Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Were Julie and Mark Wrong to Engage in Incest? Reconsidering Jonathan Haidt's Evolutionary Moral Psychology


I have written a long series of posts on Jonathan Haidt's evolutionary moral psychology.  One of them can be found here, which includes links to some of the others.  My series of posts on the Darwinian psychology of the incest taboo (here has included some thoughts about how Haidt uses the disgust aroused in most people by incest to illustrate the priority of emotion over reason in our moral judgments.

I have generally agreed with Haidt, but recently I have become skeptical about his use of his widely discussed scenario of Julie and Mark as a sister and brother who engage in incest.  He presents this as a "harmless-taboo story" that elicits disgust and thus moral condemnation in the minds of most people, even though they cannot give any good reasons for why this is wrong, which apparently shows how moral judgment arises from irrational emotions rather than good reasoning.  When people are asked to give reasons to justify their disgust, they grope for reasons that they cannot defend when challenged.  They are, Haidt says, morally dumbfounded--they are sure that incest is wrong but without being able to support this moral judgment with good reasons.

I no longer find this persuasive.  And I see some evidence that Haidt himself has changed his mind about this, because his "moral foundations theory" seems to recognize moral disgust as possibly being a good reason for moral condemnation, and also because he seems to have moved away from a purely emotivist theory to a more rationalist theory that sees no sharp dichotomy between reason and emotion in moral judgment.  Earlier, Haidt embraced what he interpreted as David Hume's emotivist theory of morality; but now he seems to be moving towards accepting a better interpretation of Hume as seeing moral judgment as arising from both emotion and reason.  In this way, he is moving towards Charles Darwin's understanding of human moral evolution.

Here's Haidt's story:
"Julie and Mark, who are sister and brother, are traveling together in France.  They are both on summer vacation from college.  One night they are staying alone in a cabin near the beach.  They decide that it would be interesting and fun if they tried making love.  At the very least it would be a new experience for each of them.  Julie is already taking birth control pills, but Mark uses a condom too, just to be safe.  They both enjoy it, but they decide not to do it again.  They keep that night as a special secret between them, which makes them feel even closer to each other.  So what do you think about this?  Was it wrong for them to have sex?" (Haidt 2012, 38)
Originally, Haidt and his collaborators presented this story to 30 undergraduate students at the University of Virginia.  24 of the students said that Julie and Mark were wrong to do this.  They were then asked why was this wrong.  They struggled to give a reason, and when they did, the interviewer would challenge what they said.  Haidt reports:
"Most people who hear the above story immediately say that it was wrong for the siblings to make love, and they then begin searching for reasons.  They point out the dangers of inbreeding, only to remember that Julie and Mark used two forms of birth control.  They argue that Julie and Mark will be hurt, perhaps emotionally, even though the story makes it clear that no harm befell them.  Eventually, many people say something like, 'I don't know, I can't explain it, I just know it's wrong'" (Haidt 2001, 814).
Notice what Haidt did here.  First, he implicitly assumed that the best rational principle of moral judgment is "no harm."  Then, he carefully wrote the scenario about Julie and Mark to exclude the possibility of harm from their incest--either the harm of inbreeding for their offspring or the emotional harm to their relationship as siblings.  He could then tell the students that this harmless conduct could not be morally condemned and that condemning this conduct as disgusting is irrational because disgust is not a rational principle of moral judgment.

Some of Haidt's critics have challenged him on all these points (Jacobson 2012; May 2018; Royzman et al. 2015).  Weren't the students who condemned Julie and Mark correct in thinking that sibling incest is likely to be harmful?  Even if they could avoid pregnancy and the harm of inbreeding, isn't it implausible that they could avoid emotional harm to themselves.  In his scenario, Haidt says that Julie and Mark thought making love would be "interesting and fun," and that they could keep it as a "special secret between them" that would make them "feel even closer to each other."  But isn't that unrealistic?  And isn't it likely that most of the students found Haidt's scenario unbelievable?

In fact, when Royzman and his colleagues conducted their own experiment in asking students to respond to Haidt's story of Julie and Mark, the students were allowed to express their disbelief in the claim that Julie and Mark could engage in incest without harm.  Most of the students could not believe that sex between siblings could occur without some emotional harm to the siblings.  In Haidt's experiment, he refused to accept this by forcing the students to agree with the stipulated claim in his scenario that Julie and Mark were not emotionally harmed by their incest.

Some of the 39 comments on my first post on incest (October 7, 2006) are pertinent to this question of how harmful sibling incest might be.  The 6th comment is by someone who says that "my younger sister and I played together sexually from an early age, and persisted well into adulthood," and he describes this as "an outlet for our strong sexual drives around the onset of puberty."  But I wonder whether this "sexual play" stopped short of full sexual intercourse.  And even if some siblings can do this at an early age, at the onset of puberty, with little permanent harm, isn't this likely to be risky behavior?

The risk is indicated in the 9th comment, where a man writes about his incest with his younger sister:
"While our relationship was consensual, non-abusive and non-exploitive, it also exacted a heavy price. Not 15 minutes after making love for the first time, she and I were both overcome with intense feelings of guilt and shame. No one ever taught us to feel this way, we simply did. These feelings did not go away either, but persisted for years afterwards, creating problems in our relationship that have never been fully resolved. For a long time I considered what we did back then to be the worst thing I'd ever done. Even so that did not stop us. The ability of the human libido to suppress one's moral judgment is truly amazing. What finally ended our sexual relationship was my leaving home to go to college. When she joined me a year later we'd been separated long enough to break the cycle I guess. We've never done anything since then."
What explains those "intense feelings of guilt and shame" that arose automatically without their ever having been taught to feel that way?  Edward Westermarck elaborated Darwin's suggestion that if inbreeding between closely related kin increases the risk of deleterious physical and mental traits in offspring, then natural selection might have favored a natural disposition to acquire a aversion for sexual mating with those with whom one has been reared from an early age, which might then be expressed culturally as an incest taboo, so that the idea of incest arouses a sense of disgust.  This disgust would be strongest for sex within the nuclear family--sex between parents and children and between siblings--and weaker for more distantly related kin.  This "Westermarck effect" would arise even for sex between unrelated people who have been reared together from an early age.  One famous example of this is that people who had been reared together as children in the Israeli kibbutzim did not marry one another as adults, because they felt like siblings.

