Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Is the Demographic Transition the "Central Theoretical Problem of Sociobiology"?

If human beings have evolved to have a natural desire to care for children, as I have argued, it might seem strange that in modern industrialized societies, people tend to have small families.  One might expect that the increasing economic resources in such societies would allow people to satisfy their desire for children by having large families.  The decline in the total fertility rate in industrialized societies, which began in the 19th century, is called the "demographic transition."  Over the past 50 years, some social scientists have identified a second demographic transition, in which the decline in fertility in some of the richest societies has fallen below the reproductive rate necessary to replace the present generation, which suggests that possibility that the population of some socially successful groups will decline to the point of extinction. 

This might seem to deny my claim about parenting as a natural desire.  More generally, it might seem to deny the claim of sociobiology that human social behavior has evolved to favor genetic fitness.  Among many animal species and among human beings in most societies until the past two centuries, the most dominant human beings have tended to be more reproductively successful (Ellis 1995; Betzig 1986).  But in the most developed societies today, the rich and powerful tend to have low fertility rates, and it's the lower class people who have higher fertility rates.  That social success does not correlate with reproductive success after the demographic transition has been identified as the "central theoretical problem of sociobiology" (Vining 1986).

And yet I see the demographic transition as a natural expression of the prudent flexibility of human beings in adapting their parental desires to changing ecological circumstances.  Because of the natural variability in human temperament, some human beings will choose to be childless.  But most human beings in all societies will have a strong natural desire to care for children.  In the socioeconomic circumstances of modern industrialized and technologically advanced societies, parents will want to have small families, so that they can invest resources in their own education, in their careers, and in the education of a few children, and so that those children can become socially successful adults.  Most parents will desire to have no more than two or three children, and where mortality rates are low, this will be enough to sustain current population levels. 

In some cases where the costs of children have become very high, fertility rates have fallen below replacement levels.  In most cases, I suspect, these fertility rates will eventually return to the level of replacement.  If they do not, then those population groups with such low levels of reproductive success will eventually disappear, and thus biological evolution by natural selection will reassert itself.

The total fertility rate (TFR) is a measure of an imaginary woman who passes through her reproductive life subject to all the age-specific fertility rates for the ages 15-49 that were recorded for a given population in a given year.  So this rate is the number of children a woman would have if she was subject to prevailing fertility rates at all ages from a single given year, and if she survived throughout all her childbearing years. 

According to United Nations data, the average TFR for the world was 4.95 for 1950-1955, 3.84 for 1975-1980, 2.79 for 1995-2000, and 2.36 for 2010-2015.

If there were no mortality until the end of a woman's childbearing years, the replacement level of TFR would be around 2.0.  The replacement fertility rate is close to this for most industrialized countries.  For the global average, the TFR at replacement is about 2.33.

In the U.S., the TFR was at 2.1 in 1930-1934.  It peaked at about 3.8 in the late 1950s (during the baby boom).  Today, the TFR for native born Americans is below replacement and above replacement among immigrant families.  But the fertility rates of immigrants decrease sharply in the second generation, which is correlated with greater education and income in the second generation.

The average TFR for the European Union is 1.59.  The lowest TFR for any country today is .81 for Singapore.

The lowest TFR in recorded history is .41 for the Xiangyang district of Jiamusi city in China.  Outside China, the lowest TFR ever recorded was .80 for East Germany in 1994.  The East German case is an extraordinary example of how fast people can change their fertility decisions in response to changing historical conditions (Conrad, Lechner, and Werner 1996).  Both West and East Germany had a post-war baby boom that peaked at a TFR of 2.5 in 1965.  But by the early 1970s, the TFR had fallen to around 1.4, well below replacement levels, and one of the lowest fertility rates of any society in the world.  But then the Honecker regime established pronatalist policies for East Germany, including financial incentives and social benefits for marriage and births, and the TFR for East Germany rose to 2.1, while that for West Germany remained at 1.4.  Then, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany in 1990, the TFR for East Germans dropped well below that for West Germans, apparently because East Germans thought the future socioeconomic circumstances would not be favorable for bearing children. 

Today, the TFR for the East Germans is at the level for West Germans--1.44--which is well below replacement levels.  Some Germans have worried that if this continues into the future, the native born German population could be extinguished, and the German population would be composed totally of recent immigrant groups. 

Remarkably, there is no single explanation for the demographic transition that is generally accepted among social scientists.  There are at least three theories that have been proposed (Sanderson 2014, pp. 195-200).

One theory proposed by Marvin Harris and others is that people adjust their fertility according to the economic value of children's labor.  In agricultural economies, the reasoning goes, children are valuable workers for farm families, and consequently couples will want to have many children.  But in industrialized societies, children have little value as laborers, and they become costly to rear, so that couples choose to limit the number of their children.

The problem with this theory is that there is little evidence that in high fertility societies, wealth flows from children to parents, because even in such societies, children are consuming more than they are producing, and so they are costly to rear.

Another theory is that low fertility societies are those in which women have more autonomy, and since the burden of producing and caring for children is usually greater for women than for men, empowered women will choose to have fewer children than when men are in control.

