Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Reply to Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary shares a blog on "intelligent design" with Bill Dembski. Recently, she wrote a post criticizing some of my arguments, which can be found here.

It is hard to respond to her comments because she tries so hard to be humorous that I'm not sure that she's serious about anything she says. But here goes . . .

"Family values conservatives" cannot accept Darwinian conservatism, she claims, because they must reject the reductionisitic materialism of Darwinism. "They believe that mind comes first and produces matter. Darwin and his followers believe that matter comes first and produces mind."

In Chapter 8 of Darwinian Conservatism, I have rejected both reductionism and dualism, while arguing for a Darwinian account of the soul or mind as an emergent product of the brain. Some religious conservatives object to this idea of the soul as the emergent capacity of the brain, because they think that the spiritual freedom and dignity of the human soul as the image of God requires that the soul be immaterial and separable from the body. But I have suggested that Biblical religion points to an emergent unity of body and mind in the Biblical teaching that immortality requires a resurrection of the body to sustain the soul (I Corinthians 15).

O'Leary rejects this by claiming that orthodox Christians must believe that the immortal soul is utterly free from the body. She cites Revelation 6:9, but she ignores the fact that the souls referred to in that passage are destined to come back to life through the resurrection of their bodies (Revelation 20:4-6).

In assuming that the perfection of the soul requires a complete separation from the body, O'Leary implicitly adopts the Gnostic heresy that denied the resurrection of the body. This heresy was rejected by orthodox Christians like Augustine (City of God, bk. 22, chaps. 15-16, 25) and Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, suppl., qu. 75, a. 1; qu. 81, a. 1). The resurrection of the body of Jesus and the promise of the resurrection of the believers affirm the goodness in the unity of body and mind. As Aquinas indicated, "the soul is united to the body as form to matter."

My point, again, is that the Biblical teaching of resurrection is compatible with a conception of the soul/mind as emergent from the body/brain. O'Leary's Cartesian dualism of mind and body rejects this tradition of Biblical thought.

O'Leary also repeats the common claim that Darwinian science supports all of the immoral policies associated with "social Darwinism." My response can be found in Chapter 9 of Darwinian Conservatism and in various posts on this blog. To associate Darwinian science with Nazi eugenics and genocide requires a gross distortion of what Darwin actually said and what his science requires. In fact, even Richard Weikart has admitted that there is no direct line "from Darwin to Hitler," although the crude rhetoric of social Darwinism exploited vague slogans of evolution to support morally reprehensible conclusions. One might as well cite Martin Luther's virulent anti-Semitism and then conclude that Christianity was responsible for Hitler's genocide.

In Chapter 3 of Darwinian Conservatism, I argue that Darwin's account of family life as rooted in human biological nature supports "family values." O'Leary rejects this conclusion, but since she doesn't indicate where she thinks I have gone wrong in my reasoning in that chapter, she doesn't give me anything to which I can respond.

She writes: "Darwinism predicts absolutely nothing of substance for family values, which normally derive from philosophical or spiritual beliefs about correct relationships. This is true whether given beliefs are widely held or wisely held or linked in any obvious way to health, wealth, or fertility."

I don't understand what she's saying here. It would help me understand if she could explain what she means by "philosophical or spiritual beliefs about correct relationships." I would say that such "beliefs" about family life must be judged by how well they conform to human nature. So, for example, if monogamy is good, it's because in the long run it satisfies the natural sexual, conjugal, and parental desires of human beings in such as way as to promote human flourishing. She seems to reject such reasoning, but I am not sure what alternative kind of reasoning she is proposing.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Darwinian Liberal Education

My article on "Darwinian Liberal Education" will be published soon in the fall 2006 issue of Academic Questions, the journal of the National Association of Scholars. Here I will provide a few excerpts.

We all know what's wrong with higher education today. Teaching and research have become so specialized, fragmented, and incoherent that we cannot see that unity of knowledge necessary for sustaining general or liberal eduction. To renew the tradition of the liberal arts, we need a new unifying framework of thought. As far as I can tell, there is today only one plausible source for such a common ground of knowledge, and that is Darwinian evolutionary biology.

