Do People Really Matter?

23 Jun

Bruce Thornton wrote an excellent column (“People Matter”, found in City Journal), summarizing a book by Robert Zubrin that critiques the efforts of “antihumanists” to reduce people to pure physical matter, “stripping from people their transcendent value”, and reducing them to pieces of physical matter to be reshaped and controlled by the powerful antihumanists themselves.  Zubrin’s book is called Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism

 This column is well worth reading in full, but I provide excerpts below.

The full column can be found at

 Excerpts from the column:  [Bolding is mine]

A ruling idea of the last two centuries has been materialism: the notion, as arch-materialist Daniel Dennett asserts, that “there is only one sort of stuff, namely matter—the physical stuff of physics, chemistry, and physiology—and the mind is somehow nothing but a physical phenomenon.” One consequence of this belief has been the rise of antihumanism—the stripping from people of their transcendent value and a reduction of them to mere things in the world to be studied, understood, reshaped—and ultimately controlled.

As Robert Zubrin shows in his valuable survey Merchants of Despair, antihumanism’s reductive view of human nature has underpinned movements like eugenics, population control, and radical environmentalism, all of which have been eager to sacrifice human life and well-being to achieve their dubious utopias.   .   .   .

The mixture of Malthusian and Darwinian theory soon conjured up racist eugenics. At the forefront of the early eugenics movement was Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who also decried humanist sentimentalism. The “unfit” must be kept from procreating, he argued, for “if these continued to procreate children, inferior in moral, intellectual and physical qualities, it is easy to believe the time may come when such persons would be considered as enemies to the State, and to have forfeited all claims to kindness.” By the turn of the twentieth century, these ideas had become articles of faith among many liberals and socialists.

Such cruel pseudoscientific theories took a fatal turn in Germany, where eugenics found its deadliest champion in biologist Ernst Haeckel, “an extreme racist, virulent anti-Catholic bigot, anti-Semite, anti-Pole, pro-imperialist, Pan-German fanatic” as well as a “militant atheist.” Haeckel and his followers sought to replace Christian ethics with “Monism,” the aim of which was to further human evolution through Germany’s conquest of inferior races and the elimination of abnormal children and invalids. The ideas also took hold in America, championed by men like General Francis Amasa Walker, president of M.I.T. In 1896, Walker wrote in the Atlantic that Hungarian, Bohemian, Polish, Italian, and Russian-Jewish immigrants were “beaten men from beaten races; representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence,” possessing “none of the ideas and aptitudes which fit men to take up readily and easily the problem of self-care and self-government.” Theodore Roosevelt would later agree, expressing his disdain for “the prevalent loose and sloppy talk about the general progress of humanity, the equality and identity of races, and the like” as the product of “well-meaning and feeble-minded sentimentalists.” These widespread prejudices, buttressed by biased I.Q. tests, ultimately led in 1924 to the discriminatory U.S. law that shut down immigration from countries considered inferior and provided a pseudoscientific justification for race-based segregation.   .   .   .   .  

As Zubrin concludes, antihumanist ideas and programs represent a war against human freedom and global solidarity: “If the world’s resources are fixed with only so much to go around, then each new life is unwelcome, each unregulated act or thought is a menace, every person is fundamentally the enemy of every other person, and each race or nation is the enemy of every other race or nation. The ultimate outcome of such a worldview can only be enforced stagnation, tyranny, war, and genocide.” Contrary to the arguments of the “terrible simplifiers,” as historian Jacob Burckhardt called those who reduce people to mere matter, humans are capable of freedom, creativity, compassion, and love. We should cherish these unique qualities rather than succumbing to antihumanism and self-hatred.

Bruce Thornton is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of classics and humanities at California State University Fresno. His most recent book is The Wages of Appeasement: Ancient Athens, Munich, and Obama’s America.

[End of excerpts]

Although in the full column Thornton mentions several examples of the tragic results of the application of antihumanist thought, he does not mention the millions upon millions of unborn children terminated by recent population control policies in China, millions upon millions of killings by antihumanist leaders in Russia, China, southeast Asia, and elsewhere during the 20th century, and even the smaller purges taking place here and there across the world today.

 How do you feel about this antihumanist movement?


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