Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kraynak's Reply and the Three Levels of Evolution

In response to my recent post on his article--"Justice Without Foundations"--Robert Kraynak has written the following as a comment:
"The main point of my article, 'Justice without Foundations,' was to argue on philosophical grounds that post-modern relativists like Rorty and Darwinians like Dennett and Pinker have commitments to social justice, understood as democracy, human rights, and respect for human dignity that are completely inconsistent with their philosophical and scientific views.  Darwinian evolution does not support democracy and human rights or the inherent dignity of the individual.  If it supports any kind of moral code, it would be a code of the strong dominating the weak or one 'tribal' gene pool dominating or exterminating another tribal gene pool.  Strict Darwinians should look upon, for example, the victims of the Haitian earthquake in cold rational fashion as losers in the struggle for survival, not as objects of compassion or as eliciting aid for the suffering stranger.  The attachment of Darwinians to democratic values or to Christian values of universal charity is completely contradictory and irrational.  Their claims to the contrary seem to reflect the secularized values of the surrounding Christian culture and a kind of Lamarckian belief that we can inherit culturally acquired values from the non-Darwinian cultures that developed through religion, philosophy, and high culture.  None of the above comments [the comments on the post] are really addressing the main point--that Darwinian evolution as a 'metaphysical doctrine' does not support democracy, human rights, and universal human dignity.  When Darwinians refer to 'evolved human nature' that includes democracy and human rights, they are sneaking in cultural values not inherited traits--'memes' rather than 'genes' as Dawkins likes to say, also quite inconsistently.
My response to this comment should be clear to anyone who has read the posts to which I linked in my post on Kraynak's article. 

Contrary to what Kraynak says here, there is no evidence in Darwin's writing or in the writing on the evolutionary psychology of morality that Darwinism requires that we reject any appeal to compassion or sympathy for suffering human beings.  In fact, Darwin is very clear in affirming sympathy as an expression of our evolved social instincts, and recent research on the evolution of morality is very clear about the importance of social emotions in moral experience.  I have written many posts about this.

Moreover, when Kraynak refers to "a kind of Lamarckian belief that we can inherit culturally acquired values," he doesn't realize that Darwin embraced Lamarckian cultural evolution, and he doesn't realize that I have argued in many posts and in my books that to explain social order, we need three levels of order: genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and deliberate judgment.

Darwin elaborates on this throughout the The Descent of Man. He summarizes this point near the end of the book:  "Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man's nature is concerned there are other agencies more important.  For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, etc., than through natural selection; though to this latter agency may be safely attributed the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense."

We have genetically evolved instincts for social learning and deliberate judgment, so that any Darwinian explanation of moral or political order requires moving through three levels of explanation: nature, custom (or habit), and reason.  I have illustrated this throughout my writing.  So, for example, in Darwinian Conservatism, I have explained the evolution of the moral sense as moving through three levels: moral sentiments, moral traditions, and moral judgments.  Similarly, I have explained the evolution of property as moving from natural property to customary property to formal property.  Kraynak needs to explain why this is wrong.

A sample of the many posts on these points can be found here, here, here, and here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Strauss and Seagrave on Darwin and the Declaration

This fall, Adam Seagrave will be joining the Department of Political Science at Northern Illinois University as our newest professor in the field of political theory.  He comes from Notre Dame, where he earned his Ph.D.  I am pleased to have him as a new colleague, because he will be a great addition to our program in political theory.

I first became aware of Seagrave's work from reading his series of articles on the political theory of natural right, natural law, and natural rights. 

While I agree with him on many points, I disagree with him on some fundamental points.  The primary source of our disagreements is that Seagrave accepts Leo Strauss's claim that modern natural science--and particularly Darwinian science--subverts any idea of nature that would support natural right, natural law, or natural rights, while I argue against Strauss in defending the idea of Darwinian natural right.

Our disagreement is evident in Seagrave's recent article--"Darwin and the Declaration"--in Politics and the Life Sciences (vol. 30, no. 1, spring 2011, pp. 2-16).  He disputes my argument that Darwinian evolutionary science can support the reasoning for natural rights found in the Declaration of Independence and in the argumentation of John Locke that stands behind the Declaration.

Seagrave asserts--and I agree--that the philosophical teaching of the Declaration of Independence assumes both the distinctness and the dignity of the human species.  Human beings must be naturally distinct in being different in kind from all other species of animals.  And this natural distinctiveness must give human beings a natural dignity as being morally superior to all other species. 

According to Seagrave, I fail to recognize how Darwin's evolutionary science contradicts both of these points.  Contrary to the first point, Darwin claims that human beings as products of evolution are different in degree but not in kind from other animal species, and thus Darwin denies the essentialist conception of species implicit in the Declaration of Independence and in Locke's reasoning.  Contrary to the second point, Darwin grounds the moral dignity of human beings in the evolution of a "moral sense" that depends upon the moral sense tradition of philosophy--from Francis Hutcheson to David Hume and Adam Smith--which assumes a natural sociality that denies the Locke's reliance on natural selfishness and individualism.

Seagrave writes:
The specific points on which my arguments differ from Arnhart's account consist primarily in the following: 1) whether Darwinian evolutionary theory can support the conception of the human species or human nature that is sufficiently stable and distinct to cohere with the idea of natural or human rights found in the distilled Declaration; and, 2) whether "moral sense" philosophy can serve as an adequate or appropriate support for this idea of natural or human rights.  While Arnhart clearly answers both questions in the affirmative, I have argued that significant and perhaps insurmountable obstacles to affirmative answers remain. (12)
Most of what I would say in response to Seagrave can be found in previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I'll add just a few points here.  First, Seagrave fails to consider the possibility that the reality of human nature as required for the Lockean argument and the Declaration of Independence can be grounded in a biological concept of species that is opposed to Platonic essentialism.  That Locke draws from the Aristotelian biological tradition of understanding species is evident when one notices the passages in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding that are almost direct quotations from Aristotle's biological writings.  For example, Locke's comments on how "we shall find everywhere that the several species are linked together, and differ but in almost insensible degrees" (3.6.12; 4.16.2) echo passages in Aristotle's Parts of Animals (681a10-15).  Like Locke, Aristotle is criticizing the Platonic tradition of essentialism and defending a biological concept of species rooted in an empirical science of natural history.  This biological tradition of thought from Aristotle to Locke is renewed in Darwin's evolutionary account of species, in which emergent differences in kind arise from differences in degree that pass over a critical threshold of complexity.  So, for example, we can explain the distinctiveness of the human mind as an emergent product of the evolution of the primate brain as it increased in size and complexity.

