Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2002 / 26 Teves, 5763

Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Debbie Schlussel
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

If you believe that people are basically good . . . | No issue has a greater influence on determining your social and political views than whether you view human nature as basically good or not.

In 20 years as a radio talk show host, I have dialogued with thousands of people, of both sexes and from virtually every religious, ethnic and national background. Very early on, I realized that perhaps the major reason for political and other disagreements I had with callers was that they believed people are basically good, and I did not. I believe that we are born with tendencies toward both good and evil. Yes, babies are born innocent, but not good.

Why is this issue so important?

First, if you believe people are born good, you will attribute evil to forces outside the individual. That is why, for example, our secular humanistic culture so often attributes evil to poverty. Washington Sen. Patty Murray, former President Jimmy Carter and millions of other Westerners believe that the cause of Islamic terror is poverty. They really believe that people who strap bombs to their bodies to blow up families in pizzerias in Israel, plant bombs at a nightclub in Bali, slit stewardesses' throats and ram airplanes filled with innocent Americans into office buildings do so because they lack sufficient incomes.

Something in these people cannot accept the fact that many people have evil values and choose evil for reasons having nothing to do with their economic situation. The Carters and Murrays of the West -- representatives of that huge group of naive Westerners identified by the once proud title "liberal" -- do not understand that no amount of money will dissuade those who believe that G-d wants them to rule the world and murder all those they deem infidels.

Second, if you believe people are born good, you will not stress character development when you raise children. You will have schools teach young people how to use condoms, how to avoid first and secondhand tobacco smoke, how to recycle and how to prevent rainforests from disappearing. You will teach them how to struggle against the evils of society -- its sexism, its racism, its classism and its homophobia. But you will not teach them that the primary struggle they have to wage to make a better world is against their own nature.

I attended Jewish religious schools (yeshivas) until the age of 18, and aside from being taught that moral rules come from G-d rather than from personal or world opinion, this was the greatest difference between my education and those who attended public and private secular schools. They learned that their greatest struggles were with society, and I learned that the greatest struggle was with me, and my natural inclinations to laziness, insatiable appetites and self-centeredness.

Third, if you believe that people are basically good, G-d and religion are morally unnecessary, even harmful. Why would basically good people need a G-d or religion to provide moral standards? Therefore, the crowd that believes in innate human goodness tends to either be secular or to reduce G-d and religion to social workers, providers of compassion rather than of moral standards and moral judgments.

Fourth, if you believe people are basically good, you, of course, believe that you are good -- and therefore those who disagree with you must be bad, not merely wrong. You also believe that the more power that you and those you agree with have, the better the society will be. That is why such people are so committed to powerful government and to powerful judges. On the other hand, those of us who believe that people are not basically good do not want power concentrated in any one group, and are therefore profoundly suspicious of big government, big labor, big corporations, and even big religious institutions. As Lord Acton said long ago, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Lord Acton did not believe people are basically good.

No great body of wisdom, East or West, ever posited that people were basically good. This naive and dangerous notion originated in modern secular Western thought, probably with Jean Jacques Rousseau, the Frenchman who gave us the notion of pre-modern man as a noble savage.

He was half right. Savage, yes, noble, no.

If the West does not soon reject Rousseau and humanism and begin to recognize evil, judge it and confront it, it will find itself incapable of fighting savages who are not noble.

Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Dennis Prager hosts a national daily radio show based in Los Angeles. He the author of, most recently, "Happiness is a Serious Problem". Click here to visit his website and here to comment on this column.


12/17/02: Lott, Clinton, and the problem of the career politician
12/10/02: The healthiest and longest living generation of humans since the 900-year-olds of Genesis are being scared silly
12/04/02: Morally neutral reporting is dishonest reporting
11/26/02: Understand Nigeria and you understand the Islamic threat
11/19/02: James Bond meets his most fanatical foe yet -- anti-smokers
11/12/02: Conservatives need to be more compassionate on divorce
11/05/02: Of course, the great majority of Muslims are peaceful -- so what?
10/29/02: Nice guys finish first: Thoughts on the World Series
10/24/02: A Jew defends evangelical Christians
10/16/02: Bigot laureate well represents New Jersey
10/11/02: Why the Creator must always be higher than the Angels
10/02/02: Loudmouth "stars" are remaining surprisingly quiet about Israel
09/25/02: Bob Greene is a good man
09/11/02: 9-11 made America better
09/04/02: What I learned at the Minneapolis Metrodome about liberals and homosexuality
08/28/02: Teach our college co-eds about Islam --- but teach them the truth
08/14/02: How the nuclear family became "controversial"
08/07/02: Every generation is tested by great evil
07/31/02: Those who curse the Jews and those who bless them . . .
07/24/02: Children should talk to strangers
07/17/02: Why my son's best friend is black
07/11/02: Why Hesham Hadayet may be scarier than al Qaeda
07/03/02: "Pro-Israel lobby" is not why America supports Israel
06/26/02: Why does the Left support the "Palestinians"?
06/19/02: The commencement address I would give
06/12/02: Why do adult children live with their parents? Because they actually like them
06/05/02: The stripper and the Christian school: Thoughts on what a Christian school should do when a parent is a stripper and on who the biggest sinner here is
05/31/02: Don't worry, New York, you are safe from a terrorist threat
05/15/02: A proud member of the world's two most hated peoples
05/10/02: What Israelis are saying
05/06/02: Thank Heaven for moral violence
04/29/02: Give back the Nobel Peace Prize: A letter to Elie Wiesel
04/22/02: Why so many students cheat
04/12/02: Is it 1938 again for the Jews?
04/05/02: It's the values, stupid
01/31/02: Smoke and lose your son
10/30/01: Why Arab/Muslim anti-Semites are worse than the Nazis

© 2002, Creators Syndicate