Thursday, April 12, 2007

Darwinian Political Science

In Darwinian Conservatism, I offer an explanation of social order as the product of three kinds of order: natural order, customary (or habitual) order, and rational (or deliberate) order. This analysis of order as natural, customary, and rational was first stated by Aristotle and later adopted by philosophers such as Cicero and Thomas Aquinas. It is also implicit in Darwin's account of the human moral sense. Hayek employs the same analysis, but his stress on customary order obscures the relationship between these three kinds of order as a nested hierarchy. Hayek also fails to see how a Darwinian account of morality and social order includes these three sources of order.

As originally suggested by Aristotle, we can explain both the social order of a community and the moral order of an individual life as the product of nature (physis), custom or habit (ethos), and reason or deliberation (logos). Instead of seeing an antithetical dichotomy of nature versus convention, we should see a three-level nested hierarchy in which custom presupposes nature, and reason presupposes both nature and custom. The fully developed order in a community or an individual arises as the joint product of natural propensities, the development of those propensities through habit or custom, and the rational deliberation about those propensities, habits, and customs.

Using this analysis of the three sources of order, we could develop a Darwinian theoretical framework for political science that would move through three levels: the natural history of politics, the cultural history of politics, and the biographical history of politics. For the natural history of politics, we would study the genetic evolution of human beings as political animals. For the cultural history of politics, we would study the cultural evolution of political institutions as constrained by genetic evolution. For the biographical history of politics, we would study the history of individual decision-makers in politics as constrained by both genetic nature and cultural institutions.

I can illustrate this through the topic of war. Darwin believed that warfare was crucial for the evolution of human social and moral capacities. The evolution of moral and political cooperation could have depended on lethal combat, so that groups with high levels of cooperation would have been more likely to prevail in war against their opponents. Considering the importance of war for politics, we might then explore how Darwinian science would explain the origins of war in general and of wars in particular circumstances--such as, for example, the American invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003.

To explain why George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq, we would have to consider not just the naturally evolved dispositions to warfare, but also the cultural institution of the American presidency that gave him the power to make war in the circumstances he faced. It might be a natural propensity of human beings to live in societies with dominance hierarchies and to defer to dominant leaders, particularly in war. The willingness of citizens to risk their lives in war is a heroic manifestation of the human disposition to other-regarding behavior. But that natural propensity in the United States is channeled through the constitutional and scoial history of the American president as commander-in-chief.

Within the constraints set by natural propensities and cultural circumstances, the judgments of unique individuals in positions of responsibility can decisively determine the course of political history. This makes human political science more complex and unpredictable than anything studied by the physicist or chemist.

To explain fully why President Bush launched the American invasion of Iraq, the political scientist would have to consider not only the natural history of war in human evolution and the cultural history of presidential war in the United States, but also the biographical history of President Bush and those who influenced his decision.

This sketch of what a Darwinian political science would look like is briefly elaborated in my recent commentary in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in response to an article by Herbert Gintis. The article and my commentary can be found here.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

The generalities here are all pretty anodyne, but, as with all efforts to appropriate natural selection for political ends, I worry about the specific applications. There are lots of just-so stories that can be told about the evolutionary roots of human behaviours. But the point of just-so stories in evolutionary thinking is not as evidence for a particular hypothesis-- they are used (as Jim Lennox has very convincingly shown) to indicate possible paths by which natural selection could produce particular traits. When successful, they show no more than that what we now observe could be the result of natural selection. Worse, of course, is the shift from evolutionary origins to conclusions about constraints on present behaviour and normative advice on ethics or politics, which is a pure non-sequitur.

Larry Arnhart said...

"Just so stories"? How would you back up this charge?

Why don't you respond to the detailed evidence and arguments that I have laid out in DARWINIAN NATURAL RIGHT and DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM?

For example, in chapter 5 of DARWINIAN NATURAL RIGHT, I survey the evidence for mother-child bonding as natural and argue that this explains why the utopian effort (from Plato to the present) to abolish this bond is contrary to human nature. Would you say that this is wrong? Would you say that the mother-child bond is not biologically natural, but is rather an arbitrary social construction? If so, please explain exactly where my arguments go astray.