If one assumes, as Seagrave seems to do, that Platonic essentialism is the only way to explain the reality of species, then Locke and Darwin will appear to be nominalists who deny the reality of species.  But if one sees the reasonableness of the biological concept of species, then one can see how Locke and Darwin can affirm species as stable realities that we can know by an empirical natural history of probabilistic science.

My second point is to deny Seagrave's sharp contrast between Lockean individualism and individual rights, on the one hand, and the Scottish moral sense philosophy, on the other hand.  I am not convinced that Lockean individual rights require a political morality that denies human sociality and the concern for the public good, which would set Lockean individualism in opposition to the moral sense school.

Actually, Seagrave recognizes that Thomas Jefferson--the primary author of the Declaration of Independence--thought that Locke's arguments and the moral sense philosophy were compatible.  Seagrave explains this by asserting "that Jefferson himself simply overlooked, or failed to fully grapple with, the significant yet rather subtle tensions between a Hutchesonian public good-based political philosophy and a Lockean rights-based one" (11).  Does Seagrave really want to assert that he understands Jefferson's Declaration better than Jefferson himself did?

Jefferson's Declaration begins by invoking the rights of individual "men."  But then it moves to the rights of "the People."  Seagrave says nothing about this, because in concentrating on the opening sentences of the Declaration, he ignores the rest of the Declaration that speaks of "the People" rather than individual "men."  Most importantly, the right of revolution--the right exercised in the Declaration of Independence itself--is said to be a right of "the People."  This thought is carried into the U.S. Constitution, which appeals to the authority of "We the People," with no references to the rights of "men."

This move from the individual rights of "men" to the social rights of "the People" is evident in Locke's Two Treatises, which reflects the complexity of human nature as both selfish and social.  Seagrave says nothing about this.

Throughout the Two Treatises, Locke indicates that the rights of individuals are constrained by society and the public good.  For example, private property is constrained by the rule that there must be "enough, and as good left in common for others" (ST, 27).  Human beings are driven into society by their dependence on parental care as children, and the family is the "first society" (ST, 77).  Like Aristotle and Darwin, Locke explains the natural sociality of human beings as arising from their  biological nature as mammals with extended periods of childhood dependence on parental care.  Not only do human beings have a natural desire to care for themselves and their survival, they also have a natural desire to care for their children and other family members as extensions of themselves (FT, 86-97; ST, 52-86).  Once individuals leave the state of nature to enter civil society, these individuals have authorized the society or the legislative power to act for the "public good of the Society" (ST, 89).  In that society, individuals must submit to the rule of the majority.  Moreover, the right of resistance to tyranny is not a right of every individual but a right of the people.  Many individuals can suffer a deprivation of rights.  But there will be no revolution until the majority of the people are moved to rebel (ST, 230).  For as long as society lasts, the rights of individuals have  been given up to the community (ST, 242).

This Lockean movement from the rights of individual men to the rights of the people is clear in the Declaration of Independence.  Once government is said to be "instituted among men," the Declaration never mentions the "rights" of "men" again.  Instead, the Declaration speaks of the "rights" of the "People."

My point here is that Locke and the Declaration combine individual self-interest and social concern in a manner that is close to what one sees in the moral sense philosophers and Darwin.  Human beings naturally care for themselves, but they also naturally care for others whom they identify as extensions of themselves.  Darwin explains this as a manifestation of evolved human nature.  Modern social neuroscience deepens this explanation by showing how human neuroendocrine systems are adapted to sustain our self-conscious care for our embodied identity and for others as mammalian extensions of our ourselves.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Newt Gingrich, Chimpanzee Politician

Now that Newt Gingrich has won the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina, we have another chance to see how successful he can be in practicing the art of chimpanzee politics in the quest for alpha male dominance.  In his case, the similarities between chimpanzee politics and human politics have become part of his self-conscious strategizing.  When he became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1994, he recommended that freshmen Republican representatives read Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics as a good book for understanding Washington politics.  He identified himself as the dominant chimp, and many observers noticed the similarities between the Republican power-takeover in 1994 and de Waal's depictions of his power-striving chimps.

Since then, Gingrich has continued to show his interest in evolutionary science and primate politics.  In an interview a few years ago, he indicated that if he had not become a historian and politician, he might have become an evolutionary naturalist like Edward O. Wilson.

Gingrich's shrewd techniques in the televised debates show his understanding of how important dominance displays can be in challenging one's rivals.  This also shows how easily the demagoguery of a narcissistic bully can sway voters who are desperate for a leader.  We can only hope that the voters will eventually discover the dangerous consequences of following someone with such a reckless personality.

And perhaps Mitt Romney will need to study Chimpanzee Politics to learn something about the mistakes of being too timid in debates.   

The possibility of a chimpanzee political science has been a topic for various posts on this blog, some of which can be found here and here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Kraynak's Nietzschean Attack on Darwinian Naturalism

The New Atlantis has published an article ("Justice without Foundations") by Robert Kraynak attacking Darwinian naturalism as failing to provide the "foundations" for justice.  Apparently, I am one of the targets for his attack, although his reference to me consists of only one sentence: "Some argue that Darwinism provides a coherent theory of 'natural right' that resembles Aristotle's theory (but without the natural teleology); Larry Arnhart, for example, has developed such a theory, which he calls (in the title of his 2005 book) Darwinian Conservatism" (109).  Even this one sentence is mistaken, because I have argued that Darwinian natural right really is rooted in a natural teleology, although it's the "immanent teleology" of evolutionary adaptation to species-specific ends rather than the "cosmic teleology" of an intelligently designed universe.

