Problems of Transhumanism: Liberal Democracy vs. Technocratic Absolutism
J. Hughes - Jan 23, 2010
Transhumanists, like Enlightenment partisans in general, believe that human nature can be improved but are conflicted about whether liberal democracy is the best path to betterment. The liberal tradition within the Enlightenment has argued that individuals are best at finding their own interests and should be left to improve themselves in self-determined ways. But many people are mistaken about their own best interests, and more rational elites may have a better understanding of the general good. Enlightenment partisans have often made a case for modernizing monarchs and scientific dictatorships. Transhumanists need to confront this tendency to disparage liberal democracy in favor of the rule by dei ex machina and technocratic elites.
Enlightenment Liberalism and Enlightened Despotism
The Enlightenment rationale for liberalism, most powerfully articulated in Mill’s On Liberty, was that if individuals are given liberty they will generally know how to pursue their interests and potentials better than will anyone else. So, society generally will become richer and more intelligent if individuals are free to choose their own life ends rather than if they are forced towards betterment by the powers that be. In order to ensure that all interests and views of the good are equally weighed in the marketplace of ideas and expressed in collective decision-making, society should guarantee free debate and equal legal and political empowerment. The most radical expression of these ideals was liberal and social democracy, which are often assumed to be the consensual political ideal of the Enlightenment.
In fact, Enlightenment philosophers were intensely conflicted about the virtues of powerful monarchies and technocratic elites versus popular democracy. Some believed an absolute state was the best form of governance. Thomas Hobbes argued that political absolutism was necessary to prevent the war of “all against all.” Voltaire said that he “would rather obey one lion, than 200 rats of [his own] species.”