If this is true, then the moral condemnation of incest will be both emotional and rational: there will be an emotional expression of disgust with incest that depends on a rational judgment of what constitutes incest.  Consider, for example, how Haidt's students might have responded to a scenario in which Julie and Mark were cousins who fell in love.  Many of the students might have felt no disgust if they thought that sex between cousins need not be considered incest.  Or if they were told that Julie and Mark were stepsiblings who had been reared in different families, this also might have led some of them to conclude that this was not incest.  Or what if they were told that Mark's wife had died, and Julie was his sister-in-law?  Here our moral emotion of disgust depends on our cognitive judgment of what counts as incest.

This illustrates how we reason with our emotions: we argue ourselves into and out of our moral emotions by judging whether those emotions are a justified response to the circumstances.  Not many years ago, most people might have felt a disgust with interracial marriage and homosexual marriage comparable to their disgust with incest.  But now this reaction has been weakened by the judgment that there is no harm in such marriages.  Legislators and judges must debate these questions in deciding what kinds of marriage are permitted.

Although originally Haidt interpreted the moral disgust with incest as illustrating the purely emotive character of moral judgment, in which reason does nothing but fabricate rationalizations for what has been dictated by moral emotion, he has seemed to move in recent years towards recognizing the interaction of reason and emotion in moral judgment.

Here is his "social intuitionist model":
Haidt explains: "Intuitions come first and reasoning is usually produced after a judgment is made, in order to influence other people.  But as a discussion progresses, the reasons given by other people sometimes change our intuitions and judgments" (2012, 47).  But if other people can give us reasons that change our intuitions and judgments, why can't we give ourselves reasons that shape our intuitions and judgments?  Haidt does allow for this in links 5 and 6, but these links are dotted lines to indicate that they are rarely used links.  He observes: 
"One of the most common criticisms of the social intuitionist model from philosophers [like Joshua Greene] is that links 5 and 6, which I show as dotted lines, might in fact be much more frequent in daily life than I assert. . . . Of course people change their minds on moral issues, but I suspect that in most cases the cause of change was a new intuitively compelling experience (link 1), such as seeing a sonogram of a fetus, or an intuitively compelling argument made by another person (link 3).  I also suspect that philosophers are able to override their initial intuitions more easily than can ordinary folk" (2012, 329).
Notice, however, that Haidt does not explain the unnumbered arrow from "Eliciting Situation" to "A's Intuition." Surely, a situation cannot "elicit" my intuition unless I cognitively interpret that situation, which requires some kind of reasoning, even if the reasoning is quick, unconscious, and implicit rather than consciously deliberate.  So when Haidt's students read his scenario about Julie and Mark, the students had to engage in some reasoning to decide whether the claim that their incestuous liaison could be harmless was realistic or not.  Most of them decided that this was not realistic, and as a consequence of this rational judgment, their interpretation of this "Eliciting Situation" produced an intuitive emotion of disgust.

This is Hume's position.  When Hume famously declares that "reason is, and ought to be the slave of the passions" (1888, 415), Haidt and others assume that he is promoting emotivist irrationalism or sentimentalism.  But as the context of this remark makes clear, Hume believes that reason can direct action but not motivate it: "The impulse arises not from reason, but is only directed by it" (1888, 414).  When our passions area accompanied by false judgments, reason can properly correct them.  So, for example, reason might correct our false judgments that interracial marriage or the marriage of cousins is harmful and thus allay our moral disgust.  As Hume says, "The moment we perceive the falsehood of any supposition, or the insufficiency of any means our passions yield to our reason" (1888, 416).  "Reason and judgment may, indeed, be the mediate cause of an action, by prompting, or by directing a passion" (1888, 462).

Consequently, Hume contends, "reason and sentiment concur in almost all moral determinations and conclusions" (1902, 172).  For example, reason might instruct us as to how justice could be useful for society, but this alone would not produce any moral approbation for justice unless we felt a sentiment of concern for the happiness of society (1902, 285-87).

Our concern for social happiness might promote the principle of no harm as one foundation for morality, which would apply to our moral judgments about incest.  And if Haidt is right, the principle of not harming others is only one of at least six moral foundations--the other five being "liberty/oppression," "fairness/cheating," "loyalty/betrayal," "authority/subversion," and "sanctity/degradation."  All six of these principles can be explained as intuitive or instinctive propensities of human nature as shaped by Darwinian evolution, and thus as moral universals across all of human history and across all human cultures.  But the different rankings of those six principles constitute differing moral matrices.  So Haidt has found that the moral matrix for American liberals ranks care for the victims of oppression as higher than the other principles, while American social conservatives elevate the principles of loyalty, authority, and sanctity, and American libertarians rank liberty as the highest principle.

Each of these six principles is a good reason for a moral judgment expressed through a moral emotion.  And thus the debates between liberals, conservatives, and libertarians will be both rational and emotional as they argue over the proper ranking of those principles as applied to particular moral issues such as the legal regulation of sex, marriage, and family life.

Haidt has claimed that his research shows that "social conservatives have the broadest set of moral concerns, valuing all six foundations relatively equally" (2012, 306), which has provoked criticism from some liberal social psychologists.  Haidt has criticized his colleagues in social psychology for having a bias against conservatives and libertarians in their field, In some of my posts, I have argued that Haidt's research actually supports a Darwinian conservatism that combines classical liberalism and traditionalist conservatism.


Haidt, Jonathan. 2001.  "The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment." Psychological Review 108:814-34.

Haidt, Jonathan. 2012. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Pantheon Books.

Hume, David. 1888. A Treatise of Human Nature. Ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hume, David. 1902. Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. 2nd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Jacobson, Daniel. 2012. "Moral Dumbfounding and Moral Stupefaction." In Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics, ed. Mark Timmons, 289-315. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

May, Joshua. 2018. Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Royzman, Edward B., Kwanwoo Kim, and Robert F. Leeman. 2015. "The Curious Tale of Julie and Mark: Unraveling the Moral Dumbfounding Effect." Judgment and Decision Making 10:296-313.

Friday, August 10, 2018

War and the Lockean State of Nature in Aboriginal Australia

During my recent travels in Australia (Brisbane and Sydney) and New Zealand (Wellington and Auckland), I thought about how those countries have been two natural laboratories of human evolution.

New Zealand was the last major land mass to be settled by human beings.  There were no human beings in New Zealand prior to about 1300 AD, when the Polynesian ancestors of the Maori people navigated their way to those islands.  The Maoris were preliterate people living in tribal chiefdoms without a state.  The first brief European contact occurred in 1642 when tow Dutch ships under the command of Abel Tasman sailed to Golden Bay at the top of the South Island.  After a skirmish with some local Maori attacking in their canoes, Tasman sailed away without landing and never returned.  In 1769, James Cook, on the first of his three voyages around the world, became the first European to land on New Zealand and establish contact with the Maoris, who lived as independent tribes, often at war with one another, although they were also bound together by trading networks. Beginning with Cook, the British and Maori established a barter trade.  I will return to this evolutionary history of New Zealand in a future post.