Kraynak says he wants to explain the "strangeness of our day":
What is so strange about our age is that demands for respecting human rights and human dignity are increasing even as the foundations for those demands are disappearing.  In particular, beliefs in man as a creature made in the image of God, or an animal with a rational soul, are being replaced by a scientific materialism that undermines what is noble and special about man, and by doctrines of relativism that deny the objective morality required to undergird human dignity.  How do we account for the widening gap between metaphysics and morals today?  How do we explain "justice without foundations"--a virtue that seems to exist like a table without legs, suspended in mid-air?  What is holding up the central moral beliefs of our times? (103-104)
Kraynak surveys some of the writings of Richard Rorty, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker as illustrating this modern strangeness of "justice without foundations."  He then indicates that to explain this modern predicament we need to adopt the "insights" of Frederich Nietzsche.
The modern Western world is no longer openly Christian and religious, but nor is it free of all Christian and religious influences.  Rather, modernity is a secularized form of Christianity in which the religious faith of the Middle Ages has been transformed by the Enlightenment into a worldly form of humanitarianism: the original spiritual notions of Christian charity and equality before God were transformed into a political movement of equal rights and dignity before man, which led to the French Revolution and the democratic ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity.  Nietzsche states this point succinctly when he discusses modern politics in Beyond Good and Evil, arguing that "the democratic movement is the heir of the Christian movement."  What he means is that modern democracy arose from the secularization of Christian values, producing a feeling of pity for the suffering of humanity and a morality of equal rights, which seeks to overthrow aristocratic orders by revolutionary movements and to create a more just and compassionate world.
Another formulation that Nietzsche uses to capture the moral psychology of the modern world is that modern man wants the Christian morality without the Christian God.  In Twilight of the Idols, he sarcastically criticizes the English people for preserving Christian morality despite their rejection of Christian faith. (114)
Kraynak admits that Darwinian naturalists--like me--do provide a "foundation" for moral order in "an objective idea of human nature" that does not depend upon religious belief.  But this Darwinian appeal to nature is confused, he insists, because it ignores the "logical implication" of Darwinian naturalism, which is Social Darwinism--"a view of politics in which the strong inevitably and even legitimately dominate and exploit the weak for their own purposes, and democracy, dignity, justice, and compassion are sentimental relics of Christianity, or, more accurately, prejudices of democratic culture" (108-109).

The modern morality of human rights depends on the concept of equal human dignity, Kraynak insists, and the only secure "foundation" for this idea of human dignity is Biblical religion, and especially the Biblical teaching that all human beings are created in the image of God.  We need a "reasonable faith," and "such a reasonable faith is what the Bible offers us."  "And it is a faith that shows us that the Judeo-Christian conception of man provides the most plausible account of human dignity--and that divine love is the ultimate foundation of human justice" (120).

There are lots of problems with Kraynak's reasoning.  First of all, it's not clear that the Bible supports modern liberal humanism as based on universal human dignity and equal human rights.  The only Biblical verse that Kraynak cites as supporting the equal dignity of all human beings as created in God's image is in Psalm 8: "For thou has made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor" (119).  But Kraynak does not notice that in the immediately following Psalm 9, the psalmist thanks God for destroying his enemies: "the enemy is wiped out--mere ruins forever--you have annihilated their cities, their memory has perished" (9:6).  Of course, the Bible is full of such bloody violence as God annihilates Israel's enemies in the most brutal ways.  Speaking to Moses, God commands the "curse of destruction" in which every living being in a town must be killed--men, women, and children (Deuteronomy 20:10-20)--although the young women who are still virgins should be kept alive so that they can be raped by the Hebrew men (Numbers 31).  Enemies can also be enslaved.  And, indeed, the Bible generally supports slavery. 

Moreover, the violence commanded by God is directed not just to external enemies but also to Hebrews who displease God.  A long list of crimes--including children cursing their parents, homosexuality, and blasphemy--are to be punished with death.

This doesn't sound like a Biblical defense of human rights and liberal democracy.

In fact, Kraynak recognizes this in his book Christian Faith and Modern Democracy, where he stresses the point that "a Christian argument for liberal democracy cannot be found in the Bible, in either the Old or the New Testaments" (54).  Moreover, "the biblical conception of human dignity, based on the Imago Dei, is not the same as the liberal democratic conception of human dignity based on autonomous self-determination; and it does not necessarily support human rights" (55).

In his book, Kraynak explains: "Herein lies the fundamental difference between the biblical and the contemporary understanding of human dignity.  In the biblical view, dignity is hierarchical and comparative; in the modern, it is democratic and absolute" (60).  This difference is evident, he believes, in the biblical "acceptance of the patriarchal household and of social inequalities," in which wives are commanded to obey their husbands, and slaves are commanded to obey their masters (60-61).

Although many modern Christians have embraced liberal democracy and human rights, Kraynak explains this as a consequence of Christians giving up the biblical doctrines of authoritarian hierarchy and theocracy under the influence of Enlightenment liberalism.  In particular, Kraynak argues, "a specific strand of Enlightenment liberalism--namely, Immanuel Kant's philosophy of freedom and his notion of the human person as a possessor of inalienable rights--has been the decisive factor in changing Christian politics" (109).  So, for example, Kraynak shows how the Kantian Enlightenment idea of a "democracy of the person" was transmitted through Catholic philosophers like Jacques Maritain, so that finally, in the Second Vatican Council of the early 1960s, the Catholic Church for the first time in its history endorsed religious liberty and liberal democracy as rooted in the inherent dignity of the human person (146-147).

So while the argument of Kraynak's article is that modern liberal humanism is the "secularization" of Christian values, the argument of his book is that modern Christian humanism is the "sacralization" of an Enlightenment humanism that has overturned the biblical teaching.

There also are problems with Kraynak's use of Nietzsche.  He appeals to Nietzsche's "insights" without explaining why we should take Nietzsche as authoritative.  Moreover, he does not point out to his reader that what Nietzsche says about these issues in his later writings contradicts what he says in his middle writings--Human, All Too Human, Dawn, and the first four books of The Gay Science.  In those middle writings, Nietzsche accepts Darwinian science as supporting an Enlightenment conception of liberal democracy rooted in an evolved human nature that does not require transcendental or religious conceptions.  In these middle works, when Nietzsche was most favorable to Darwinian science, he offers a moderate and sensible endorsement of liberal democracy and humanitarian morality.  But in the later works--those favored by Kraynak--Nietzsche shows an extremism that manifests his religious longings for ecstatic transcendence through "will to power" and the "Overman," and its this version of Nietzsche that was adopted by the Nazis.  By contrast, Nietzsche's middle writings show how a sensible conception of the moral and intellectual excellence of human beings can be rooted in evolved human nature without any need for a transcendent moral cosmology.

We can see this evolutionary ethics in the history of the modern human rights movement.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 never refers to God and never uses the word "sacred."  The drafters of the Universal Declaration debated whether they should include language about human beings as created in God's image, and they rejected this language because they saw it as appealing to religious beliefs that were not universal and not compatible with modern human rights.  They believed that the "inherent dignity" of humanity could stand on its own without any reliance on the "sacred."  Moreover, in speaking about how "barbarous acts . . . have outraged the conscience of mankind," the Universal Declaration invoked the sort of moral sentiments of sympathy that provide the foundation for the Darwinian moral tradition that embraces the thought of David Hume and Adam Smith.

