Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Gary Johnson Manly Enough to Make a Libertarian Argument?

I have expressed some hope that Gary Johnson could be remarkably successful as the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party, particularly given the unpopularity of Clinton and Trump with many voters.  But I have also expressed a doubt about Johnson's rhetorical ability for making his case for libertarianism in a sharp, incisive, and engaging way.  As many people have noted, Johnson is not a vigorous speaker.

This doubt about Johnson's rhetorical style was deepened by his poor performance at the "Libertarian Town Hall" last Wednesday on CNN.  Justin Raimondo's assessment of this as a "missed opportunity" for libertarianism is the same as mine.  It was painful to watch, particularly when Johnson passed up so many good chances to make libertarian arguments in ways that would engage viewers. 

As Raimondo indicates, one of the best examples of this is when Johnson was asked whether he agreed with Clinton's charge that Trump "is not a legitimate businessman."  Johnson's answer? "You know, I leave that to others."  What kind of an answer is that? 

He could have so easily said that yes, Trump is a crony capitalist, who is happy to use the legal power of eminent domain to coercively take away a little old lady's home for building one of his casinos. Libertarians recognize such abuse of eminent domain as a violation of the individual right to property.  It's hard to understand why Johnson refused to make such an argument.

It's also hard to understand why Johnson takes on the appearance, as Raimondo observes, of being a "beta male."  He's not assertive in taking on the appearance of a dominant male, which is important in politics, especially in competing for the highest political office in America.

For example, when Chris Cuomo asked Johnson what first comes to mind when he hears the name "Donald Trump," Johnson's answer was "I'm sure there's something good to say about Donald somewhere, I'm sure . . ."

I have commented on Trump's bombastic rhetoric as "chimpanzee politics."  Johnson shouldn't imitate Trump's style.  But maybe he should read Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics and then think about how he might display some of the rhetorical style of an alpha male.

Johnson's passion for mountain climbing and strenuous athletic activity suggests that he could become a libertarian Teddy Roosevelt.  But somehow he cannot find a way to display that manly passion in his rhetoric.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Republican Convention Delegates Can Dump Trump

Contrary to what has been asserted generally in the news media, the majority of the delegates to the Republican Party Convention in Cleveland are not bound by either state laws or party rules to vote for Donald Trump.  In fact, at every Republican Party convention, since the first one in 1856, with the sole exception of the convention of 1976, the delegates have been free from the first ballot onward to vote as they wish in their selection of a presidential nominee. 

Since it's clear that many of the delegates, perhaps a majority, believe that nominating Trump would be a disastrous mistake for the Republican Party and for the nation, they have the right, under the rules of the Republican Party, to deny the nomination to Trump and select someone else.

The historical evidence and reasoning for this conclusion is laid out in a recent book--Unbound: The Conscience of a Republican Delegate by Curly Haugland and Sean Parnell.  An article in the New York Times by Jeremy Peters (June 27) reports that many of the delegates have accepted Haugland's argument for a "conscience exemption," and that Trump and his people will have to control the convention to suppress any delegate rebellion.

At the first Republican Party convention in 1856 in Philadelphia, a Mr. Coale, a Maryland delegate, declared: "We will vote as we please, and we will not vote in any other way."  As Haugland and Parnell show, this same idea was expressed by other delegates in 1856 and at later conventions.

When the right of delegates to vote freely was challenged by proposed rules to bind the delegates, these rules were voted down.  State Republican parties have enacted rules for binding their delegates at the national convention, but the National Republican Party has always asserted that the National Party Convention enacts its own rules as superior to the state organizations.

At the 1912 convention, for the first time, a delegation cited not instructions from their state party, but instructions based on a state law requiring that they vote as determined by a primary election.  Those instructions were ignored at the national convention, and the individual preferences of the delegates were recorded.  Later, decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court declared that it was unconstitutional for state laws to override the rules of a national political party, because a political party is a private organization with a constitutional right of freedom of association, which includes the right to set the rules of the organization.

The one exceptional case is the Republican Convention of 1976.  Incumbent Gerald Ford seemed to have a majority of the delegates pledged to him, but he faced a serious challenge from Ronald Reagan.  Fearing that some of the Ford delegates might switch to Reagan, the Ford people pushed through the convention a "Justice Amendment" saying that in those 18 or 19 states that had clear laws binding delegates to follow the state primary results, that those delegates would be bound by those laws.  And yet the Ford people admitted that those state laws were unconstitutional, according to the Supreme Court, and so the convention was under no legal obligation to follow those laws.  Moreover, everyone agreed that all of the delegates from states without such laws were free to vote their conscience, even in states with primaries but without state laws to bind the delegates to follow those primary outcomes.  At the 1980 Republican Convention, the rules committee refused to accept this novel rule from the 1976 convention and returned to the long-established rule that delegates were free to vote as they wished.