I began to move towards this conclusion as an undergrduate student at the University of Dallas in the late 1960s. My youthful excitement about philosophy was stirred by Aristotle's declaration in his Metaphysics that all human beings by nature desire to understand, a desire that leads natural philosophers to search for the ultimate causes or reasons for all things. Fascinated by Aristotle's comprehensive investigation of nature and human nature, I noticed that much of his writing was in biology, and that even his moral and political works assumed a biological understanding of human nature. So I wondered whether Aristotle's biological naturalism could be compatible somehow with modern Darwinian biology, and whether this might support a general study of human life within the natural causal order of the whole.

Reading Leo Strauss helped me to see how the fundamental dilemma of modernity explained the loss of liberal education as a comprehensive study of the whole. The natural sciences assume a materialist reductionism that cannot account for the human mind or spirit. The humanities assume a radical dualism that treats human consciousness and conduct as autonomous in their separation from the causal order of the natural sciences. The social sciences are then torn between these two contradictory positions.

We might overcome this dilemma, I thought, if we could see Darwinian biology as a comprehensive science that would unify all the intellectual disciplines by studying human experience as part of the natural whole. This would continue the Aristotelian tradition of biology, because, as Strauss observed, Aristotle believed that biology could provide "a mediation between knowledge of the inanimate and knowledge of man."

The aim of liberal education is to use all the intellectual disciplines to probe how the complex interaction of natural propensities, cultural traditions, and individual choices shapes the course of human experience within the order of nature. Darwinian theory provides a general conceptual framework for such liberal learning grounded in the scientific study of genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and cognitive judgment.

In my teaching and my research, I have tried to answer the intellectual objections to grounding liberal learning in Darwinian evolution. Those people who deny the truth of Darwinian science should be free to dispute it as best they can, while recognizing the weight of the evidence and arguments favoring it and the difficulty of developing alternative explanations that are scientifically testable. Those people who fear Darwinian reductionism should see how Darwinian biology recognizes the emergent evolution of complexity. Those people who fear Darwinism as morally subversive should see how Darwinian reasoning supports morality by rooting it in human nature. Those people who fear Darwinian atheism should see that Darwinian explanations leave open the question of whether the evolution of nature is ultimately the work of nature's God. At all of these points, a Darwinian pursuit of liberal education directs us to think about the fundamental questions of human existence in the world. Isn't that what a liberal education is supposed to do?

But still many people will object that integrating the liberal arts curriculum through the idea of Darwinian evolution is impracticable, because this would require a radical restructuring of academic procedures and institutions, which is unlikely. My response here is to suggest three small steps that we can take that don't require radical change.

The first step is for college and university teachers to develop courses in their departments that incorporate Darwinian ideas. Many professors are starting to do that, because they are finding that evolutionary theory offers them fruitful lines of research that they can introduce in their regular teaching. I teach courses in biopolitical theory at Northern Illinois University that attract students from many departments across the university.

The next step is for faculty members in different departments to cooperate in interdisciplinary teaching. Next year, I will be team-teaching a course on evolution with a philosopher and a biologist. Students will register in one of three coures in the Department of Political Science, the Department of Biological Sciences, or the Department of Philosophy. But the three classes with the three professors will meet together. We will explore the general ideas of evolutionary theory and then apply them to various topics crossing the fields of biology, philosophy, and political science. The different viewpoints of the three professors in each class will surely stimulate lively discussions.