The "Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights" (ratified by the UN in 1998) declares that "the human genome underlies the fundamental unity of all members of the human family, as well as the recognition of their inherent dignity and diversity," and it identifies this human genome as a product of natural evolution.  So here it is clearly indicated that the inherent dignity of humanity arises not from divine creation but from natural evolution.

One product of human evolution is sympathy and the moral emotions of approval and disapproval.  We can try to ground our morality in metaphysical principles--God, Nature, or Reason; and we can argue, as Kraynak does, that without such metaphysical foundations, morality is unjustified.  But such purely metaphysical principles cannot sustain morality--including the morality of human rights--without the motivational power of moral emotions.

The behavior of human rights activists confirms this.  Groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch don't invoke the metaphysical order of the cosmos.  They elicit support for their human rights campaigns through a rhetoric of emotional persuasion.  They tell stories or show us pictures of human cruelty.  The more disturbing and vivid the stories and the pictures of cruelty, the more likely we are to feel some identification and thus sympathy with the victims.  We then feel outrage against the perpetrators of such cruelty, and we want them to be stopped and perhaps punished.

William Schulz is the former Executive Director of Amnesty International USA.  In his book In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All, he dismisses appeals to God or Nature or Reason as insufficient to sustain the morality of human rights.  Instead, he agrees with David Hume's and Charles Darwin's argument that morality depends on sympathy and the moral emotions that incline us to care for our fellow human beings.

Drawing from his own experience as a human rights campaigner, Schulz tells some stories of the cruelty against which he has fought.  From this, he concludes:
Robert Frost once observed that poems begin with a lump in the throat, and I think human rights do too. . . . for better than by appeals to God or Nature, is to point to the capacity to identify with others, the capacity for human empathy or solidarity.  This is a capacity of such richness and complexity that something like it, at least concerning mothers and children, is required for the propagation of the species.  Children in our culture as young as one have been known to evidence it, and some ethologists even believe it can be identified in animals.  It is a phenomenon so widespread, it not universal, that we can hardly imagine a society without it. (24)
There is a foundation for human dignity, but it's not a transcendent or transhuman foundation--God, Nature, or Reason--but the empirical foundation of evolved human nature as the source of sympathy and the moral sense.  We see this in the practical arguments over human rights when the proponents of human rights employ not metaphysical reasoning about cosmic principles but rhetorical persuasion to evoke moral emotions.  The history of the expansion of human rights is therefore to be understood as what Hume and Darwin called "a progress of sentiments" as human beings have been persuaded to extend their sympathetic concern to ever wider circles of humanity.

Darwin identifies the Golden Rule as "the foundation of morality" (Descent of Man, Penguin Classics, p. 151).  He sees this as a moral conception that human beings had to learn over a long history of moral experience by which they learned to extend their humanitarian sympathy to ever wider communities.  "As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.  This point being reached, there is only an artifical barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races" (p. 147).

This quotation from Darwin is the epigram for Robert Wrights book Nonzero.  Wright argues that the moral and political history of human civilization is a history of cultural evolution in which human beings discover ways of expanding the range of tit-for-tat reciprocity (the basis of the Golden Rule) to resolve "prisoner's dilemma" problems.  Learning how to cooperate with those who are trustworthy while punishing those who are not trustworthy will be favored by both natural selection and cultural evolution.

Steven Pinker uses this same quotation from Darwin as the epigram for the final chapter of his book Better Angels of Our Nature (p. 671), because it captures the evolutionary moral psychology underlying the historical trend towards declining violence, as people have discovered ever better ways to foster peaceful cooperation and avoid violent conflict.  The modern humanism of human rights and liberal democracy is the consummation of this progressive history. 

And contrary to Kraynak's argument, this does not depend on religious belief.  In fact, just the opposite is true: the historical progress towards declining violence has required a taming of the religious fanaticism responsible for so much violence in the past.  So successful has this been, that now even the Catholic Popes have recently begun to ask forgiveness for the legacy of violence promoted by biblical religion.

And yet it should be said that the moral persuasion favoring humanitarian morality does not always work.  It does not work with those abnormal human beings--like psychopaths--who lack the moral emotions of sympathy, guilt, and shame.  Nor does it work when people are so caught up in their fanatical moral and religious commitments that they cannot recognize those outside their moral community as full human beings who evoke moral concern.  Such situations create tragic moral conflicts that are settled not by persuasion but by force.

The American Civil War is a dramatic illustration of such tragic moral conflict.  The dispute over slavery could not be settled by metaphysical appeals to God, Nature, or Reason.  The Bible did not resolve the debate, because it was invoked by both sides in the debate.  As Abraham Lincoln observed in his Second Inaugural Address, both sides read the same Bible and prayed to the same God, and each invoked His aid against the other.

In such tragic conflicts, universal love does not work.  Instead, we settle the disagreement by force of arms.  That's why human rights ultimately rest upon the right to revolution.  If human rights are not protected, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, then human beings have recourse, as a last resort, to "rebellion against tyranny and oppression."

Elaboration of all of these points can be found in some previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lucretian Liberalism: Ancient & Modern

Some libertarians--such as Martin Masse--have noticed that Ludwig von Mises saw classical liberalism as rooted in Epicureanism. 

In Human Action--in the section entitled "A Critique of the Holistic and Metaphysical View of Society"--Mises rejects the holistic idea that "society is an entity living its own life, independent of and separate from the lives of the various individuals, acting on its own behalf and aiming at its own ends which are different from the ends sought by the individuals" (third revised edition, 1966, p. 145).  He sees the classical liberal break from this collectivist notion as expressing an Epicurean view of the world:
The historical role of the theory of the division of labor as elaborated by British political economy from Hume to Ricardo consisted in the complete demolition of all metaphysical doctrines concerning the origin and the operation of social cooperation.  It consummated the spiritual, moral, and intellectual emancipation of mankind inaugurated by the philosophy of Epicureanism.  It substituted an autonomous rational morality for the heteronomous and intuitionist ethics of older days.  Law and legality, the moral code and social institutions are no longer revered as unfathomable decrees of Heaven.  They are of human origin, and the only yardstick that must be applied to them is that of expediency with regard to human welfare.  The utilitarian economist does not say: Fiat justitia, pereat mundus [let justice be done, though the world perish].  He says: Fiat justitia, ne pereat mundus [let justice be done, so the world does not perish].  He does not ask a man to renounce his well-being for the benefit of society.  He advises him to recognize what his rightly understood interests are.  In his eyes God's magnificence does not manifest itself in busy interference with sundry affairs of princes and politicians, but in endowing his creatures with reason and the urge toward the pursuit of happiness. (p. 147)
Elsewhere in Human Action, Mises adopts an Epicurean eudaimonism in his "praxeology"--his explanation of human action as purposive behavior--in presenting all human action as directed to removing uneasiness and thus pursuing happiness.  The end of human action is that Epicurean tranquility of mind understood as "that state of perfect happiness and contentment at which all human activity aims without ever wholly attaining" (p. 15).

