Human Nature in Politics eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 256 pages of information about Human Nature in Politics.


(Introduction, page 1)

The study of politics is now in an unsatisfactory position.  Throughout Europe and America, representative democracy is generally accepted as the best form of government; but those who have had most experience of its actual working are often disappointed and apprehensive.  Democracy has not been extended to non-European races, and during the last few years many democratic movements have failed.

This dissatisfaction has led to much study of political institutions; but little attention has been recently given in works on politics to the facts of human nature.  Political science in the past was mainly based, on conceptions of human nature, but the discredit of the dogmatic political writers of the early nineteenth century has made modern students of politics over-anxious to avoid anything which recalls their methods.  That advance therefore of psychology which has transformed pedagogy and criminology has left politics largely unchanged.

The neglect of the study of human nature is likely, however, to prove only a temporary phase of political thought, and there are already signs that it, is coming to an end.

(PART I.—­Chapter I.—­Impulse and Instinct in Politics, page 21)

Any examination of human nature in politics must begin with an attempt to overcome that ‘intellectualism’ which results both from the traditions of political science and from the mental habits of ordinary men.

Political impulses are not mere intellectual inferences from calculations of means and ends; but tendencies prior to, though modified by, the thought and experience of individual human beings.  This may be seen if we watch the action in politics of such impulses as personal affection, fear, ridicule, the desire of property, etc.

All our impulses and instincts are greatly increased in their immediate effectiveness if they are ‘pure,’ and in their more permanent results if they are ‘first hand’ and are connected with the earlier stages of our evolution.  In modern politics the emotional stimulus which reaches us through the newspapers is generally ‘pure,’ but ‘second hand,’ and therefore is both facile and transient.

The frequent repetition of an emotion or impulse is often distressing.  Politicians, like advertisers, must allow for this fact, which again is connected with that combination of the need of privacy with intolerance of solitude to which we have to adjust our social arrangements.

Political emotions are sometimes pathologically intensified when experienced simultaneously by large numbers of human beings in physical association, but the conditions of political life in England do not often produce this phenomenon.

The future of international politics largely depends on the question whether we have a specific instinct of hatred for human beings of a different racial type from ourselves.  The point is not yet settled, but many facts which are often explained as the result of such an instinct seem to be due to other and more general instincts modified by association.

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Human Nature in Politics from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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