Monday, August 27, 2007

The Kibbutz Returns to Nature

In Darwinian Natural Right, I have a section on the kibbutz as an example of "secular communism." From their earliest foundings at the beginning of the 20th century, these Jewish socialist communities have been one of the most radical attempts at establishing pure socialism. In the original communities, private property and private families were abolished. Not only was all property shared in common, but children were reared in common without special ties between parents and children. This was one of the purest efforts to establish the sort of socialism prescribed by Marx and others.

My argument was that this was contrary to evolved human nature, and therefore it was not surprising that the kibbutzim were forced to give up much of their original socialism, particularly in response to the second generation of mothers and children who found the abolition of parent-child bonding too painful to endure.

I know a woman who was reared in the "children's house" of a kibbutz in Israel. She describes how painful this was and how she left as soon as she could, and then became remarkably conservative in her moral and political views, rebelling against the utopian socialism of her parents.

Now, the New York Times has an article on the recent history of the kibbutzim. It seems that not only have they given up on abolishing private families, but now they are even giving up on abolishing private property, as they increasingly rely on privatization and market incentives.

So we see even the most radical socialists returning to nature--returning to the private property and traditional family life of evolved human nature.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Darwinian Account of England's Industrial Revolution

Gregory Clark has written a brief article summarizing the argument of his new book Farewell to Arms: A Brief Economic History of the World.

The general idea is stated in the third paragraph: "The Industrial Revolution is . . . plausibly linked to a Darwinian process of 'survival of the richest' that opeated from at least 1250. Capitalist attitudes and economic growth triumphed in England becasue those with such attitudes came to predominate in the population by biological means. The modern English are the descendents of the upper classes of the preindustrial world, those who prospered economically. The poor disappeared. The process was most likely cultural, but we cannot exclude the possibility that the English may even be genetically capitalist."

Since I don't yet have my copy of the book, I can't judge the persuasiveness of Clark's evidence and arguments based just on this article and some of the other press coverage of the book. But in principle at least, Clark's reasoning would fit into what I have called "Darwinian political science"--as in my immediately preceding post. Capitalist attitudes could have been shaped by a process of cultural evolution.

Whether this could also be genetic is, as Clark indicates, more controversial and dubious, because it's not clear that 800 years would be enough time for genetic evolution. Apparently, Clark appeals to some of the research on gene-culture coevolution--particularly, the classic case of the evolution of lactose-tolerance among people in dairying societies--as possibly applying to this case. But I will need to study the book before I can decide how plausible this is.

"Darwinian Political Science" at APSA Convention

On September 1, I will present a paper on "Darwinian Political Science" at the convention of the American Political Science Association in Chicago. My panel will meet at 2:00 pm. Preceding our panel, at 12:30, Frans de Waal will be speaking at a plenary session on the 25th anniversary of de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics. Here I will provide the introductory section of my paper, but without the references. The full paper can be found at the APSA website for the convention.

Political science could become a true science by becoming a Darwinian science of political animals. This science would be both Aristotelian and Darwinian. It would be Aristotelian in fulfilling Aristotle's original understanding of political science as the biological study of the political life of human beings and other political animals. It would be Darwinian in employing Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory as well as modern advances in Darwinian biology to explain political behavior as shaped by genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and individual judgment.

Some political scientists have complained about the deficiencies of their discipline in explaining politics. A small but growing number of political scientists have argue that a political science rooted in an evolutionary theory of human nature could overcome many of these deficiencies. I support this claim by laying out a theoretical framework for a Darwinian political science that indicates how it would rectify the defects in contemporary political science. To illustrate how such a Darwinian political science would explain particular political events, I show how such a science could account for one of the crucial turns in American political history--Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.

Critics of the contemporary state of political science have identified at least seven deficiencies that could be alleviated by a Darwinian political science. (1) Although history matters in the study of politics, because the significance of each political event depends on its place in a temporal sequence of events over extended periods of time, contemporary political science often ignores the historical character of political life. So some political scientists have sought to recover political history as an integral part of political science. Darwinian political science would build on this scholarship, while exploring the deep history of politics over millions of years that includes not only human beings but other political animals. This evolutionary political history would move through three levels--natural history, cultural history, and individual history. So, for example, to fully explain Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, we need to see it as an event in the natural history of cooperation in the human species, in the cultural history of slavery in America, and in the individual history of Lincoln as a political actor in the Civil War.