In contrast to the recent human settlement of New Zealand, the first human settlers of Australia arrived over 50,000 years ago, probably crossing a land bridge with what is now New Guinea.  Until James Cook's mapping of Australia's east coast in 1770 and the first British establishment of a penal settlement in Sydney in 1788, Australia was an isolated continent of Aboriginal hunter-gatherers--with no agriculturalists, pastoralists, or states.  When the Europeans arrived, they found a continent of over 300 tribes of hunter-gatherers.  This was a perfect laboratory for the study of human evolution as hunter-gatherers, which constituted over 90% of human evolutionary history, and which can be identified as our evolutionary state of nature.  To resolve the debate among political philosophers--such as Hobbes, Locke, Spinoza, and Rousseau--over the state of nature, the study of Aboriginal Australia should be crucial.

Since human beings in the state of nature--like the Aboriginals of Australia and the Maoris of New Zealand--have been preliterate people, they have left no written records of their history.  Anthropologists from literate societies have tried to write the history of these "prehistoric" people through the ethnographic field research study of hunter-gatherer societies that have survived into recent centuries.  But this creates the "contact paradox"--to study hunter-gatherers we must contact them, but this contact changes them from what they were before contact.  By the time anthropologists write their ethnographic reports, the hunter-gatherers have been influenced by their contact with agriculturalists and state societies.

The study of Aboriginal Australia minimizes this contact problem, because the purely hunting-gathering way of life of the Aboriginals was isolated from the rest of the world for over 50,000 years, and consequently whatever the Europeans saw in Australia during their first contact can be considered perhaps the best picture of our evolutionary state of nature.  Hobbes and Locke thought the European reports about the American Indians might be the best account of the state of nature--"In the beginning, all was America," as Locke said.  But the European discovery of Australia might be even better--In the beginning, all was Australia.

Azar Gat has made that argument in claiming that the evidence for warfare in Aboriginal Australia refutes the assertion of Rousseauian anthropologists that the state of nature was perfectly peaceful and that war was a late cultural invention coming only after the adoption of agriculture and the state.  Some of the best evidence for Aboriginal warfare in Australia comes from William Buckley (1780-1856).  Buckley was brought to Australia in 1803 as a convict on a convict ship that established a settlement at Port Philip (now Melbourne).  He escaped shortly afterwards, and for 32 years he lived with an Aboriginal tribe--the Wallarranga.  He learned their language, married one of their women, and joined in all of their activities.  In 1835, he returned to the white settler community.  For a few years, he worked as an interpreter and mediator for the English in dealing with the Aboriginals.  He then moved to Hobart, Tasmania, where he lived for the rest of his life.  He told his life story to John Morgan, a Tasmanian newspaper editor, who wrote The Life and Adventures of William Buckley, published in 1852.  Although some people have questioned the accuracy of his stories, some anthropologists who have studied the Australian Aboriginals have said that his account of life with the Wallarranga seems quite accurate.

Buckley describes many lethal feuds, raids, and ambushes among the Aboriginal tribes.  The most common cause of the conflicts was disputes over women and retaliatory vengeance.  He describes their weapons of war--clubs, spears, boomerangs, and shields.  Remarkably, there were no bows in Aboriginal Australia.  He also relates his observations of cannibalism.

Buckley reports that a typical tribe was composed of 20 to 60 families.  Some people--such as skilled hunters and warriors--had high social status, and leading men could have more wives.  But "they acknowledge no particular Chief as being superior to the rest" (86), which distinguishes them as pure hunter-gatherers unlike the chiefdoms of the Maori.

Here's one example of Buckley's reporting of warfare.  He describes his tribe meeting about 300 members of the hostile Waarengbadawa tribe:
"A general fight now commenced, . . . spears and boomerangs flying in all directions.  The sight was very terrific, and their yells and shouts of defiance very horrible.  At length one of our tribe had a spear sent right through his body, and he fell.  On this, our fellows raised a war cry; on hearing which, the women threw off their rugs, and each armed with a short club, flew to the assistance of their husbands and brothers. . . . Even with this augmentation, our tribe fought to great disadvantage, the enemy being all men, and much more numerous."
". . . I had seen skirmishing and fighting in Holland; and knew something therefore, of what is done when men are knocking one another about with powder and shot, in real earnest, but the scene now before me was much more frightful--both parties looking like so many devils turned loose from Tartarus.  Men and women were fighting furiously, and indiscriminately, covered with blook; two of the latter were killed in this affair, which lasted without intermission for two hours; the Waarengbadawas then retreated a short distance, apparently to recover themselves. . . ."
". . . Soon after dark the hostile tribe left the neighborhood; and, on discovering this retreat from the battle ground, ours determined on following them immediately, leaving the women and myself where we were.  On approaching the enemy's quarters, they laid themselves down in ambush until all was quiet, and finding most of them asleep, laying about in groups, our party rushed upon them, killing three on the spot, and wounding several others.  The enemy fled precipitately, leaving their war implements in the hands of their assailants and their wounded to be beaten to death by boomerangs, three loud shouts closing the victors' triumph."
"The bodies of the dead they mutilated in a shocking manner, cutting the arms and legs off, with flints, shells, and tomahawks."
"When the women saw them returning, they also raised great shouts, dancing about in savage ecstasy.  The bodies were thrown upon the ground, and beaten about with sticks--in fact, they all seemed to be perfectly mad with excitement; the men cut the flesh off the bones, and stones were heated for baking it; after which, they greased their children with it, all over.  The bones were broken to pieces with tomahawks, and given to the dogs, or put on the boughs of trees for the birds of prey hovering over the horrid scene" (60-61).
Some people have questioned the reliability of Buckley's reports, but many other historical accounts of Aboriginal warfare written by other European observers in the first few decades after contact confirm Buckley's stories.  There is also extensive skeletal evidence of violence among the Aboriginals across Australia studied by archaeologists (Allen 2014; Pardoe 2014).  This evidence includes cranial depression fractures and parrying fractures in the bones above the wrist that show the damage from face-to-face combat or from raising the arm in defense against attacks by a club or other weapon.