It is true that some Republican Party rules adopted at and following the 2012 convention do mention the "binding" of delegates in rules governing the election and selection of delegates.  But there is evidence that what looks like a radical change to a long-established principle was an error that arose through misunderstanding.  In any case, it is clear that each convention has the power to set its own rules and is not bound by any change in the rules enacted by a previous convention.  So unless the 2016 Convention enacts rules that bind delegates, this convention will follow the traditional rule (in 39 out of 40 conventions) that delegates are free to vote according to their individual consciences.

Of course, if delegates at the convention in Cleveland do vote for someone other than Trump, even though their state party rules or state laws say they are bound to Trump by his primary victories, Trump will angrily declare that this is an undemocratic disenfranchisement of the millions of people who voted for him.  He has already made that argument.

But this only shows Trump's mistake in assuming that the United States is a direct democracy.  It is not.  It is a representative democracy or a democratic republic, in which citizens elect representatives to exercise their judgment in deliberating for them.  That's true for the national Congress, for the 50 state legislatures, and for the Republican National Convention.  These are all deliberative bodies, who respect the opinions of the people they represent, but who have the duty to exercise their own deliberative judgment about the public good, even when this sometimes goes against the opinions of some of those they represent.

We should notice that neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution say anything about "democracy."  But the Constitution does endorse "the Republican form of government."

Of course, elected legislators and political party delegates must take seriously the demands of the people they represent.  Legislators and delegates must give good reasons for going against public opinion, and if their reasons are not persuasive, they cannot expect to have a successful political career.  But their moral and political duty is to deliberate about the public good--the good of the country and the good of their party--and sometimes what they recognize as the public good is contrary to what the momentary passions of the people they represent might demand.

So if the delegates to the 2016 Republican Convention conclude that Trump is not qualified to run for President of the United States, that he lacks the moral and intellectual virtues necessary for being a good president, because he suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder, and if nominated, he is likely to lead the Republican Party into a disastrous defeat that might disable or even destroy the Party, then they will have the duty to nominate someone else.

I say this even though as a libertarian, I know that the success of Gary Johnson's campaign depends on his running against Clinton and Trump.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Brexit Vote: Ethnic Nationalism versus Commercial Cosmopolitanism in Big History

Arriving at one of his golf courses in Scotland, Donald Trump praised the British vote to leave the European Union: "They took their country back, just like we will take American back."

Back to where? Protectionist trade barriers? Xenophobic nationalism? Back to the first half of the 20th century, when the global trading system was broken up, the world fell into economic depression, and the world fought the two bloodiest world wars in human history?

The fundamental debate here is over the costs and benefits of free trade and of the commercial societies based on free trade.  To see what is at stake in this debate, we need to understand the history of trading as part of the Big History of human societies from the Paleolithic Era (200,000 to 10,000 years ago) to the present.  One good text for this is Big History: Between Nothing and Everything by David Christian, Cynthia Stokes Brown, and Craig Benjamin (McGraw-Hill Education, 2014).  The story I tell here is elaborated in this book.

Like all animals, human beings must find a way to make a living so that they can extract and use the energy necessary for their survival and reproduction.  Most of that energy comes from sunlight as captured by photosynthesis and stored in plants, animals, and fossil fuels.

There are at least four different ways that human beings can make a living--by foraging, farming, herding, or trading.  Throughout the Paleolithic Era, human beings lived mostly by foraging--hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants.  But they also engaged in trading.  There is archaeological evidence for trade going back as far as 140,000 years ago.  For example, obsidian (a naturally occurring volcanic glass) has been found at human sites that are over 300 km from the sources of the obsidian, which suggests that the obsidian was being traded between human groups.  In the Upper Paleolithic (50,000 to 10,000 years ago), there is extensive evidence that raw materials such as elk teeth, mammoth ivory, amber, marine shells, and fossils were obtained from distant sources and transformed into decorative objects.  So here we see that what Adam Smith identified as the psychological motivation for exchange and specialization--"the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another"--arose early in human evolution.  (As I have argued in other posts, this contradicts Frederick Hayek's argument that the evolved instincts of human beings favor socialism rather than capitalism, and that the modern extended social order based on trade requires a suppression of our natural instincts.)