(2) Although morality matters in the study of politics, contemporary political science often ignores the moral dimensions of political life. Against the assumption of many political scientists that political behavior is motivated solely or predominantly by the rational maximization of self-interest, some political scientists have argued for going beyond self-interest to recognize the other-regarding motives of political actors that drive political controversy as a moral debate over the common good. Darwinian political science would support this position by showing how the evolved political nature of human beings as shaped by genetic and cultural group selection shows not only a selfish concern for oneself and one's kin but also a moral concern for reciprocity, fairness, and the good of the group. Lincoln's participation in the debate over slavery and emancipation manifests this moral sense in the recognition of slavery as unjust exploitation, while also manifesting the need to accommodate the self-interest of the slaveholder as a constraint on the pursuit of justice.

(3) Although judgment matters in the study of politics, contemporary political science often has little to say about practical judgment in politics and how to distinguish good and bad political judgment. To rectify its defect, some political scientists have contended that political science needs to recognize and explain political judgment as an intellectual and moral virtue of practical wisdom that cannot be reduced to scientific or theoretical reasoning. Darwinian political science confirms Aristotle's insight about the importance of prudence or practical judgment in morality and politics. Darwinian science recognizes that brains evolved to help animals who need to make practical decisions to satisfy their desires in response to the risks and opportunities offered by their physical and social environments. Human beings and other political animals have evolved brains that allow them to make practical judgments in circumstances of social complexity where knowledge must be always uncertain and imprecise. For human beings, such judgments require deliberate reflection. But they also require worldly experience, proper habituation, intuitive insight, and emotional dispositions that go beyond purely logical reasoning. Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation illustrates the intricacy--if not mystery--of practical judgment in politics.

(4) Although emotion matters in the study of politics, political scientists who emphasize "rational choice" have often played down the role of emotion in political life, and generally many political scientists have assumed that emotion subverts rational decision-making, particularly in democracies threatened by popular passions. And yet some political scientists have argued that political decision-making and rhetoric show the interdependence of reason and emotion, because human practical cognition is guided by the emotional dispositions of human nature, which is apparent in the power that emotion has in electoral behavior. Darwinian political science shows how emotion belongs to the evolved nature of human beings and other political animals. Biological psychology uncovers the neural bases of emotion in the practical judgments of political animals. The power of emotion in political rhetoric is illustrated in the passionate controversies surrounding the Civil War and Lincoln's emancipation of slaves.

(5) Although religion matters in the study of politics, many political scientists have ignored the political importance of religion, particularly those who have assumed that "modernization" would bring a withering away of religious belief. But in recent years, the political effects of religion have been hard to ignore, which has made "politics and religion" a vibrant field of study. Even though Darwinism is sometimes associated with atheism, Darwin recognized religion's importance in the moral evolution of human beings. Following Darwin's lead, David Sloan Wilson has developed an evolutionary theory of religion as a product of genetic and cultural evolution driven by group selection: religion is adaptive insofar as it helps groups to solve collective action problems and function as collective units. American political culture has always been deeply shaped by biblical religion, and so a critical part of the debate over slavery was whether it was compatible with the Bible. It was crucial, therefore, for Lincoln to defend his Emancipation Proclamation as conforming to biblical morality.

(6) Although ambition matters in the study of politics, many political scientists look to impersonal laws of political behavior and abstract models of rational choice in which the personal ambition of political actors falls out of view. Against this tendency, some political scientists have asserted that politics is all about the manly spiritedness of ambitious political actors competing for importance. Darwinian political science recognizes such political ambition as the striving for hegemonic dominance that arises among political animals organizing themselves into hierarchies of dominance and submission. Among human beings and some other primates, this competition for dominance creates a tense balance of power between the desire of the dominant few to rule and the desire of the subordinate many to be free from exploitation. Lincoln was an example of a restlessly ambitious man who yearned to do something great in politics that would bring immortal glory to his name. His ambition was channeled and checked by the American system of constitutional government. But that constitutional system also allowed him to satisfy his ambition by winning the glory that came from issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

(7) Although liberal education matters in the study of politics, the discipline of political science has become so specialized and fragmented as to be almost completely separated not only from the natural sciences and the humanities, but even from the other social sciences, and thus it cannot be integrated into the interdisciplinary activity of liberal learning. Some political scientists worry that this professional isolation of political science from general education prevents students and scholars from seeing how the study of politics ultimately requires a general understanding of the place of human beings in the universe. Darwinian political science employs evolutionary thinking as a way of unifying knowledge across all the disciplines of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities to understand the evolved nature of human beings as political animals. This is illustrated by explaining Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as an individual political judgment constrained by the natural history of the human species and the cultural history of American politics.