In response to this evidence for lethal violence among the Aboriginal Australians, some Rousseauian anthropologists like Douglas Fry have argued while this shows that hunter-gatherers engaged in homicide, this is purely personal violence that is not really war.  Gat identifies these anthropologists as "Quasi-Rousseauians," because they have given up on Rousseau's claim that hunter-gatherers were perfectly peaceful.  But even this modified Rousseauism fails, because much of the violence that Buckley describes includes battles between tribes that clearly qualifies as warfare, because he relates battles involving hundreds of people.  Of course, if one defines war in such a narrow way, as Fry does, so that raiding, ambush, and feuding are not defined as war, then forager conflict is not war.  But if one defines war as lethal conflict between independent societies, as Steven LeBlanc (2014) does, then the Australian Aborigines certainly engaged in war.  As Buckley indicated in the passage above, he had fought as a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars, and he compared his experience in a European war with the warfare he saw in Australia.

Thus, as Gat concludes, the evidence of Aboriginal Australia seems to show that Hobbes was right about the state of nature being a state of war, and therefore Rousseau was wrong.  But the evidence also shows that Hobbes was wrong in claiming that life in the state of nature was a perpetual war with no peaceful cooperation.  In fact, Buckley and others have reported that the Aboriginal Australians lived in communities with norms of peaceful cooperation that included intertribal cooperation such as networks of trade.  And they sometimes had long periods without intertribal war.

Like many of the social scientists involved in this debate over the evolution of war, Gat assumes that the debate is between two alternatives, represented by Hobbes and Rousseau, and he ignores Locke as taking a third position.  Consequently, he fails to see that the evidence supports the conclusion that Hobbes was partly right about the state of nature, Rousseau was mostly wrong, and Locke was mostly right.  Locke was right to see that the state of nature is a state of peace that easily becomes a state of war: establishing government can therefore have a pacifying effect through the rule of law to settle disputes that easily become violent feuds in the state of nature.

In his new book The Causes of War and The Spread of Peace, Gat comes close to recognizing that the evidence from Aboriginal Australia sustains Locke's account of the state of nature.  Gat says that Locke's "more balanced depiction of pre-state as compared to state societies was suggestive" (39).  Oddly, however, Gat says that "Locke, like Hobbes and Rousseau, was not a researcher of the past but a political philosopher defending a particular political creed.  His interest was the present."  Gat does not notice that Locke, like Hobbes and Rousseau, studied the earliest ethnographic reports about hunter-gatherers as evidence for the state of nature.

Some of my earlier posts on Gat can be found here and here.

The same ethnographic and archaeological evidence of hunter-gatherer warfare in Aboriginal Australia has been found around the world--including Europe, North America, South America, and New Guinea (Allen and Jones 2014).  This supports the conclusion that hunter-gatherers both simple and complex have engaged in socially sanctioned lethal conflict between independent societies, and that this long evolutionary history of warfare can be traced back to early hominins.  This shows that human beings have an innate propensity to warfare shared with chimpanzees (Wrangham and Peterson 1996; Wrangham and Glowacki 2012), although human beings can also choose not to act on that innate propensity, particularly when their lives have been shaped by a Lockean liberal culture that favors declining violence.

Posts on the "chimpanzee model" for the evolution of war can be found herehere, and here.


Allen, Mark W., and Terry L. Jones, eds. 2014. Violence and Warfare Among Hunter-Gatherers. London: Routledge.

Allen, Mark W. 2014. "Hunter-Gatherer Violence and Warfare in Australia." In Violence and Warfare, eds. Allen and Jones, 97-111.

Gat, Azar. 2017. The Causes of War and The Spread of Peace: But Will War Rebound? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

LeBlanc, Steven. 2014. "Forager Warfare and Our Evolutionary Past." In Violence and Warfare, eds. Allen and Jones, 26-46.

Morgan, John. 2002 (orig. 1852). The Life and Adventures of William Buckley. Ed. Tim Flannery. Melbourne, Australia: The Text Publishing Company.

Pardoe, Colin. 2014. "Conflict and Territoriality in Aboriginal Australia: Evidence from Biology and Ethnography." In Violence and Warfare, eds. Allen and Jones, 112-132.

Wrangham, Richard, and Dale Peterson. 1996. Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Wrangham, Richard, and Luke Glowacki. 2012. "Intergroup Aggression in Chimpanzees and War in Nomadic Hunter-Gatherers: Evaluating the Chimpanzee Model." Human Nature 23:5-29.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

The Weapons of the Weak against the Strong: How the Americans Won the War of Independence by Not Losing

In my IPSA paper, as I have on this blog, I have argued that the naturally evolved human tendency to resist domination  and demand government by consent of the governed shows how might makes right.  The obvious objection to this claim is that this is ridiculous in denying the evidence of history that the rule of the stronger over the weaker means government by force of the rulers rather than government by consent of the ruled.

My response to this objection is to point out how the American war of independence demonstrates that the weaker can prevail against the domination of the stronger when the weaker use the weapons of defensive resistance to defeat the stronger

The British military was so invincible that the Americans could never win militarily. But for the British to prevail, they had to win; while for the Americans to prevail, they only had to avoid losing.  Once the Americans learned this lesson in 1776, they saw that a resolute defensive resistance could deprive the British of a military victory.  And in this way, the weaker would prevail over the stronger.  (In my thinking here, I have been much influenced by Joseph Ellis's Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence [2013].)

In the fall of 1775, George III proclaimed the Americans to be in rebellion and so no longer under his protection.  He announced the assembly of a massive force that would crush the Americans in one blow.  In addition to British regulars, he ordered the recruitment of 10,000 mercenaries from either Russia or the German principalities where professional soldiers were trained in the tradition of Frederick the Great.
On February 13, 1776, John Adams wrote to John Trumbull:  "By Intelligence hourly arriving from abroad, we are more and more confirmed that a Kind of  Confederation will be formed among the Crowned Skulls, and Numbskulls of Europe, against Human Nature."  In arguing for a war of independence, therefore, Adams assumed that all the military might of Great Britain could not defeat the human nature of the American resistance to domination.  By the summer of 1776, the Continental Congress agreed to this in signing the Declaration of Independence.

This was a remarkable claim given the forces assembled by the British. At great cost, the British had recruited over 18,000 mercenaries from German principalities.  The British sent 427 ships (almost half the British fleet) with 1,200 cannons with 32,000 soldiers and 10,000 sailors--an attack force larger than the entire population of Philadelphia, which was the biggest city in America.

Their objective was to defeat the Continental Army in New York City, and take total control of New York so as to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies, and thus so demoralize the Americas that they would surrender and the rebellion would end.