By about 10,000 years ago, there is evidence that some foragers were harvesting wild grains, and some were combining the cultivation of some plants with the gathering of wild plants and hunting of wild animals (similar to what anthropologists have seen among semi-nomadic horticultural foragers like the Yanomami in the Amazonian rain forest).  Starting about 5,500 years ago (3,500 BC), we see evidence for the first agrarian cities and states in Mesopotamia.  Later, agrarian civilizations, linking villages and cities into communities of millions of people, appeared in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, in Egypt, in the Indus River Valley, in China, in Mesoamerica, and in Peru.

From 4,000 years ago (2,000 BC), there is evidence for extensive trade networks connecting Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Indus agrarian civilizations in commercial relationships.  A few years ago, archaeologists discovered a sunken trading ship off the southwestern coast of Turkey.  In the hold, they found ingots of copper and tin, cobalt-blue and turquoise glass; terebinthine resin (an ingredient for perfume), ebony logs from Egypt, elephant tusks, hippopotamus teeth, ostrich feathers, tortoise shells, exotic fruits and spices; pottery from Cyprus; and Mycenaean weapons.

Around 100 BC, the decision of the Han Chinese to engage in long-distance trade began the development of the Silk Roads trade routes that stretched from China through Central Asia to India, Arabia, and finally to Rome. 

In 65 A.D., the Roman Senator Pliny the Elder complained that the importation of Chinese silk and spices was draining Rome of its money.  The Donald Trump of Rome!

We should keep in mind that this international trade was a trade not only in goods but also in ideas, and thus an exercise in the distinctive human capacity for collective learning through the exchange of information.  The flourishing of ancient Athens depended on its being a commercial city embedded in extensive trading networks, which promoted the intellectual life of philosophers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle who exchanged ideas.  Thus, the philosophic life flourishes in commercial societies.

During the third century A.D., China and the Roman Empire withdrew from the Silk Roads trade.  But then during the Tang Dynasty (618-903 AD) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), the Chinese renewed trade over international trading routes (both land and sea).  Muslim, Byzantine, Indian, and Southeast-Asian merchants migrated to the Chinese trading cities.

By the thirteenth century AD, the entire Afro-Eurasian world was connected by trading networks stretching from Genoa to Timbuktu to Bagdad to Beijing.  Unfortunately, not only goods and ideas but also diseases were transported along these trading routes.  In the fourteenth century, the Black Death plague brought devastating reductions in population and economic activity.

But, then, by 1500, the Chinese and European voyages of exploration began to create the first truly global exchange networks, which eventually brought the Modern Industrial and Commercial Revolution.  Previously, the world had been divided into four world zones that had little or no contact with one another: Afro-Eurasia (Africa and the Eurasian landmass, and the islands like Britain and Japan), The Americas (North, Central, and South America), Australasia (Australia, Papua New Guinea, and other islands), and the Pacific island societies (New Zealand, Micronesia, Melanesia, and Hawaii).  For the first time, in the 16th and 17th centuries, these four world zones were joined in trading networks that encompassed the entire Earth, for the first time in human history.

Finally, the full emergence of the Modern Revolution came with the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain in the 19th century, which depended upon Great Britain being in the center of a global trading system.  Over the past 200 years, the Modern Revolution of Commercial Cosmopolitanism has produced a stunning increase in human population and prosperity that now extends around the world.

But there also have been periods of resistance in which societies have turned against the principle of free trade and the virtues of commercial society.  At the beginning of the 20th century, many people in the major industrialized societies rejected the argument of Adam Smith and the classical liberals that free trade and the bourgeois commercial life would promote economic growth and individual liberty in ways that would benefit everyone.  Many people argued that the nations of the world were in conflict over scarce resources, and therefore each nation must protect its own interests against other nations.  Protectionist restrictions on trade and immigration were put in place.  Some people (like the Nazi theoretician Carl Schmitt) argued that politics was ultimately about the violent conflict between friends and enemies.  This kind of thinking led to economic and military warfare.

There was a sharp decline in international trade.  While the total value of world exports increased at an annual rate of about 3.4 percent between 1870 and 1913, this fell to 0.9 percent between 1913 and 1950.  This was linked to declining rates of growth.  Global GDP per capita rose by 1.3 percent each year between 1870 and 1913.  But it rose only 0.91 percent each year from 1913 to 1950.

