Homo Disconnectus

Yuval Noah Harari Unintentionally Endorses Natural Law & American Exceptionalism

Military historian Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli public intellectual, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the best-selling author of such books as Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. Both explore the intersection of culture, biology, and technology. My wife bought the first one for me as a birthday gift some time back, and I have only recently gotten around to reading it.

Imagine my surprise when, on page 139 of the German edition, Dr. Harari, a committed philosophical materialist, makes an unintentionally revealing statement in his comparative analysis of the Code of Hammurabi and the opening paragraph of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Here is the section of the Declaration with which Dr. Harari takes issue:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

And here, translated (by me) from page 139 of the German version of the book (which was translated from Hebrew) is his response:

If, however, we believe the science of biology, humans were not “created” but evolved. And humans evolved naturally, not “equally.” The imagined idea of equality is inseparably linked to the thought of Creation. The Founding Fathers of the United States drew their fantasy of human equality from the Christian Bible, which claims that all men are supposed to have a divinely created soul, and that all souls are equal before God. But if we don’t believe in the Christian myths about God, Creation, and the soul, what does it mean to say that all men are “equal”? Evolution is based on differences, not on equality.  . . . If we were to translate the statement into biological terms, it would not read “All men are created equal,” but “All men have evolved differently.”

And just as humans were not created, there is no “Creator” who “endowed” them with anything. It was just a blind, evolutionary process. . . .

And then there are still those “rights” supposedly. Biology knows nothing of rights.

But he’s not done there. He has something to say about “liberty” as well:

Biology does not recognize liberty. . . . From a purely biological standpoint, there is little difference between the citizens of a republic and the subjects of a king.

And the pursuit of happiness? Well, for the “pursuit of happiness,” he would substitute the “pursuit of desire,” biologically speaking. His biological rewrite of the most famous sentence of the Declaration of Independence, then, reads as follows:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men have evolved differently, that they were born with mutable characteristics, and that among these are life and the pursuit of desire.

A Lived Disconnect

Harari then goes on to explain that he prefers living in a culture that espouses and lives by the ideals he just spent three pages denigrating, while acknowledging that these ideals are not expressions of objective truth about the nature of man, but rather are comforting illusions that allow for a certain type of social order to flourish. To him they must be illusions because, as he sees it, there are no objectively true ideals about the nature of man. Thus, there is a disconnect, an incoherence, between Dr. Harari’s deficient assessment of reality and his preferred way of living.

The question then becomes, if we were to take the incoherent Dr. Harari’s word as gospel, why bother preferring a comforting illusion to living out the logical implications of his philosophy? Should we not live by the truth-propositions he puts forth in his writings?

Biology knows nothing of rights, correct? So, from those who take Dr. Harari’s scribblings to be a coherent philosophy one should live out, let’s not hear any blather about any “right to abortion,” any “right to gay marriage” (any marriage at all, really), any “right to gender-affirming healthcare,” or, for that matter, any “right to healthcare.” Rights don’t exist in biology. And what does not exist in biology should not matter if his view of humanity is correct.

And the pursuit of “desire”? Well, again, Harari is being a trifle incoherent in his word choice here. Biology, speaking objectively, knows nothing of “desire.” Desire is an abstraction. Biology knows only “drives,” which are expressed in hormone-driven action. Here I mean the drive to flee or to fight, i.e., the survival instinct, and its corollary, the drive to reproduce.

The Law of Biology

What, then, would a real exercise of “reproductive rights” in law look like, if our legal regime drew on the tenets Harari sets out? If it were coherent, that regime would outlaw anything that limits or harms the fulfillment of drives. Keep yourself alive by any means necessary. Produce and effectively raise as many offspring as possible. These would be the only binding morals—no, not morals; can’t have that word creeping in. This is biology, right?

Ensuring personal survival and reproductive success would be the only ends worth pursuing, and the only valid guiding principles for law would be those that facilitated such ends. If you think such a legal regime would reduce man to a rutting, murderous brute, you are correct. That is the logically unavoidable outcome of basing law on Dr. Harari’s “biology.”

The Necessary Link Between the Creator & Human Rights

It has been fashionable in recent years, especially among the anti-Christian and Maoist sets, to assail the ideas that the United States is in any way exceptional in history or that it was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Harari’s viewpoint here puts him, to his credit, far ahead of that mob. His rewrite of Mr. Jefferson’s most famous sentence quite vitiates every anti-American screed, every race-­obsessed distortion coming down the pike from the purveyors of hatred and 1619 Project distrust, by admitting, against his own interest, that, yes, the foundations of the United States are ineluctably Christian and that, yes, it is precisely those principles that created the world he prefers to live in.

The articulation of the self-evident truth that unalienable rights are endowed by a Creator was the most politically important line of prose ever put to page in English. Yet it is, as Yuval Noah Harari rightly points out, a rational and coherent statement only as long as the link with the Christian ideas from which it was derived is maintained. Cut that link, and you soon have a world that not even the unintentionally honest Dr. Harari would want to live in.

Let us hope that he and those influenced by his writings have—or will soon gain—wisdom enough to reject the world he thinks he is truthfully describing, and instead to join those of us working to reestablish the Judeo-Christian foundations of the civilization that has made it possible for him and his followers to flourish.

is a professional translator, missionary, and writer living in Germany, where he works with several different ministries, and lives in a Christian intentional community. He has written academic articles on medieval literature and culture and has published essays in Salvo, First Things, and Boundless. He is a native of Indiana.

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #65, Summer 2023 Copyright © 2024 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo65/homo-disconnectus


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