But while there is evidence of some correlation between low fertility and female empowerment, it often seems that female empowerment is more the effect than the cause of low fertility (Sanderson 2001, 168-76; Sanderson and Dubrow 2001).  As the fertility rate drops, women have greater freedom to pursue the education and career activities that empower them.

A third theory seems to me to be most plausible in being supported by extensive evidence (Arnhart 1998, 116-118).  It's what Hillard Kaplan and his colleagues have called "the embodied capital theory of life history evolution" (Hill 1993; Kaplan 1996; Kaplan et al. 2002; Kaplan et al. 2003; Lancaster 1997).

This theory shows how a Darwinian view of parental investment can explain the cultural variation in parental behavior.  Human parental investment in children is neither genetically fixed nor culturally arbitrary.  Parental investment is not genetically fixed, because the human desire for parental care manifests itself in variable ways in response to the variable ecological conditions of the physical and social environment.  And yet parental investment is not culturally arbitrary, because its variability follows a predictable pattern as human beings strive to satisfy their natural desire for parenting in diverse circumstances.  As Aristotle would say, parental care of children is natural, but prudence dictates that the best way to satisfy that natural desire varies to conform to the conditions in which human beings happen to find themselves.

Patterns of parental investment emerge from a series of decisions involving trade-offs that all animals (including human beings) must make (either consciously or unconsciously) over the course of their life history.  These trade-offs require allocating scarce resources (such as time, energy, and risk) between competing activities. 

The first trade-off is between somatic effort (investing resources in the growth, development, and maintenance of the individual animal) and reproductive effort (investing resources in the individual animal's offspring).  The second trade-off is between two forms of reproductive effort--mating effort (investing resources in the search for mates) and parental investment (investing resources in the care of offspring).  The third trade-off is between two forms of parental investment: one stresses the quantity of offspring (investing in a large number of offspring but with each receiving few parental resources), and another stresses the quality of offspring (investing in a lesser number of offspring but with each receiving extensive parental resources).  All animals must make such choices (consciously or unconsciously), and whether one choice is better or worse than another depends on the variable ecological conditions of their lives (Emlen et al. 1995).

Like other animals, all human beings must decide how much to invest in themselves as compared with their children, because producing and caring for children is costly.  All human beings who decide to reproduce must then decide how much to invest in finding mates as compared with investing in the children produced by mating, because directing resources to finding new mates can mean decreasing the resources available for the children produced through earlier mating.  All human beings who decide to invest care in their children must then decide whether to divide their resources among many children or concentrate their resources on a few children, because children typically consume more parental resources than they produce, and therefore any increase in the quantity of children requires some reduction in the quality of the resources available for each child.  Deciding between the quantity and quality of children will be influenced by the mortality rate, because if many children die before they reach mature adulthood, parents will be less inclined to invest great resources in them.  The low mortality rate in modern industrialized societies is one reason parents can invest their resources in a few children without much fear of losing the return on their investment.

The differences in how people make these decisions manifest the complex interactions of differences in individual temperament, individual history, sexual identity, and social history.  Although most human beings will become parents at some time in their lives, a few will never become parents, either because they lacked the opportunity (through infertility or failure to find a suitable mate), or because by temperament and circumstances their parental desire was weak in comparison with other desires.  Men will tend on average to invest somewhat more in mating effort and somewhat less in parental care than do women on average, because while a man can impregnate many women, women cannot be impregnated more than ten to twenty times in their lives.  Yet despite this difference in tendency between men and women, most men desire the social stability that comes from mating with one woman or a few women and then investing great paternal care in the children produced.

The choices human beings make about parental investment will also reflect social history, because the likelihood that one choice is better than another in satisfying the natural desire for parental cadre will depend on social conditions that determine the costs and benefits of alternative reproductive strategies.  One example of such social variability is in the choice between the quantity and quality of children.  As a general rule, animals in good condition (having good health, plentiful physical resources, or high social status) tend to produce more offspring than animals in bad condition.  This seems to have been true for human beings throughout most of their history: the healthier, wealthier, and more powerful people have tended to have more children that survive to adulthood.  But now a new pattern has emerged.  People in modern, industrialized societies tend to produce fewer children on average than people in less developed societies.

One can explain this in Darwinian terms.  In the developed societies, the economic and social success of children depends ever more on their acquired technical skills and educational training, so that as adults they can compete for jobs that require special talents and knowledge. Consequently, rearing successful children in such societies requires that parents make increasingly costlier investments in the education of their children.  And as the cost of children has thus increased, the quantity of children demanded by parents has decreased, because parents now express their natural desire for parenting successful children by investing more resources in fewer children, thereby choosing quality over quantity in their children.

Moreover, for human beings to be able to invest so much in their children, they must first invest time and energy in their own education and career development and in the search for suitable mates.  Consequently, successful people in modern developed societies must often delay their marriage and having children, and thus the average ages for getting married and having the first child have risen.  When women do this, they sometimes reach the end of their reproductive years, and so produce fewer children than they would have desired.  It's likely that one reason for the total fertility rate falling below replacement levels is that couples who desire two or three children delay marriage and reproduction for so long that the women reach the end of their physiological fertility sooner than they had expected.  Then couples must rely on fertility treatments or adoption to satisfy their parental desires.