In contrast to the "holistic and metaphysical view of society," the Epicurean liberal sees social order not as an intelligently designed imposition by the state conforming to some cosmic or theological conception of the Good, but as an evolved order of spontaneous rules devised by individuals acting for their own ends.  That spontaneous moral order arises through a tacit agreement to cooperation for mutual benefit, which is elaborated in modern social contract theory.  This idea was anticipated by Epicurus: "Natural justice is a pledge of reciprocal usefulness, that is, neither to harm one another nor be harmed" (5.xxxi).

In embracing this Epicurean utilitarian hedonism, Mises argued against the tradition of natural law, which provoked Murray Rothbard into defending a natural law or natural rights basis for classical liberalism.  But I think Mises and Rothbard were not really so far apart on this issue, because Mises recognized that what human beings regard as "useful" reflects the natural desires of their evolved human nature.  In appealing to the human nature of social cooperation, Mises was implicitly appealing to a natural law/natural rights conception (see, for example, Socialism, 356-363, 408-409).

That Epicurean philosophy supports modern classical liberalism is also suggested by Leo Strauss.  In his book Liberalism: Ancient & Modern, the central chapter and the longest chapter is his "Notes on Lucretius," thus implying that the Epicureanism of Lucretius anticipates modern liberalism.  Strauss was famous for stressing the "quarrel between the ancients and the moderns."  But in the Preface of this book, Strauss noted the modernity of ancient Epicureanism:
The most extensive discussion is devoted to Lucretius' poem.  In that poem, not to say in Epicureanism generally, premodern thought seems to come closer to modern thought than anywhere else.  No premodern writer seems to have been as deeply moved as Lucretius was by the thought that nothing lovable is eternal or sempiternal or deathless, or that the eternal is not lovable.  Apart from this, it may suffice here to refer to Kant's presentation of Epicureanism as identical with the spirit of modern natural science prior to the subjection of that science to the critique of pure reason. (viii)
And yet, Strauss worries about the sadness of this Epicurean teaching--that the world that we love is not eternal, because every world is mortal within the eternal universe of atoms in motion.  He identifies this as "the most terrible truth" (85, 100, 135).  Philosophers can live with this truth with a tranquil mind.  But most human beings cannot.  And consequently most human beings can find peace of mind only through the "pleasing delusion" of a religious belief that the world of human concern is supported by a loving intelligent designer.

Here is where Strauss and the Straussians depart from Lucretian Epicurean science.  Following the Nietzsche of his early and late writings, they look to a new religion--perhaps even an atheistic religiosity--that will hide the "deadly truth" of modern science, and especially Darwinian science.  They thus reject the Epicurean and Darwinian liberalism of Nietzsche's middle writings--Human, All Too Human and Dawn.  Strauss implied this in his essay on Beyond Good and Evil by emphasizing the importance of Nietzsche's affirmation of "the eternal basic text of Homo natura":  Strauss and Nietzsche long for eternity rather than evolution.

This explains why so many of the Straussians--for example, Leon Kass--show such a deep fear of modern evolutionary science and such a deep longing for a new religion to support an intelligent-design cosmology.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Lucretian Modernity of Darwinian Liberalism

Modern science, modern liberalism, and even the whole of modern culture began in January of 1417.  That's when Poggio Bracciolini was looking for old books in a monastic library in southern Germany, and he discovered a copy of Lucretius' ancient poem On the Nature of Things.

Written near the middle of the first century B.C., Lucretius' book was a poetic exposition of the philosophical atomism of Epicurus.  Although Epicurus and Lucretius professed to believe in the existence of gods, they argued that the gods were immortal but natural beings who had no care for human beings, and who never interfered with the natural order of the cosmos.  That natural cosmic order was explained as the product of atomic particles combining and dissolving by chance and material necessity.  As part of that natural motion of atoms, human beings were purely material beings--in their bodies and their minds--and as such they were mortal.  Religious beliefs in the immortality of the soul and an afterlife in which those immortal souls were to be eternally rewarded or punished should be recognized as delusions.  Indeed, those delusions based on religious fears were the primary source of human anxiety.  To be happy, to be able to enjoy the pleasures of mortal life, human beings needed to overcome their fear of death and of divine judgement.  They could do that, Epicurus and Lucretius believed, by understanding the way things really are as a product of the evolutionary history of the world as atoms in motion.

This materialist cosmology of Epicureanism was a radical alternative to the other views of cosmic order in the ancient Greek and Roman world--including Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism.  And while many of the early Christian theologians could accommodate modified forms of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism as compatible with Christianity, they had to reject Epicurean materialism as utterly contrary to Christianity.  The Christian fear of the Satanic temptation of Epicureanism was so deep that the writings of Epicurus and Lucretius were hidden away and largely disappeared from medieval Christendom.

But then with the passionate revival of ancient learning in the European Renaissance, there was a curiosity, even among some devout Christians, about the long forgotten writings of Epicureanism.  As one of the greatest hunters of ancient books in the Renaissance, Poggio was elated to finally discover a copy of Lucretius' text in 1417.  But he had no idea that his discovery would lead to a renewal of Epicurean thought that would transform the culture of the Western world.  In fact, we can make a good argument that what makes the world modern is the materialist cosmology presented in Lucretius' On the Nature of Things.  We are all Epicureans now.

This story has recently been told in a most engaging way by Stephen Greenblatt in his book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Norton, 2011), which has received the National Book Award for nonfiction for 2011.  The book is wonderfully well-written, perhaps reflecting the fact that Greenblatt is a professor of English literature at Harvard. 

It's surprising that Greenblatt never mentions another book published 10 years ago that covers much of the same ground as his book--Benjamin Wiker's Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (InterVarsity Press, 2002).

Greenblatt and Wiker agree in their historical narrative of the modern world as a product of the turn away from the Christian cosmology of intelligent design to the Lucretian cosmology of evolutionary atomism.  They disagree, however, in their assessment of this historical turn:  Greenblatt celebrates it as moral progress, while Wiker laments it as moral degeneration.  Comparing the two books illuminates this fundamental cosmological debate, a debate that runs through much of my writing for this blog.