A third step would be to expand this into a general curriculum that would bring together courses in many departments. The best model for this would be David Sloan Wilson's Evolutionary Studies Program at Binghamton University. (The website for Wilson's program can be found here.) This program was started by Wilson in 2002, and it is already being adopted at other schools. He has designed an integrated curriculum with a required introductory course--"Evolution for Everyone"--and a list of courses across the university from which students must earn a minimum number of credits. Wilson teaches "Evolution for Everyone" as the course in which all students in the program are introduced to the central concepts of evolutionary theory as well as some illustrative application of those concepts to various fields of study. He emphasizes the application of evolutionary ideas to human nature. In addition to the undergraduate program, there is a similar program for graduate students with the same structure. In this way, both faculty and students from across Binghamton University in many different departments are brought together with Darwinian reasoning as their common language to talk about questions of human nature and the natural world.

At Northern Illinois University, I have helped to develop "Politics and the Life Sciences" as a field of study at both the undergraduate and graduate levels within the Department of Political Science. With the help of my colleagues in other departments, I hope to eventually organize a university-wide program in evolutionary studies following the lead of Wilson's program at Binghamton.

Through such a Darwinian liberal education, we could renew the quest that began with Aristotle to satisfy our natural human desire to understand the causes or reasons for all things.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sandefur's Rejection of Fusionism

In response to my continuing defense of ordered liberty as the common ground for libertarian and traditionalist conservatives, Timothy Sandefur has a post on the Positive Liberty blog entitled "My Rejection of Fusionism."

I will have to think more about his comments. But my first reaction is that I generally agree with his particular points. I agree that Rothbard's alliance with the paleoconservatives led him into incoherent positions contrary to his libertarianism. I also agree that Kirk's writing was often obscure and confusing.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fusionism, Again

I have been responding in various ways to Timothy Sandefur's claim that my account of conservatism as a fusion of libertarianism and traditionalism must be incoherent.

I agree that if one looks superficially at the debates between extreme libertarians like Murray Rothbard and extreme traditionalists like Russell Kirk, there seems to be a great gulf between them. But if one looks more carefully at some of their writings, such as those that can be found here, here, and here, one begins to see that they share much in common.

The problem is that both sides in this debate tend to criticize straw-men. In fact, Rothbard complains that to say that libertarians elevate individual liberty to "the status of an absolute end" is "an absurd straw-man." "Only an imbecile could ever hold that freedom is the highest or indeed the only principle or end of life," Rothbard explains. "Freedom is necessary to, and integral with, the achievement of any of man's ends. The libertarian agrees completely with Acton and with Meyer himself that freedom is the highest political end, not the highest end of man per se; indeed, it would be difficult to render such a position in any sense meaningful or coherent."

Similarly, for the libertarians to criticize the traditionalist conservatives like Kirk as "statists" who would allow an authoritarian state to suppress individual liberty is also a "straw-man" argument. After all, Kirk is clear in stating that libertarians and traditionalists agree in their distaste for statist collectivism. "They set their faces against the totalist state and the heavy hand of bureaucracy."

Unfortunately, Kirk creates confusion when he writes: "The libertarian takes the state for the great oppressor. But the conservative finds that the state is ordained of God." This seems to support the idea that Kirk's traditionalism is "statist." But then a few pages later in the same essay, Kirk rejects "the pretensions of the modern state to omnicompetence." He goes on to explain: "The primary function of government, the conservatives say, is to keep the peace: by repelling foreign enemies, by maintaining the bed of justice domestically. When government goes much beyond this end, it falls into difficulty, not being contrived for the management of the whole of life."

The fundamental point here is to distinguish society from the state and to see that between the individual and the state is the realm of civil society--the realm of families, churches, economic associations, social groups of all kinds--all of those natural and voluntary groups in which the natural sociality of human beings is expressed.

Darwinian science supports the primacy of civil society as the fullest manifestation of the social instincts of human beings--instincts of attachment that arise first in the family and then extend outward to ever wider circles of social bonding. The bureaucratic state can, at best, secure some of the conditions for the cooperative relationships of civil society by keeping the peace, protecting private property, and enforcing a general rule of law.