The fundamental framework for Darwinian political science is the theoretical analysis of political behavior as conforming to a nested hierarchy of three levels of deep political history--the universal history of the species, the cultural history of the group, and the individual history of animals within the group. To fully comprehend the human nature of politics, we must understand the unity of political universals, the diversity of political cultures, and the individuality of political judgments. I will work through these three levels of Darwinian deep political history as they are generally manifested in human politics, and as they are particularly illustrated in Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mark Lilla's "The Politics of God"

Today's New York Times Magazine (August 19) has an article by Mark Lilla on "The Politics of God."

Lilla traces back to Thomas Hobbes the modern Western liberal idea of separation of politics and religion. "In order to escape the destructive passions of messianic faith, political theology centered on God was replaced by political philosophy centered on man. This was the Great Separation." But he argues that despite the apparent success of this Great Separation in the West, it ignored what Rousseau recognized--that human beings are "theotropic creatures" with an "urge to connect" who long for redemption from the world. Political theology, therefore, will always reassert itself to satisfy this religious longing. This can come in a secular form--such as the messianic utopianism of Nazism and Marxism. Or it can come in the form of an orthodox religious movement like Islamism. But in any case, this religious longing supporting political theology will not be easily defeated by Western liberalism.

Lilla is obviously much influenced by Eric Voegelin, particularly in his account of political messianism, although Lilla never refers to Voegelin.

In speaking of human beings as "theotropic creatures," Lilla is acknowledging what I have called the natural desire for religious understanding. Because this religious longing is rooted in evolved human nature, there is no reason to think that it can be eliminated by "modernization" or "secularization."

The question, then, is whether this religious longing can be channeled in such a way as to avoid a dangerous moral and political fanaticism. Lilla seems pessimistic about Hobbes' Great Separation as the final answer. At the end of his article, he suggests the better answer might be a "renewal of traditional political theology from within" that makes orthodox believers good citizens. He suggests that Martin Luther and John Calvin did this in the Protestant Reformation, and that Islamic thinkers like Khaled Abou El Fadl and Tariq Ramadan might do that for Islam today. But it's hard for me to understand exactly what Lilla has in mind here, particularly since both Calvin and Luther taught that heretics should be persecuted!

The one path that he does not consider is that taken by Roger Williams--the path of radical Protestantism. Contrary to what Lilla says, Hobbes did not invent the separation of religion and politics. Williams and other radical Protestants had argued before Hobbes that the New Testament--as opposed to the Old Testament--dictated liberty of conscience in religious belief. That's why Williams was expelled from Massachusetts when he rejected the theocracy in Massachusetts Bay. Moreover, Williams could argue that the New Testament Christians showed no interest in politically enforcing their beliefs on those outside their Christian churches. Paul was clear about this: "For what is it to me to judge those outside? Is it not for you to judge those inside? But God is to judge those outside" (I Corinthians 5:12-13). Here, then, is the New Testament basis for a Christian libertarianism that runs against the theocratic traditions that began with Constantine and Augustine. It is not surprising that Locke was able to quote Paul's verse as supporting the idea of toleration.

Actually, Williams and others in the Baptist tradition would seem to be much better sources for the idea of separating religion and politics than are Hobbes and Locke. In fact, Hobbes taught that the political sovereign should have the sole power to dictate the theological doctrines sanctioned by the state. So it would seem that far from teaching the Great Separation, Hobbes taught the Great Unification!

Darwinian conservatism recognizes the importance of religious belief as satisfying a natural human desire and as supporting the social life of believers within their religious groups. But it also recognizes that the natural human tendency to be corrupted by unchecked power makes it necessary to separate religion and politics by securing individual freedom of conscience.

