Thursday, November 30, 2006

Timothy Sandefur's Review

Timothy Sandefur has written a thoughtful review of Darwinian Conservatism for the Reports of the National Center of Science Education (May-June 2006). Some of his ideas are restated in a blog posting at the Panda's Thumb, which can be found here.

Although he is generous in his praise of my book, his main criticism is that I falsely assume a "fusionist" view of conservatism as combining traditionalist conservatism (such as was promoted by Russell Kirk) and libertarian thought (such as was promoted by Friedrich Hayek). Sandefur thinks that my Darwinian view of human nature is more supportive of Hayekian libertarianism than of Kirkian traditionalism.

I hope to have a future post responding to Sandefur's intelligent comments.

Sandefur's review is now available here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Reply to Francis Beckwith

Francis Beckwith of Baylor University has written a review of Darwinian Conservatism for the Fall 2006 issue of The Review of Politics.

The review (with the title "Natural Law Without a Lawgiver") begins and ends with some generous praise:

"Darwinian Conservatism . . . is a work marked by clarity of purpose, prose, and argument that one rarely finds in academic writing. One may disagree with Arnhart, but one cannot help but be impressed by the author's command of the relevant literature as well as his ambitious project to ground contemporary conservatism firmly in a well-respected scientific theory."

"Darwinian Conservatism is an important contribution to the ongoing conversation between scholars in politics, philosophy, religion, and the hard sciences. Although one can criticize Arnhart on some points, as I have, his project to offer a Darwinian account of conservative political philosophy should be taken seriously. Conservative critics of Darwin ignore Arnhart at their own peril."

And yet Beckwith fundamentally disagrees with me. Against my argument for Darwinian natural right, Beckwith appeals to what he understands to be the traditional conception of natural law as based on natural teleology. "Human beings have a certain end or purpose (or good) that is intrinsic to their nature. Inhibiting the achievement of that end, whether by accident or by intent, is wrong. But this judgment is only possible because we have knowledge of certain first principles and moral precepts that we call the 'natural law.' But 'law' implies a lawgiver, and designed natures imply a designer. Therefore, the natural law and our human nature have their source in Mind."

In the light of this conception of natural law as guided by Mind, Beckwith offers two criticisms.

"(1) It seems to me that Arnhart is correct that certain sentiments (e.g., love of family, children) are consistent with a conservative understanding of community. But these sentiments themselves seem inadequate to ground moral action or to acount for certain wrongs. For example, Tony Soprano's love of kin nurtures sentiments that lead to clear injustices, e.g., rubbing out enemies, about which Tony and family do not seem particularly troubled. In that case, the wrongness of the act is located not in the sentiments of its perpetrators (or even its victims, if the victims, for some reason, were convinced that they deserved to be rubbed out) but in a judgment informed by moral norms that stand above, and are employed by free agents, to assess acts and actors apart from their sentiments."

"(2) As I have already noted, Arnhart's account of morality is, at best, descriptive, for it does not provde the reason why I ought to follow it. Granted, it may very well provide us with an accurate description of what behaviors in general were instrumental in helping the human species survive. For that reason, it may very well explain why each of us may have certain moral feelings on occasion. But it cannot say why citizen X ought to perform (or not perform) act Y in circumstance Z. For example, it may be that the trditional family, as Arnhart argues, best protects and preserves the human species if it is widely practiced. But what do we say to the eighty-year-old Hugh Hefner, who would rather shack up with five twenty-something buxom blondes with which he engages in carnal delights with the assistance of state-of-the-art pharmaceuticals? Mr. Hefner is no doubt grateful that his ancestors engaged in practices (e.g., the traditional family) that made his existence and lifestyle possible. But whey should he emulate only those practices that many people today (e.g., Arnhart and I) say are 'good'? After all, some of our ancestors were Hefnerian in their sensibilities. . . . Because we have always had in our population Hugh Hefners of one sort or another, it is not clear to me how Arnhart can distinguish between good and bad practices if both sorts may have played a part in the survival of the human race, unless there is a morality by which we assess the morality of evolution. But this would seem to lead us back to the old natural law, the one that has its source in Mind and that is not subject to the unstable flux of Darwinian evolution."