Wiker is a Fellow of the Discovery Institute, and he wrote his book with the financial support of the Discovery Institute as part of their "wedge strategy" for overturning the modern culture of Darwinian materialism and replacing it with a Christian culture of intelligent design.  The back cover of Wiker's book bears endorsements from many of the luminaries of the intelligent design movement, and the Foreword is written by William Dembski.

Dembski indicates the fundamental issue in declaring that Wiker's book poses the primary question between intelligent design and Darwinism:  "Is reality fundamentally mindful and purposive or mind-less and material?" (13).

Christians must see the world as intelligently designed by the divine Creator, who exercises providential care over human beings and who judges them in the afterlife as deserving heavenly rewards or hellish punishments for eternity.  Christians can interpret many of the ancient philosophers--Platonists, Aristotelians, and Stoics--as teaching that the world is "fundamentally mindful and purposive" and thus supporting a Christian cosmology.  But they can't do this with the atomistic cosmology of Epicurus and Lucretius, which must be seen as the fundamental rival to Christianity.

Moreover, Wiker argues, one must defend Christian cosmology if one wants to defend Christian morality.  As a comprehensive account of the universe, every cosmology implies a morality, because every account of nature as a whole implies an account of human nature--the moral and intellectual life of human beings--as part of cosmic nature.

With this in mind, Wiker argues that "the culture wars are cosmological wars" (314).  The current debates over the morality of abortion, gay marriage, sexual conduct generally, biotechnology, and the teaching of evolution in public schools are all ultimately rooted in an irreconcilable choice between intelligent-design cosmology and materialist cosmology.  The cosmology of intelligent-design provides cosmic support for Christian morality.  The cosmology of materialist atomism promotes an individualistic hedonism free from any absolute standards of right and wrong.

Wiker would seem to agree with Greenblatt's summary of the 20 fundamental propositions of Lucretius' account of "the way things are" (182-202):

1.  Everything is made of invisible particles.
2.  The elementary particles of matter--"the seeds of the things"--are eternal.
3.  The elementary particles are infinite in number but limited in shape and size.
4.  All particles are in motion in an infinite void.
5.  The universe has no creator or designer.
6.  Everything comes into being as a result of a swerve.
7.  The swerve is the source of free will.
8.  Nature ceaselessly experiments.
9.  The universe was not created for or about humans.
10. Humans are not unique.
11. Human society began not in a Golden Age of tranquillity and plenty, but in a primitive battle for survival.
12. The soul dies.
13. There is no afterlife.
14. Death is nothing to us.
15. All organized religions are superstitious delusions.
16. Religions are invariably cruel.
17. There are no angels, demons, or ghosts.
18. The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.
19. The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion.
20. Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder.

Greenblatt and Wiker show how these Lucretian ideas shaped the leading modern thinkers in philosophy and science--including Machiavelli, Montaigne, Hobbes, Locke, Newton, Hume, Spinoza, and Darwin.  

The one person overlooked here, I think, is Nietzsche.  Particularly, in his middle writings--Human, All Too Human, Dawn, and the first four books of The Gay Science--Nietzsche develops one of the most elaborate modern statements of Epicurean and Darwinian Enlightenment.  In his earlier and later writings, however, Nietzsche essentially agrees with Wiker that human beings cannot live well as Darwinian Epicureans without a redemptive cosmology, and we see Nietzsche striving for a cosmology of atheistic religiosity.  The agreement between Wiker and Nietzsche is most evident in their scorn for David Friedrich Strauss in his failing to see the nihilistic consequences of Darwinian science.  Some of my posts on this point can be found here, here, and here.

Although there is no evidence that Darwin read Epicurus or Lucretius, one can clearly see the fundamental ideas of Darwinian evolution in Book 5 (see lines 837-877) of De rerum natura, although one does not see a clear account of the gradual transmutation of one species into another.  Moreover, one sees the fundamental agreement between Lucretius and Darwin in their general cosmology of a world in which complex order arises through a natural evolutionary process that does not require miraculous interventions by an intelligent designer.

Although I find Wiker's intellectual history illuminating, we fundamentally disagree in that I don't share his apocalyptic fear of what he sees as the moral nihilism of the Lucretian/Darwinian cosmology.  The disagreement was evident some years ago when Wiker and I had an exchange in the pages of First Things.  In the November 2000 issue of First Things, I wrote an article defending "Darwinian Conservatism," which was followed by critical responses from Michael Behe and Bill Dembski, and then my response to them.  A year later, Wiker wrote an article in First Things attacking me, and much of his argument was incorporated into his book (see pp. 245-46).  There was then a brief exchange between us in a later issue of First Things.

Our disagreement comes at two levels.  At the first level, Wiker refuses to see--as I do--that a purposeful human nature can arise within a purposeless cosmic nature.  I believe that we can judge the moral and intellectual virtues as contributing to the flourishing of evolved human nature, even when we think those virtues have no correspondence to any cosmic order of intelligent design.  Thus we can recognize that there is a natural law for human beings rooted in their evolved natural inclinations without any need to see this natural human order as the fulfilment of some intentionally designed cosmic order.

At the second level of our disagreement, I find Wiker sophistical in his writing.  By that, I mean that he intentionally suppresses evidence and arguments that counter his case for Epicurean Darwinism as morally degrading.  For example, in trying to cite evidence in Darwin's Descent of Man that he promoted the eugenics that would lead to Hitler's eugenics, Wiker carefully omits any passages that would contradict his interpretation.  One illustration of this is how he selectively quotes from a paragraph near the end of Descent (1871, 2:402-403).  In his book (252-53), Wiker quotes the following:  "Man scans with scrupulous care the character and pedigree of his horses, cattle, and dogs before he matches them; but when he comes to his own marriage he rarely, or never, takes such care. . . . Both sexes ought to refrain from marriage if in any marked degree inferior in body or mind; but such hopes are Utopian and will never be even partially realised until the laws of inheritance are thoroughly known.  All do good service who aid towards this end."  Wiker says this last sentence is a "most damning remark" showing his endorsement of eugenics. 

But Wiker is quoting here from one paragraph that concludes with this one sentence that he fails to quote: "When the principles of breeding and of inheritance are better understood, we shall not hear ignorant members of our legislature rejecting with scorn a plan of ascertaining by an easy method whether or not consanguineous marriages are injurious to man."  This makes it clear that Darwin's concern here was to study the possibly injurious effects of incest.  In particular, he had proposed that the British Parliament should sponsor a study of the effects of first-cousin marriages to see if they had a high rate of physical and mental birth defects in their children.  Darwin had a personal interest in this, since his wife Emma was his first cousin, and he worried about whether the ill health of some of his children might be a consequence of inbreeding.  Eventually, Darwin's son George carried out the research Darwin sought, and George concluded that the danger of inherited defects from first-cousin marriages was very low. 