After 1950, North America and Europe moved towards a world system of cosmopolitan liberalism based on free trade and free migration.  As a result, both international trade and economic growth increased at the highest rates in all of human history.  This has also been a time of peace--the longest period in which the Great European Powers have not fought one another.  Thus, we have seen all the benefits of what Montesquieu called "gentle commerce."

Big History shows that trading has always been part of the evolved psychology of human nature, beginning in the Paleolithic Era.  But the modern move to fully commercial societies based on trade has allowed for the fullest expression of that "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange" that has been latent in human nature for hundreds of thousands of years.

If we are persuaded by people like Donald Trump, we can choose to move away from this era of commercial cosmopolitanism and turn back to the era of protectionism and ethnic nationalism.  But why would we want to do this?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Hitler Learns the Journal of American Greatness Has Shut Down

Now we can see what happened when Hitler learned that the Journal of American Greatness had shut down.

A more serious lament about the loss of JAG is found in Hedley Wight's post at VDARE, who thinks JAG was "trying to articulate a new path for Straussianism" as providing a Straussian interpretation of Trumpism that would support the ethnic nationalism of the Alternative Right.

The logo VDARE refers to Virginia Dare, the first child born to English settlers in the New World in 1587. Get it?

Was the growing attention to JAG coming from ethnic nationalists like those at VDARE one reason why the writers at JAG decided they had to shut down and erase all of their writing?  Are they Straussian political theorists, who don't yet have tenure, and who were afraid that being identified as Straussians supporting ethnic nationalism through Trumpism would ruin their academic careers?

Although the JAG website has been erased, someone (JR) has recovered many (but not all) of the JAG articles from the Google cache.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Islamic Libertarianism Can Defeat Islamic Terrorism

The Orlando massacre has renewed the debate over the possible connections between Islam and terrorism.  In that debate, two crucial points are receiving little or no attention.  The first point is that the panic over terrorism is foolish and dangerous.  The second point is that the only way to fully defeat Islamic terrorism is to show that the Quran supports Islamic libertarianism, and that the Islamic radicalism that leads to terrorism is contrary to the Quran. 

Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump has recognized these two points.  But Gary Johnson could embrace both points as part of his libertarian response to Islamic terrorism.

As I have argued in a previous post, terrorism today is a problem, but it is not an "existential threat" to civilization, as many commentators have said.  The greatest harmful consequence of terrorism in the United States is not the killing of innocent people by terrorists, but the foolish panic over terrorism that leads us to wage a "war on terrorism" that inflicts far more harm on us than any terrorist attack.  Gary Johnson recognizes that when he warns about how the "war on terrorism" has threatened individual liberty.

By any objective measurement, the harm from terrorism has been declining.  The rate of violent deaths per 100,000 people per year has been trending downward since 1970 in the United States, Western Europe, and worldwide.  In Western Europe and worldwide, the highest peaks of terrorist killings came in the 1970s and 1980s.

The second crucial point is that the battle against the Islamic State and the other Islamist radicals is not as much a military battle as it is an intellectual or theological battle of ideas in the interpretation of Islam.  The defeat of theocratic Islam in that battle of ideas will come with the triumph of Islamic libertarianism.

People like Trump are correct to assert that there is some connection between Islam and terrorism, but he is wrong to convey the impression that the entire Islamic tradition inclines to terrorism, and therefore the United States should close its borders to all Muslims.  Barack Obama is right to emphasize that Islamic  radicalism is a distorted interpretation of Islam that is accepted by only a small minority of Muslims.  But Obama never explains exactly what is wrong with the Islamic radical interpretation of Islam, or  what would be the correct interpretation of Islam.

As I have indicated in some previous posts--here and here -- the Quran can be read as teaching the libertarian principles of religious liberty and pluralism.  And, indeed, there is a libertarian tradition in Islam based on the Quran.  The apocalyptic violence and theocratic politics of Islamic radicalism cannot be found in the Quran.  Rather than relying on the Quran, Islamic radicals must appeal to the Haddiths--the reports of Muhammad's sayings and doings.  But Islamic scholars disagree over the interpretation of the Haddiths and even over their authenticity as accurate reports.  Moreover, to treat Muhammad's words and deeds as sacred denies the teaching of the Quran that Muhammad was only a human being and not divine.  The revelation of the Quran is divine, but Muhammad is not.

