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Demosthenes's avatar

Do you think humans naturally want self-sacrifice and struggle?

Asked by Demosthenes (11719points) 4 weeks ago

This is from George Orwell’s review of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. I know it’s long and written before WWII, but please read it:

”...[Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues…Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you a good time,’ Hitler has said to them ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is a good slogan, but at this moment ‘Better an end with horror than a horror without end’ is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.”

Do you think Orwell was right about the inadequacy of the “hedonistic” life? Do you think humans desire more than comfort and security? Do we have to have something to fight against, to struggle for (at least for a time)? Is that part of the appeal of authoritarian systems?

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11 Answers

LostInParadise's avatar

“Struggle, danger and death” are not things that people want in and of themselves. People may accept them if they are part of some larger cause.

Churchill said: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat, but the article also has Churchill saying that the end that he had in mind was: to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime.

Demosthenes's avatar

@LostInParadise So do you think the overlying appeal (in authoritarianism and in struggle more generally) is the desire to be part of a group, to submit one’s individuality to the group cause?

Do you think there’s any validity to Freud’s “death drive” concept?

LostInParadise's avatar

I think that people enjoy being part of something larger, and that this is something that political leaders can take advantage of. Look at how rabid people can get over their hometown sport teams.

I am not familiar with Freud’s death drive concept.

KRD's avatar

When a person sacrifices them self it is usually when they serve their country in combat or when someone breaks in and the parents sacrifice them selves to save their kids.

mazingerz88's avatar

Naturally? I don’t think so.

Kropotkin's avatar

Orwell was on the right track, but I’m not convinced that hedonism was on offer or an option to everyone.

Awareness of one’s mortality and an anxiety about death can lead to a search for and clinging to “meaning” and symbolic immortality, which is what nationalism, patriotism, and militarism purport to offer.

Fascism is very much predicated on meaning and symbolism (and thus is about the opposite of nihilism), exploiting and exacerbating people’s fears and anxieties, and then giving the “solution” to those very fears.

The individual, made aware of their relative cosmic insignificance, and pitifully finite existence, is given the idea that they can become part of some greater cause, greater “race”, or some superior civilisation.

There are other ways. It’s just that they’re not in the interests of the ruling class, or to the preference of any psychopath in power.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Authoritarian governments are ALWAYS preceded by the exact opposite of hedonistic easy living. People turn to tyrants when they are desperate and have lost hope for a tolerable existence.

Zaku's avatar

I think humans do naturally want more than “ease, security and avoidance of pain”. I think they want purpose and worthwhile things to do.

I don’t think that needs to be drums, war, or authoritarianism, at all.

Usually I think it’s more like wanting to be part of a healthy loving community, and working on what they enjoy working on.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I believe society as a whole needs rules and discipline to thrive. There is also a religious component to struggle and self-denial in Christianity and authoritarianism.
It can just as easy be easily be manipulated by socialism from the left if they chose to do so.

doyendroll's avatar

@Demosthenes It was written in 1940 which was not “before WWII”.

“Do you think humans naturally want self-sacrifice and struggle?”

No, but I wouldn’t gainsay some people sacrificing themselves.

Demosthenes's avatar

@doyendroll Yes, forgive me, I thought it was from earlier. I only mentioned that in case some considered the perspective to be outdated. Even though the review is specific to the time it was written, I think what he says is still relevant today.

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