Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Aristotelian Liberalism (4): War, Religion, and Parental Care

My list of 20 natural desires includes parental care, courage in war, and religious understanding. It seems odd to me, therefore, that Rasmussen and Den Uyl can speak about the generic goods of human life while saying almost nothing about war, religion, and the parent-child bond.

Since warfare has been a pervasive feature of human ethical and political history, it is surprising that Rasmussion and Den Uyl are largely silent about war. Occasionally, they mention courage as a virtue and include it as a generic good (LAN, 29; NOL, 130, 249). They also make a passing reference to a military life as one form of life in a pluralistic society (LAN, 215). But when they discuss the need for handling emergencies, they mention "earthquakes, fires, floods, famines, and shipwrecks," but they say nothing about wars (LAN, 144-51). And in their extensive comments on the need for liberal states to protect individual liberty, they never mention the need for military defense. Occasionally, they acknowledge the possibility of moral tragedy, but they never identify war as a prime source of tragic moral conflicts (LAN, 150-51; NOL, 152, 180).

By contrast, a Darwinian view of human nature recognizes that human moral history often coincides with military history. Darwin believed that a major factor in human evolution was group selection through warfare, which shaped the natural moral virtues for military courage and spiritedness. Similarly, Aristotle compared human warfare to animal warfare. Certainly, the natural history of liberty has turned on the natural human disposition to the courageous defense of liberty in war. Locke recognized this when he spoke about the "appeal to Heaven," which is the appeal to war when people think their natural rights to liberty have been violated. Rasmussen and Den Uyl say that their Aristotelian ethics of liberty and virtue is a revival of the principles of the America Declaration of Independence. But they ignore the fact that the Declaration of Independence was a declaration of war.

This reluctance to face the moral reality of war is a common problem for libertarians like Rasmussen and Den Uyl.

Rasmussen and Den Uyl note that some people (like John Finnis and the proponents of the "new natural law") believe that religion is one of the generic goods of human life (NOL, 79, 186). Rasmussen and Den Uyl offer no explicit discussion of religion. But their implicitly secular view of ethics apparently denies religious belief. For example, they write: "The only place our telos resides, so to speak, is in ourselves. It does not reside someplace else" (NOL, 212; cf. 344-45).

In my Darwinian ethical naturalism, I agree with Rasmussen and Den Uyl in arguing that our ethics and politics can be grounded on purely natural human experience, without any necessity for invoking the supernatural. But part of that natural human experience is a natural human desire for religious understanding, and therefore we need to recognize religious longings as expressing some of the deepest propensities of our evolved human nature. The irresolvable debate between reason and revelation expresses the natural human condition in facing the fundamental mysteries of our life in the universe.

With their emphasis on human nature, it is surprising that Rasmussen and Den Uyl ignore the primal fact of our natural human condition that we all come into life as children dependent on the care of parents or parental surrogates. They do make some casual references to parents and children (LAN, 107, 240-41, 259; NOL, 124, 138, 141-42, 192, 203, 232, 269, 278, 301-303, 309, 315). But they never identify parental care as a generic good. And they generally speak about human individuals as though they were always adults.

Like all libertarians, Rasmussen and Den Uyl argue that social life should be organized through the voluntary association of consenting adults. Consequently, they are reluctant to admit that we all begin life as children under parental authority to which we could not consent.

From a Darwinian view, we can say that the natural desire for parental care tends to protect the best interests of children by nurturing them until they are mature enough to exercise deliberate choice in their lives. Of course, parental authority is often a source of deep conflicts between parents and children. But the utopian projects for collectivizing the rearing of the young have not proven to provide any better alternatives to private families.

Parental care is especially important for Aristotle's biological explanation of social cooperation, because he believes that all social cooperation ultimately arises as an extension of the natural impulses to sexual coupling and parental care of the young. Some animals provide little care for their offspring. But the more social and more intelligent animals care for the complete development of their young. Human beings and the other political animals are characterized by the great duration and intensity of parental care, which includes not only feeding and protecting the young but also passing on the habits and knowledge required for living in groups with complex social structures (HA, 588b23-89a9; GA, 753a8-14; NE, 1155a1-33, 1159a27-37, 1160b23-62a29).


Anonymous said...

Mr. Arnhart- Do you think that paternal investment in offspring is natural for human beings? I ask because out of wedlock child birth will soon be the norm in the U.S., and I was wondering if a Darwinian conservative should be fighting such a change as unnatural, or as detrimental to the fulfillment of our natural, immanent, human ends?

Larry Arnhart said...

Parental care is natural. But maternal care tends to be stronger on average than paternal care. That's why the mother-child bond is typically more stable than the father-child bond. And that's why we have to invest cultural resources to encourage (or coerce) men to care for their children.

Everyone is better off when men care for their children. But's it's hard to achieve this.