Since Manhattan is surrounded by water, the British ships could easily surround and bombard George Washington's troops.  Although some Americans recognized that New York was indefensible, Washington thought that the Continental Army would be dishonored by retreat.  But as his casualties mounted, he realized that he had made a big blunder.  He did finally manage to lead his troops in a retreat from Manhattan, because General William Howe, the British commander, delayed in closing off Washington's retreat.

Many of Washington's troops deserted, and those who remained were undisciplined and inexperienced.  American political leaders would not support the establishment of a professional standing army, which they regarded as a violation of the Republican principles of liberty that were better represented by citizen militias.  Washington recognized, however, that unprofessional militia soldiers could never defeat the professional military forces of the British.

The British could have destroyed the Continental Army on Manhattan.  But once it escaped, the British never had another chance to do this, because Washington saw that he needed to fight a defensive war, never allowing the British to meet the Continental Army head on.

As the chair of the Board of War and Ordinance, John Adams acted as the secretary of war.  From his study of Thucydides's history of the Peloponnesian War, Adams decided that the Americans needed  to adopt the defensive strategy of Thebes--seeing that they could not defeat the Spartan army, the Thebans avoided any open battles with Sparta, and instead relied on harassing skirmishes.  The Americans could do the same, which would prolonged the war until the British saw that they could never win as long as the Americans refused to surrender while also refusing to allow the British to destroy their army in open battle.  It also helped the Americans when the French intervened on their side in 1778.

The British signed the Treaty of Peace in 1783.  After 40,000 casualties and 50 million pounds, the British had failed to win the war because the Americans had managed not to lose.  There is a remarkable similarity to the failure of the United States to win the Vietnam War, although the U.S. military force was far stronger than the insurgent forces.

This outcome seemed to vindicate the British opponents of the war in America--Edmund Burke, Charles Fox, and William Pitt--who said that the war was unnecessary and unwinnable because of the resoluteness of the Americans in fighting for their liberty, and therefore the war should have been avoided by giving the Americans what they wanted--the right to consent to their own governments--so that sovereignty would be divided between the colonial legislatures and Parliament.

Some British historians have blamed William Howe for the blunder of not destroying the Continental Army in Manhattan when he had the chance to do so.  But other historians have argued that even if the Continental Army had been demolished in 1776, and Washington had been either killed or captured, the Americans could have continued the war with a new army, and the outcome would have been the same.

There is no way to answer this historical "what if" question.  It all depends on the resoluteness of the American commitment--"our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor"--to a war of independence among the Continental Congress and ordinary Americans.  In the spring of 1779, William Howe had called for a special inquiry in the House of Commons on the conduct of the war so that Howe could defend himself against his critics.  Those defending Howe claimed that British forces could never defeat the Americans because the Americans were almost unanimous in their hostility to British rule.  Howe's opponents, however, claimed that only one fourth to one third of the Americans were committed rebels, and that many were loyalists.  Today, some historians estimate that the Loyalists were about 20 per cent of the populace.

In any case, it is clear that the success of the American rebellion did not require anything close to unanimity in support of independence.  There were many Loyalists.  Many Americans welcomed the British and even joined their army.  But there were enough Americans showing the evolved natural resistance to dominance in their hostility to British rule to deny victory to the otherwise invincible British military.

"Human Nature" prevailed against "the Crowned Skulls and Numbskulls of Europe."

This illustrates Friedrich Nietzsche's point about how the power of the weak to inflict damage on the strong creates a kind of equalization of power that supports the idea of equal rights--and thus that Spinoza was right about natural right being proportional to power.   This is the Darwinian liberalism of Nietzsche in his middle writings, who explained Darwinian natural right as rooted in animal morality. I wrote about this in a previous post (February 4, 2013).

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Abigail Adams, Bonobo: Darwinian Feminism & The Declaration of Independence

On March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband John, who was in Philadelphia as a delegate to the Continental Congress.  After passing on many items of news, she petitioned for a redress of female grievances:
"And, by the way, in the New Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. . . . Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could.  If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no Voice, or Representation."
Her husband responded in a joking manner: "We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems, which would completely subject Us to the Despotism of the Petticoat."  They then went back and forth, with Abigail refusing to back down on her insistence that the arguments being deployed against the arbitrary power of Parliament applied just as well to the status of women in the American republic.  "But you must remember," she observed, "that arbitrary Power is like most things that are very hard . . . and notwithstanding all your wise laws and maxims, we have in our Power, not only to free ourselves, but to subject our Masters, and without violence, throw your natural and legal authority at your feet."

By suggesting that women could form a coalition to challenge male dominance and oppression of women, Abigail was anticipating the women's movement of the 19th century.  And without knowing it, she was adopting a behavioral strategy employed by bonobo females, who form strong social bonds with one another so that coalitions of females can check the power of aggressive males.  In contrast to chimpanzees, bonobo females can challenge male dominance and aggression, so that bonobo groups are more peaceful and more egalitarian than chimpanzee groups (Furuichi 2011; Hare et al. 2012).  (I have written about bonobos herehere, and here.)

In the wild, bonobo females serve a policing function, in that they intervene in fights to moderate conflicts through impartial mediation, because they benefit from living in a stable social order that is not disrupted by violence.  In this way they are engaged in "niche construction"--behavior that creates a social environment of prescriptive rules in which stable and peaceful cooperation is adaptive.

Among many animals, evolutionary niche construction includes the transmission of culturally traditions.  And among human beings, it includes the transmission of culturally learned symbolic systems such as art, science, religion, and philosophy.  The history of liberalism is evolutionary niche construction, in which the Declaration of Independence holds a prominent part.  And once the Founders have framed the symbolic system of liberal thought around the principles of equal natural rights and consent of the governed, those principles can be invoked by women like Abigail to argue for the rights of women.  (I have written about this here.)

That became clear in the founding document of the women's rights movement--The Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions of 1848--which uses the language of the Declaration of Independence:
"When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one portion of the family of man to assume among the people of the earth a position different from that which they have hitherto occupied, but one to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitled them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to such a course."
"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal . . . ."
"The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.  To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world."
"He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. . . ."
After their factual indictment, they turn to their resolutions, beginning with an appeal to "the great precept of nature" as stated by Blackstone--"that man shall pursue his own true and substantial happiness"--although Blackstone did not recognize that this "law of Nature" denied those English laws that deprived women of their natural rights.

This appeal to human nature as supporting women's rights can be sustained by a Darwinian feminism.  In The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, first published in 1871, Darwin offered an evolutionary theory of the natural differences between men and women.  He believed that women had evolved to be nurturant caregivers, while men had evolved to be aggressive hunters, so that men and women would tend to have different desires and capacities conforming to their different roles in the sexual division of labor.  He concluded that as a result of these natural differences, women were on average intellectually inferior but morally superior to men.  "Man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition, and this leads to ambition which passes too easily into selfishness."