This shows the kinds of decisions that human beings must make as they adjust their patterns of parental investment to be adapted to the ecological circumstances in which they find themselves.  A natural human desire for parental care will be culturally and individually variable because of the variability in the physical and social conditions of parental care and in individual personality.  Consequently, the evolutionary behavioral ecology of parental care must move through three levels of analysis--the genetic history of the species, the cultural history of the group, and the individual history of those making their decisions about parenting.

I need to say more about "embodied capital theory," which I will do in my next post.


Arnhart, Larry. 1998.  Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Conrad, C., Lechner, M., Werner, W. East German fertility after unification: crisis or adaptation?. Population And Development Review. 1996;22:331–358.

Emlen, S. T., P.H. Wrenge, and N. J. Demong. 1995. "Making Decisions in the Family: An Evolutionary Perspective." American Scientist 83: 148-57.

Hill, Kim. 1993. "Life History Theory and Evolutionary Anthropology." Evolutionary Anthropology 2: 78-88.

Kaplan, H. S. 1996. "A Theory of Fertility and Parental Investment in Traditional and Modern Human Societies." Yearbook of Physical Anthropology 39:91-135.
Kaplan, H.S. and Robson, A. 2002. The emergence of humans: The coevolution of intelligence and longevity with intergenerational transfers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99: 10221-10226.

Kaplan, H.S., Hill, K.R., Lancaster, J.B., and Hurtado, A.M. 2000. A theory of human life history evolution: Diet, intelligence, and longevity. Evolutionary Anthropology, 9: 156-185.
J. B. Lancaster (1997) The Evolutionary History of Human Parental Investment in Relation to Population Growth and Social Stratification. P. A. Gowaty, Ed. Feminism and Evolutionary Biology. Chapman & Hall, New York. Pp.466-489.
Sanderson, Stephen K. 2001. "Explaining Monogamy and Polygyny in Human Societies." Social Forces 80:329-336.
Sanderson, Stephen K. 2014. Human Nature and the Evolution of Society. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Sanderson, Stephen K., and Joshua Dubrow. 2000. "Fertility Decline in the Modern World and in the Original Demographic Transition: Testing Three Theories with Cross-National Data." Population and Environment 21:511-537.
Vining, Daniel R. 1986. "Social versus Reproductive Success: The Central Theoretical Problem of Human Sociobiology." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 9:167-216.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Big History of Morality: The Pursuit of Happiness from Stromatolite Cooperation to the Global Morality of Sustainability

Lower Proterozoic Stromatolite Fossil from Bolivia

Stromatolites at Shark Bay, Western Australia

"Big history" is the term coined by David Christian for the history of everything in the universe from the Big Bang to the present, and including plausible speculations about the future of the universe.

Modern academic history has traditionally identified the beginning of history with the invention of writing about 6,000 years ago, because this began the written records that historians have needed to reconstruct history.  Consequently, such history has been the history of literate peoples, and everything prior to the invention of writing has been considered "prehistory."

David Christian and other proponents of big history--such as William McNeil, Fred Spier, Dan Smail, Cynthia Brown, and Craig Benjamin--have argued that this is an unreasonably narrow view of history that ignores the fact that modern evolutionary science can reconstruct the entire history of the universe through empirical evidence (such as fossil evidence on Earth and astronomical data from beyond the Earth) that does not depend on written records.  Moreover, there is a great intellectual benefit in big history in that it provides a grand interdisciplinary integration of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, which looks like what I have called "Darwinian liberal education."

Throughout history, human beings have constructed universal histories of the universe through religiously based creation stories (like that in the Bible or in Plato's Timaeus), which depend on religious beliefs in supernatural activity that cannot be confirmed with empirical evidence.  But now modern science can construct a secular universal history based on inferences from empirical evidence.  As suggested by some scientists like Eric Chaisson, some of the proponents of big history argue that the general theme of this universal history is the evolution of complexity made possible by the flow of energy through matter.

The first big history, in ancient Rome, was Lucretius's On the Nature of Things, a history of the universe based on an Epicurean science of evolutionary atomistic materialism.  Although Lucretius professed to believe that gods existed, they exercised no creative power over the universe, and they were indifferent to human affairs.  Later, in the first half of the 19th century, Alexander von Humboldt's Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe and Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation provided modern scientific accounts of the natural evolution of the universe from the beginning to the present.  Humboldt never mentioned God or divine activity.  Chambers invoked God as the First Cause of nature, but his natural history of the universe did not require miraculous acts outside of the laws of nature.  Big history continues this tradition of writing, but proponents of big history can claim that the scientific knowledge accumulated over the past two centuries allows them to base their history on the best empirical science.

The religiously based universal histories provided a moral teaching as grounded in a divine cosmic order:  in learning how they were created by God and how they were commanded to obey His laws, human beings recognized a moral law for their lives derived from divine law.  By contrast, the scientifically based universal history as reconstructed by big historians does not seem to provide any moral teaching, because modern science must be value-free in explaining what is the case, but without explaining what we ought to do.  Thus, it seems that morality must be a matter of personal choice for each individual without any guidance from big history.