In another post, I have elaborated my argument for Williams's position.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Reproduction Favors Religion--The Darwinian Link

Mary Eberstadt has an article in Policy Review entitled "How the West Really Lost God." Proponents of the "secularization thesis" argue that modernity brings atheism, because the spread of "Enlightened" education will bring to more and more people the news announced by Nietzsche that "God is dead." There are some problems with this idea, however. Although proponents of secularization generally assume that this is an improvement in the human condition, it has been noticed that decline in religious belief is connected to declining fertility. Particularly, in western Europe, where "secularization" seems most evident, declining birth rates are creating a social crisis, because the present generation is not producing enough children to replace themselves. One explanation is that declining religious belief creates declining birth rates, because atheists are less inclined to have and care for lots of children. So here it seems that secularization is socially harmful. Another problem, however, is that the secularization thesis can't explain why one of the most "modern" countries--the United States--is also one of the most religious.

To resolve these issues, Eberstadt argues that the causal arrow might point in the opposite direction for many people--it's not that people produce lots of babies because they're religious; rather, they are religious because they are producing lots of babies. She suggests, for example, that the history of secularization in Europe could be explained this way, because, historically, low rates of fertility in various European countries preceded the drop in religious practices.

Thus, Eberstadt is offering an anthropology of religion based on the biology of the "natural family." Giving birth, caring for children, and forming families are elemental experiences for human beings throughout history in all societies. This universal experience teaches us that there is something greater than ourselves--the perpetuation of our offspring and our families--and this opens us up to the thought that there is transcendent reality that is captured by religious belief. After all, religion is not for most people a purely intellectual and solitary decision. It's a social activity. We're religious because our religion is part of our family and the extended community of family ties.

This might also explain, Eberstadt suggests, why women tend to be more religious than men--because women are more immediately and deeply affected by having children than are men.

As I have suggested in some previous posts, the Bible shows this connection between religion and reproduction. Whenever Moses has to give some explanation as to why the Jews should obey his laws, he tells them that if they obey, they will live and propagate themselves with numerous offspring (see, for example, Deuteronomy 30:15-20).

While Eberstadt recognizes the biological ground of this connection between reproduction and religion, she does not see that she is implicitly making a Darwinian argument. In fact, her argument is very similar to what David Sloan Wilson says about religion as an adaptation of cultural group selection in which religious belief helps believers to work together as collective units, so that family ties are reinforced and extended through the group.

One should also notice that like Wilson, Eberstadt concentrates on the practical benefits of religion rather than its theological doctrines. For Wilson (and for Darwinians generally), the "vertical" dimension of religion (beliefs in supernatural agents and supernatural afterlife) is a proximate means to secure the "horizontal" dimension (practical rules for cooperation) as the ultimate end. Eberstadt says nothing about the theological truth or falsity of any particular religion, because what counts for her is the practical truth of reinforcing good social order in supporting the natural family. The concern here is with the social or moral effects of a religion, regardless of its doctrinal claims.

This preoccupation with the practical effects of religion is the proper conservative stance. That's why conservatives can agree on the practical benefits of religion even when they disagree about whether any particular religion is superior in its theological truth to any other. So you can have conservative Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and Mormons working together, even though they disagree in their doctrinal creeds. You might even have skeptical conservatives (like Friedrich Hayek or Michael Oakeshott) who agree on the moral importance of religious traditions, but without necessarily accepting their theological doctrines.

Eberstadt lists Darwin along with Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud as intellectuals who proclaimed that "God is dead." But in fact, as I have often argued, Darwin never openly spoke against religious belief. He was probably a skeptic by the end of his life. But he never professed atheism. And he spoke often (in THE DESCENT OF MAN and elsewhere) about the importance of religious belief for moral progress.

Conservatives like Eberstadt who make so much of the connection between reproduction, the natural family, and religious belief should recognize that they are making a Darwinian argument, which should be part of the case for Darwinian conservatism.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bonobo Politics

In a previous post, I commented briefly on Ian Parker's article on bonobo research in The New Yorker. The article was slanted against Frans de Waal, arguing that de Waal has been responsible for a naive view of bonobos as "hippie primates" based on his limited observations of bonobos in the San Diego zoo, but without having ever seen a bonobo in the wild. Now, de Waal has written a response, which I find persuasive.