Finally, Beckwith objects to one sentence in my book about religion. Beckwith writes: "In one place he writes: 'God intervenes in history to communicate his redemptive message to human beings, but he does not need to intervene to form irreducibly complex mechanisms that could not be formed by natural means'(90). I do not know how Arnhart knows this. . . . he needs more than stipulation to show why anyone else should think he is right about the limits of God's activity."

Since Beckwith does not summarize the arguments of my book, his readers cannot imagine how I would respond to his objections. But those who have read Darwinian Conservatism can easily understand how I would reply.

First, the quotation about God's intervention in history is taken out of a paragraph about the Bible. I write: "Notice that in the Bible, once God has created the universe in the first chapters of Genesis, God's later interventions into nature are all part of salvation history. God intervenes in history to communicate his redemptive message to human beings, but he does not need to intervene to form irreducibly complex mechanisms that could not be formed by natural means. The Bible suggests that God created the world at the beginning so that everything we see in nature today could emerge by natural law without any need for later miracles of creation" (90). If we look to the Bible as a divinely inspired record of God's activity, we would have to conclude that God is primarily concerned with salvational history, and that He does not need to constantly create bacterial flagella and other irreducibly complex mechanisms of life. Does Beckwith have another reading of the Bible?

My response to the Tony Soprano example should be obvious. Murder is condemned in every society throughout history because there is a natural human sentiment of indignation against unjust killing. No society could survive if the moral sentiment against murder were not strong. So when the God of the Bible commands the people of Israel to kill all the people in captured towns--even innocent women and children--we know that this cannot be correct (Deuteronomy 20:10-20).

My response to the Hugh Hefner example should also be obvious. Although there is a natural desire for sexual mating, there are also natural desires for conjugal love, parental care, familial bonding, and enduring friendship. Mr. Hefner might satisfy his desire for promiscuous mating, but his pleasure will be shallow and momentary. Marriage and family life promote our fullest happiness over a whole life. And that's why the image of an 80-year-old Hefner surrounded by his bunnies evokes both disgust and pity among mature people. We know that such a life is deeply unsatisfying in its shallowness and thus bad because it's undesirable for any sensible human being.

What would Beckwith say to Hefner? Mr. Hefner, don't you realize that your life of sexual promiscuity violates the commands of Mind? To which Hefner might respond: Mind? Are you suggesting some kind of Cosmic Mind? Would you please explain what that could possibly mean? And why should I obey the commands of such a Cosmic Mind? How would I know that the commands of this Cosmic Mind are good? Wouldn't I need to have some standard of goodness to judge this? But if I already have a standard of goodness independent of the commands, why do I need these commands of the Cosmic Mind? Is something good because the Cosmic Mind commands it? Or does the Cosmic Mind command it because it is good?

Whenever a moral philosopher like Beckwith tells us that we ought to do something, we can always ask, Why? And ultimately the only final answer to that question is, Because it's desirable for you as something that will fulfill you, make you happy, and allow you to flourish as a human being. And if I am right about my list of 20 desires as rooted in human nature, then this would constitute a universal standard for what is generally good for human beings, although prudence is required to judge what is good for particular individuals in particular circumstances.

I have elaborated these and related points in my writing about "Darwinian natural law". and the Bible.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Neuhaus on the Bible and Slavery

John West, Carson Holloway, and other critics of Darwinian conservatism often criticize my claim that morality can be rooted in a natural moral sense of human biological nature, because they insist that Biblical religion is the only reliable source of moral norms. I agree that Biblical religion can often reinforce our natural moral sense. But I suggest that the Bible commonly lacks the moral clarity and reliability that we need. And consequently, we have to filter the Bible through our natural moral experience to arrive at the proper moral conclusions.

To illustrate this, I have noted that the Bible does not clearly condemn slavery as immoral. In fact, all of the specific references to slavery in the Bible seem to sanction it. So in the antebellum debate over the morality of slavery in the United States, the Christian defenders of slavery could plausibly argue that slavery was Biblically supported. The history of this debate has recently been surveyed in Mark Noll's book--The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.