But to assume that moral community has to be artificially created by the social engineering of a centralized, bureaucratic state is dangerously utopian, because it ignores the fact that since human beings are imperfect in their knowledge and virtue, they cannot be trusted with centralized power. Moreover, we should assume that the natural desire for political rule and high rank will incline those with power to be ambitious in their quest for domination. What John Adams called "the principle of balance" should lead us to separate and balance political powers so that ambitious people can satisfy their natural desire to rule, while being checked in their power so as to minimize the danger of tyranny.

The enforcement of morality comes best from the social sanctions of family life and civil society rather than the political sanctions of a centralized state. Thus, libertarians and traditionalists can agree that the highest end of politics is liberty, while the highest end of civil society is the ordering of liberty through moral habituation.

Conservatism and the Iraq War

In Darwinian Conservatism, I assume a "fusionist" view of conservatism as combining a libertarian emphasis on liberty and reason and a traditionalist emphasis on order and tradition. Timothy Sandefur and others have criticized me for this by claiming that libertarians and traditionalists are not in the same camp at all. But I have argued that libertarian conservatives and traditionalist conservatives agree in their realist view of human nature and ordered liberty, and that Darwinian science supports that conservative realism.

A good illustration of this is how libertarians and traditionalists agree in their realist view of foreign policy as opposed to the utopian idealism of "neoconservative" foreign policy. The folly of the American war in Iraq vindicates conservative realism and exposes the flaws of neoconservative idealism.

Consider the following passage from Russell Kirk's essay "Prescription, Authority, and Ordered Freedom" (published in What Is Conservatism?, edited by Frank Meyer, in 1964):

"To impose the American constitution upon all the world would not render all the world happy; to the contrary, our constitution would work in few lands and would make many men miserable in short order. States, like men, must find their own paths to order and justice and freedom; and usually those paths are ancient and winding ways, and their signposts are Authority, Tradition, Prescription. Without the legal institutions, rooted in common and Roman law, from which it arose, the American constitutional system would be unworkable. Well, take up this constitutional system, abstractly, and set it down, as an exotic plant, in Persia or Guinea or the Congo, where the common law (English style) and the Roman law are unknown, and where the bed of justice rests upon the Koran or upon hereditary chieftainship--why, the thing cannot succeed. Such an undertaking may disrupt the old system of jsutice, and may even supplant, for a time; but in the long run, the traditional morals, habits, and establishments of a people, confirmed by their historical experience, will reassert themselves, and the innovation will be undone--if that culture is to survive at all."

This is one of the fundamental insights of traditionalist conservatism: since social order must evolve out of the habits and customs of a people over a long time, it is foolish to try to impose on a people some abstract conception of order that is utterly foreign to their local traditions. Conservatives appeal to universal principles of reason, but they see this--in Frank Meyer's words--as "reason operating within tradition."

Murray Rothbard--in an essay on Meyer--criticized this stress on tradition as contrary to his libertarian principles, because libertarians want to appeal to abstract principles of liberty that allow them to judge social traditions as good or bad. And yet, even Rothbard acknowledged the importance of customary order. As opposed to the artificial order imposed by a centralized state, Rothbard thought that liberty was better secured by local communities that enforce norms of cooperation through customary traditions. He often cited the history of "stateless societies" like ancient Ireland as showing how legal order could arise through voluntary agreement as manifested in customary norms that expressed the moral experience of the community. And for that reason, Rothbard defended an isolationalist foreign policy, because he denied that an imperialistic foreign policy could succeed in promoting free institutions that were not rooted in the local traditions of a people.

To see how conservative social thought combines reason and tradition, we need to understand how social order arises as the product of three kinds of order: natural order, customary (or habitual) order, and rational (or deliberate) order. This analysis of order as natural, customary, and rational was first stated by Aristotle and later adopted by philosophers such as Cicero and Thomas Aquinas. It is also implicit in Darwin's account of the human moral sense.

We should see a three-level nested hierarchy in which custom presupposes nature, and reason presupposes both nature and custom. The fully developed order in a community or an individual arises as the joint product of natural propensities, the development of those propensities through habit or custom, and the rational deliberation about those propensities, habits, and customs.