For example, Omar Mateen believed that he was justified in killing homosexuals because Sharia treats homosexuality as a capital crime.  And it is true that in 40 out of 57 Muslim-majority countries or territories, homosexuality is a crime; and in almost a dozen of these, homosexuals can be sentenced to death.  But this interpretation of Sharia has no basis in the Quran.  It depends totally on Haddiths.

It is true that the Quran tells the story of God's punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah (7:80-81, 26:165, 27:55, 29:28-29).  But nowhere does the Quran declare that homosexuality must always be a capital crime (as it is in the Mosaic law of the Old Testament). 

In today's Wall Street Journal (June 14), Ayaan Hirsi Ali has an article arguing that Mateen's anti-gay violence is supported by Sharia, and thus implying that he was indeed carrying out the teachings of Islam.  But she is completely silent about the fact that this teaching is not found in the Quran.

Just as the New Testament can be read as supporting Christian libertarianism, so the Quran can be read as supporting Islamic libertarianism.  And, in fact, I think most Christians and most Muslims today are libertarian in their embrace of religious liberty and pluralism without any coercive enforcement of religious belief.

As a libertarian, Gary Johnson can advance this argument as part of any policy for defeating Islamic terrorism.

Was the "Journal of American Greatness" an "Inside Joke"?

As I noted in my previous post, the "Journal of American Greatness" was started in February as a website where Straussians connected with the West-Coast Straussianism of Claremont McKenna College and Hillsdale College could defend "Trumpism."  But as of today, the entire website has been erased.  If you go to the website now, this is the only post:
Notice to Our Readers

The Journal of American Greatness began some months ago, to a large extent anyway, as an inside joke. At a certain point its audience expanded beyond any of our expectations. It also ceased to be a joke. Thus it no longer makes sense to continue it in its current form. No journal is meant to last forever, and this one won’t try to. We’ve decided to call it a day.

The inspiration for this journal was a profound discomfort with the mode of thought that has come to dominate political discourse—an ideological mode that makes nonsense of the reality of American life. The unanticipated recognition that we have received, however, also makes clear that many others similarly felt the desirability of breaking out of conservatism’s self-imposed intellectual stagnation. Should any such market for our ideas exist in the future, we may participate in it. But we will do so in a different way.

In closing, we simply want to thank our readers—we never expected so many of you—who made this extraordinary adventure possible over the last four months.
An "inside joke"?  What does this mean?  That they never intended their Straussian defense of Trumpism to be taken seriously?  Well, if so, then they surely fooled me and lots of other people who didn't get the joke.

The second paragraph contradicts the "inside joke" claim, because it speaks of the purpose of the journal as expressing "the desirability of breaking out of conservatism's self-imposed intellectual stagnation," which certainly sounds like a very serious idea rather than a joke.

If this were nothing but an elaborate joke, it would be hard to explain why they have decided to erase all of their posts, which suggests that they are embarrassed by what they have written.

So what's going on here?  Did the writers for JAG change their mind and decide that Donald Trump is nothing more than a vulgar demagogue with fascist tendencies who does not deserve to be taken seriously as someone representing important political ideas, and that Straussians in particular should recognize Trump's morally despicable vulgarity?  If so, then I am pleased that they finally came to see the truth about Trump and the need to protect the intellectual legacy of Strauss from any association with someone like Trump.

The next step is to endorse Gary Johnson's libertarian candidacy. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Straussians for Trump: The Degradation of Leo Strauss's Legacy


Some of those who claim to be in the tradition of Leo Strauss--the Western Straussians connected to Harry Jaffa and Claremont McKenna College--are now supporting Donald Trump.  I cannot imagine Leo Strauss supporting someone like Trump unless Will Altman was right about Strauss's Jewish Nazism.

The Straussian supporters of Trump are posting their manifestos at the website for the Journal of American Greatness.  According to an article in this week's Weekly Standard by Fred Barnes, Charles Kesler at Claremont McKenna College says that the Journal of American Greatness  is in the "Claremont and Hillsdale orbit," and represents "a subset of Western Straussianism."

In an article at VDARE, Hedley Wight has argued that in contrast to the globalist cosmopolitanism of the East Coast Straussians, the West Coast Straussians love America first, and they are now embracing the ethnic nationalism of the "Alternative Right," which recognizes the potential for Trump to become the leader of an American ethnic nationalist movement to defend the ethnic and racial identity of America.  In doing this, the Trumpist Straussians admit that they are trying to understand Trump better than he understands himself.  Or as one writer at the Journal of American Greatness has written: "we are far more interested in understanding his policy impulses better than he understands them himself, which means situating them within deeper historical and theoretical contexts, even those of which he never speaks and probably is not aware." 

