conditions. These ideologies value intellect in different ways but conclude that rational thinking should be more important than instincts.
In a contrast, the conservative ideology preferred a different approach to human nature. For example, conservative views state that humans and the world are too complicated only to use thinking to understand everything. Instead, traditions and customs may bring order into people’s lives as it is impossible to explain every action and event rationally (Heywood 2015). To stop the world from becoming chaotic, people’s emotions and freedoms should be contained and managed as a society cannot think rationally on its own. Thus, external guidance is necessary to prevent disorder. In this case, chaos is seen as a state in which people can easily fall if they are not managed by someone else. It is an opposition to rational thinking and the use of intellect as the only source of control as well. Instead, conservatives believe that people are guided by emotions and fears – non-rational parts of one’s personality (Heywood 2015). This divide between views is apparent in liberal and conservative political approaches.
Fascists’ approach to instincts also places them above intellect. Here, intellect is viewed as unreliable and uncertain. Instead, emotions and instincts such as impatience and impulse are ‘infallible’ (Griffin 2013, p. 114). Fascism viewed individualism negatively, stating that it leads to free thinking which cannot help the government to have full control over people. Thus, emotions and instincts are more valuable, freeing a person from doubts (Griffin 2013). The importance of instinct is also a contrast to democracy that gives people many freedoms. The lack of strict rules relies on people’s ability to analyze their decisions, which does not support the fascist ideology and its need to have power over nations.
Competition versus Cooperation
The differences between competition and cooperation are visible in ideologies’ views on economics. The cooperation principle states that people are sociable and work together to reach results. On the other hand, competition assumes that all individuals are self-centered and interested in their success. The described views of both conservatives and classical liberals show that they both see people as competitive. This similarity can be explained by the fact that capitalist societies often use both ideologies. In capitalism, competitiveness is a foundation for the economy and it is believed to drive change and innovation forward (Heywood 2015). People’s individualism is seen in private property laws, human rights, and market relations.
On the other hand, cooperation is the basis of socialism and fascism. First of all, socialism’s ideas about communal living shared property, and obligations to society all show that cooperation is more valuable to this ideology than competition (Heywood 2015). As socialists propose collective action as the only way to move the nation forward, they oppose the importance of self-promotion and individualism. It is an opposition to capitalism and a clear example of the ‘cooperation’ side of the debate. Fascism also values cooperation because it needs all social classes to work together against other regimes (Griffin 2013). The nationalist view of this ideology tries to unite all individuals who are seen as valuable to create a society of perfect people. Here, a uniting cause is used as an argument for cooperation.
Political ideologies have different views on the main debates about human nature. The interpretations of these debates also play an important role in politics. All four worldviews discussed in this essay share some arguments between each other. However, they view the aspects of people in various ways creating unique philosophies. Fascism believes that people cannot be changed with nurture and their instincts are stronger than minds. Socialists, on the other hand, argue that everyone can be influenced to become a better version of him or herself and view rational thinking as the best way to approach problems. However, both ideologies value cooperation, although for different reasons. Liberal and conservative views are also similar in many aspects but different in others.
Fenwick, A 2014, ‘Talent and intelligence: nature or nurture?’, Socialist Appeal, Web.
Gillette, A 2007, Eugenics and the nature-nurture debate in the twentieth century, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY.
Griffin, R 2013, The nature of fascism, Routledge, London.
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Heywood, A 2015, Political theory: an introduction, 4th edn, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, NY.
Paul, DB 1998, The politics of heredity: essays on eugenics, biomedicine, and the nature-nurture debate, SUNY Press, Albany, NY.