Here's how I would summarize the points of agreement and disagreement in this debate. The fundamental problem is that the observational study of bonobos is not as extensive as that for chimpanzees. In the wild, bonobos are found only south of the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It's very hard to study them there because of the density and inaccessibility of their jungle habitat, and because of the political violence in the DRC. Most of the behavioral research has been done in zoos. In 2006, there were only a total of 84 bonobos in North America and 76 in Europe. The largest captive group is in the Milwaukee County Zoo, which has 21 individuals. By contrast, there are far more chimps in zoos around the world. Moreover, chimps have been studied in the wild for many decades at multiple sites.

Chimps have both male and female dominance hiearchies, but the alpha male dominates overall. Chimps are both competitive and cooperative. Their competition can be violent, even to the point of lethal violence. Until the 1970s, Jane Goodall was reporting that chimps were remarkably peaceful. But then she observed the chimps at Gombe dividing into two territorial groups that went to war, with the northern group (led by aggressive males) decimating the southern group. There have also been observations of lethal violence within chimp groups in the competition for alpha male status.

Bonobos also have both male and female dominance hierarchies, but it seems that the females dominate over the males. Although the adult bonobo males are bigger and stronger than the females, the females seem to be able to intimidate the males through a sexual bonding of females, who engage in elaborate bisexual acrobatics. The situation here is unclear because some primatologists speak of bonobos as showing "co-dominance," in which the alpha male and alpha female share dominance. Richard Wrangham, Takayoshi Kano, and Chris Boehm take this position. But de Waal and Amy Parish tend to stress female dominance.

This ambiguity in the dominance structure of bonobos is evident in the group at the Milwaukee Zoo, where I have often taken the students from my "Chimpazee Politics" class. Until recently, the top of the dominance hierarchy has been held by a male-female mated pair. (A good survey of this Milwaukee group can be found in a new book--Jo Sandin's Bonobos: Encounters in Empathy.) Careful observation by keepers at the zoo, supported with meticulous daily records of behavior, suggests that the female Maringa is the "matriarch" over the whole group, although her longtime mate Lody is the alpha male. At times, Lody seemed to be just enforcing the female dominance of "the power chicks." At other times, he seemed to be acting as equal to Maringa, as if they were the "royal couple."

Bonobos seem to use sexual pleasure--homosexual as well as heterosexual--as a way of pacifying conflict and releasing tension. Thus, sexuality is not just for reproduction but also for nonreproductive bonding. This pacifying effect of sexual coupling also seems to be used when bonobo groups meet in the wild. While chimps have been observed using lethal violence in group competition, bonobos have never been seen to do this. This might be because we haven't yet observed bonobos long enough. After all, Goodall had to wait for almost 15 years before she saw warfare among her chimps. But at least as of now, the evidence suggests that bonobos are better at pacifying conflict than are chimps.

Still, this does not mean that bonobos are totally peaceful. As de Waal says, the very fact that bonobos have to work hard at reconciliation shows that there is competition and conflict that needs to be controlled.

And if bonobos seem in some ways to be more egalitarian than chimps, this does not mean that hierarchy is completely absent among bonobos. There is a dominance structure among both females and males, and it's ultimately a matter either of female dominance over the males or co-dominance of alpha female and alpha male.

If human ancestry is traceable back to a common ancestor with bonobos and chimps, then one would expect that human beings show a political nature that is ambivalent in combining competition and cooperation, a propensity to dominance and a propensity to resist dominance. In his newest book Our Inner Ape, de Waal concludes that human beings are the "bipolar ape," combining chimp and bonobo traits, "being both more systematically brutal than chimps and more empathic than bonobos."

In any case, I see nothing here to support the Marxist notion that social engineering in a socialist society could make human beings so selflessly cooperative that they would have no interest in private property or social hierarchy. The failure of the Marxist regimes in the 20th century confirms the conclusion of primatologists like de Waal that Marxism is contrary to human nature.

We are neither selfless cooperators nor rational egoists. We are neither purely egalitarian animals nor purely despotic. We are a complex mixture of natural propensities that balance self-interest against cooperation and dominance against equality.

This goes against the utopian belief of the radical left in human perfectibility as supporting a revolutionary transformation of the human condition through social re-education. Rather, it supports the realistic belief of libertarian conservatism in human imperfectiblity as showing the need for regimes based on traditional morality, family life, private property, and limited government.

Other posts on bonobos can be found here and here.