Isn't this exactly what Martin Heidegger did with Hitler in his Rectoral Address and other speeches for the Nazis, in which he tried to exercise "intellectual leadership" by making Nazism philosophically coherent, just as the Trumpian Straussians are now trying to make Trumpism philosophically coherent?

In the spring, 2016, issue of the Claremont Review of Books, one can see the debate among the West Coast Straussians over Trump.  Kesler writes in defense of Trump.  Martha Bayles writes against him.

Kesler speaks of Trump as a "strong leader" in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, which is strange given Kesler's critique of Progressivism.  Kesler quotes Wilson's claim that "the President is at liberty to be as big a man as he can," and he quotes Wilson's declaration that "the personal force of the President is perfectly constitutional to any extent which he chooses to exercises it."  Kesler observes: "'Personal force'--not far from Trump's praise of high energy, toughness, and strength in the ideal chief executive."

Kesler praises Trump for taking "a tough position in tough terms."  After all, Kesler observes, "every republic essentially faces what might be called the Weimar problem. Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable?"  In such times, the nation needs a "strong leader." Thus, Kesler implies that Trump is doing for the United States what Adolf Hitler did for Germany.  Hitler promised to make Germany great again.  Like Germany, the United States needs someone "to be as big a man as he can."  After all, as Trump has said, in one of his favorite quotations from Mussolini, "it is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep."

If this follows from the teaching of Leo Strauss, then Will Altman was right to argue that Strauss was promoting Nazism, because he saw classical liberalism as so decadent that it needed the spirited manliness of Nazism--or Donald Trump--to save it.  One of the writers at the Journal of American Greatness, in an article on "Paleo-Straussianism," has said of Strauss that "the philosophic mind he admired the most belonged to a Nazi."  Altman argues that Strauss's praise for Heidegger and his refusal to repudiate Heidegger's Nazism is good evidence for Strauss's acceptance of Nazism.

Altman cited Strauss's comments about how every healthy society is a "closed society" rather than an "open society."  The Trumpist Straussians seem to conform to this by agreeing with Trump's claim that America must be a closed society not open to Muslims and immigrants from non-European countries.

By contrast, in the same issue of the Clarement Review of Books in which Kesler's essay appears. Martha Bayles disagrees with her "savy political friends" at Claremont who have found Trump "refreshing."  Instead, she sees Trump's success as showing the morally degrading effects of "exhibitionist reality TV" on American political culture.

Can't we imagine that Strauss would have taken her side--in recognizing the vulgar demagoguery of Trump--against the Western Straussians?  In his article in National Review rejecting Trump, Bill Kristol quoted Strauss as saying "a conservative, I take it, is a man who despises vulgarity."  Kristol asked: "Isn't Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?"

Or can some Straussians see the "inner truth and greatness" in Trumpism as a movement for American ethnic nationalism?  If so, then was Altman right to see Strauss as a Jewish Nazi who scorned the openness of cosmopolitan liberalism?

Does this Straussian scorn for classical liberalism explain why the Trumpist Straussians prefer Trump for President over Gary Johnson?  After all, Johnson and the Libertarians support free trade and open borders, which puts them in opposition to American ethnic nationalism.

"We have been given the gift of Trump and Clinton."  That's what one of the libertarians at the Libertarian Party convention said, and he was expressing the thought that pervaded the convention: with the two parties nominating Trump and Clinton, Johnson has an unprecedented opportunity.  If Trump and Clinton each win roughly 30% of the popular vote, Johnson could win with 40%, just as Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican president with less than a majority of the popular vote, because Stephen Douglas and John Breckenridge split the Democratic Party vote.

Some of my other posts on Strauss and Nazism can be found here, here, herehere., and here.

My previous posts on Trump are here, here, here., and here.

My previous post on ethnic nationalism is here.

My posts on the Nazi philosophers are here and here.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Animal Personalities: Biography in Biology

I have argued that a biopolitical science would have to move through at least three levels of political evolutionary history: the natural history of political universals as shaped by the genetic evolution of each political species, the social history of political cultures as shaped by the cultural evolution of each community, and the biographical history of individual political actors in a community.  To illustrate this, I have written a paper studying Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation at these three levels of biopolitical science.

