Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Politics, Spiritedness, and Utopian Anarchy

Kent Guida has written a good comment on my post about "Herbert Spencer's Utopian Anarchism." I suggested that Spencer and Murray Rothbard were similar in their utopian vision of anarchy as a stateless society without political rule. Against such utopian anarchism, Darwinian conservatism would assume that political rule cannot be abolished because it expresses the evolved nature of human beings as political animals. David Gordon commented that Rothbard was not a utopian in the same way as Spencer. But Guida observed that there was a kind of "end-of-history" utopianism in Rothbard insofar as he foresaw the disappearance of the thumos--male assertiveness or spiritedness--that drives political ambition and the love of glory.

Darwin rightly saw that the tribal conflict in human evolutionary history had shaped the political nature of the human animal. Human beings naturally live in social systems that require (at least occasionally) central coordination. In primitive human communities, such as foraging bands, this centralized coordination of society is informal and episodic. In civilized human communities, such as bureaucratic states, this centralized coordination is formal and enduring.

Darwin argued that the history of tribal group selection as well as male competition for females created a male propensity to assertiveness and spiritedness that would manifest itself as the pursuit of military glory and political leadership.

Rothbard was right to see that primitive human communities--like the ancient tribes of Ireland--could organize their social lives without centralized states. But he was wrong to infer from this that those primitive communities had no political rule at all. Even in such primitive tribal groups, men competed for dominant positions as chiefs and war leaders.

Darwinian conservatism supports the principles of limited government as necessary for checking and structuring male political rivalry. But to assume that political rivalry could be abolished in an anarchic society is utopian because it denies the desire for dominance and distinction as rooted in evolved human nature.

Some of these points have come up in previous posts, particularly in my response to Harvey Mansfield's Manliness, which can be found here.


David Gordon said...

I'm sorry to be unduly persistent, but I think both you and Kent Guida have misread Rothbard. He doesn't claim that there was no competition for leadership in primitive society. Neither does he predict, as Mr.Guida thinks, that people will in future lose assertiveness or spiritedness. Rather, he hopes that people will cease to rely on a monopoly agency to provide protection and defense. Why does thinking this presuppose a change in the extent to which people are aggressive? Analogously, advocacy of socialism is often fueled by envy. Someone who rightly predicted years ago that people would come to realize that socialism will not work need not have thought that envy would go away.

Larry Arnhart said...


After looking back at some of Rothbard's writing, I think your point is well taken. Although he foresaw a stateless society without bureaucratic government, he did not predict a perfectly peaceful condition, because he anticipated that people would have to form protection agencies to defend themselves. And, by implication, there might arise some kind of political leadership in these groups.