Nebraska Academy of Sciences


Date of this Version


Document Type



Published in Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Science, Volume 4 (1977).


Copyright 1977 by the Authors; used by permission of the NAS


In his recent book, An Inquiry into the Human Prospect, Robert L. Heilbroner argues that the current use of scientific technology by the industrialized nations is so rapidly exhausting the world's resources that free and democratic institutions must give way to authoritarian regimes with the power to control economic production, population size, and the expression of ideas, or mankind will perish. While acknowledging the seriousness of the problems noted by Heilbroner, I contend that free and democratic institutions can, and probably will, provide solutions. To support this contention, I note that Heilbroner's pessimism about our institutions is based upon a conception of human nature akin to that held by Thomas Hobbes. Like Hobbes, Heilbroner believes that human nature is such that authoritarian solutions are necessary, especially when men face problems of scarcity. By arguing that such a view of human nature is false, the grounds for Heilbroner's pessimism with respect to the future of free and democratic institutions is removed.