In making this argument, I disagree with those many critics of sociobiology who assume a nature/history dichotomy 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.

Bock does admit, if only in passing, that sometimes changes in an animal's environment can give rise "from time to time and from place to place to activities in one population of a species that were not there before and are not present among other populations of the species," and thus these animal populations might be said to have "histories," and those who study human history should be interested in this as possibly illuminating the character of historical phenomena (147-48). 

Here Bock was referring to some of the early evidence for animal cultural history.  And now we have much more evidence that many animals do indeed have cultural histories, so that animal groups of the same species develop distinctive behavioral traditions that distinguish one group from another.  We can see this, for example, in the different chimpanzee groups in Africa.  Jane Goodall's Chimpanzees of Gombe is a political history of the chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, who have a unique suite of cultural traditions.

Goodall's political history of the Gombe chimps includes political biographies of the individual chimps who shaped that political history.  She gives all of the chimps names, and she records the stories that display their unique personalities.  When she went to Cambridge University to work on her Ph.D. in ethology (animal behavior), she was told that this was all wrong--that speaking about animals as having individual personalities is an anthropomorphic projection of uniquely human traits onto nonhuman animals.  To be truly scientific, she was told, she needed to reduce chimp behavior to general patterns of data without trying to explain the personal histories of individual chimps.

Similarly, 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 (Hibbing 2013).  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.  Thus, 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.

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 (Nettle 2006).

But  in recent decades, the biological study of animal personalities has become one of the hottest topics in biology (Carere and Maestripieri 2013; Pennisi 2016).  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 temperments, behavioral syndromes, and predispositions.

Extensive empirical studies of animals in the wild and in laboratories have shown personalities across animal taxa--including invertebrates, fish, birds, and both nonhuman and human primates.  One of the most commonly observed traits of personality arises from the distinction between the active, risk-taking, aggressive, and bold personality, on the one hand, and the passive, risk-averse, nonaggressive, and shy personality, on the other hand.  Jerome Kagan has shown that human infants from an early age can be seen as showing either a bold and uninhibited personality or a shy and inhibited personality, and that as adults these differences in personality remain.  He also showed that these behavioral traits were correlated with distinctive neuroendrocine activity. 

This same continuum of behavioral traits from extreme boldness to extreme shyness can be found in other animals.  For example, among the great tits, a common Eurasian bird, some individuals are aggressively bold in their foraging for food, while others are less aggressive and more shy.  One might think that the aggressive individuals would always win out over the unaggressive individuals, but that's not true.  In one study, 541 individuals were tracked for 4 years.  It was found that when bird populations were low, and resources were abundant, aggressive individuals had higher rates of survival and reproduction.  But when bird populations were high, and resources were scarce, competition for territory and food sharpened, and the aggressive individuals wore themselves out by getting into too many fights, while the less aggressive individuals were more likely to survive and reproduce.

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.

The five factors of personality have been found to be highly heritable and thus genetically influenced.  But these factors also vary according to environmental experience, particularly the environment of early experience, which influences personality throughout life. So personality seems to arise from genetic predisposition, from environmental learning, and from the interaction of genes and environment.  Through experimentation with animals in the wild and in laboratories, scientists can make testable predictions about the genetic and environmental causes of personality. 

They can also study the correlation of these personality traits with distinctive neurobiological and physiological substrates.  For example, the low neurotransmission of serotonin and the high neurotransmission of dopamine are associated with novelty-seeking and risk-taking.  Consequently, psychotropic drugs that alter this neurotransmission can have profound effects on mood and behavior.

It might seem strange that adaptive evolution by natural selection has not eliminated these differences in personality.  If natural selection is selecting for the optimal adaptation of a species to its environment for survival and reproduction, why wouldn't all or most individual animals of the same species show that same behavioral propensities, as suggested by evolutionary psychologists like Cosmides and Tooby?

One possible answer, as argued by David Nettle, is that there often is no optimal solution to the problems faced by animals, because they face trade-offs between different fitness costs and benefits, where there is no unconditionally best behavioral strategy.  We should consider the possibility that each personality trait in the Five Factor Model has evolutionary costs and benefits, and whether the benefits exceed the costs depends on contingent and fluctuating circumstances.  If this is so, then we should expect to see individuals showing alternative personality traits that are sometimes better and sometimes worse for the animal.