But what happens when many people in the modern world no longer find creation stories and religiously based morality credible, or when globalization brings ever more people into contact with others who do not share their religious world views?  So, for example, how do we resolve the conflicts that arise when radical Islamists declare holy war against the infidels, because they believe that they are fighting the Last Battle that will bring the end of history?

Among the proponents of big history, Fred Spier has begun to argue that big history must include the big history of morality, and that this might support a scientifically grounded view of morality.  Spier's writing on this include a few passages in his Big History and the Future of Humanity (2015a), his unpublished paper on "Morality in Big History" (2015b), and a published article on "Pursuing the Pursuit of Happiness: Delving into the Secret Minds of the American Founding Fathers" (Social Evolution & History, vol. 12, no. 2, September 2013, pp. 156-182). 

Although Spier and I disagree on some points, I am interested in his reasoning,  because it sounds a lot like what I have long argued for--a biological ethics rooted in human nature as shaped by evolutionary history.

In considering how morality could be derived from nature, Spier has looked to Paul-Henri Thiry Baron d'Holbach (1723-1789), who was a French atheist philosopher of German descent, who led a famous salon in Paris where many of the leaders of the Enlightenment met for discussions.  In his book Systeme de la nature (1770), he argued that an atheistic morality could be rooted in the natural pursuit of happiness, because people could recognize that living a virtuous life in cooperation with others was necessary for one's happiness.  Spier thinks there is some evidence that Thomas Jefferson's appeal to the "pursuit of happiness" as a natural right in the Declaration of Independence shows the influence of d'Holbach's writing.

If we define moral rules as the rules for the successful cooperation necessary for the pursuit of happiness, Spier argues, then we can see the big history of morality as beginning with the first forms of social cooperation among living beings.  The evolution of cooperation for improving survival and reproduction might have emerged more than 3.5 billion years ago, when single-celled microorganisms gained some advantage in the struggle for survival by hanging together.

The oldest fossil evidence of life is stromatolite fossils.  A stromatolite (literally, ‘layered rock’) is a solid structure created by single-celled microbes called cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). The photosynthesizing cyanobacteria form colonies and trap sediment with their sticky surface coatings. The trapped sediment reacts to calcium carbonate in the water to form limestone. 

Microbial mats can still be seen today in places like Shark's Bay in Western Australia.  Hanging together allows these microorganisms to stick to the rocks in shallow sea water without being washed away by the tides.  By hanging together, these microorganisms are cooperating with one another for their mutual benefit.  And while we might not see this as morality in the strict sense, Spier observes, we might see this as at least "incipient moral behavior" (2015b, 20).

Cooperation requires communication, so that organisms can coordinate their behavior.  Microorganisms, plants, and animals use chemical signals to do this.  Animals with brains and nervous systems can create mental images of their physical and social environments through which they can form social rules of cooperation.  Through language, human beings can create and communicate complex cultural rules of cooperation.  Like other social animals, human beings cannot survive and reproduce successfully without learning the rules of cooperation and competition developed within their social groups.  Ultimately, their motivation to do this is their desire for happiness.

Spier surmises that there must be some form of chemical reward for cooperation that supports feelings of happiness.  He notes that some scientists have reported that a neurotransmitter called hypocretin increases when people are happy and decreases when they are sad.  He wonders whether this chemical signal could be a biological reward for doing the right thing, and if it is very old, this could be the ancient biochemical mechanism for the pursuit of happiness, which might have appeared first among microorganisms (2015b, 21-22).

Spier's reference to the neuropeptide hypocretin is remarkable to me, because the other common name for this neuropeptide is orexin.  This word was coined in 1998 from the Greek word orexis, a Greek noun for "desire" or "appetite" that was coined by Aristotle from the Greek verb orego, which means "to reach out."  Desire, Aristotle thought, was the mind's "reaching out" for something in the world.  For Aristotle, in The Movement of Animals, desire is the general term for all kinds of longing or striving, including physical appetites, social emotions, and intellectual yearnings.  I have used the word "desire" in the same way as a general term for all kinds of psychic impulse or inclination.  With that sense in mind, I have defended a natural morality of informed desire: the good is the desirable, and reason judges how best to satisfy the desires in the most harmonious way over a whole life.  There are at least 20 desires of evolved human nature, and so we can judge our moral standards for how well they satisfy those desires.

Spier points in this direction when he refers to "standards of desired, or at least acceptable, behavior", "desirable standards of conduct," and moral standards judged as "the most desirable" (2015b, 8, 20, 29).

In their voluntary activity, animals move to satisfy their desires in the light of their information about opportunities and threats in their particular circumstances.  Like other animals, human beings move to satisfy their desires in the light of their information about the world  They have a natural range of desires that they share as members of the human species and that distinguish them from other animals.  The human pattern of desires includes appetitive desires such as hunger and sexual lust, social desires such as anger, love, and honor, and intellectual desires such as curiosity and wonder.

