Edited by Mark Ray Schmidt
(Greenhaven Press, 1999)
Reviewed by Colin Kerr
This is an excellent way to cover an important subject. I was happy to see that this fine book is a part of a large series called the Opposing ViewPoints Series, which numbers more than 90 volumes. Judging from this volume, the books take on controversial issues by including excerpts from authoritative or otherwise insightful sources, which are briefly introduced by the editor.
The selection included in Human Nature is by no means comprehensive, but the excerpts are certainly well chosen and arranged. Even though most of the excerpts here are from philosophers, like Hobbes and Sartre, for instance, they are all comprehensible to the non-specialist. There are also excerpts from people like Solzhenitsyn, Freud, and Orwell, and even from the Bible. Of course, you have to keep in mind that this is only a sample of the leading viewpoints that have been formulated on the topic. The book won’t make you an expert. However, it is a good place to get you started thinking about the issues involved in such an important topic. Textbooks that are usually used in university courses are much longer and intimidating, so I suppose that, if the subject matter interests you, you could start with one of these books first, just to see if you are ready to take on the issue full-force. Whatever the case, this book will definitely give you some things to think about, and enable you to get a sense of the intellectual lay of the land.
I liked Hobbes’ piece the best, which the editor entitled, “Human Nature is Antisocial.” It resonates with my Augustinian pessimism. An interesting piece, but one with which I could not in anyway agree was that by Riane Eisler: “Human Nature is not Aggressive.” I enjoyed reading it because it’s easy to see that her idea is a popular one today, although completely mistaken. Well, not completely, but roundly. (I call this optimistic position the “Gene Roddenberry Myth.”)
There are a few volumes in this series I can see myself reading in the future. Civil Liberties, Religion in America, Homosexuality, Hate Groups, Education, Culture Wars, and Censorship, are the titles that attract me, but there’s lots of others to choose from, ones devoted to animal testing, euthanasia, etc. They seem a little pricey for their size, but it looks like you can pick up most of them second-hand quite inexpensively on Amazon or Abebooks.