This same trichotomy of order is implicit in Darwin's biological account of the human moral sense. As naturally social animals, human beings are endowed with social instincts, so that they feel a concern for others and are affected by social praise and blame. As animals capable of learning by habit and imitation, human beings will develop habits and customs that reflect the social norms of their community. And as intellectual animals, human beings can rationally deliberate about their social instincts and social customs to formulate abstract rules of conduct that satisfy their natural desires as social animals.

Consider, then, how this trichotomy of order was manifested in the framing of the American constitutional order. The Constitution had to conform to universal human nature, because it had to recognize natural propensities such as ambition and self-interest that would need to be channelled through the constitutional system. And yet the structure of the constitutional system also had to conform to the customary experience of the Americans during the colonial period and under the Articles of Confederation. But while the constitutional framers were thus constrained by both universal human nature and particular human customs, they also had some freedom to deliberate about particular provisions of the new constitutional scheme.

The Iraqi people might learn much from the experience of American constitutional republicanism. For example, they might learn about the importance of the separation of powers, the rule of law, and private property in securing the conditions for ordered liberty. But any successful constitutional scheme for the Iraqis must be rooted in their own local traditions. For instance, they will have to struggle to develop their Islamic traditions of religious law in ways that reconcile moral community and individual liberty.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Discovery Institute's Use of Weikart's FROM DARWIN TO HITLER

Richard Weikart's book From Darwin to Hitler is often cited by proponents of intelligent design theory to show that Darwinian science leads to Nazism and other evils.

In Darwinian Conservatism, and on this blog, I have argued that Weikart's book doesn't really show a direct path "from Darwin to Hitler." In fact, the social Darwinists discussed by Weikart actually distorted or denied Darwin's teaching.

In his response to my criticisms, Weikart has accused me of distorting his book. He says that I "incorrectly allege that I argue a straightforward 'Darwin-to-Hitler'thesis." He accuses me of reading the book with "the (false) preconceived idea that my book argues for a direct line from Darwin to Hitler." To support this claim, he quotes from page 4 of his book: "Darwinism does not lead inevitably to Nazism." In other words, he argues that the thesis of his book is not accurately conveyed in the title--From Darwin to Hitler--which he says is "ambiguous."

But now in a recent blog post at the Discovery Institute website, Jonathan Witt says that Weikart's book shows "a straightforward path to horror." He writes: "What is striking is how straightforwardly many of the horrors documented in Weikart's book follow from Darwinian principles." This directly contradicts Weikart's response to me saying that it is wrong to see his book as arguing for "a straightforward 'Darwin-to-Hitler' thesis."

I hope that Weikart will correct this interpretation of his book, and that the Discovery Institute will issue a retraction of its claims about his book.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sandefur on Hayek

In our exchanges, Timothy Sandefur has indicated that he doesn't regard Hayek as the best representative for libertarian thought. He refers to a post of his from last year summarizing his criticisms of Hayek. Actually, I agree with him on this. I make some similar criticisms in Darwinian Conservatism (pp. 20-26).

My main point is that we need to explain social order as the product of three kinds of order: natural order, customary (or habitual) order, and rational (or deliberate) order. Hayek's stress on custom--"between instinct and reason"--as the ultimate source of order goes too far in elevating social tradition over natural propensities and deliberate judgments. So, for example, while he is right to stress the customary character of common law, he fails to give enough weight to the way in which common law had to be altered by deliberate judgments of judges and lawmakers.

This trichotomy of order is clear in property law--as I indicate in chapter 4 of Darwinian Conservatism--where we need to see three levels of property law: natural property, customary property, and formal property.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another Response to Sandefur

Timothy Sandefur has a post on my reply to his review of Darwinian Conservatism.

He elaborates his argument that libertarianism and traditionalist conservatism are incompatible, and that Darwinian naturalism supports libertarianism but not traditionalist conservatism. His main point is that while the libertarian believes that social order is to be judged by how well it serves the happiness and flourishing of individuals, the conservative believes that individuals are to be judged by how well they serve the stability of social order.