Charles Darwin was a life-long opponent of slavery who saw it as a violation of the natural moral sense and the moral principle of reciprocity. Opponents of slavery like Abraham Lincoln invoked this principle of reciprocity in condemning slavery as a violation or reciprocal fairness: "As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master." "This is a world of compensation; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave." Such a natural moral reasoning does not depend on the Bible. On the contrary, it is only such reasoning that allows us to correct the Bible so that we can read it as condemning slavery. (I have elaborated the Darwinian grounds for condemning slavery in Chapter 7 of Darwinian Natural Right.)

In Noll's book, he writes (p. 50): "With debate over the Bible and slavery at such a pass, and especially with the success of the proslavery biblical argument manifestly (if also uncomfortably) convincing to most Southerners and many in the North, difficulties abounded. The country had a problem because its most trusted religious authority, the Bible, was sounding an uncertain note. The evangelical Protestant churches had a problem because the mere fact of trusting implicitly in the Bible was not solving disagreements about what the Bible taught concerning slavery. The country and the churches were both in trouble because the remedy that finally sovled the question of how to interpret the Bible was recourse to arms. The supreme crisis over the Bible was that there existed no apparent biblical resolution to the crisis. As I have written elsewhere, it was left to those consummate theologians, the Reverend Doctors Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to decide what in fact the Bible actually meant."

In the December issue of First Things (p. 70), Father Richard John Neuhaus quotes this passage and then observes: "All the answers may very well be in the Bible, if only we could agree on its interpretation. Noll's very serious point . . . is that the Civil War played a large part in shaking the confidence of a Protestant and Bible-believing nation in the capacity of religion to resolve disputes of great public moment. Catholics never believed that the Bible, unmediated by interpretative authority, could play that role. Which does not mean that there could not have been a Civil War if this had been a predominantly Catholic country. It does mean that all cultures, philosophies, and belief systems, religious or not, are subject to being taken captive by disordered passions that overwelm a necessity humility in the face of historical dynamics that we neither understand nor control."

Neuhaus's position is hard to understand. While suggesting that the Bible could be our final guide to moral judgment, he also suggests that it cannot do this without mediation by the "interpretative authority" of the Catholic Church. But then he admits that it is not clear that the authority of the Catholic Church could have avoided the Civil War by correctly interpreting the Bible as condemning slavery. Ultimately, it seems that Neuhaus is left with a historicist relativism in which we must humbly submit to "historical dynamics that we neither understand nor control."

Against such historicist relativism, Darwinian conservatism, with its rooting of morality in a natural moral sense of human biological nature, is a far more reliable ground for moral judgment.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A Reply to John West, Part 2

Continuing my reply to John West's new book Darwin's Conservatives, I will respond briefly to his last two chapters--Chapter 6 ("Is Darwinism Compatible with Religion?") and Chapter 7 ("Has Darwinism Refuted Intelligent Design?").

(6) Religion

That Darwinism denies religious belief is clear to West because "a dominant majority of leading defenders of Darwinism seem to be either avowed atheists or agnostics" (65). I don't know whether it's a "dominant majority" or not. But it is surely true that many of those who accept Darwinian science are either atheists or agnostics. But then, of course, the same could be said about every field of natural science. Many of those who accept modern physics and chemistry are either atheists or agnostics. But it does not follow that religious believers should therefore see modern physics and chemistry as a threat to their faith.

I argue that Darwinian science--like all natural science--leaves open the question of ultimate explanation. All explanation assumes ultimately an uncaused cause that cannot itself be explained. Why is there anything at all? And why are things ordered the way they are? Some people will appeal to nature as the ultimate ground. Others will appeal to nature's God as the ultimate ground. As far as I can see, natural science generally, including Darwinian science, cannot deny the possibility that nature depends on God as the First Cause.

