The best of Fred Hutchison
The seven-headed Hydra
Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
May 17, 2012

Originally published July 21, 2004

Fighting fallacies one at a time as they spring from a false ideology is like Hercules' battle with the Hydra — a serpentine creature with seven heads. When he cut off one serpent head, two more heads grew in its place.

Postmodern liberals subscribe to a false ideology which spins off fallacies — like hydra heads. When one fallacy is debunked, the liberals gin up more fallacies to replace it.

When Hercules cut off a head, he had to sear the wound with fire to keep new heads from growing back. Instead of this cumbersome method, he might have struck a death blow to the body and killed all seven heads at once.

Instead of trying to debunk many fallacies and somehow sealing off each fallacy from the supporting ideology — I prefer to try for a death blow to the body of the postmodern "hydra." Ideologies are hard to kill if the first principles they rest upon are left intact. Let us unmask the false first principles.

The taproot principle

Sometimes a cluster of first principles are held together by a single core principle. I like to call this it the taproot principle.

In my youth, before the crack-up of Modernism, the taproot was different from the present postmodern taproot. The modern taproot principle answered the question, "What is the nature of Man?" Liberals answered, "Man is good by nature."

Therefore, liberals believed that "progress" is inevitable. We can trust in government reforms, they thought, and in social engineering programs and progressive education to bring out the good in human nature and to perfect that nature. These "panaceas" were supposed to lead us to a utopia. No utopias came. The panaceas often made things worse.

The crusty conservatives of those days typically responded to this nonsense by saying, "There are no panaceas." They were generally shy about answering the taproot question because they had no simple answer. When pressed for an answer, a conservative might pause and say that "Man is a contradiction." He is a complex enigma. A strange mixture of good and evil.

The blatant liberal assertion that man is inherently "good" sounded to these hard headed conservatives like some combination of the naivete of a child, the folly of a drunk, and the blasphemy of a heretic. How did they "know" that man is "good"? Well, they felt it to be so. Their preferred writers, novelists, and poets said so. It would be unpleasant to think otherwise. The old liberalism was founded upon wishful thinking.

The multiplication of follies

The presumption that man is inherently good has led liberals to many follies of wishful thinking. Four good examples are social engineering, "root causes," "moral equivalence," and appeasement.

If man is good, a social engineering scheme need not take into account the dark side of the human heart. The contradictory and unpredictable aspects of human nature can be glossed over. No wonder so many simplistic but well-intended schemes have failed or have had destructive unintended consequences. Mama told me as I sat on her knee, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

If man is good, one does not blame the criminal for his crime. One blames the "root causes" of society that purportedly "caused" him to beat his wife and children. Socioeconomic forces moved him to rape, steal, kill, burn down buildings, beat up old men, defraud elderly widows, and sell drugs to children. A good scam to fool the psychologists. But the liberals really believed it — like children believing in Santa Claus.

If man is good, then we are no better and no worse than our enemies abroad — even if the enemies commit mass murder. If we can appease an aggressor by rewarding him, disarming ourselves, and being friendly to him — we will have peace. Unfortunately, when one feeds a hungry wolf, it whets his appetite. If one throws away his gun, the wolf will eat him. Good intentions and wishful thinking will not save him.

Transition to postmodernism

As modernism passed the baton to postmodernism, some of the old fallacies were retained and new fallacies were added. Postmodern liberalism morphed from a wishful thinking fantasy cult into a vicious seven-headed hydra. We now have a formidable fallacy-generating machine on our hands.

Does man have a nature?

The taproot principle has changed. In our Postmodern era, the question now is, "Does man have a nature?"

No one used to question that man has a nature. The debate centered upon what that nature is. Conservatives and liberals could discuss and debate that question. That discussion is now no longer possible.

Conservatives are united by the belief that man has a nature. Christians of orthodox doctrine, natural law advocates, cultural traditionalists, intelligent design scientists, "neocons," and libertarians all believe that man has a nature. These groups can have a merry debate about what that nature is.

But if a postmodern liberal walks in the door during the debate, he will immediately question whether man has a nature. The conversation in progress will be halted and redirected towards first principles. The liberal not only has a different worldview — he has a different kind of worldview.

Postmodern liberals are united in their doubt that man has a nature. The moment you start thinking that man might have a nature, you throw a mental switch that opens the floodgates to troubling thoughts about Truth, the Moral Law, and Human Evil. Safer to doubt. Atheists, evolutionists, materialists, utilitarians, moral relativists, cultural determinists, and New Agers all doubt that man has a nature.