I will concede that Russell Kirk's deep scorn for libertarian thought drove him to describe his Burkean conservatism in a way that drove a wedge between conservatism and libertarianism. But as I have argued in my previous post and in my book, the libertarianism of people like Hayek is actually compatible with Burkean conservatism. Although Hayek did not like to call himself a "conservative," he appealed to Burke throughout his writing, and he insisted that "true individualism" (as opposed to "false individualism") was consistent with Burkean thought.

Like the Burkean conservatives, Hayek repeatedly stressed the need for moral order rooted in tradition or custom to secure the social conditions for liberty. In Individualism and Economic Order, Hayek observed that "coercion can probably only be kept to a minimum in a society where conventions and tradition have made the behavior of man to a large extent predictable" (p. 24). In support of this idea, he quotes Burke: "Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites." Moreover, Hayek writes, "It must remain an open question whether a free or individualistic society can be worked successfully if people are too 'individualistic' in the false sense, if they are too unwilling voluntarily to conform to traditions and conventions, and if they refuse to recognize anything which is not consciously designed or which cannot be demonstrated as rational to every individual" (p. 26).

For Kirk, the necessary moral traditions were ultimately rooted in some permanent order of the universe manifested in enduring human nature and religious belief in a transcendent order. By contrast, Hayek was a skeptic. And yet he saw no necessary conflict between his classical liberalism and religion. "Unlike the rationalism of the French Revolution, true liberalism has no quarrel with religion, and I can only deplore the militant and essentially illiberal antireligionism which animated so much of nineteenth-century Continental liberalism. . . . What distinguishes the liberal from the conservative here is that, however profound his own spiritual beliefs, he will never regard himself as entitled to impose them on others and that for him the spiritual and the temporal are different spheres which ought not to be confused" (The Constitution of Liberty, p. 407).

This last point leads Sandefur to warn against Kirk as a "theocrat" who "called for an established religion in America." But here I would say that he is not being fair to Kirk. Kirk accepted the First Amendment principle that Congress should not establish a national church. "Christian teaching," Kirk claimed, "is intended to govern the soul, not the state." He warned that it was a mistake for the church to usurp the powers of the state. Although Kirk thought religion was essential for social order, he thought that no particular church should be established by the state, because he believed in religious liberty as a hard-won legacy of the Western tradition.

In listing his "Ten Conservative Principles", Kirk began with the principle of "an enduring moral order" rooted in a constant human nature. Darwinian science supports that principle by accounting for human nature, including the natural moral sense.

As Sandefur indicates, some conservatives are suspicious of Darwinian accounts of human nature as a product of evolutionary history, because they fear that this falls short of the eternal order that they seek. But my claim is that even if Darwinian human nature is not necessarily a fulfillment of some eternal, cosmic purpose, this human nature is still an enduring ground for moral judgment. Moreover, the question of whether this evolutionary nature is guided by some supernatural cause is left open for those who would move beyond nature to nature's God.

Some skeptical libertarians see no need for such a move beyond nature. But shouldn't they see the openness to divine mystery as one of the deepest expressions of individual liberty?

Friday, December 08, 2006

The New Fusionism

Although Timothy Sandefur generally praises Darwinian Conservatism, he criticizes me for "absurdly suggesting that libertarianism is a variety of conservatism, which it emphatically is not." He claims that my Darwinian account of human nature supports libertarianism but not traditionalist conservatism. (His review can be found here.)

Sandefur correctly surmises that I assume a "fusionist" view of conservatism as combining libertarianism and traditionalism, a view most clearly stated in the 1960s by Frank Meyer. In April, I will be speaking at the national meeting of the Philadelphia Society as part of a debate with John West. For that occasion, I will be writing a paper on "Darwinian Conservatism as the New Fusionism." Here I will only briefly indicate a few of the ideas that I will elaborate in that paper.

