Many countries had previously enjoyed long periods of stability, with low levels of discontent. This had occurred when there had been a general acceptance of the social order, and of the theoretical underpinnings of that order. But the old certainties, upon which those social orders had been based, had now lost their relevance and were disappearing.
There was a general consensus that a new social order was necessary. But how could one build a better society if one had no critique of what was fundamentally wrong with the present one, and no clear idea of what a better society might look like? Answers to questions such as these required a new world-view. The development of a new world-view required a better understanding of human nature, and ideally a better understanding of the role and purpose of humans in the world.
It is clear that if the organization of society is to change significantly, human nature must first change. Rousseau failed to realise this when he wrote his treatise on the Social Contract. He assumed that human nature was both stable and immutable. But human nature is not immutable. Human nature is largely formed by human cultures, and human cultures are formed by humans. People raised in different cultures tend to differ.
No science or technology can function without first developing a knowledge of the material of its projects. And the material of a social project is human beings, as formed by human cultures. Rousseau failed to recognise the need to first consider the human material that goes to make up societies, when he sought to achieve a revolutionary advance in social progress. To achieve this change he proposed to simply “take men as they are, and States as they ought to be”. He did not consider whether humans could become better.
So if society is to change for the better, if we are to form “The Good Society”, people have to change and cultures have to change. But how do we change a culture? We first have to understand what a culture is. It is self-evident that a culture is a process of human self-creation. People make cultures and cultures, to a significant extent, make people. Culture is a continuous process of reciprocal human self-creation.
The roots of any culture are to be found in the ideas about the meaning and purpose of human life that are taken for granted by the people of that culture. These ideas change over time, and they change the culture. Social change depends on cultural change, which ultimately depends upon the development of a new perspective as to the meaning and purpose of human life.
People have always sought to understand and to explain the world. They needed to find meaning and purpose in their own lives. Originally the world was explained through the medium of myth. When the Pre-Socratic philosophers began their work in Ancient Greece, the efforts to devise an explanation of the world became much more rigorous. In the Classical period, Aristotle sought to provide a complete explanation of man and the world. He was not successful in this attempt.