Human beings have uniquely human capacities for language and deliberation that allow them to gather and assess information about the past, the present, and the projected future, so that they can consciously formulate long-term plans of action based on their conceptions of happiness (a whole life well-lived).  Big history is part of this, because a scientific history of everything from the beginning of the universe could help human beings to plan for the future in the pursuit of happiness.

So, for example, Spier thinks big history can help us to see that the future happiness of humanity depends upon an environmentalist morality of sustainable development for the Earth.  If preserving the human species and human civilization depends upon the availability of matter and energy to support the complex order of human life, and if human beings are now nearing the exhaustion of the nonrenewable resources of matter and energy necessary for human life, then the most critical moral question today is whether human beings on planet Earth can learn to cooperate in reaching environmental sustainability based on renewable energy sources.

I am not persuaded, however, that Spier's environmentalist pessimism is plausible.  And I will explain why in a future post.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Did Abraham Lincoln Claim the Lockean Prerogative Powers of a Dictator?

During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was denounced as a dictator because many of his war measures seemed to be clearly unconstitutional violations of individual rights.  His suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, for example, was effectively a suspension of all individual rights, because military commanders could arrest and detain people without due process of law.  This was the only time in American history that the writ of habeas corpus was suspended.  Lincoln defended his actions by arguing that, in times of war, the president sometimes has to infringe on individual liberty in doing whatever is necessary to preserve the country. 

Therefore, Lincoln explained, we must confront a difficult question: "Must a government of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?"

Gideon Welles, the Secretary of the Navy under Lincoln, predicted to his wife that the "government will, doubtless, be stronger after the conflict is over than it ever has been, and there will be less liberty."  Lincoln's critics have complained that this was a correct prediction.  Historian James Randall observed that while Lincoln acted as a dictator, at least he was a "benevolent dictator," although one might wonder whether even a benevolent dictatorship sets a bad precedent for later presidents. 

Richard Nixon cited Lincoln in claiming that "if the President does it, that makes it legal."  George W. Bush's legal advisors (such a John Yoo) invoked Lincoln's precedents to justify Bush's extraordinary powers in the "war on terrorism" after the 9/11 attack, even to the point of torturing and killing people without due process of law.  Although Barack Obama criticized this in his first campaign for the presidency, Obama as president has continued the Bush policy of extraordinary presidential powers.  We can expect that the next president--Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton--will carry on this tradition.  And in the case of Trump, this presumably will include presidential authorization for attacks on Muslims, perhaps comparable to the detention of Japanese Americans in World War Two, which Trump has endorsed.

It seems that these presidents are following the example of Lincoln in claiming "executive prerogative," which John Locke defined as the power "to act according to discretion, for the public good, without the prescription of the law, and sometimes even against it" (Second Treatise, sec. 160).  Locke's critics have argued, however, that in allowing the executive to act outside and even against the laws, he is supporting the arbitrary and absolute power of a monarch that he generally rejects.  Particularly in a constitutional republic like the United States, one would think that no governmental official should have the power to act outside or against the Constitution.  That's why, in 1793, James Madison--arguing against Alexander Hamilton's broad interpretation of presidential powers--complained that Locke's "chapter on prerogative shows how much the reason of the philosopher was clouded by the royalism of the Englishman."

When I first wrote about this in an article in the Presidential Studies Quarterly in 1979, I criticized Lincoln for claiming Lockean prerogative and thus subverting constitutional government.  But later I changed my mind, at least partially, because I saw that while Lincoln had claimed prerogative power in his Message to a Special Session of Congress on July 4, 1861, he always argued in his later statements that he was acting fully within the Constitution, and thus was not claiming any power to step outside the Constitution.  Oddly, in all of the writing since 1979 on Lincoln and Lockean prerogative, no one, as far as I know, has agreed with me about this.

In considering the constitutional status of prerogative, there are three possibilities.  Prerogative could be totally outside the Constitution, or totally inside the Constitution, or both inside and outside.  I argue that the best position is to see prerogative as inside the Constitution, so that there are no emergency powers except those specified by the Constitution.  This is the position that Lincoln took after July 4, 1861.  But in that July 4th message, Lincoln suggested that prerogative was inside and outside the Constitution, in that certain provisions inside the Constitution allowed him to step outside the constitutional framework.  Other people have argued that prerogative is totally outside the Constitution, in that in times of war or emergency, the president must have the power to do whatever is necessary to meet the crisis, while the Constitution is temporarily suspended, until the crisis is over.

The firing on Fort Sumter occurred on April 12th, 1861.  Because Congress was in recess at the time, Lincoln issued a call on April 15th for a special session of Congress.  He set the date for July 4th, and thus secured for himself a period of almost three months in which he took complete charge of the war effort without any congressional authorization.  Although some of his actions were clearly legal, some seemed to be unconstitutional.  His declaration of a naval blockade of the South was legally dubious, because that seemed to require a congressional declaration of war.  His suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was also questionable, because such a power seemed to many people to belong to the Congress rather than the President, but the Constitution does not specify who can suspend the writ.  The most obviously unconstitutional actions were his expansion of the army and the navy and his unauthorized withdrawal of funds from the Treasury.  The Constitution provides specifically for Congress to have the exclusive power of enlarging the military forces and authorizing appropriations.

