Does human history have a future? In his latest work, Aliens in America, political philosopher Peter Augustine Lawler argues that the advent of the new biotechnology—cloning, gene therapy, Prozac, Ritalin, and the like—means that we must consider anew the possibility that Americans are lving near the end of history, a time when full equality will be achieved through the elimination of al that is distinctively human about us: the ability to passionately love and hate, to strive nobly for truth and wisdom, to search for God. For the elimination of human distinctiveness is now being systematically pursued through the biochemical transformation of human nature.
Beginning with a consideration of David Brooks’s popular and influential characterization of modern Americans as “bourgeois bohemians,” Lawler paints a picture that is not altogether hopeful. If Brooks and other contemporary commentators are correct, our elites care about little more than their own psychological and physical comfort. Though they at times realize that simply being affluent, tolerant, and democratic consumers is not humanly fulfilling, their lassez-faire libertarianism leads them to consent to the “alien extermination program” being carried out—for ostensibly humanitarian reasons—under the aegis of biotechnological science.
In understated and often ironic prose, Lawler shows how the soft tyranny of the utopian biotechnological project is the logical outcome of various strands of modern thought, including atheistic scientism, liberal pragmatism, Lockean individualism, and the cult of therapeutic democracy. He demonstrates how, in different ways, ideas popularized by thinkers like Francis Fukuyama, Carl Sagan, and Richard Rorty are intended to make us forget that a truly human life is necessarily limited: we can only live well by accepting the sense of homelessness, misery, and alienation that accompany life as much as do joy and love.
With help from Alexis de Toqueville and Walker Percy, Lawler offers a powerful defense of the common experience of ordinary men and women. Our instinctive opposition to attempts to transform us through chemicals, technology, language, or the machinery of the state is not, as some liberal communitarians think, rooted in a fearful attempt to escape this world, but in a positive affirmation of this world’s fundamental goodness and the love, both human and divine, to be found within. Our souls are not lost yet. But they will be if we refuse to acknowledge that, in this world at least, we are destined to remain aliens.