To which West responds: "But this 'first cause' allowable by Darwinism seems incompatible with the God of the Bible. It cannot be a God who actively supervises or directs the development of life. The most it could do is to set up the interplay between chance and necessity, and then watch to see what the interplay produces. Such an absentee God is hard to reconcile with any traditional Judeo-Christian conception of a God who actively directs and cares for His creation. In the end, the effort to reconcile Darwinism with traditional Judeo-Christian theism remains unpersuasive" (71).

Darwin begins The Origin of Species by quoting Francis Bacon speaking about God revealing himself through "two books"--the Bible and nature. In the last sentence of The Origin of Species, Darwin leaves his reader with a vivid image of nature's God: "There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved."

To me this indicates how Darwinian evolution could be compatible with a religious belief in God as the original source of nature's powers. Michael Behe agrees with me. In his book Darwin's Black Box, he indicates that evolutionary science is "quite compatible" with such religious belief (239).

But this is not enough for West, who insists that God as the First Cause of nature is still not "the God of the Bible." Does he mean to suggest, then, that intelligent design theory does lead us to "the God of the Bible"? Well, no. Because West says that intelligent design reasoning does not prove the existence of a supernatural creator (90-91).

In fact, Ken Ham (of "Answers in Genesis") and other Christian creationists complain that intelligent design theory is not compatible with "the God of the Bible," because the intelligent designer has none of the distinctive traits of God as presented in the Bible. For creationists like Ham, Darwinian evolution and intelligent design theory are both incompatible with Biblical religion.

Darwinian evolution and intelligent design theory are in the same boat here. They are both open to the possibility that nature depends on some supernatural First Cause. But whether this is the "God of the Bible" is a matter of faith beyond any rational study of nature. As West admits, the proponents of intelligent design cannot determine "whether the intelligent cause is the Judeo-Christian God" (87).

(7) Intelligent Design

In his last chapter, West tries to defend intelligent design theory against my criticisms. In response, I will make only a few points.

I have cited Kenneth Miller's explanation for how natural selection could have built the bacterial flagellum, which Behe and others have argued is "irreducibly complex." West counters this by citing a paper by Scott Minnich and Stephen Meyer, which can be found here.

West does not acknowledge, however, that there are some serious errors in the Minnich and Meyer paper. The errors are set out in a recent article: M.J. Pallen & N.J. Matzke, "From The Origin of Species to the Origin of Bacterial Flagella," Nature Reviews Microbiology, 4 (10), 784-790. Minnich and Meyer state that "the other thirty proteins in the flagellar motor (that are not present in the TTSS) are unique to the motor and are not found in any other living system." Pallen and Matzke have shown that the number of indispensable proteins that are "unique" is no more than 2. Mistakes like this are typically detected through the process of scientific peer review.

I claim that intelligent design is mostly a negative argument from ignorance with little positive content. That is to say, the proponents of ID attack Darwinian science for not satisying the highest standards of proof, and then they conclude that if the Darwinian arguments fall short of absolute proof, then ID wins by default. The sophistry here is that the proponents of ID set up standards of proof for Darwinian science that they themselves could never satisfy if they had to make a positive case for ID.

I say that for ID to have some positive content, its proponents would have to explain exactly where, when, and how a disembodied intelligence designed "irreducibly complex" structures like the bacterial flagellum. West responds by saying that the proponents of ID don't have to do this. They can infer that there is an intelligent designer without explaining exactly where, when, or how the designer works. But that confirms my point! The proponents of ID cannot do what they demand that the Darwinists must do--provide detailed, step-by-step explanations of exactly how these "irreducibly complex" mechanisms are constructed.

For example, in Darwin's Black Box, Behe acknowledges that evolutionary theorists can develop scenarios of how evolution could have constructed "irreducibly complex" mechanisms. But this is insufficient, he complains. "Although they might think of possible evolutionary routes other people overlook, they also tend to ignore details and roadblocks that would trip up their scenarios. Science, however, cannot ultimately ignore relevant details, and at the molecular level all the 'details' become critical" (65).