In his message to Congress of July 4th, Lincoln explained: "These measures whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon, under what appeared to be a popular demand, and a public necessity; trusting then as now, that Congress would readily ratify them."  He thus appeared to claim a Lockean prerogative power to act unconstitutionally in time of emergency and to appeal directly to public opinion as a source of power.

In explaining his suspension of the writ of habeas corpus, he claimed that it was his duty "to authorize the Commanding General, in proper cases, according to his discretion . . . to arrest, and detain, without resort to the ordinary processes and forms of law, such individuals as he might deem dangerous to the public safety."

To provide constitutional support for taking such action, Lincoln cited three provisions of the Constitution.  In Article II, Section 3, it is said that the president "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." Lincoln argued that in order to insure that the whole of the laws would be executed in the South, he had to violate some laws to win the war.

Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution requires that the president take an oath that no one else takes--to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." Lincoln inferred from this that the president has a special duty to do whatever is necessary to preserve the country, even if this requires violating the law.

Lincoln thus seemed to say that such provisions inside the Constitution allowed him to act outside the Constitution.

Isn't it strange to argue that the president has a constitutional duty to violate the Constitution?  Isn't it also hard to see what would prevent a president from abusing executive powers once he has stepped outside the Constitution?  Why couldn't a president in time of war or other emergency declare that the Congress, the courts, and elections are suspended for the duration of the emergency?

But in citing a third constitutional provision, Lincoln suggested that he was not acting outside the Constitution at all.  Article I, Section 9, provides: "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion, the public safety may require it."  Lincoln claimed that by suspending the writ of habeas corpus he was simply exercising an emergency power specifically provided by the Constitution itself. 

We might infer from this, although Lincoln did not say so explicitly, that the framers of the Constitution wrote into the document emergency provisions so that it would never have to be set aside during times of crisis.   After all, The Federalist argued that the Constitution was written to provide all the powers necessary for handling any contingencies, so that there were no "parchment provisions" that would have to be violated in times of war or emergency.

Lincoln never violated the broad framework of the Constitution.  Although he delayed calling Congress into session, for example, he never questioned the right of the Congress to meet during the war and to judge his actions.  And in 1864, he ran for reelection, even though there was a strong possibility that he would lose, and a new Commander in Chief would appear while the war continued.  Lincoln allayed the widespread fear that he would cancel the election.

After his message of July 4, 1861, Lincoln consistently denied that he was claiming any powers to act outside the Constitution.  He explicitly denied that he was claiming any "arbitrary personal prerogative" (see the Library of America edition of Lincoln's writings, vol. 2, 269, 455, 467, 501, 585, 635-36, 641).  Lincoln thus suggested that the Constitution was written so carefully that it provided for all the powers necessary for meeting every emergency, so that there would never be any need for the president or anyone else to claim a Lockean prerogative power outside the Constitution.

I disagree, therefore, with those scholarly commentators (like Benjamin Kleinerman in The Discretionary President, Joe Fornieri in Abraham Lincoln, Philosopher Statesman, and Thomas Krannawitter in Vindicating Lincoln) who assume that Lincoln was claiming to have Lockean prerogative power.

If one reads the Constitution carefully, one can see that it contains many emergency powers, so that there is no necessity for stepping outside the Constitution during an emergency.  In Article I, Section 8, clause 15, the Congress is given the power "to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions."  Thus, the Congress can provide for military force to handle the emergencies of insurrections and invasions, even when there is no war.

In Article I, Section 9, clause 2, the provision for suspending the writ of habeas corpus allows, as we have already seen, for suspending individual rights when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety might require it.  The president can do this, but he must justify it by persuading us that there really is a rebellion or invasion, and that the public safety requires the suspension.  Except for Lincoln, no president has ever done this.  Or at least, no president has ever officially suspended the writ of habeas corpus.  At least informally, Presidents Bush and Obama have suspended the writ of habeas corpus for some people suspected of supporting terrorism.

In Article I, Section 10, clause 3, the States are prohibited from waging war "unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay."  Thus, even without a declaration of war from Congress, state governments can wage war to defend themselves against invasion or danger of invasion when there is no time for Congress to act.

In Article II, Section 3, the President is given the power to convene both Houses of Congress "on extraordinary Occasions," which allows the President to meet emergencies with the cooperation of Congress.

In Article IV, Section 4, it is said that the United States "shall protect each [State] against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence."  Notice how carefully this is written to handle the contingencies of emergencies.  When domestic violence breaks out in a State, and the state legislature cannot be convened in time, the state's executive can ask the national government for help.

This last provision suggests a constitutional way to handle terrorism.  The 9/11 attacks were not acts of war requiring a "war on terrorism," as so many national leaders have claimed.  They were acts of "domestic violence."  The state legislature of New York or the Governor of New York could have called for military intervention by the United States to protect them against terrorism, and this would not have required a declaration of war from the Congress.