So, for instance, being high on Agreeableness might be beneficial for an individual in being attentive to the mental states of others, in enjoying cooperative relationships with others, and in being a good coalitional partner.  But that same personality trait of Agreeableness might also be costly for an individual who is too trusting in being exposed to social cheating and failing to maximize one's selfish advantage.

It is possible that the cultural evolution of the bourgeois virtues in modern liberal societies depended on an evolutionary history favoring personality traits like high Agreeableness and high Conscientousness.  The evidence from cross-cultural economic game experiments that show that being integrated into market exchange is correlated with a greater sense of fairness might support this conclusion.


Carere, Claudio, and Dario Maestripieri, eds. 2013. Animal Personalities: Behavior, Physiology, and Evolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Hibbing, John. 2013. "Ten Misconceptions Concerning Neurobiology and Politics." Perspectives on Politics. June 2013.

Nettle, Daniel. 2006. "The Evolution of Personality Variation in Humans and Other Animals." American Psychologist 61: 622-31.

Pennisi, Elizabeth. 2016. "The Power of Personality." Science 352: 644-47.

Some of my posts on these issues can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The Rise to Power of Hitler and Trump

Now that Paul Ryan has endorsed Donald Trump for President, the Republican Party has fully become the Party of Trump.  When I heard about that this morning, I was reminded of the rise of Adolf Hitler to become Chancellor of the Third Reich on January 30th, 1933.

Here are some excerpts from Ian Kershaw's biography of Hitler (volume 1, 423-27).
"'Hitler is Reich Chancellor. Just like a fairy-tale,' noted Goebbels.  Indeed, the extraordinary had happened.  What few beyond the ranks of Nazi fanatics had thought possible less than a year earlier had become reality.  Against all odds, Hitler's aggressive obstinacy--born out of lack of alternatives--had paid off.  What he had been unable to achieve himself, his 'friends' in high places had achieved for him.  The 'nobody of Vienna,' 'unknown soldier,' beerhall demagogue, head of what was for years no more than a party on the lunatic fringe of politics, a man with no credentials for running a sophisticated state-machine, practically his sole qualification the ability to must the support of the nationalist masses whose base instincts he showed an unusual talent for rousing, had now been placed in charge of government of one of the leading states in Europe. . . ."
". . . A few took him at his word, and thought he was dangerous. But far, far more, from Right to Left of the political spectrum--conservatives, liberals, socialists, communists--underrated his intentions and unscrupulous power instincts at the same time as they scorned his abilities. . . ."
". . . The underestimation of Hitler and his movement by the power-brokers remains a leitmotiv of the intrigues that placed him in the Chancellor's office. . . ."
". . . More than any other politician of his era, he was the spokesman for the unusually intense fears, resentments, and prejudices of ordinary people not attracted by the parties of the Left or anchored in the parties of political Catholicism.  And more than any other politician of his era, he offered such people the prospect of a new and better society--though one seeming to rest on 'true' German values with which they could identify.  The vision of the future went hand in hand with the denunciation of the past in Hitler's appeal.  The total collapse of confidence in a state system resting on discredited party politics and bureaucratic administration had led over a third of the population to place its trust and its hopes in the politics of national redemption.  The personality cult carefully nurtured around Hitler turned him into the embodiment of such hopes."
"And there were those, not just on the defeated Left, who foresaw disaster. 'You have delivered up our holy German Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time,' wrote Ludendorff--who had some experience of what he was writing about--to his former wartime colleague Hindenburg. 'I solemnly prophesy that this accursed man will cast our Reich into the abyss and bring our nation to inconceivable misery. Future generations will damn you in your grave for what you have done.'"

Am I wrong to see similarities--"aggressive obstinacy," "the support of the nationalist masses," "a few took him at his word, and thought he was dangerous," "the spokesman for the unusually intense fears, resentments, and prejudices of ordinary people," "the personality cult," "one of the greatest demagogues of all time"?

Or is this a bad use of what Leo Strauss called the reduction ad Hitlerum?  In Natural Right and History, Strauss remarked: "we must avoid the fallacy that in the last decades has frequently been used as a substitute for the reductio ad absurdum: the reductio ad Hitlerum.  A view is not refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler" (42-43).

We might wonder, however, as Will Altman has suggested, why Strauss didn't identify this fallacy as a noble fallacy.  Surely, it's good that our disgust with Hitler and the Nazis is so deep that we think a view is refuted by the fact that it happens to have been shared by Hitler.  I have written a post on this.