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Relationship between Human Nature and Politics

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One of the major divisions in politics is the relationship between human nature and politics. Philosophers, theologians and psychologists as well as political scientists have argued that there is conflict and aggression amongst human beings. On the right, Hobbes, De Maistre [1754–1821], Nietzsche [1844–1900] and others have seen conflict, violence and a struggle for dominance as part of human nature, so they believed that people need a strong state to enforce peace. On the left, Thomas More [1478–1535], Locke, and Rousseau [1712–1788] saw the potential for consensus and co-operation among human. On the right, conflict and aggression are seen as ‘natural’, on the left such behaviour is seen as learned.

However, if we examine genetically identical individuals it is found that they differ in intelligence and aggressive temperament, when brought up in different families within the same society, but genetically different individuals have bigger difference in intelligence and aggressive temperament. There appears to be both a genetic and a social component to ‘human nature’. Expectations about human nature in different societies seem to differ quite radically – especially in simple or tribal societies. There are groups, such as the Zuni Indians of New Mexico, which place a premium on co-operation and consensus and expect a very low level of aggression from their members. Other groups, such as the Dobu of New Guinea, base their whole social structure on mutual competition and aggression.

Many of the classical sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers on political theory believed that the ‘state of nature’ (with no state or government) was inconvenient for people. Hobbes suggested that in such a state there would be a war of every man against every man. Early Libertarians such as Locke and Rousseau did not agree with Hobbes and suggested that, even without the state men were social animals and could co-operate (although Locke believed that such co-operation might involve disputes for which an arbitrator would be useful).


1 Give Ukrainian equivalents for the following words and expressions.

Struggle, temperament, human nature, arbitrator.


2 Translate words and word combinations from Ukrainian into English and use them in your own sentences.

Зв’язок, інтелект, очікування.


3 Complete the sentences.

1. On the right ...

2. Hobbes suggested ...

3. There appears to be ...

4. Many of the classical ...

5. However, if we examine ...

4 Comprehension questions.

1. How do political philosophers see human nature?

2. What is the nature of aggression and conflict?

3. How do expectations about human society differ in societies?

4. How do political philosophers see the ‘state of nature’?


5 Say if the following statements are true according to the text.

1. All philosophers agree that there is conflict among human beings.

2. Rousseau believed that compromise and cooperation between people is impossible.

3. Left-wing philosophers see aggression as learned behavior.

4. Human nature includes both genetic and social components.

5. In all societies people are expected to be not aggressive.

6. Locke and Rousseau believed that people could live without state.


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