|Team America: F- Yeah!!|
|Locke: a goofy looking dude|
|Hume rocking a sweet 'do|
Hume believed that all knowledge should come from experience or logical deduction. Religion cannot be proven by either method. But importantly, he did believe that where religion failed, nature nevertheless provided us with the good sense to make our way in the world. Our human natures provide us with the moral compass to behave reasonably towards one another. This idea that humans have a "built-in" sense of justice, altruism, and good behavior is supported by both evidence and intuition.
Locke was Hume's contemporary. Locke's ideas were so revolutionary at the time that he made nations tremble, and yet today they seem so ingrained in us that we don't even question them. To me, that is the ultimate testament and power of a great idea. He proclaimed that humans have something called "inalienable" rights. We are born with certain liberties like the right to own property, freedom of expression and religion. These are rights which can never be granted by some king or ruler, they are "natural." Along with Rousseau and later Kant, these Enlightenment philosophers stated that the very purpose of government was to "serve the citizens"! Rule was not granted by divine right or by superior strength, rather it was given by the will of those governed. This was the birth of the concept of the "Social Contract"--that a government existed only within the framework of a "contract" to the society it oversees.
|Not just ink and paper|
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."
What hope and naked optimism it symbolizes for our human race! It is truly a masterpiece of the Enlightenment, the first genuine instance of a Social Contract. In a tragic twist of irony, David Hume passed away that same year: 1776.
|Guillotine: not just a WWF move|
"How consoling for the philosopher who laments the errors, the crimes, the injustices which still pollute the Earth and of which he is often the victim, is this view of the human race, emancipated from its shackles, released from the empire of fate and from that of the enemies of its progress, advancing with a firm and sure step along the path of truth, virtue, and happiness."
I imagined Antoine laying in his cell facing death, somehow still having faith in us. Perhaps it is a good thing he was not around to witness the World Wars, genocides, nuclear bombings, and terrorism. The Age of the Enlightenment was forever destroyed in the pointless trench warfare of WWI, where about millions of terrified soldiers were annihiliated by the new invention of the machine gun. Somehow, despite it all, I still share Antoine's hope. Someone (for once Google failed me) once said that humans are good. It is humanity that is evil. What is meant by this of course is that the average citizen is a decent human being, but when they mass as a populace they relinquish tremendous authority to a few individuals at the top, who inevitably become corrupted by this power.
How many socialist revolutionaries who promised wealth and equality to the poor came to power only to stagnate into corrupt dictators? The list is too long, from Lenin to Castro to Mubarak. Yet today, the power of the internet and social media has allowed individuals greater access and opportunity then ever before to break through censorship and bureaucracy. It is more difficult than ever for governments to deceive and bully their own people. Thus perhaps, just maybe, we are entering a new post-modern age. An age that might make Antoine smile.