Saturday, August 03, 2013

Debating Darwinian Liberalism (8): Lawler's Darwinian Fusionism

For some years now, Peter Augustine Lawler and I have been carrying on a friendly debate about the adequacy of Darwinian science for supporting traditionalist conservatism or classical liberalism.  Ultimately, that debate has turned on the question of whether that science can fully explain human nature.  I have generally argued that it can.  Peter has generally argued that Darwinian science provides at best only a partial explanation: it goes a long way in explaining our nature as social animals, but it fails to explain our nature as individual persons who want to be the center of the universe.  As he often says, it's all about me!

As often happens with friendly debaters, we have recently been finding more and more common ground.  I now see that common ground as a Darwinian account of human nature that supports a fusion of traditionalist conservatism and classical liberalism. 

I use the word "fusion" here to evoke the memory of Frank Meyer, who argued that the debate between American libertarians and conservatives was misconceived, because what was needed was a "fusion" of both positions.  If we properly distinguish state and society, he claimed, we can see that the libertarians (or classical liberals) are right in asserting that the purpose of the state is to secure individual liberty, while the conservatives are also right in asserting that the purpose of society is to promote social virtue.  (I should note that Timothy Sandefur disagrees with me on this, because he thinks libertarianism and conservatism cannot be fused because of the theocratic tendencies of conservatism.)

Of course, this works only if the conservatives are liberal conservatives (like Russell Kirk, for example) rather than illiberal conservatives (like Joseph de Maistre, for example).  Illiberal conservatives want to use the state to coercively enforce moral and religious orthodoxy, which they regard as the necessary condition for any healthy social order.  Liberal conservatives think that the enforcement of moral and religious orthodoxy is properly done through the natural and voluntary associations of society, while the state is limited to securing individual liberty.  To use the language of Richard John Neuhaus in his article on "The Liberalism of John Paul II," illiberal conservatives want a "confessional state," while liberal conservatives want a "confessional society."

Peter and I have been moving towards a fusion of classical liberalism and liberal conservatism founded on a Darwinian science of human nature.

I see hints of this in Peter's chapter in Dilley's book.  But I see it even more clearly in one of Peter's recent articles in The New Atlantis--"Moderately Socially Conservative Darwinians".  The editorial note above this article captures the theme of Peter's article in one sentence: "Peter Augustine Lawler argues that evolutionary psychology, rightly understood, reinforces the conservative lesson that we are not merely autonomous  individuals but also social and relational beings."

I have identified evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt as a Darwinian conservative.  In his New Atlantis article, Peter comes close to the same conclusion: "To be effective, social cooperation cannot simply be the product of calculation or self-interest rightly understood (as the Lockeans would have it); but it also cannot be imposed in a way that would abolish individual choice or responsibility (as in the Republic).  For all his sympathy with social conservatism and understanding of the importance of relationships for morality, politically speaking Haidt is more of a libertarian.  He's the increasingly rare kind of libertarian that idealizes not the liberated individual who chooses to design himself from an ever-expanding menu of choice, but rather the intelligently eusocial animal who takes responsibility for his own relationships."  Peter adds: "On his moderately socially conservative view, both 'libertarians (who sacralize liberty)' and 'social conservatives (who sacralize certain institutions and traditions)' reliably espouse partly correct views of who we are."  This is what I see as the fusion of libertarianism and conservatism founded on a Darwinian science of human nature.

Turning to E. O. Wilson's new book--The Social Conquest of Earth--Peter is impressed by what Wilson says about evolved human nature as showing the tension between individual selection and group selection, which Peter sees as a Darwinian intimation of the tense dualism of human nature as both relational and personal that is captured in Christian theology:
"An unexpected way to unite the Darwinian and Cartesian perspectives can be found in Christian theology, as expressed in the thought of the lately abdicated philosopher-pope Benedict XVI.  The Darwinians are right that we are relational beings, the Lockeans are right that we are personal beings.  We can only be personal through being relational.  And that is the point of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.  We don't lose ourselves in God, just as we don't lose ourselves in our relationships with persons made in His image.  We retain our personal identity; being personal is hardwired, so to speak, in the very structure of being itself.  And we are made to be in relationships without becoming mere parts; each of us is a relational whole by nature.  It is a mistake to believe, as the Cartesians do, that we have to win our personal freedom against an impersonal nature, because we are, in fact, free persons by nature."
And yet Peter still holds to his often repeated claim that Darwinian science cannot account for the human sense of individual personal dignity: "Although evolutionary psychologists try to reach the same political conclusions as people devoted to the human rights of individuals liberated from nature, evolutionary science offers no real evidence that could ground our sense of personal significance apart from the requirements of the group and ultimately the species."  This leads to Peter's complaint, in his chapter in Dilley's book, that "Darwin, from a Lockean view, turns individuals into species fodder" (59).

But doesn't the Darwinian account in Wilson's book of the evolved tension between individual selection and group selection convey the human dualism of personal individuality and relational sociality?  Locke captures this tension by affirming both individual freedom based in self-ownership and social bonding based in social instincts.  Evolutionary neuroscience now supports this Lockean psychology: we can see that our mammalian neuroanatomy has evolved so that we naturally care for the survival and well-being both of ourselves and of our families and social partners.  I have elaborated this point in some previous posts here, here, here, and here.

Some of my posts on fusionism can be found here and here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am not sure that a libertarian/conservative fusionist would make this argument, but to my mind one consequence of accepting natural selection as a true theory is recognizing that our cognitive/emotional faculties are the result of differential reproductive success. That is to say, if you want to have lots of grandchildren, blindly and unquestioningly accepting common cognition/sentiment will easily steer to that end. However, if you desire to understand the world, you have to recognize the necessary imperfections of a mind focused more on maintaining social relationships than on attaining stringent honesty. Perhaps I am too enamored of Nietzsche, but I think he was accurate, though hyperbolic, in calling human herd animals. Unless you are a kind of Pythagorean who believes in the reality of mathematical forms and ideals ( theory, etc.), I do not see what kind of naturalistic metaphysical grounding could be found for a sense of personal significance. I think that it is just silly to even look for such a metaphysical grounding. If everyone suddenly came to the conclusion tomorrow that they were as insignificant as a spec of dust, and are barely distinguishable from any other human being, would that change much of anything? Perhaps a professional philosopher or academic may well believe that such a sea change in opinion would have dramatic consequences, as academics dedicate their careers to distinguishing themselves from each other by advocating novel views. I think that most people on this planet already accept that they are insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and also that they are eminently replaceable. At the very least, that is I think the lesson that many people in developed countries have learned during the recent economic crises.