Darwinian science supports the conservative understanding of ordered liberty as conforming to a realist view of human nature as imperfectible, which is the common ground between libertarian conservatism and traditionalist conservatism.

In Darwinian Conservatism, I identify the core ideas of conservatism as manifested in the political thought of five conservative thinkers--Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Friedrich Hayek, Russell Kirk, and James Q. Wilson. While libertarians look to Smith, and traditionalists look to Burke, Burke's praise for Smith's two books--The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations--shows their fundamental agreement. Although Hayek and Kirk often criticized one another, their points of agreement were deeper than they were willing to admit. After all, both praised Burke and stressed the importance of cultural tradition in sustaining social order. Wilson might be seen as a traditionalist conservative insofar as he emphasizes the importance of moral character for social order. But he might also be seen as a libertarian conservative insofar as he shows how moral character is best nurtured through the spontaneous order of civil society. Moreover, Wilson indicates how the very possibility of moral order rests on the natural propensity of the human animal for developing a moral sense--a natural propensity that manifests human biological nature as shaped by Darwinian evolution.

In contrast to the utopian vision of human perfectibility that runs through the tradition of leftist thought, conservatives see human beings as naturally imperfect in their knowledge and their virtue. And yet conservatives believe that human beings do have a natural moral sense that supports ordered liberty as secured by the social order of family life, the economic order of private property, and the political order of limited government. A Darwinian science of human nature shows how these conditions for ordered liberty conform to the natural desires of the human species as shaped by evolutionary history. This broad vision of ordered liberty is shared by libertarians and traditionists, and it is sustained by Darwinian science.

Traditionalist conservatives sometimes criticize libertarians for promoting an atomistic individualism that is morally corrupting in dissolving any sense of communal order. But libertarians actually recognize the natural sociality of human beings and the need for character formation through social life in civil society. As David Boaz indicates (in chap. 7 of Libertarianism: A Primer), libertarians see that human beings have natural desires "for connectedness, for love and friendship and community," and those social desires are best satisfied in the natural and voluntary associations of civil society--in families, in churches, in schools, in fraternal societies, and in various commercial associations. Moral character formation is achieved better through such natural and voluntary associations than through the coercive association of the state. The coercive power of the state can secure the conditions for ordered liberty by enforcing the rule of law, securing domestic peace, protecting against foreign attack, and providing some of the institutional structures necessary for a free society. But when the state exercises unlimited power in coercively managing the daily affairs of life, it "undermines the moral character necessary to both civil society and liberty under law."

Like Boaz, Hayek agreed with Burke in stressing the importance of morality and character formation for a free society. "It is indeed a truth, which all the great apostles of freedom outside the rationalistic school have never tired of emphasizing, that freedom has never worked without deeply ingrained moral beliefs and that coercion can be reduced to a minimum only where individuals can be expected as a rule to conform voluntarily to certain principles" (Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, 62, 435-36).

Darwin explains how such moral order and character formation arises from the complex interaction of moral sentiments, moral traditions, and moral judgments that manifest the evolved desires of the human animal.

And yet traditionalist conservatives often charge that libertarians subvert morality by failing to promote the religious beliefs that are essential to moral life. Sandefur seems to confirm that charge by claiming that libertarians affirm reason rather than faith--that they deny "the assumption that we need a special magic spark to give us moral significance." Moreover, he insists that Darwinian science is on the side of reason against faith, and so he criticizes me for "seeming to appease religion."

But as I argue in Darwinian Conservatism, I don't believe that Darwinian science is on the side of reason against faith. When we ask for the ultimate explanation for why nature is the way it is, we cannot by reason alone either deny or affirm the existence of some supernatural ground of explanation.

Religious conservatives like Kirk look to God's eternal order as providing a transcendent purpose for morality and politics. Skeptical conservatives like Hayek look to the natural order of life as providing a purely natural purpose for morality and politics. Skeptical conservatives will be satisfied with Hayek's thought that "life has no purpose but itself."

