Conflicting visions of human nature constitute the most important difference between conservatism and Objectivism. It is odd that Wehner never even mentions this issue. As I have pointed out numerous times on this blog, Rand held that there are no innate tendencies of character, that man is a "being of self-made soul," and a man's character is simply the manifestation of his premises, particularly his philosophical premises. For centuries the conservative view was embalmed in the myths and exaggerations of traditional religion; but today it receives its best expression from science. As David Brooks put it:
Over the past 30 years or so [the] belief in natural goodness [of man] has been discarded. It began to lose favor because of the failure of just about every social program that was inspired by it, from the communes to progressive education on up. But the big blow came at the hands of science.From the content of our genes, the nature of our neurons and the lessons of evolutionary biology, it has become clear that nature is filled with competition and conflicts of interest. Humanity did not come before status contests. Status contests came before humanity, and are embedded deep in human relations. People in hunter-gatherer societies were deadly warriors, not sexually liberated pacifists. As Steven Pinker has put it, Hobbes was more right than Rousseau.Moreover, human beings are not as pliable as the social engineers [or Ayn Rand] imagined. Human beings operate according to preset epigenetic rules, which dispose people to act in certain ways. We strive for dominance and undermine radical egalitarian dreams. We’re tribal and divide the world into in-groups and out-groups.This darker if more realistic view of human nature has led to a rediscovery of different moral codes and different political assumptions. Most people today share what Thomas Sowell calls the Constrained Vision, what Pinker calls the Tragic Vision and what E. O. Wilson calls Existential Conservatism. This is based on the idea that there is a universal human nature; that it has nasty, competitive elements; that we don’t understand much about it; and that the conventions and institutions that have evolved to keep us from slitting each other’s throats are valuable and are altered at great peril.
The other important area of convergence involves cognition, or how human beings acquire knowledge. Conservatives distrust any conclusions based on broad, extremely abstract, "metaphysical" principles. Social and political reality is too complex to be adequately conveyed by these abstract principles. To achieve wisdom about politics, society, and the human condition requires the development of a very wide and deep experiential database. In other words, there's no substitute for experience: a statesman who has spent 40 years in government will likely evince far better judgment about politics than an intellectual who gets his knowledge from newspapers and polemical works or a philosopher like Rand who tries to deduce political knowledge from the ethical and metaphysical principles of a philosophy. From the conservative point of view, Objectivism is a species of uncritical rationalism: for its proponents are too often guilty of trying to determine matters of fact by means of logical, moral or rhetorical constructions; and no complex fact is likely to be discovered by such exercises in verbalism.