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In the thread below, Chantal Delsol graciously responded to my observation that her more recent book had dropped the occasional references to human nature used in earlier books. While still utilizing the term “natural” to reference to certain biological determinations, she affirmed that she prefers, and now more strongly than in her earlier books, a term like “human condition,” because a) it is very difficult to distinguish what is natural to humans from what is cultural or historical, b) human nature can be used simply as an excuse for limitations preferred by one’s convention or interest, and c) because we often need “social and political evolution” as much as we need respect for human determination. “Human condition” is “also a determination, but linked to a cultural situation.”

I agree with commenters (and friends) Sara and Paul that Delsol’s position is consistent, I understand these are fine distinctions, and with a thinker as wise as Delsol my typical inclination is to err on the side of greater intellectual docility, but I think we could all benefit from my voicing my hesitations here.

My first hesitation with this “abandoning” of the human nature terminology is that it could burn bridges, ones which (for pomocons, although I suppose Delsol deals with similar academic geography) do have a tactical aspect but which are fundamentally philosophical, with natural law theorists. There are many pages in a thinker like Yves Simon that acknowledge and deal with the possible misunderstandings of the term “nature.” Perhaps there is not enough dealing with the problem of culture and history, but if we are going to say, as Peter Lawler often does, that what thinkers like Percy and Tocqueville ultimately endorse can be spoken of as partially Thomist, then it appears we are assuming that, with the historical and cultural qualifications added, we too believe in human nature. Believe that God created it and knows it, even if we can never know it fully.

My second hesitation is perhaps identical, but comes from my scholarship on Tocqueville. In my dissertation, after pages of dealing with the case for Tocqueville actually being a (Rousseau-infused) historicist, after pages of looking at the many instances of his using the terms “nature” or “natural” to describe various human traits (Cheryl Welch’s book on Tocqueville collects most of these instances), here was my summary view of the question—yeah, Lawler enters into it, but note the italicized portion particularly:

“ . . . Lawler’s interpretation [found here ] must be correct.  Not only does Tocqueville not follow Rousseauian anthropology, but his Pascalian anthropology actively opposes it.  True, the constant features of human distinctiveness are subject to various sorts of historical development, whereby certain features become more or less highlighted.  Such compositional flexibility suggests that humans can move very far toward a final extinction of self-consciousness posited by the most extreme vision of mild-despotism, <i> but the non-severable sinews of the human composition and the irreducible nature of each of its elements make its final realization impossible ,</i> contrary to Rousseau.

At the risk of self-flattery, I present that as a way of speaking about human nature while still giving it the necessary qualification.

But of course, I can’t help but noting that I found myself talking in the other key as well . . . more as a fitting ending I stumbled upon than as a portentous Straussoid literary device, the final words of my dissertation were: “human condition.”

Are there other hesitations one should have?

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