After offering an example of an evolutionary scenario, Behe comments: "Intriguing as this scenario may sound, though, critical details are overlooked. The question we must ask of this indirect scenario is one for which many evolutionary biologists have little patience: but how exactly?" (66)

Ok, Behe, I might say, let's apply to you the standards of proof that you apply to Darwinism. Intriguing as your scenario for intelligent design may sound, critical details are overlooked. The question we must ask of your intelligent design scenario is one for which many proponents of intelligent design have little patience: but how exactly?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

An Article by John West

John West has written an article for Human Events, which is composed of a few selections from his book Darwin's Conservatives. It can be found here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Reply to John West, Part 1

The Discovery Institute Press has just published a new book by John West--Darwin's Conservatives: The Misguided Quest. West is a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, the leading conservative group in promoting "intelligent design theory" and criticizing Darwinian science. His book is an incisive and intelligent attack on the argument of my Darwinian Conservatism. Here he elaborates criticisms that he first stated in a conference paper for a panel that we were on at the 2006 convention of the American Political Science Association. The panel was sponsored by the Claremont Institute.

He analyzes my book as presenting seven main arguments: "(1) Darwinism supports traditional morality, (2) Darwinism supports the traditional view of family life and sexuality; (3) Darwinism is compatible with free will and personal responsibility; (4) Darwinism supports economic liberty; (5) Darwinism supports 'non-utopian limited government'; (6)Darwinism is compatible with religion; and (7) Darwinism has not been refuted by intelligent design" (10-11). He organizes the seven chapters of his book around those seven arguments.

In this post, I will respond briefly to his first five chapters. I will leave the topics of religion and intelligent design for a second post to come later.

Here is how West summarizes his arguments against me: "Darwin's theory manifestly does not reinforce the teachings of conservatism. It promotes moral relativism rather than traditional morality. It fosters utopianism rther than limited government. It is corrosive, rather than supportive, of both free will and religious belief. Finally, and most importantly, Darwinian evolution is in tension with the scientific evidence, and conservatism cannot hope to strengthen itself by relying on Darwinism's increasingly shaky empirical foundations" (11).

I would stress, however, that, like Carson Holloway, West agrees with me that the biological science of human nature does support conservative thought on many points (13, 31-32, 36). He disagrees with me about the ultimate causes of human biological nature. I explain those ultimate causes through evolutionary biology. He rejects evolutionary science as totally false, and he explains the ultimate causes of human biology as the work of an intelligent designer. This suggests that there is some ground of compromise. Even if we can't agree on "Darwinian conservatism," we might agree on "biological conservatism." Because we might agree that the observable biological nature of human beings supports conservative thinking, even if we disagree about the ultimate causes of that nature.

(1) Traditional Morality

In criticizing my argument that the Darwinian understanding of the natural moral sense supports traditional morality, West is vague about the ground of his support for traditional morality. Occasionally, he speaks of a "transcendent standard of morality" (21), a "permanent foundation for ethics" (22), or "moral truth" (40), but without explaining exactly what he has in mind.

West sometimes refers to "traditional Judeo-Christian morality" (21). He doesn't explain this, although he does suggest a couple of times that he is refering to Biblical morality--the moral teaching of the Old and New Testaments--which would include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (69-71, 143). He sometimes suggests that he is refering specifically to the Biblical teaching "that human beings are created as the result of God's specific plan" (143). But in his entire book, he refers to only two Biblical verses (69-70)--the Old Testament declaration that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19:1) and the New Testament declaration of Paul that God's creation manifests his invisible attributes (Romans 1:20).

So how exactly does the Bible provide a clear and reliable moral teaching contrary to the Darwinian moral sense? West rejects Darwin's account of how the social instincts of human beings might have evolved because cooperating for the good of the group favored the group's survival and reproductive fitness in competition with other groups (20). But something similar is said in the Bible. Whenever Moses wants to give an ultimate reason for obeying his laws, he warns the people of Israel that obeying these laws is the only way for them to survive and propagate themselves (Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 4:40, 30:15-20). And just as Darwin recounts the ancient history of group against group conflict, the Bible repeatedly shows how the people of Israel had to put a "curse of destruction" on their enemies, so that all of those they conquered--including innocent women and children--would have to be slaughtered (Numbers 31:1-20; Deuteronomy 20:10-20). Is this "traditional Judeo-Christian morality"?

