Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Response to Seven Commentaries on DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM

Imprint Academic will be publishing a new expanded edition of Darwinian Conservatism edited by Kenneth Blanchard (Northern State University, Aberdeen, South Dakota). This new edition will reprint the original text for Darwinian Conservatism. It will also include critical commentaries on the book by seven authors: Neil Blackstone (Northern Illinois University), Lauren Hall (Rochester Institute of Technology), Carson Holloway (University of Nebraska at Omaha), Peter Augustine Lawler (Berry College), Timothy Sandefur (Pacific Legal Foundation), Richard Sherlock (Utah State University), and John West (Discovery Institute). I will write a response to the commentaries. Blanchard will write a survey of the debate.

On this blog, I have already some responses to Holloway, Lawler, Sandefur, and West. In my response for this book, I will incorporate and elaborate some of the points I have made here in some of my previous posts.

I expect to organize my response under four categories: (1) conservative thought, (2) individuals and groups, (3) intelligent design, and (4) natural law and religion.

Hall and Sandefur agree with me that the evolutionary biology of human nature supports libertarian or classical liberal thought. But they sharply distinguish libertarianism from traditionalist conservatism, and so they don't agree with me that Darwinian science supports a fusion of classical liberalism and traditionalist conservatism. Hall and Sandefur seem to agree in defending a purely secular libertarianism that is suspicious of any religious conservatism that might threaten individual liberty and scientific rationalism.

I will respond by reiterating my claim that Darwinian biology supports ordered liberty as the central idea that unites classical liberals and traditionalist conservatives. Classical liberals look back to Adam Smith. Traditionalist conservatives look back to Edmund Burke. But Burke and Smith were intellectual friends. Burke praised both of Smith's books--The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations. Burke was a Whig, and the Burkean conservatives recognize themselves to be "liberal conservatives" in the sense that they share Burke's devotion to the Whig tradition of liberty.

Darwin drew heavily from Smith, particularly Smith's theory of moral sentiments. And like both Smith and Burke, Darwin recognized the importance of cultural tradition for moral and political order. Darwin's idea of evolution was derived from the idea of spontaneous order coming out of the Scottish and British Enlightenment.

Although Friedrich Hayek and Russell Kirk were often personally critical of one another, they agreed on a lot. After all, Hayek identified himself as a Burkean Whig, and Kirk shared Hayek's fear of statist coercion. As Sandefur indicates, some of Kirk's remarks can be interpreted as favoring statist coercion in the enforcement of traditional norms. But Kirk generally recognized that moral order came best from the spontaneous orders of civil society.

The libertarian's devotion to individual liberty and the traditionalist's devotion to social order can be properly combined in that trichotomy of order that I develop in my book--natural order, customary order, and deliberate order. Darwinian explanations of social life must stress all three. As social and political animals, our social life manifests our natural propensities as diversely expressed in customary traditions and as subject to rational deliberation.

I agree with Hayek in stressing the importance of spontaneous order as custom or tradition. But I also argue that this customary order is constrained by nature, and reason can stipulate order within the constraints of both nature and custom.

Much of the discussion from the commentators turns on the relationship between individuals and groups. Sandefur contrasts conservatives who see society as a value in itself and libertarians who see society as a value only to individuals. Blackstone contrasts my "tragic vision" of human nature as based on individual-level selection and the "utopian vision" based on group-level selection. On the other hand, Lawler says that my Darwinian science cannot account for the radical individuality of human self-consciousness, which manifests an obsessively self-centered longing for love and fear of death. According to Lawler, Darwinism stresses the importance of the species while denying the individual's insistence that "it really is all about me."

In this discussion, I would agree with Hall who says that Darwinian science shows a "mixed human nature, both social and selfish." As selfish animals, we do think "it really is all about me." But as social animals, we live for the sake of others. The "tragic vision" of Darwinian conservatism sees human nature as showing a conflict between individual-level selfishness and group-level altruism.

It is hard for me to respond to Lawler, because I cannot figure out exactly what he is saying. At times, he seems to be affirming a radical individuality and criticizing Darwinism for failing to respect such individuality. But at other times, he seems to reject this individuality as narcissism and praises Darwinism for showing that our true happiness comes from social engagement. On the one hand, he insists that to be human is to be utterly self-centered. On the other hand, he dismisses such self-centeredness as "the modern error."

I don't understand Lawler's claim that "Arnhart denies that love and death are essential to our being," and that I cannot account for "the fact of our deep loneliness or of our deep longing to be known and loved by other persons." It is odd to say this considering that I stress the natural desires for friendship, conjugal love, parental care, and familial bonding as manifestations of our naturally social animality.

As an Heideggerian existentialist, Lawler believes that existential anxiety in struggling with the meaning of life and death defines our human identity. But contrary to what Lawler says, Darwinian science recognizes this. Darwin observed that human beings were unique in their self-conscious reflection on life and death. Moreover, Darwinian conservatism supports the free society as necessary for securing the conditions in which individuals are free to associate in families, social groups, and churches to answer the transcendent questions of the meaning of life.

I will contine this in a second post.

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