In my previous article, I discussed how the social justice movement incorporates the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s subjective perspectivism appears to lead to relativism regarding truth. This relativism ultimately leads to Nietzsche’s Will to Power where people seek the power to resist the perspectives of others and enforce their own. Such a philosophy will have a great impact on the social justice movement’s social and political philosophy, which is what I would now like to explore.
The notion of perspective can be clearly seen in the social justice movement. Consider the notion of “toxic masculinity.” According to the American Psychological Association, toxic masculinity is “a standard for maleness held by large segments of the population that involves ‘anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence’ and is linked to ‘homophobia, bullying and sexual harassment.’” In other words, gender identity, like toxic masculinity, is a perspective (i.e. social construct) due to rigid societal norms that define gender rather than any biological characteristics because gender is claimed to be a mental phenomenon rather than a biological one. Men are not born with toxic masculinity, it is claimed, but acquire it from the environment in which they live. As a result, men are not innately bad or evil. Rather, they are trained consciously or unconsciously. As a result, this perspective must be identified and resisted as Nietzsche would say.
This philosophical position relies on a particular social philosophy: natural goodness. This position was most famously propounded by the Swiss philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau argued that human beings are naturally good. They once had no need of morality having a pure, undefiled state of existence. Human beings originally lived lives that were free, peaceful, and independent. As early human beings developed mentally, physically, and linguistically, they began to interact, become interdependent, and form societies. These societies ultimately developed environments that led to comparison, envy, competition, pride, strife, and inequality. Humanity’s healthy and natural emotion of amour de soi (i.e. love of self and pity of others, including animals) warped into amour proper (i.e. prideful love of self and status). One of the leading causes of amour proper was the formation of the notion of property. Property leads to subordination and inequality as some possess the means to freedom and survival while others do not and property is used to attract attention and recognition. This environment leads not only to oppressive societies but also to oppressive governments ruled by the rich and powerful. As a result, Rousseau famously states in The Social Contract that “man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”
For Rousseau, the problem of evil is not human nature. The problem is the environment in which human beings find themselves. It is the cultural perspectives of a society that lead people to desire and do bad things leading to the need for morality, not any natural inclination to evil. If the social environment is changed, then the person would change morally. Rousseau, however, believed that this social environment could not and should not be completely restored to the original state of nature. We should not abandon all the progress humanity has made. As a result, he advocated a civil society governed by the general will of the people as the means to overcoming the vices he believed were found in modern societies. Civil society is free people freely contracting with each other for the betterment of all.
Rousseau’s claims, however, are not born out either by the biblical witness or the historical record. While the Bible claims that humanity was once innocent, it is not anymore nor was it ever free of morality. Psalm 51:5 states that humanity is now sinful from conception. This claim is known as the doctrine of original sin. Humanity’s original parents were innocent and righteous, but they sinned against God corrupting their natures such that they became inclined to sinning. This corrupted nature has subsequently been passed down to all human beings via procreation such that everyone sins (Rom 3:23). It is for this reason that humanity needs the salvation of Jesus Christ. Even many non-Christians are forced to accept that human beings are not naturally good due to the historical record of human evil.
If Rousseau is correct, then it is possible that there are some human beings who never sinned and need no salvation. Further, Rousseau’s position seems to imply that humanity could potentially be restored to a sinless state simply by human endeavor despite Rousseau’s misgivings. Change the environment, and you change the person. Rousseau’s position also appears to absolve the individual of all responsibility for his actions. It is the fault of the environment, not the individual. Lastly, Rousseau’s position appears to render morality a social construct. There was a time when it was not needed so it did not exist but was later constructed when needed. Such an implication would make morality relative to (i.e. perspective of) the individual or culture.
While these implications are inimical to a biblical worldview, they are compatible with the existentialist worldview. Since there is no shared human nature, people cannot be declared naturally and morally corrupted. People are merely the product of their environment (i.e. experiences) giving them their own perspective on life and how it ought to be lived. Morality is merely what the individual believes it is via his perspective. Ultimately, individuals fight for the power to exert their will over others to form a society.
Given these consequences of Rousseau’s position, it seems that the social justice movement implies that humanity can save itself. Good old-fashioned human ingenuity and effort can bring about utopia on Earth. There simply needs to be some power exerted along the way to usurp the status quo, change society to what it “needs to be,” and bring this utopia into existence. Such a prescription is not foreign to human history or political philosophy as will be seen in my next article.
Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Power,” Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/07/29/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-power-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed August 14, 2019. For image, see https://steemit.com/philosophy/@daddyworld/debate-is-human-nature-good-or-bad, accessed August 21, 2019.
Collen Clemens, “What We Mean When We Say, ‘Toxic Masculinity.’” https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/what-we-mean-when-we-say-toxic-masculinity, accessed August 14, 2019.
Ibid. Notice how the philosophy of existentialism is being tacitly asserted here. Personal identity is not connected to biology but to psychology (i.e. subjective experience or feeling). See Graham Floyd, “The Philosophical Foundations of the Social Justice Movement: Existentialism,” Ethics and Political Economy Center, https://epecarticles.com/2019/05/25/the-philosophical-foundations-of-the-social-justice-movement-existentialism-graham-floyd-ph-d/, accessed August 14, 2019.
This position is often referred to as the concept of the “noble savage”: an uncivilized person who lives a life free of the institutions and vices of modern society. An example would be the literary character Tarzan. Rousseau never actually uses the term in his writings, and some would argue that Rousseau’s conception of humanity is different from the concept of the noble savage. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noble_savage, accessed August 14, 2019.
Christopher Bertram, “Jean Jacques Rousseau,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2018 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2018/entries/rousseau/, accessed August 14, 2019; James Delaney, “Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, https://www.iep.utm.edu/rousseau/, accessed August 14, 2019.