A few years later, in 1875, Antoinette Brown Blackwell responded with the first feminist criticism of Darwin in her book, The Sexes Throughout Nature.  She argued that Darwin's evidence did not support his conclusion about the intellectual inferiority of women.  Instead, the correct inference from the biological facts would be that the sexes are "true equivalents--equals but not identicals" in all physical and mental powers.  She charged that Darwin's interpretation of the evidence had been distorted by his "male standpoint," and that "only a women can approach the subject from a feminine standpoint."  The ultimate arbiter between these conflicting standpoints, she insisted, would be the facts of biological nature as known by science.

Following in Blackwell's path, Darwinian scientists like Patricia Gowaty, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Louann Brizendine, and others have defended a Darwinian feminism.  "Women have a biological imperative for insisting that a new social contract take them and their needs into account," Brizendine declares.  A Darwinian feminist naturalism recognizes the evolved natural differences between men and women, while allowing those differences to express themselves by the free choices of women with equality of opportunity under the rule of law.

Thus does a Darwinian science of sex difference teach us to "Remember the Ladies."

I have written about Darwinian feminism herehere, and here.


Furuichi, Takeski. 2011. "Female Contributions to the Peaceful Nature o0f Bonobo Society." Evolutionary Anthropology 20: 131-42.

Hare, Brian, Victoria Wobber, and Richard Wrangham. 2012. "The Self-Domestication Hypothesis: Evolution of Bonobo Psychology Is Due to Selection Against Aggression." Animal Behaviour 83: 573-85.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Darwinian History and Biography in the Declaration of Independence

Instead of "Darwin and the Declaration of Independence," a better title for our panel in Brisbane might be "Darwin and the Second Sentence of the Declaration of Independence."  Because almost all of our attention in our papers is directed to that second sentence--"We hold these truths to be self-evident . . ."

Although this is a long sentence (55 words), it is still a small part of the Declaration, and the factual list of grievances against the King ("let facts be submitted to a candid world") is over two-thirds the length of the entire document.  If you look at the editing of Jefferson's draft by the Continental Congress, you will see that the delegates were predominantly concerned with the list of grievances.  There was almost no discussion of the second sentence at the time, as though it were an afterthought or a rhetorical flourish that did not require any serious thought.

The two most detailed critiques of the Declaration published in 1776 were Thomas Hutchinson's Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress at Philadelphia and John Lind's An Answer to the Declaration of the American Congress.  Lind said that he had taken "little or no notice" of the first few sentences because "the truth is, little or none does it deserve."  Hutchinson wrote only a few sentences about the opening lines and then moved on to "the facts which are alleged to be the evidence of injuries and usurpation."

Beginning about 30 years after the Declaration was signed, however, Jeffersonian Republicans began to direct public attention to that second sentence as possibly the seminal statement of the American creed, and now many people see it as a statement of the universal liberal creed for all of humanity and a standard for liberal reform throughout the rest of history right up to the present.

In 1858, Abraham Lincoln eloquently expressed this rhetorical elevation of the second sentence: "All honor to Jefferson--to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that today, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling block to the very harbingers of the reappearing tyranny and oppression."

If we agree with this, then we have to worry about whether Darwin and Darwinian science subvert or support that "abstract truth" of human liberty in the second sentence.  This explains why our panel papers are so preoccupied with this question.

But if we are also interested in the question of whether Darwin and Darwinian science subvert or support the understanding of the human political life that is expressed in the entire document of the Declaration, which includes not just "abstract truth," but also factual political history and the political judgments of individual political agents, then we have to wonder whether a Darwinian political science can explain the historicity and individuality of political life.

As I indicated in my first post this month, I am trying in my paper to move through three levels of political experience by illustrating how a Darwinian biopolitical framework applies to the study of the Declaration of Independence as an event in the natural history of human politics, in the cultural history of the American political founding, and in the individual history of Thomas Jefferson and the others who signed the Declaration.


As I have said in a previous post, I disagree with those many critics of sociobiology who assume a sharp dichotomy between nature and history in claiming that the biological study of animal nature cannot explain human history.  One of the first critiques of Ed Wilson's Sociobiology was Kenneth Bock's Human Nature and History: A Response to Sociobiology, first published in 1980.  The central argument of this book is "that explication of social and cultural differences is a primary task of the human sciences and that such explication is best sought in comparison of human histories, not in human biology or comparative ethology" (ix).  Human biology or comparative ethology can study the biological nature that human beings share with other animals.  But Bock insisted that "animals other than man do not have histories" (198).  Animal behavior is determined by the biological nature of each species, which can be studied by biologists.  But human history in its contingency and diversity shows a human freedom from nature that transcends human biology, which can be studied by historians, but not by biologists.

Similarly, political scientist John Hibbing, who is a leading proponent of the biological study of political behavior, has said that biopolitics must be limited to studying the "bedrock dilemmas of politics" that are universal to all political communities.  While biology can illuminate "cross-polity commonality," biology has no application to variable traditions of political culture or to the biographical history of  individual political actors.  Like Bock, he assumes that human cultural history and individual history transcend nature.  When I refer to the biographical history of Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation as a necessary part of a biopolitical science, Hibbing says that this is bringing in "non-biological factors" that cannot be studied biologically.  

But if one includes the science of animal behavior within biology, and if one sees that the biological study of animal behavior includes the study of particular events in the political history of animal groups shaped by unique cultural traditions and unique individuals, then any biopolitical science must include political history and political biography.  Political histories of particular chimpanzee groups like Jane Goodall's Chimpanzees of Gombe and Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics and Good Natured illustrate this.

De Waal shows that every chimpanzee group has prescriptive rules of social conduct enforced by the community through reward and punishment that are acquired social conventions derived from a hierarchical organization, in which subordinate individuals pay close attention to dominant individuals (Good Natured, 89-97).  For example, Jimoh, the alpha male of the Yerkes Field Station group once detected a secret mating between Socko, an adolescent male, and one of Jimoh's favorite females.  The normal response would be for the dominant to chase away the subordinate.  But this time, Jimoh chased Socko all around the enclosure without stopping, while Socko screamed and defecated in fear.  

Several females began to "woaow" bark, which is a sound of indignation used to protest aggressors.  De Waal writes: "At first the callers looked around to see how the rest of the group was reacting; but when  others joined in, particularly the top-ranking female, the intensity of their calls quickly increased until literally everyone's voice was part of the deafening chorus.  The scattered beginning almost gave the impression that the group was taking a vote.  Once the protest had swelled to a chorus, Jimoh broke off his attack with a nervous grin on his face: he got the message.  Had he failed to respond, there would no doubt have been concerted female action to end the disturbance" (91-92).