West is disturbed by Darwin's account of infanticide in primitive tribes, but West does not comment on the Biblical passages where infanticide seems to be endorsed (Genesis 22; Numbers 31; Deuteronomy 21:18-21; Judges 11:29-40).

The Bible endorses slavery. In fact, the Biblical basis for slavery is so explicit that the proslavery Christians in the American South were adamant in defending slavery as Biblically justified. This split the Protestant denominations before the Civil War into Northern and Southern schisms. Doesn't this illustrate how the Bible does not always provide clear and reliable moral guidance? Doesn't it show that to get a proper moral teaching from the Bible, we have to pass the Bible through our natural moral sense?

West writes: ". . . I am not quarreling with Arnhart's attempt to enlist biology to support traditonal morality. I actually agree with him that showing a biological basis for certain moral desires could conceivably reinforce traditional morality--
but only if we have reason to assume that those biological desires are somehow normative. . . . If one believes that natural desires have been implanted in human beings by intelligent design, or even that they represent irreducible and unchanging truths inherent in the universe, it would be rational to accept those desires as a grounding for a universal code of morality. . . ." (22-23).

Does West really mean this--that we are morally obligated to follow all of our natural desires if we believe they are the product of intelligent design or an unchanging nature? How exactly would that work?

(2) The Traditional Family

Darwin noted that in human history polygamy was common. West scorns this as contrary to "the Judeo-Christian conception of marriage as an institution ordained from the inception of humanity" (26-26). But polygamy is endorsed in the Old Testament and in the Islamic tradition, which follows the Old Testament teaching. Thomas Aquinas justified polygamy as "partly natural," although it was also "partly unnatural," because of the conflicts from the sexual jealousy of the co-wives. Darwinian biologists can see the same problem: although polygyny--multiple wives--has been common in history, it is disruptive because of the jealousy within the household.

There is a long Christian tradition of trying to abolish the family. In Darwinian Natural Right, I comment on the history of "Bible communism" in the Oneida Community, where Christians tried to abolish marriage and the family as a step to Christian perfection. Would West say that this is a misinterpretation of the Bible? If so, how exactly do we ensure correct interpretations of Biblical morality?

(3) Free Will

West claims that Darwinian biology must reject the idea of free will as the ground of personal responsibility. But if by "free will" West means "uncaused cause," then I would say--along with Jonathan Edwards and others--that only God has "free will" in this sense, because only God is an "uncaused cause." But if "free will" means acting on our natural desires in the light of our deliberate choices, then I would accept this as compatible with Darwinian science. Darwin's comments on the importance of practical deliberation--acting in the light of past experience and future expectations--show this kind of moral freedom.

I speak of human moral freedom as an "emergent" product of the evolution of the human brain. West rejects this as contrary to "the traditional Judeo-Christian belief in an immaterial soul" (38). But doesn't the New Testament teaching about the resurrection of the body suggest that the resurrected soul depends on a resurrected body (I Corinthians 15)? The dualism of immortal soul separated from mortal body seems more characteristic of pagan philosophy than Biblical teaching.

(4) Economic Liberty

I argue that Hayek's conception of "spontaneous order" is a point of contact between Darwinism and conservatism. West rejects this by saying that the spontaneous order of an economy or a society arises not through genetic evolution but through cultural evolution. But this ignores my point--stressed in Darwinian Conservatism--that we need three sources of social order: genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and deliberate reasoning. Genetic evolution and cultural evolution show spontaneous order. Deliberate reasoning shows intelligent design. I draw this trichotomy from Darwin who often emphasizes the importance of cultural learning along with reasoning as interacting to create moral norms. As an example of this, I show how the history of property moves through three levels--natural property, customary property, and formal property.

