“Revolution” and Human Nature

I have been watching the new television series Revolution whose storyline is the situation in the former United States after a worldwide loss of all power. At this point we don’t know exactly why the power went out, but slowly, thanks to flashbacks, we are learning about what happened in the weeks and years following this event.

The thing that keeps smacking me in the face is the prevalent belief about human nature that has to be the foundation for the series. The premise is that since the government failed, that there was no real police or military protection, then chaos ensued and people immediately became lawless. In other words the idea is that without a government to keep things in order, people will resort to a “kill or be killed mentality.”

From what we have seen so far in the series, in order to stop that annihilation, some individuals stepped in and imposed a strict, totalitarian, military order, and of course, they have convinced themselves that they did it for the good of the people. As the argument goes, without us, everyone would have died. So if we have to sacrifice a few for the many, then it is justified.

What does that say about human nature? I would encourage you to pick up a copy of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. The writers of Revolution appear to subscribe to his beliefs about humanity. In Leviathan, Hobbes laid out his political philosophy based on the belief that humans, by nature, are barbarian egoist. In other words we are violent and selfish and without government are in a constant state of war with each other. It is simply kill or be killed. And in this state of nature, culture and society, commerce and business, cannot exist. Therefore, in order to keep from the annihilation of the human race, governments come into being out of enlightened self-interest.

From that perspective, the purpose of government is to keep control of the people, to keep order. Recognize that Hobbes believed that without government people did not have rights, or property, nor did any ethics exist. Nothing was inherently right or wrong.  Rights come only from the government. Thus, there is really no such thing as a government infringing on someone’s rights in an assertion of its power. Ultimately, whatever a government has to do to keep control is right, because the only alternative is to revert back to chaos. And in chaos, we all face certain death.

All of that is based on the foundational belief about human nature. (As well as the rejection of a worldview that had a loving, creative God who had established an order in the first place.) Is that really who we are? Are we really barbarian egoists who only have social, cultural and economic relationships because of government controls? If that’s the case, then the logical conclusion is the more government the better and the stronger the government the better.  And that’s what the military rulers in Revolution seem to assert. “We are here because without us, you would all kill each other. You are barbarian egoists.”

But that is a crucial question. What do you believe about human nature? Your belief about human nature is an essential premise for your view of the purpose and role of government. As things go forward in the TV series, I anticipate seeing more and more of a competition between conflicting views on human nature and the resulting political philosophies.