The enforcement of prescriptive rules in chimpanzee groups is organized through a hierarchical structure of three orders.  To explain this, de Waal has learned from his reading of Machiavelli's Prince.  Machiavelli saw politics as competition for power and glory organized around three types of human beings: the "prince," who is number one; the "great ones," who are high-ranking individuals with ambition to rule; and the "people," who are the majority of the individuals in a society with no ambition to rule, but who do not want to be oppressed by the "prince" or the "great ones."  De Waal has seen a similar social structure among the chimpanzees: the alpha male is the "prince"; the high-ranking males are the "great ones"; and all the others in the group are the "common people" (Chimpanzee Politics, 149).

Machiavelli and John Adams thought that a stable regime would have to balance these three orders in a manner that would satisfy the ambitions and appetites of all three without anyone having the power to tyrannize over others.  De Waal has seen something like this among chimpanzees.  There is a "balance of power: the superiority of one party over another depends on the support of a third, so that each party affects the position of the others," which creates something like a "democratic structure."  (I have written about this in Darwinian Conservatism, 73-84.)

Despite these similarities between chimpanzee politics and human politics, human beings are unique in expressing their prescriptive rules through verbal and written language, while chimpanzees must rely on verbal and nonverbal signs without the conceptual complexity of human language to formulate their rules of justice and the common good.  We can see that in the Declaration's written list of grievances against the King, which continues the old tradition in English history of parchment documents, which included "declarations" bringing charges of wrongdoing and appealing for public support.  The best known of these English declarations was the Declaration of Rights of 1689, which justified the overthrow of James II and the installation of William and Mary on the throne.  Many of the charges against James II and even the exact language are echoed in list of grievances in the American Declaration of Independence (see Pauline Maier, American Scripture, 50-59).

So, to understand this part of the American Declaration, we need to see how it follows in the historical tradition of written English declarations to justify overthrowing kings.  But we can also see here a general pattern of primate politics that belongs to evolved human nature.  Most of the grievances are directed against the King.  But the Declaration also speaks of appeals to the British people, who have been warned "from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us."  Here we see the three orders of primate politics: the one (the King), the few (the Parliament), and the many (the people).

We see the same three orders in the American deliberation over declaring independence.  In the four months prior to the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, popular assemblies were held in towns across the colonies to debate the merits of independence and to submit their recommendations to the colonial legislatures, who in turn instructed their delegates to the Continental Congress.  So while the people as a whole are supposed to exercise the ultimate authority, they are represented by a few politically ambitious people in the colonial legislatures and the Congress.  Then, with the overthrow of the King and the establishment of new state governments, the executive power will be vested in one dominant individual.  Eventually, the Constitution of 1787 will establish the office of the presidency and the commander in chief, held first by "His Excellency" George Washington.  One, few, and many.


The striving for political dominance--to be number one--exhibits a distinctive political personality found among political animals generally, the sort of personality characteristic of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.  At this level of political science, we must study the individual lives of political agents and their personalities.

For a long time, many biologists were not interested in the evolution of animal personalities, because they assumed that evolution would shape a species typical psychology shared by all individuals of the species with little heritable variation.  Evolutionary psychologists (like Leda Cosmides and John Tooby) have concentrated on human universals as evolutionary adaptations shared by all human individuals.

But  in recent decades, the biological study of animal personalities has become one of the hottest topics in biology.  Actually, this is a rediscovery of what Aristotle explained in his biological works.  He recognized that "in a number of animals, we observe gentleness or fierceness, mildness or cross temper, courage or timidity, fear or confidence, high spirit or low cunning, and, with regard to intelligence, something equivalent to shrewdness" (History of Animals, 8.1).  In his Generation of Animals, Aristotle distinguished between three levels of inherited traits among animals.  An animal species, including the human species, shows generic traits shared with some other animals, specific traits shared with members of the same species, and temperamental traits that differ among individuals of the species.  Thomas Aquinas adopted this biological idea from Aristotle as showing three levels of natural law corresponding to generic nature, specific nature, and temperamental nature.

In the recent biological studies of animal personality, personality designates behavioral and physiological differences among individuals of the same species, which are stable across time and across different situations.  An individual personality is a consistent pattern in how an individual feels, thinks, and acts.  Some researchers have used different terms for this--such as temperaments, behavioral syndromes, and predispositions.

One of the most extensively studied models of human personality among psychologists is the Five Factor Model that describes human personality differences across five domains--Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (OCEAN).  Each domain corresponds to an axis running from high to low.  So, for example, those individuals high in Agreeableness tend to be helpful, trusting, and cooperative with everyone.  Individuals lower in Agreeableness tend to be less helpful, more suspicious of others, and more competitive than cooperative.

This same Five Factor Model can be applied to the study of nonhuman animal personalities, using the same methods as are used in studying human beings.  Four of the factors appear in many animal species.  But Conscientiousness seems to appear only among chimpanzees and human beings.  One possible explanation for this is that Conscientiousness requires a high cognitive ability for making plans and controlling impulses in executing those plans, which requires the large frontal lobes found only in chimps and humans.

As I have noted some previous posts (here and here), the same techniques used by historians and psychologists to identify the personalities of American presidents (such as Donald Trump's "grandiose narcissism") can be used to identify similar personalities among chimpanzees.  Also, like human beings, other mammalian animals (including chimpanzees) show individual variability in heritable intelligence (IQ).

In putting their unique signatures to the Declaration of Independence, the 56 signers pledge to one another their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor.  In fact, under British law, the punishment for treason was death and forfeiture of one's estate, and certainly dishonor.  But as Douglass Adair has shown, these men were motivated to take this risk for the same of the glory, the fame, the honor that would come to them if the Revolution was successful.

But such glory cannot be equally shared by all 56 individuals.  There can be only one alpha male.  Consider, for example, the competitive striving between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.  On May 10, 1776, the Congress adopted a resolution recommending that every colony draft a new constitution to replace the colonial charters.  On May 15, Adams presented a resolution he had drafted to serve as a preface to this recommendation, and this preface was worded as a de facto declaration of independence.  Adams described these words to a friend as "the most important resolution that ever was taken in America,"  Two days later, on May 17, he wrote to Abigail, to tell her that he had just become America's Moses:
"Is it not a saying of Moses, 'Who am I, that I should go in and out before this great People?'  When I consider the great events which are passed, and those greater which are rapidly advancing, and that I may have been instrumental in touching some Springs, and turning some small Wheels, which have had and will have such Effects, I feel an Awe upon my Mind, which is not easily described."
Up to the end of his life, fifty years later, Adams was still insisting that he had drafted the real declaration of independence.  He complained that the prominence given to the Declaration of Independence and Jefferson's drafting of it was unfair.  "Was there ever a Coup de Theatre, that had so great an effect as Jefferson's Penmanship of the Declaration of Independence?" Adams asked.  He insisted that the Declaration was merely "a theatrical side show . . . Jefferson ran away with the stage effect--and all the glory of it."