(5) Limited Government

West is right that the utopian eugenicists and the American progressives identified themselves as Darwinians in arguing for the expansion of governmental power for utopian ends. But, as I indicated in my chapter on Social Darwinism, these "social Darwinists" were not really acting out of a clear and accurate understanding of Darwinian science. One might as well say that Christianity was responsible for Hitler's anti-Semitism because Martin Luther's anti-Semitism was often cited by the Nazis.

Moreover, on the matter of eugenics, I think Darwin was reasonably clear. For example, he thought that the laws prohibiting incestuous marriages should be based on accurate studies of the effects of inbreeding, so that cousin marriages should be permitted if they did not pose any great risks of increased physical or mental harm to the offspring of such marriages. The same kind of reasoning would justify the work of Ashkenazi Jews in discouraging the marriage of those who are carriers for Tay Sachs disease. This illustrates the "good eugenics" that almost all of us would support--as opposed to the "bad eugenics" of the Nazis.

I will have more to say in response to John West's book in a future post.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

An Electoral Victory for Libertarian Conservatives

The U.S. election results would seem to be a victory for libertarian conservatives and a defeat for social conservatives and neoconservatives.

The defeat of Rick Santorum--the leading social conservative in the Senate, a proponent of "intelligent design theory," and a critic of Darwinism--is dramatic. Consider also the defeat of the aborton ban in South Dakota, the victory of the stem-cell research referendum in Missouri, the victory of the ban on affirmative action in Michigan, the passing of state referenda protecting private property against unreasonable uses of "eminent domain" powers, the resounding rejection of Bush's neoconservative war in Iraq--all of this suggests that conservative voters are unhappy with the agenda of social conservatism and neoconservatism and supportive of limited government securing ordered liberty.

This creates an opportunity for libertarian conservatives to revive the tradition of limited government conservatism and to find support for this in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Utopian Folly of the Iraq War

Conservatism is founded on a realistic vision of human nature as imperfectible--of human beings as limited in their knowledge and virtue and of the human tendency to factional conflict driven by ambition, avarice, and fanaticism. By contrast, the Left is founded on a utopian vision of human nature as perfectible through rational social planning. Darwinian science supports conservatism by sustaining its realistic view of human nature.

The American war in Iraq violates such conservatism by assuming a utopian view of human nature. That explains why many American conservatives now realize that the neoconservative idealism of Bush's war in Iraq is not really rooted in conservative thought.

The American war in Iraq is foolishly utopian in at least two respects. First, it is utopian in the assumption that the institutions of ordered liberty can be nourished around the globe in every society by imperialistic wars. In his Second Inaugural Address, Bush self-consciously imitated Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Bush proclaimed "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in the world" by using military force to overthrow tyrants and thus liberate all of mankind. "We have confidence because freedom is the permanent hope of mankind, the hunger in dark places, the longing of the soul." This is utopian because it ignores the fact that the achievement of ordered liberty requires more than just the longing of the soul for liberty. It requires customary traditions that evolve gradually and unpredictably in ways that cannot be managed by military rulers.

Bush actually acknowledges this in one passage of his speech: "Freedom, by its nature, must be chosen, and defended by citizens, and sustained by the rule of law and the protection of minorities. And when the soul of a nation finally speaks, the institutions that arise may reflect customs and traditions very different from our own."

It should be evident by now that the "customs and traditions" of Iraq do not support national unity under the rule of law and limited government. The traditions of Islamic sharia and sectarian factionalism will not permit free institutions to develop anytime soon.

The other utopian element of the American war in Iraq is that this has been a Presidential war. Bush's Second Inaugural is a glorious speech. But that's just the problem! The American constitutional framers understood that the President would be tempted to go to war to satisfy his ambition and love of glory. That's why they designed a constitutional system based on a balance of powers that would have ambition checking ambition. (This is the subject of my chapter on limited government in DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM.) The President's glory-seeking ambition as Commander in Chief would be checked by the powers of Congress for declaring war, for regulating and financing the military, and for impeachment. Regretably, however, the Congress of the United States has largely given up its war powers to the President. Rather than insisting on a declaration of war, as required by the Constitution, the Congress passed an Iraq Resolution in October of 2002 that essentially gave unlimited discretion to the President to launch a war as he wished.