Here then is an example of what I have called "good eugenics," the kind of eugenics that almost all of us would support.  For instance, many Ashkenazi Jews have voluntarily organized genetic testing of their children, so that when they want to marry, they can investigate the probability of birth defects in their children (such as Tay Sachs disease), and then decide whether they want to marry and have children.  This is eugenics.  Indeed, all the laws that prohibit incestuous marriages are based on eugenics--trying to promote "good births."  But this is good eugenics.  Wiker hides this from his reader because it would weaken his moral denunciation of Darwin.

Similarly, Wiker strengthens his case for the moral superiority of Christian cosmology by carefully refusing to mention any Christian teachings or practices that his readers might find troublesome.  For instance, he presenting the moral teachings of the Bible, Wiker never mentions the fact that the Bible endorses slavery and genocide.  He speaks of infanticide as a moral abomination.  But he never mentions the troublesome story of Abraham being commanded by God to kill Isaac.  Nor does he mention Jeptha's murdering of his daughter as a sacrifice to God.  As I have noted in some recent posts, even Pope John II and Pope Benedict XVI have asked foregiveness for Christian traditions of violence.  Wiker is silent about all of this.

Moreover, Wiker is also silent about the Epicurean books of the Bible--Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs--both of which teach the goodness of pleasure. The Song of Songs celebrating erotic love without reference to marriage or reproduction contradicts Wiker's claim that sexual pleasure must always to directed to producing children.  The Epicureanism of Ecclesiastes was noted by Thomas Aquinas (Summa Contra Gentiles, III.27.11).

Wiker accuses Darwin of racism, but never mentions that much of the argument for the unity of the human species in the Descent of Man was part of Darwin's argument against slavery.

Another troubling part of Wiker's writing is how he warns against the "secularization" of the modern world as the source of our moral degradation, and thus implies that what we need is a "sacralization" of the world, but he never explains what this would mean.  Would he have us revert to the world of medieval Christendom based on its intelligent-design cosmology?  He mentions those Epicurean Christians--like Giordano Bruno--who were burned at the stake for their Epicureanism.  He doesn't condemn this.  So would he want to bring back such executions? 

Similarly, Wiker condemns homosexuality as evil because it goes against Christian cosmology and Biblical teaching.  He doesn't mention that the Bible commands the killing of homosexuals.  For centuries, homosexuality was a capital crime.  Would he endorse this?  If not, would that mean that he doesn't really want to enforce Christian cosmology and abolish Epicurean cosmology?

Furthermore, Wiker assumes that intelligent design reasoning is not only morally but also scientifically superior to evolutionary reasoning, because the evolutionists cannot explain exactly the step-by-step pathway by which all complex forms have evolved.  But then he never offers any account of how the intelligent design proponents would explain exactly when, where, and how the Intelligent Designer did this.

And while Wiker criticizes Darwinism as based on faith rather than demonstration, he never demonstrates the truth of the anthropomorphic analogy behind all intelligent design reasoning--the idea that we can infer divine intelligent agency from what we know about human intelligent agency.  As I have argued in some previous posts, this is dubious assumption that needs to be proven.


Sunday, January 08, 2012

Rick Santorum's Support for the Intelligent Design Movement

As I have indicated in my previous post, I think Rick Santorum should be questioned about his support for the intelligent design movement.  What's at issue here is not just a matter of the science curriculum in public schools, because the deeper question is whether Santorum believes that modern evolutionary science is responsible for the decline of Western culture, and whether he thinks the salvation of Western culture requires replacing evolutionary science with a "true science" of intelligent-design creationism. 

This is suggested by what Santorum wrote in 2006 in his Foreword to a collection of essays honoring Phillip Johnson, the founder of the intelligent design movement.  The book is Darwin's Nemesis: Phillip Johnson and the Intelligent Design Movement, edited by William A. Dembski (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006).  One of the essays in this book is an attack on me by J. Budziszewski, who argues that my defense of Darwinian natural right is a dangerous denial of the Christian morality required for a healthy culture.  Santorum's Foreword suggests that he agrees with this.  I have responded to Budziszewski in two posts that can be found here and here.

Phillip Johnson is the person who first proposed the "wedge strategy"--the idea that a carefully crafted attack on Darwinian evolutionary science could become the "wedge" for ultimately destroying all of modern scientific naturalism and then leading to a "renewal of culture" based on intelligent-design creationism.

Here's the full text of Santorum's Foreword:
This volume celebrates Phillip Johnson's leadership in the intelligent design (ID) movement.  Scholars who have known Phil best and worked with him most closely assembled in April 2004 at Biola University to present him with a collection of papers in his honor.  I wish I could have been there to offer my congratulations and thanks in person.  Instead, I have the privilege of writing this brief foreword from Washington.
Since the publication of Darwin on Trial more than ten years ago, Phillip Johnson has provided extraordinary leadership for an extraordinary cause, namely, to rid science of false philosophy.  The importance of the cause is clear: what could be more important than showing that only a shallow, partisan understanding of science supports the false philosophy of materialist reductionism, with its thoroughly unscientific denial of formal and final causes in nature and its repudiation of the first cause of all being?  As the decline of true science has been a major factor in the decline of Western culture, so too the renewal of science will play a big part in cultural renewal.
Johnson's extraordinary leadership also is clear: rather than fall into the trap of building a cult of personality around himself and his own considerable talents, he has instead helped raise up and promote a whole group of intellectual leaders in the course of scientific renewal.  This kind of selfless Christian leadership is a shining example to us all, young and old.
Speaking of the young, I personally wish to commend Phil for the great help he has given me in my efforts to inject a renewed and unbiased understanding of science and its practice into the curricula of our public schools.  There is much more for us to do, but working with Phil's colleagues at Seattle's Discovery Institute, we have begun the difficult fight for removing the stranglehold of philosophical materialism on textbook science.
Phil, I congratulate and praise you for your tireless work to return science to a sure philosophical grounding in the nature of things as they really are.  Please know that during your Biola celebration, I was with you and your colleagues in spirit.  As much as I was delighted when I first heard about this celebration in your honor, I am again delighted now that the proceedings from that celebration have appeared in book form.
Senator Rick Santorum
It is remarkable to have a United States Senator joining the intelligent design movement led by the Discovery Institute.  As Santorum's language here indicates, he sees himself as serving the plan of the Discovery Institute for overturning modern scientific materialism--particularly, as expressed in Darwinian evolutionary science--and replacing it with the "true science" of intelligent-design creationism.  This plan was first laid out in a secret memorandum--the "Wedge Document"--for establishing the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture.  That document can now be found here.

