Observing the human things from the outside produces a stripped-down notion of humanity. Understanding man as conatus results in the Hobbesian state of nature as man’s “natural state.” This state consists of “individual[s] considered as distinct and separate by nature itself from other individuals, the individual as individuated by his biological nature, his nature as a living being.” Manent concisely summarizes: man “is this unit of life and quantity of being that wants to continue to live and to persevere in being.” Humans so conceived are perfectly equal, because they have been bleached of “all complexity or inner fullness.” This construct intentionally ignores the differentiating characteristics of actual humans, and therefore “has nothing to teach us concerning the human beings that we are.”
The state of nature models this notion of human nature in its individuated separateness. With the loss of all specifically human qualities, natural law as traditionally understood is rendered moot, for “natural law issued commands in the name of a teaching implicit in human nature, in a tendency of human nature to society and to knowledge, or in a natural difference among ages, sexes, and capacities, a tendency or difference that reason once made explicit and on the basis of which it founded its commandments and recommendations.” The rejection of the naturalness of human differences leads to an assault on nature that Manent finds particularly troubling, as in the movement for same-sex marriage.
Natural rights were meant to replace natural law in guiding our practical judgments. But law guides or commands; right, in contrast, is permissive—a kind of claim to freedom to do…whatever. Modern “rights…have no meaning except openness to an unlimited authorization of actions or behaviors with no rule or purpose.” Natural right largely reflects the absence of nature as a source of guiding norms. Being so thinly natural, such rights readily transformed into human rights, grounded not in our shared nature but in our radical individuation.
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