Wretched or Contented? The Politics of Past Life

by Richard Eckersley


An enduring myth of modern times is that life in the past was miserable. In the oft-quoted words of 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the life of man in his natural state was ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. A good example of the Hobbesian school of thought is Bjorn Lomborg’s controversial book, The skeptical environmentalist: measuring the real state of the world. Citing historian Lawrence Stone, Lomborg (2001, p. 328) says: ‘We are no longer almost chronically ill, our breaths stinking of rotting teeth, with festering sores, eczema, scabs, and suppurating boils’. He uses this to warn against ‘a scary idealisation of our past’ and as a descriptive benchmark against which to judge progress. It is recited as if it represents the human condition before we discovered material affluence.(continue…)

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