Design and order

A being with a "nature" has intrinsic qualities. The nature is founded on an orderly schematic structure and an integrated set of components. Precisely designed interlocking parts are woven together according to an orderly and comprehensive pattern. Beautiful music can emerge from a carefully designed and crafted piano.

Design is a work of reason, order, and law. Scientists are always seeking the "laws of nature," because the Christian founders of science believed that nature is a creation which has an orderly design. Experimental evidence is essential to science because of a reliance upon law. Without law, there is no assurance that experimental results will repeat themselves, or that a mathematical formula can be used to predict the course of a body moving through the air.

The emergence of the science of intelligent design is a potential cure for an ailing science establishment. Design science corrects a fallacy of self-contradiction that afflicts evolutionists and big-bang cosmologists. They claim that nature is randomly fashioned and has no design — and then in the next breath talk about "the laws of nature." No such laws can exist if nature has no design.

Evolutionists sometimes claim that the idea of a species is arbitrary. They assume that "species" are always morphing from one form into another form. They think what we see as a species is only a snapshot in a continuous morph. This contradicts the facts of the fossil record, in which species stasis is the norm.

When carefully analyzed, the presumption of perpetual flux undermines the possibility that a species can have a design. The design for a gas station cannot morph into the design for a skyscraper. A design for a cat cannot morph into a design for a dog. A part-cat and part-dog blurry computer morph will make no sense as a design. A creature with the mangled design of a "missing link" could not be alive, much less survive and compete.

Only a formless, design-free object can morph. Formless clay can be molded. That is why evolutionists deny design. But a living creature without a design is inconceivable. That is why evolutionists are compelled to contradict themselves by talking about the design of species.

Design and the moral law

Human actions proceeding from a designed nature must conform to the laws of the design — including boundaries, limits, and modes of functioning. The actions which violate these laws are disordered. Some actions are against nature — and hence are destructive.

If man has a nature, there must be a universal moral law. A design is always accompanied by the laws of proper use. Cars and highways are designed. The use of cars must conform to laws to avoid destructive consequences. There are human and divine laws to guide man — because man has a design. If human nature has a design that includes a conscience, a moral sense, and a faculty for moral reason, there must of necessity be a universal moral law — an unchanging law applicable to all times, places, and cultures. If human nature is fixed, the moral law must also be fixed.

I happen to believe that the universal moral law comes from God, the Designer and Creator. A natural-law conservative would regard the moral law as the "law of nature," as did certain American founding fathers. All of the types of conservatives that I am aware of believe that man has a nature and that there is a moral law. "Neo-cons" have an old philosophical concept of "virtue," and the "good" which accords with their understanding of human nature. Even atheistic objectivists and their libertarian fellow travelers hint that man has a nature of sorts — and that certain things are an affront to that nature and are unjust.

The culture war, at its root, is a fight over whether there is a universal moral law. It is a fight between a coalition of conservatives and a coalition of liberal postmoderns. The latter can deny the existence a universal moral law because they first denied that man had a nature. Of course, some of them first rebelled against the moral law — and then to escape guilt and blame, denied that man has a nature. A perverse way for laying a foundation for a worldview! A good way to build a poisonous hydra!

The moral law and human rights

If you believe in a universal moral law, you will also believe in certain unalienable human rights. But these rights must be the flip side of the moral law. If it is immoral to steal, you have the right not to have your goods stolen — and should expect the state to defend that right. Therefore, we have property rights. If it is evil to murder someone, then every person — except a murderer — has an inherent right to live. The baby in the womb has a human design, and therefore has a right to live.

Human rights must be defined by the moral law and balanced by responsibilities. If man is by nature a social animal, he has certain obligations to the community and its civil institutions. This involves honoring legal obligations, keeping promises, paying taxes, obeying laws, respecting the duly constituted authorities, respecting one's fellow citizens, and offering service of some sort to society. Insisting upon rights while neglecting duties is immoral.

If there is a universal moral law, this law must govern and define what is responsible sexual behavior. This is the key to understanding why government is not violating any unalienable human rights when it outlaws sodomy or defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Whether or not one believes that it is a good idea to outlaw sodomy or pass a Defense of Marriage Act, it is a fallacy to argue against these laws on the grounds of rights. No such rights exist, according to the human design or the moral law.