The most harmful claim of prerogative by the President has been the claim that the President can wage war without a declaration of war by Congress.  In the ratification debates over the Constitution, critics charged that the President would become an elected monarch with many of the powers of the British King.  Hamilton in The Federalist insisted that while the President did have some monarchic powers, he did not have the most dangerous powers, such as the power to declare war, which the Constitution gave to Congress.  Now, however, the President regularly declares war without any Congressional declaration of war, which is one of the most fundamental violations of the constitutional framework.

The constitutional status of the Civil War was unclear, because Lincoln and the Union leaders refused to recognize any right of secession by the states, and consequently the Civil War was not, strictly speaking, a war.  Under the emergency powers granted by the Constitution, the Union's fight against the Confederacy should have been identified as a fight against a "rebellion" or an "insurrection."  This would not have required a declaration of war from Congress.

The emergency powers of the President have expanded, because the United States has been in a perpetual state of emergency.  Since 1976, when the Congress passed the National Emergencies Act, presidents have declared 53 states of emergency.  Today, the United States is under 30 presidentially declared states of emergency, which confer on the president vast powers for violating individual rights--such as seizing control of the nation's communication infrastructure, mobilizing military forces, and suspending  the writ of habeas corpus.  Although the National Emergencies Act requires Congress to vote every six months on whether a declared national emergency should continue, Congress has done this only once.  (See Patrick Thronson, "Toward Comprehensive Reform of America's Emergency Law Regime," University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 46 (Winter 2013): 737-87.)

Here we see the fundamental reason why the Lockean prerogative powers of the President have become so dangerously, and unconstitutionally, expanded--the refusal of Congress to exercise its constitutional powers for constraining the President.

I have written about this in a previous post.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Donald Trump's Chimpanzee Fascism

Political commentators cannot explain the surprising success of Donald Trump in advancing towards the Republican nomination for President. 

But those of you who have followed this blog over the years will recognize Trump's behavior as showing the chimpanzee politics of an ambitious male seeking alpha dominance.  We can easily understand what Trump is doing by reading Frans de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics and Jane Goodall's In the Shadow of Man (1971) and The Chimpanzees of Gombe (1986).  De Waal described the political behavior of a captive group of chimps in a zoo in the Netherlands, while Goodall described the political life of the wild chimps in the Gombe Reserve of Tanzania.

When Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1994, he recommended that freshmen Republican representatives read 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.  Now we see Trump attempting another power-takeover through some of the same techniques used by chimps who become alpha males.

In a recent article in New Scientist magazine, Christopher Boehm has compared Trump to the Gombe chimp named Mike, who suddenly became alpha male when he incorporated new techniques into his charging displays of bluffing intimidation.  Mike discovered that making lots of noise with empty kerosene cans could intimidate the high-ranking males.  Trump has discovered that loudly yelling insults at anyone who challenges him is so shocking and flamboyant that he becomes the center of attention for voters, and his competitors are thrown into stunned confusion.  This should show us that much of political competition has little to do with intellectual debates over public policy and much more to do with gut-feelings about who looks dominant and who looks subordinate, gut-feelings rooted in our evolved primate political psychology.

We often assume that competition for high social rank among political animals is settled by physical violence, so that the bigger and stronger individual prevails.  But while physical aggressiveness is important, there are many other factors that contribute to determining the dominance hierarchy in a group of chimps. 

Males tend to reach their peak in the hierarchy between age twenty and twenty-six years.  Goodall explains: "Factors other than age, which determine the position of a male in the dominance hierarchy include physical fitness, aggressiveness, skill at fighting, ability to form coalitions, intelligence, and a number of personality factors such as boldness and determination. . . . At Gombe some males strive with much energy to better their social status over a period of years; others work hard for a short while, but give up if they encounter a serious setback; a few seem remarkably unconcerned about their social rank" (415). 

When Trump dismissed Jeb Bush as a "low energy" candidate, presumably Trump was identifying him as someone who lacked the necessary intensity in striving for dominance. 

Chimp male canine teeth are powerful weapons for killing.  But remarkably, chimp fighting almost never leads to killing, except when male chimps are attacking chimps outside their community.  Fighting for dominance within a community is carried out through the bluffing of spectacular, charging displays of intimidation.

In the Gombe community, in 1961, Goliath was the alpha male.  In 1964, Mike challenged and defeated Goliath through his intelligent use of noisy cans in his charging displays.  In 1971, Mike was overthrown by Humphrey.  All of these individuals shared one clear trait--an intensely strong desire to dominate their fellow chimps.

