"One cannot have political power without political obedience; one cannot have strong government without a sense of national identification."
These two propositions, which assume for Heilbroner the status of self-evident axioms, will guide him through the rest of the Inquiry in order, (i) to supplement his socioeconomic analysis of post-industrial societies by introducing the badly needed political dimension and, (ii) to anchor the latter in
"human nature." Both tasks are necessary, for without taking account of the political, Heilbroner’s analysis would be incomplete. And as for repositioning the latter as something we come by naturally, well, I attempted this very thing in articles prior (see, for instance, "From Obligation to Loyalty: Gateway to New Political Thinking" or "On Loyalty, Politics, and Statehood"), with the result that our predisposition to loyalty, of all human traits, seemed ideally suited for the task at hand, and the reason was: it combined our natural affinity to other humans, our sociability index if you like, with functionality, i.e., the likelihood that underneath our natural predisposition to sociability, or alongside it perhaps, there may underlie a sense of purpose, the idea that both parties stand to benefit from the arrangement, the one element reinforcing the other, and vice versa. Naturally, we must therefore ask, How does Heilbroner’s brand of solution compare to the loyalty trait in us?
Offhand, we may have to grant that singling out the trait of obedience, along with our capacity for identification, doesn’t strike one as particularly objectionable: both qualities, one way or another, surely figure somehow in the mix and add up to that complex sentiment we call loyalty. To be sure, we may question the emphasis that’s being placed here on political obedience and on national identification (see the opening paragraph); but considering Heilbroner’s overarching purpose, which is to stave off the dangers facing the human prospect, it’s quite understandable he’d delimit the discussion to the specifically political type of obedience and identification. Even so, and given the restricted context, it’s still pertinent to ask whether aspects of human personality, which Heilbroner regards as paramount and from which he derives the political in us, can be said to approximate the quality of character we tend to associate with loyalty.
The answer doesn’t come easily but requires close examination of the text; in particular, the manner of Heilbroner’s derivation of our political behavior, tendencies, etc., from more basic human traits. Consider the following, for example:
...the behavioral traits that "permit" the use of political power lie within our scrutiny; even, to a certain extent, within our predictive capabilities. Therein lies, therefore, the direction in which we must go if we are to introduce the missing political dimension into our inquiry.
Such an effort takes us in the direction of that shadowy concept we call "human nature," but along a very different route from that of the classical historians. We are interested in an examination of man that may throw light on certain attributes of his political behavior. Hence we must begin by focusing our attention on a central fact of human existence: the extended period of helplessness and development through which all human beings must pass and in which the elements of their adult personalities are first molded.
The essential features of this crucial period are familiar from the work of Freud and his successors, and can rapidly be summed up. As an infant, still unable to move, the human being experiences...a sense of infantile omnipotence, in which it "believes" that the world is only an extension of itself, responding to its cries with food, warmth, tactile support, and so on. Moreover, if this "belief" were not in fact based on reality, the infant would perish. Later, as the infant begins to recognize the independent existence of an outer world, it gains the frightening awareness that far from being omnipotent, it is virtually powerless, literally dependent for life itself on the ministration of adults over whom he has no control whatsoever. Later still, as the child seeks to control and direct its physical and psychic energies, it learns to model its behavior on that of adults whose presence is still indispensable and whose wills are irresistible.
It is thus, Heilbroner concludes, that human personality gets molded and serves, in turn, as a major determinant of most our impulses and habits of thought and action, politics included. The critical passage follows:
In this universal crucible of experience, as we well know, are forged those tendencies in the human personality that later reveal themselves in various sexual, intellectual, aesthetic, moral, and other attitudes. What interests us here, however, are those aspects of the conditioning process that find their vent in the traits of obedience and the capacity for identification; the necessary preconditions for the successful functioning of political institutions in mobilizing individuals for tasks of both peace and war.
Again, there’s nothing strikingly out of the ordinary or disagreeable about the cited passages. Heilbroner is a seasoned and skillful writer, quite adept at weaving a spider web so as to catch the reader unawares. Consequently, it’s not to the details that we must look if we’re to discern points of contention, but to such things as nuance, the tone, the intended or unintended effect, the overall thrust. For my part, I happen to think the rather undue stress Heilbroner places on "helplessness" and on "[utter] dependency," if not a dead giveaway, is at least a clue.