If a court claims that such a right exists, the court is creating arbitrary law. It is arbitrary because there is no moral law to provide a basis for the right. Property rights are the flip side of the moral law not to steal. The alleged right to sodomy is not the flip side of anything. Precisely because sodomy and gay unions are against the universal moral law, there can be no right to these practices. Legal sanctions against sodomy offend no rights, and vindicate the universal moral law. Natural-law conservatives would agree, except they would emphasize that sodomy is "against nature."

The right to privacy

A creative formulation of the right to privacy was developed by judges to protect abortion and sodomy. Whether the things done in privacy are good or evil, they are assumed to be protected by law — just because they are done in private.

This is a novel new theory. How can we test it? We know we have property rights as individuals because stealing is against the moral law. Privacy occurs on private property. If our privacy is not protected, our rights to freely use our own property are impaired. So there must be a derivative right to privacy. It is not based on the odd theory of "self-actualization" as our intellectually decadent Supreme Court foolishly assumes. It is based upon hard-headed, old-fashioned property rights.

Does this mean that everything done in the privacy of the home is in accord with the human design? Of course not. Evil can be done in privacy. Some private activities ought to be protected as rights, and some activities should not be protected.

What was man designed to do when he is in private? To rest, pray, reflect, recreate, and enjoy solitude. Most men are designed to live with a family — perhaps with a wife, children, and other close kin. The family is intrinsically good and is beneficial to its members and to society. This law of human design is wise and good. Arbitrary intrusions by the state into one's solitude and private family life violate human rights.

But wife beating, child abuse, or hiding illegal drugs or stolen goods are not protected by privacy rights or property rights. In like manner, sexually immoral acts such as adultery, concubinage, sodomy, or homosexual coupling ought not to be protected.

The destruction of rights by the defenders of rights

All these rational ideas will fall into chaos if we decide to believe that man has no nature. In such a world, there can be no rational or moral basis for human rights. "Rights" in such a world are what we want them to be — or what the judge says they are. Such things are certainly not "unalienable rights" derived from "nature and nature's God," as the founding fathers thought.

"Rights" obtained through political manipulation, pressure groups, or judicial fiat without the backing of the moral law or original design are not authentic rights. They are opportunistic political privileges. The inflation of rights by irresponsible judges erodes and debases the very meaning of rights. The meaning of marriage is degraded if gays have the "right" to marry. We are sunk in confusion when a dishonorable union successfully poses as an honorable union. When we lose our grip on what rights are, we shall surely lose both our rights and our freedom.

Rebellion against limits

The motto of the New Age Movement and the hyper-individualistic brand of Postmodernism is "No limits." "You can be anything you want to be." But a design imposes limits. Therefore, the assertion of "no limits" can only be made if man has no nature or design except what he assigns to himself. But if man has no nature, what makes him think he can change himself? A being with no nature would not be able to understand the idea of a design. The idea of "no limits" is absurd.

One reason we might want to think we have no nature is so we can change ourselves without limits. But not having a nature would deprive us of the tools to change ourselves. Having a nature would give us some tools to make changes, but changing the design is a denial of design. The original design would fight against the impostor design. Once again, the idea of "no limits" is absurd.

Individual design

There is a general design for mankind. Within the coordinates of that general design, there is a unique design for each individual. Each personal design has built-in potentials and built-in limits. Some people are not cut out to be brain surgeons, or nuclear physicists, or athletes, etc. But everyone is designed for something good.

In spite of this rather obvious bit of common sense, our land is overrun with the huckster message that if only you can take control of your life, you can do or be anything you want. You can create yourself according to your own design.

Americans are addicted to the cult of reinventing themselves. The American dream can work very well when people find out what they are really made for — and go after it and stick with it. But the American dream turns into the American nightmare when someone goes off on a tangent based in a deluded quest for "self-actualization" or goes with a false impulse to reinvent themselves. Millions of promising lives are ruined in this way. Millions more stagnate and are wasted by those who never try to find out who they are and what they were designed to be.


The rebellion against design and against boundaries and limits is self-destructive because it is a blow one strikes against his own nature. Postmodernism is inherently suicidal. It involves cultural suicide and personal psychological suicide. The hydra bites itself and dies.

Does design mean that there is an individual plan for our lives? Yes it does. Design is personal. There is a Designer. He has a particular journey and a particular end in mind for each of us. This thought comforts me.

A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at

© Fred Hutchison


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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31