Here's Goodall's description of how Mike first rose to the top:
"Mike's deliberate planning was a striking aspect of his rise to alpha status.  Once, for example, as a group of six adult males groomed about 10 meters away, Mike, after watching them for six minutes, got up and moved toward my tent.  His hair was sleek and he showed no signs of any visible tension.  he picked up two empty cans and, carrying them by their handles, one in each hand, walked (upright) back to his previous place, sat, and stared at the other males, who at that time were all higher ranking than himself.  There were still grooming quietly and had paid no attention to him.  After a moment Mike began to rock almost imperceptibly from side to side, his hair very slightly erect. The other males continued to ignore him.  Gradually Mike rocked more vigorously, his hair became fully erect, and uttering pant-hoots he suddenly charged directly toward his superiors, hitting the cans ahead of him.  The other males fled.  Sometimes Mike repeated this performance as many as four times in succession, waiting until his rivals had started to groom once more before again charging toward them.  When he eventually stopped (often in the precise spot where the other males had been sitting), they sometimes returned and with submissive gestures began to groom Mike."
"Whereas most directed displays are performed in silence, Mike's were almost always accompanied by pant-hoots; it is as though he was emphasizing his identity in connection with the noise of the racketing cans.  Since he learned to keep as many as three banging and bounding ahead of him as he charged, flat out, toward his rivals, it is scarcely surprising that his bluff was so effective" (1986, 426).
Notice that the higher ranking males initially tried to ignore Mike's noisy displays, just as Trump's Republican competitors tried to ignore him and hoped that he would fade away.  But now that Trump's display behavior has made him the center of attention and the leading vote-getter, his competitors must pay attention, and some are beginning to become submissive to him.

Goodall describes Mike's fight with Goliath:
"First one male and then the other displayed, and each performance seemed to be more vigorous, more spectacular than the one preceding it.  Yet during all that time, apart from occasionally hitting one another with the ends of the branches they swayed, neither chimpanzee actually attacked the other.  Unexpectedly, after an extra long pause, it looked as if Goliath's nerves had broken.  He rushed up to Mike, crouched beside him with loud, nervous pant-grunts, and began to groom him with feverish intensity.  For a few moments Mike ignored Goliath completely.  Suddenly he turned and, with a vigor almost matching Goliath's, began to groom his vanquished rival.  There they sat, grooming each other without pause for over an hour."
"That was the last real duel between the two males.  From then on it seemed that Goliath accepted Mike's superiority, and a strangely intense relationship grew up between the two.  They often greeted one another with much display of emotion, embracing or patting one another, kissing each other in the neck; afterward they usually started grooming each other.  During these grooming sessions it appeared that the tension between them was eased, soothed by the close, friendly physical contact.  Afterward they sometimes fed or rested quite close to each other, looking peaceful and relaxed as though the bitter rivalry of the past had never been" (1971, 116-117).
Similarly, within a few days, Chris Christie went from being Trump's competitor for dominance to being his submissive friend, who now grooms Trump with intensity.

Mitt Romney and other leaders of the Republican Party are forming powerful coalitions of people to stop Trump's rise to dominance.  But Trump is defiant in denouncing the power of the "Republican establishment." Mike also had to stand against such a coalition in 1964:
"Led by David Greybeard, who was quickly joined by Goliath, an alliance of five senior males advanced threateningly on Mike.  He turned and fled, seeking refuge up a tree.  The five followed, displaying and uttering fierce waa-barks, and it seemed that Mike would lose his newly acquired status.  Instead, as they pursed him into the branches, he suddenly turned on them--and all five retreated to the ground!  Mike's victory was particularly impressive in that even his suspected sibling, J.B., joined in against him.  The fact that as many as five angry adult males can be intimidated by one determined individual, quite on his own, is another example of the importance of psychological factors in chimpanzee dominance interactions.  It implies also that the lone male who dares to face such opposition is either stupid (cannot imagine the possible consequences) or has rather a large share of boldness--a quality that perhaps comes close to courage" (1986, 428-29).
 Although Goodall might seem to say here that the alpha chimp stands alone as an absolute despot, Goodall, de Waal, and other primatologists have all recognized that the alpha chimp gains and holds power only with the support of other high-ranking males and of the females.  De Waal notes that chimpanzee dominance depends on the support of a "minimum winning coalition."  In the group studied by de Waal, Yeroen had been the alpha male until he was overthrown by Luit.  But then once Yeroen formed a coalition with Nikkie, which won the support of the females, Luit fell from power.

Similarly, human political dominance depends on a minimum winning coalition.  Pure one-man rule is impossible, because even the most powerful despot needs a coalition of supporters, who must believe that the despot's rule serves their interests.  The difference between a dictatorship and a democracy is in the size of the minimum winning coalition.  In a dictatorship, the minimum winning coalition is small.  So, for example, Kim Jong-un's power in North Korea probably depends on his being supported by a few hundred high-ranking people, who could overthrow him if they became dissatisfied with him. 

In a democracy, the minimum winning coalition is larger.   So, for Trump to become President, he must first win a majority of the delegates to the Republican Party Presidential Convention, and then he must win a majority of the Electoral College electors.  To do this, he will have to convince a large coalition of voters that his election will benefit them.  And thus the debate over public policy does become important, because the voters must be persuaded that the policies likely to be promoted by the President will serve their interests, which they will see as the public good of the nation.

Trump knows this, of course.  And that's why he brags about his high poll numbers.  He wants to be popular, and to be popular he must persuade people that they will be--as he often says--"very happy" with his policies as President.  His opponents can then challenge these claims.  And in the last Republican debate, one could see that Trump was visibly uncomfortable when he was challenged with evidence that his proposed policies are unlikely to work well, and that some of his business enterprises (like Trump University) have fraudulently exploited customers.

One of the best videos on Trump that I have seen is from "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."

Some of my previous posts on chimp politics can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.