To assume that a politically ambitious man like the President can be trusted to exercise such discretionary and arbitrary power assumes a perfection of wisdom and virtue in the President that is nothing more than a utopian fantasy. A more realistic, and therefore conservative, view of presidential power and glory was stated by James Madison in his fourth Helvidius paper:

"In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found, than in the clause which confides the question of war and peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture to heterogeneous powers, the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man; not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will, which is to direct it. In war, the public treasures are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honours and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honourable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace.

"Hence it has grown into an axiom that the executive is the department of power most distinguished by its propensity to war; hence it is the practice of all states, in proportion as they are free, to disarm this propensity of its influence."

Darwinian conservatives will agree with President Bush that there is a natural desire for liberty. But they will insist that one fundamental condition for satisfying that natural desire is a system of limited government in which chief executives do not have the discretionary power to initiate imperialistic wars in the name of liberty.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

John Derbyshire and God

In the history of the United States, there have been periods of intense religious enthusiasm. Historians speak of the First Great Awakening in the middle of the 18th century and the Second Great Awakening early in the 19th century. It might be that the post-World War II era was another Great Awakening when evangelical Christianity stirred unusual enthusiasm across the country. But this seems to be cyclical. And it seems that the latest Great Awakening is now waning.

I have seen this in my university students. In the early 1980s, I noticed that many of my students were "born-again Christians" whose faith dominated their lives. This was surprising, because when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I was told by many of my professors that religion would soon disappear as part of the "modernization process." They were wrong. In fact, some of those professors are now talking about the importance of religious belief in shaping political life. After all, the "clash of civilizations" that we now see in world politics turns on religious cleavages between Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Although I don't think religious belief will ever disappear, because I think it is rooted in a natural human desire, I do see a weakening of the emotional enthusiasm that I once saw in my students. I have heard that many evangelical leaders are beginning to worry because they also see a dramatic drop in the number of young people attending evangelical churches.

This change is reflected in the American conservative movement. After a few decades in which the religious right has dominated much of the conservative politics of the United States, it now seems that many conservatives are questioning the assumption that conservatism must coincide with Christian evangelical orthodoxy. And some of this questioning arises from a move to Darwinian conservatism.

For example, John Derbyshire, an editor at National Review has just written a column on his lack of Christian faith.

Like me, he argues that there is still room to believe in something like God to account for the two fundamental mysteries--the mystery of the origin of the universe and the mystery of the individual human consciousness. But this "mysterian" openness to the divine is far from any orthodox religious tradition.

Derbyshire gives many reasons why he gave up his Anglican Christianity. The biggest reason, he says, was biology. As he studied biological ideas of human nature, he found it hard to see human beings as created in God's Image. That's why the Creationists hate Darwinian biology.

I would say, however, that the very mysteries of the origin of the universe and the human consciousness remain mysteries within Darwinian biology, which leave a big opening for religious belief.

Derbyshire asks the question of whether an irreligious person can be a conservative. He answers as I would. Yes, he can, because he can believe in "limited government power, respect for traditional values, patriotism, and strong national defense." Of course, "traditional values" might include religious belief. But some of the best minds of the Western cultural tradition have not been religious believers. Still, the conservative must respect religious belief, even if he does not accept it as strictly true, because he must recognize that it expresses some of the deepest longings of human nature.

"Conservatism," Derbyshire rightly observes, "has at its core an acceptance of, a respect for, human nature. We conservatives are the people who see humanity plain, or strive to, and who wish to keep our society in harmony with what we see. Paul Johnson has noted how leftists always used to talk about building socialism. Capitalism doesn't require building. It's just what happens if you leave people alone. It arises, in short, from human nature, and only needs harmonizing under some mild, reasonable, laws and customary restraints. You don't have to build it by forging a New Capitalist Man, or anything like that."

That's what I call "Darwinian conservatism"--a conservatism rooted in a realistic vision of human nature that is confirmed by Darwinian science.