nature versus civilization
September 16, 2010 Leave a comment
I recently blogged about the difference between HG Wells’s and Murray Rothbard’s understanding of civilization, its origins, costs, and benefits. Rothbard was, of course, a student of Ludwig von Mises. Today I came across this passage from chapter 24 of Mises’s Human Action: The Scholar’s Edition on civilization versus the state of nature:
From time immemorial men have prattled about the blissful conditions their ancestors enjoyed in the original "state of nature." From old myths, fables, and poems the image of this primitive happiness passed into many popular philosophies of the 17th and 18th centuries. In their language, the term natural denoted what was good and beneficial in human affairs, while the term civilization had the connotation of opprobrium. The fall of man was seen in the deviation from the primitive conditions of ages in which there was but little difference between man and other animals. At that time, these romantic eulogists of the past asserted, there were no conflicts between men. Peace was undisturbed in the Garden of Eden.
Yet nature does not generate peace and good will. The characteristic mark of the "state of nature" is irreconcilable conflict. Each specimen is the rival of all other specimens. The means of subsistence are scarce and do not grant survival to all. The conflicts can never disappear. If a band of men, united with the object of defeating rival bands, succeeds in annihilating its foes, new antagonisms arise among the victors over the distribution of the booty. The source of the conflicts is always the fact that each man’s portion curtails the portions of all other men. This is a dilemma that does not allow of any peaceful solution.
What makes friendly relations between human beings possible is the higher productivity of the division of labor. It removes the natural conflict of interests. For where there is division of labor, there is no longer question of the distribution of a supply not capable of enlargement. Thanks to the higher productivity of labor performed under the division of tasks, the supply of goods multiplies. A preeminent common interest, the preservation and further intensification of social cooperation, becomes paramount and obliterates all essential collisions.