"All honor to Jefferson."

On Jefferson's grave monument, he identified himself as "The Author of the Declaration of American Independence."

Jefferson's prominence among the drafters and signers of the Declaration is suggested in John Trumbull's painting displayed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda since 1826.  42 of the 56 signors are in the painting.  Trumbull was unable to find likenesses of 14 of the signers.  But he does allow each of the 42 to have a clear individually painted face.  The painting depicts the five-man drafting committee presenting their draft to the Congress on June 26.  The five men of the drafting committee stand out, but Jefferson stands in front, and he holds the center of the painting.  It also helps--as it always does--that he is the tallest man (at 6' 2"), while Adams is shorter (5' 7").  The Wikipedia article on Trumbull's painting allows you to click on each face for a biography.

A Darwinian science of politics must include a political psychology of such political ambition that for the most ambitious men means striving for the glory of being number one.  This requires a study of the political biographies of people like Jefferson and Adams, with personalities shaped by the genetic evolution of political animals, the cultural evolution of political history, and their own life histories.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The End of the End of History?

In recent weeks, my thoughts have moved back and forth from the Declaration of Independence as the beginning of the end of history to Trump's right-wing nationalism as the end of the end of history.

Ever since it was published in 1989, Francis Fukuyama's article "The End of History?" has provoked a continuing debate over the question he posed in his title.  History as a continuing series of unpredictable events will never come to an end, Fukuyama conceded.  But history as the human search for the fully satisfying social order might have come to an end, he suggested, because with the defeat of fascism and Nazism in World War Two and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, liberal democracy remains with no serious challenger; and most of the people in the world today agree in principle that liberal democracy is the only fully satisfying social order.  In practice, of course, the ideals of liberal democracy--equal liberty for all--have not been completely attained.  Nevertheless, even if we disagree about how best to achieve these ideals, most of us agree on the ideals themselves.  Never before has this happened, because in all previous history there were fundamental disagreements about what the ideal society would be like.  To be sure, there seems to be some resistance to liberal ideals in certain parts of the world today--Islamic fundamentalism, for example.  But Fukuyama argued that although such resistance can create a lot of international conflict, this will only delay the inevitable victory of liberal democracy around the world.

According to Fukuyama, there are two reasons for the triumph of liberal ideals.  First, liberalism satisfies the human desire for material security and comfort through economic productivity, free markets, and the scientific conquest of nature.  Second, liberalism satisfies the human desire for recognition through an egalitarian cultural and political order in which all human beings are recognized as equal in their moral dignity.  Thus, the history of human striving for satisfaction comes to an end when human beings discover that liberal democracy is the only social order that satisfies their deepest longings--the longing for material prosperity and the longing for moral recognition.

One can argue that the move towards this end of history began with the Declaration of Independence, because the Declaration began the American founding of a set of ideas and institutions that would constitute the liberal democratic national-state in the modern world.  These ideas and institutions would include a large nation-sized republic based on the principle of popular consent, a free market economy, a secular state without any official religion, and the rule of law that treated all citizens as equal.  The fundamental principle was that all human beings are by nature self-governing individuals who can organize their political, economic, religious, and legal orders through voluntary association.

In recent years, however, the rise of populist right-wing nationalism around the world has provoked a lot of public commentary about the decline or death of liberal democracy and the trends toward demagogic authoritarianism and nationalism.  Trump's meeting with Putin in Finland might confirm this fear with the image of the two most powerful strongmen in the world working together to break up the international liberal order.

But if one pulls back from these recent events and looks at the larger context of history over the past 250 years, one can see that the human progressive movement towards the liberal open society initiated in the Eighteenth century Enlightenment continues.  For example, Marian Tupy at the "HumanProgress" website of the Cato Institute has written an article showing some of the evidence that the progress of democracy around the world remains strong today.  In 1800, there were almost no liberal democracies anywhere in the world.  By 2016, there were 121 democracies.  There have been periods of deviation from this trend.  The rise of fascism, Nazism, and communism between the two world wars was one.  In the early 1970s, there were more autocratic regimes than democratic regimes.  But from 1989, the trend has been steadily rising in the spread of democracies around the world.  Moreover, as Tupy notes, the combined scores for autocracies, as measured by the Center for Systemic Peace, has dropped dramatically since 1989, while the combined scores for democracies has risen dramatically.  The quality of democracy has never been higher in human history.

Of course, these trends towards liberal democratic progress are not absolutely inevitable.  There could always be some deviation towards illiberal regimes as occurred between the two world wars.  But still the empirical historical evidence for liberal progress over the past 250 years is stunning.  (I have written a series of posts on human progress in November-December of 2016 and January of this year.)

To suggest that Donald Trump is going to reverse all of this is a ridiculous exaggeration of the power of that "most stable genius."

If this is true, how do we explain it?  What is it about the principles of the Declaration of Independence--the principles of modern liberalism--that made them so powerful that they have swept across the world over the past two centuries?

One possible explanation is offered by Spinoza in The Theological-Political Treatise, perhaps the first full defense of modern liberal democracy.  He declared that the democratic state is "the most natural state," because it approaches most nearly the equal liberty of human beings in the state of nature.

Darwinian evolutionary anthropology might confirm this by showing that the social life of our hunting-gathering ancestors manifests the individual liberty and equality that liberal theorists have attributed to the state of nature.  And therefore the liberal conception of government as instituted among men to secure the individual rights that first arose in the state of nature might indeed be "the most natural state."

Foragers assert their individual autonomy and liberty in resisting the attempts of anyone to establish dominance over others.  So the liberal ideas of equal liberty and dignity for all individuals and resistance to the sort of dominance hierarchies established in agrarian states can be understood as appealing to the original liberalism of the state of nature.
This kind of Darwinian liberal thinking is suggested--even if not fully elaborated--in the writings of people like Alexandra Maryanski, Jonathan Turner, Paul Rubin, and Christopher Boehm.

Some elaboration of this theme can be found in an earlier post here.