Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty: A Mont Pelerin Society Meeting in the Galapagos

In June, the Mont Pelerin Society will be meeting in the Galapagos Islands for a conference on "Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty."  I will be joining a distinguished group of speakers in considering how evolutionary science applies to the debate over classical liberalism.  My lecture will be entitled "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism."

The Mont Pelerin Society was founded in 1947 to promote classical liberal thought under the leadership of Friedrich Hayek.  Since Hayek applied evolutionary thinking to his arguments for classical liberalism, it's not surprising that the Mont Pelerin Society has organized this special meeting on evolution in the Galapagos Islands where Darwin gathered some of the evidence that he would use in developing his theory.

If you go to the website for the conference, you will see that one of the suggested topics for the meeting is "to understand the cultural evolution of open societies as a means to escape from the tribal order."  This reflects an idea from Hayek that I will dispute.

Hayek sometimes spoke of "freedom as an artifact of civilization" that required the "repression" of the innate desires and emotions of human beings as shaped by genetic evolution for life in prehistoric hunting-gathering bands or tribes.  This is the "Freudianism" of Hayek that I find unpersuasive.

Like Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents, Hayek thought that the civilization of a free or open society was contrary to human nature as adapted for life in small face-to-face primitive groups.  The freedom of a modern civilized society was a purely cultural construction that required the repression of the natural instincts of the human animal.

By contrast, I will argue, the freedom of a modern liberal society can be rightly understood as an extension of the evolved predispositions shaped for prehistoric foraging societies--particularly, the predisposition to resist exploitation by dominant individuals.  This evolutionary history of liberty is manifest in the historical anthropology of the early liberal thought of Locke, Hume, and Smith.  Recently, evolutionary theorists like Christopher Boehm have shown how new research in evolutionary anthropology confirms this line of argument in classical liberal thought.

So I will be developing some ideas laid out in various posts, some of which can be found here and here.


Troy Camplin said...

I went to the site and saw who will be there. Might as well be a list of Troy Camplin's Greatest Living Heroes. Kauffman and Cosmides and Dunbar and Ridley, in addition to you? Are you kidding me?!? At a conference on evolution and social science, at a society set up by Hayek? Really?

Oh, if only I had the money! If only I were a member of Mt. Pelerin!

Anonymous said...

You and Hayek might both be right in different spheres of society.