Darwinian conservatism cannot resolve such transcendent questions of ultimate explanation. But at least it can provide a scientific account of the moral and political nature of human beings that sustains the conservative commitments to private property, family life, traditional morality, and limited government. And in a free society, individuals will be free to associate with one another in social groups--in families, in religious communities, and other natural and voluntary associations--in which people can freely explore the ultimate questions of human existence and organize their lives around religious or philosophical answers to those questions.

Libertarians like Sandefur accuse traditionalist conservatives like Kirk of being "theocratic." But if "theocratic" means using the coercive power of a centralized state to enforce theological doctrines contrary to the social order of civil society, then I cannot see that those like Kirk were "theocratic." Even the most fervent of the religious conservatives in the United States respect the Western tradition of religious liberty.

And in this they follow the New Testament teaching of Christianity about rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. After all, the Christians in the New Testament formed churches as voluntary associations of believers, and they never sought the coercive power of the state to enforce their religion. Paul stated a libertarian principle by which the Christians should enforce their religious norms on those who belong to their churches, but should not act coercively against those outside the church. "For what is it to me to judge those outside? Is it not for you to judge those inside? But God is to judge those outside" (I Corinthians 5:12-13).

On this point, conservatives--both libertarians and traditionists--follow a tradition of religious liberty that stretches from the early Christians to Roger Williams to Adam Smith to James Madison. The need for religious liberty follows from the conservative realist view of the imperfectibility of human nature. No human being can be trusted with the power to coercively enforce religious doctrine, because no one has sufficient knowledge or virtue to rightly claim to interpret God's will.

Here conservatives follow Lord Acton's famous maxim: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." In fact, the context of this quotation from Acton's correspondence with Mandell Creighton indicates that it has a special application to theocratic, papal authority: "I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historical responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority."

Darwinian science can confirm the importance of religious belief as satisfying a natural desire for religious understanding. It can also confirm the social utility of religious communities in enforcing cooperative norms. And yet it also supports the need for religious liberty and the danger of theocratic power, because Darwinism recognizes that no human being can be trusted to exercise a presumed divine authority over other human beings.

But while judging such practical truths of religious belief and religious authority, Darwinian science can neither confirm nor deny the theological truth of religious doctrines.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Eugene Heath's Review

Eugene Heath, a philosophy professor at SUNY at New Paltz, has written a review of Darwinian Conservatism for the journal European Legacy, vol. 12, no. 1 (2007).

Heath generally praises the book: "Arnhart takes up these important issues in a judicious and informed manner, and his delivery is intelligent, careful, and devoid of posturing or special pleading."

But he also raises some questions about points that remain unclear, and he complains that "the brevity of the presentation--a feature of the Societas series--precludes a full and substantive account of how Darwinian ideas support conservatism." That's a fair complaint, because I do bring up some deep issues that are not given the lengthy elaboration that they deserve.

Heath wonders whether my argument doesn't leave a lot of room for "diverging social norms and political standards," as long as those norms and standards are within the broad limits set by human biological nature. So even those who don't consider themselves conservatives might find support in the book for "libertarianism or some realist conception of social democracy."

Heath also thinks I dismiss too quickly Hayek's idea "that our social and moral sensibilities, forged in an era of the small group or tribe, still incline us to 'tribal emotions' of solidarity and collective purpose, tendencies that clash with the abstract and purpose-independent rules of the spontaneous order."

Heath also wonders whether my biological account of the human capacity for moral judgment fully explains the human capacity "to recognize moral truths."

And, finally, Heath suggests that the social utility of religion might depend upon people believing in the truth of religion as transcending social utility.

These are all good points, although I think my replies should be evident in the book itself. Perhaps I can say more in a future post.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

More on the Beckwith Review

The full text of Frank Beckwith's review of Darwinian Conservatism for The Review of Politics can be found here. Some comments over at the Right Reason blog can be found here.