Santorum's support for the intelligent design movement, while serving as Senator from Pennyslvania, included supporting the school board of the Dover Area Public Schools, in Dover, Pennsylvania, when they tried to introduce intelligent design creationism into the schools.  This was overturned by a federal judge as unconstitutional in 2005.  Some of my blog posts on this case can be found here.

It would be good for someone to ask Santorum if as President, he would be carrying out the plan in the Discovery Institute's Wedge Document for overturning scientific naturalism and replacing it with intelligent-design creationism. 

This question could have been asked this morning on the "Meet the Press" Republican presidential debate, particularly when Santorum said that President Obama's failure to support traditional marriage and family life showed Obama's "secular" view of American culture.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Romney, Santorum, and the Debate Over Evolution

Now that Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have finished in a tie in the Republican presidential primary vote in Iowa, we might expect to see some debate between them over evolution.

As I have indicated in some previous posts, Romney is a theistic evolutionist who sees no conflict between evolutionary science and religious belief.  He is also a thoughtful proponent of religious liberty.  These two positions are related, because he can defend the teaching of evolution in public schools as compatible with religious liberty.

By contrast, Santorum is a proponent of "intelligent design theory," who has acted as an agent of the Discovery Institute in Seattle in attacking Darwinian evolution.  In 2001, he attempted to attach the "Santorum Amendment" to the "No Child Left Behind Act," an amendment that would have promoted the teaching of "intelligent design" as an alternative to evolutionary science.

In his recent campaigning, Santorum has continued to criticize evolution as an atheistic teaching.

Santorum stresses the religious foundations of the American political tradition, and he sees evolutionary science as a threat to those traditional religious beliefs.  Romney, however, has defended the tradition of religious liberty and toleration that stretches from Roger Williams and John Locke to the "no religious test" clause of the American Constitution.  Like Abraham Lincoln, who adopted the idea of evolution from his reading of Robert Chambers Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, Romney sees no conflict between evolutionary science and religious liberty.  Like William Jennings Bryan, Santorum thinks that evolutionary science subverts the religious foundations of American political life.

So it's possible that we might see a split among the Republican presidential candidates over evolution similar to what we saw five years ago.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Is There Any Manly Revolutionary Resentment in Pinker's World?

It is remarkable that while Steven Pinker says a lot in Better Angels about the "Humanitarian Revolution" and the "Rights Revolution," he never supports the right to revolution or the moral resentment against oppression that often motivates revolution.  This reflects his conviction that the decline in violence depends on the soft sentiments of a feminized culture rather than the hard sentiments of a male culture of honor.  But I am not convinced that the moral progress of liberal humanism can be sustained without the spirited sentiments of manly resentment against injustice.

Pinker recognizes the importance of the Declaration of Independence as a statement of the "Humanitarian Revolution" (134, 183, 185).  But he never acknowledges its affirmation of the right to revolution.  Nor does he reflect on the fact that this was a declaration of war signed by men pledging to one another "our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

He also recognizes the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) as a statement of the "Rights Revolution" (134, 257-58).  But he never mentions the statements in the Preamble of the Universal Declaration about "barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind" and the justice of "rebellion against tyranny and oppression."

Pinker is troubled by the moral psychology of outrage, rebellion, and honor as rooted in the "inner demon" of revenge (529-47), which drives human beings into moralistic violence.  But while Pinker endorses Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments and Smith's idea of how the moral sentiments are expressed by the "impartial spectator" (669-70), he does not recognize Smith's distinction between revenge and resentment.  Revenge is the "excess of resentment," Smith explains, and as such it "appears to be the most detestable of all the passions, and is the object of the horror and indignation of every body."  But a proper resentment against inhuman oppression is rightly endorsed "when properly humbled and entirely brought down to the level of the sympathetic indignation of the spectator" (TMS, 76-77). 

Contrary to Pinker's reliance on the soft, feminine sentiments of nonviolence, I don't see how we can enforce respect for human rights and individual liberty if we don't feel a manly "sympathetic indignation" in response to oppression, and if we don't allow that moral indignation to justify revolutionary violence against tyrannical rule.

Pinker acknowledges the influence of Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) in promoting the abolition of slavery by eliciting sympathy for the suffering of slaves (155, 177).  But he says nothing about how some black abolitionists criticized Stowe for presenting Uncle Tom as a purely submissive character who cooperated with his slave masters, who thus implicitly confirmed the proslavery claim that blacks were naturally inclined to slavish obedience and lacking in the spiritedness of free men.

Nor does Pinker say anything about Stowe's other antislavery novel--Dred: A Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp (1856)--in which she presents some slaves as moved by moral indignation to revolutionary resistance to their enslavement.  Here she depicts slaves who manifest Smith's moral psychology of proper resentment.  She writes: "This sentiment of justice, this agony in view of cruelty and crime, is in men a strong attribute of the highest natures; for he who is destitute of the element of moral indignation is effeminate and tame" (Dred, Penguin Classics, 497).  (This point has been made clear to me by my reading of Chris Thuot's dissertation on the political theory of Stowe's novels.)

Beginning with John Locke and other early modern liberal theorists, liberal political theory has rested upon an ultimate appeal to revolutionary violence to vindicate the natural human right to liberty.  But in Chapter 8 ("Whatever Happened to Revolution?) of James Payne's History of Force, Payne argues that "owing to the evolution against force, the tendency toward revolution has been decreasing" (102).  The same thought is perhaps implied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law."  The suggestion seems to be that if human rights are protected by the rule of law, there is no need for revolutionary violence.  And apparently, Pinker believes that the historical trend toward protecting human rights has become so strong that there is no need for revolution and thus nonviolence can be the rule.

But even if the level of revolutionary violence has dropped in recent history, I cannot see how human rights and liberty can be enforced if there is not at least some threat of revolution to check the power of tyrants.  In fact, as Arnold Ludwig has shown in his book King of the Mountain, the 20th century shows a clear pattern in which despotic rulers are likely to be deposed by assassination or rebellion.  We should regret that some of the most brutal tyrants of the 20th century--such as Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot--did not arouse enough manly resentment in their subjects to provoke revolutionary resistance.

Some posts on related topics can be found here, here, here, and here.