Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Darwinian Political Science" at APSA Convention

On September 1, I will present a paper on "Darwinian Political Science" at the convention of the American Political Science Association in Chicago. My panel will meet at 2:00 pm. Preceding our panel, at 12:30, Frans de Waal will be speaking at a plenary session on the 25th anniversary of de Waal's Chimpanzee Politics. Here I will provide the introductory section of my paper, but without the references. The full paper can be found at the APSA website for the convention.

Political science could become a true science by becoming a Darwinian science of political animals. This science would be both Aristotelian and Darwinian. It would be Aristotelian in fulfilling Aristotle's original understanding of political science as the biological study of the political life of human beings and other political animals. It would be Darwinian in employing Charles Darwin's evolutionary theory as well as modern advances in Darwinian biology to explain political behavior as shaped by genetic evolution, cultural evolution, and individual judgment.

Some political scientists have complained about the deficiencies of their discipline in explaining politics. A small but growing number of political scientists have argue that a political science rooted in an evolutionary theory of human nature could overcome many of these deficiencies. I support this claim by laying out a theoretical framework for a Darwinian political science that indicates how it would rectify the defects in contemporary political science. To illustrate how such a Darwinian political science would explain particular political events, I show how such a science could account for one of the crucial turns in American political history--Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863.

Critics of the contemporary state of political science have identified at least seven deficiencies that could be alleviated by a Darwinian political science. (1) Although history matters in the study of politics, because the significance of each political event depends on its place in a temporal sequence of events over extended periods of time, contemporary political science often ignores the historical character of political life. So some political scientists have sought to recover political history as an integral part of political science. Darwinian political science would build on this scholarship, while exploring the deep history of politics over millions of years that includes not only human beings but other political animals. This evolutionary political history would move through three levels--natural history, cultural history, and individual history. So, for example, to fully explain Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, we need to see it as an event in the natural history of cooperation in the human species, in the cultural history of slavery in America, and in the individual history of Lincoln as a political actor in the Civil War.

(2) Although morality matters in the study of politics, contemporary political science often ignores the moral dimensions of political life. Against the assumption of many political scientists that political behavior is motivated solely or predominantly by the rational maximization of self-interest, some political scientists have argued for going beyond self-interest to recognize the other-regarding motives of political actors that drive political controversy as a moral debate over the common good. Darwinian political science would support this position by showing how the evolved political nature of human beings as shaped by genetic and cultural group selection shows not only a selfish concern for oneself and one's kin but also a moral concern for reciprocity, fairness, and the good of the group. Lincoln's participation in the debate over slavery and emancipation manifests this moral sense in the recognition of slavery as unjust exploitation, while also manifesting the need to accommodate the self-interest of the slaveholder as a constraint on the pursuit of justice.

(3) Although judgment matters in the study of politics, contemporary political science often has little to say about practical judgment in politics and how to distinguish good and bad political judgment. To rectify its defect, some political scientists have contended that political science needs to recognize and explain political judgment as an intellectual and moral virtue of practical wisdom that cannot be reduced to scientific or theoretical reasoning. Darwinian political science confirms Aristotle's insight about the importance of prudence or practical judgment in morality and politics. Darwinian science recognizes that brains evolved to help animals who need to make practical decisions to satisfy their desires in response to the risks and opportunities offered by their physical and social environments. Human beings and other political animals have evolved brains that allow them to make practical judgments in circumstances of social complexity where knowledge must be always uncertain and imprecise. For human beings, such judgments require deliberate reflection. But they also require worldly experience, proper habituation, intuitive insight, and emotional dispositions that go beyond purely logical reasoning. Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation illustrates the intricacy--if not mystery--of practical judgment in politics.

(4) Although emotion matters in the study of politics, political scientists who emphasize "rational choice" have often played down the role of emotion in political life, and generally many political scientists have assumed that emotion subverts rational decision-making, particularly in democracies threatened by popular passions. And yet some political scientists have argued that political decision-making and rhetoric show the interdependence of reason and emotion, because human practical cognition is guided by the emotional dispositions of human nature, which is apparent in the power that emotion has in electoral behavior. Darwinian political science shows how emotion belongs to the evolved nature of human beings and other political animals. Biological psychology uncovers the neural bases of emotion in the practical judgments of political animals. The power of emotion in political rhetoric is illustrated in the passionate controversies surrounding the Civil War and Lincoln's emancipation of slaves.

(5) Although religion matters in the study of politics, many political scientists have ignored the political importance of religion, particularly those who have assumed that "modernization" would bring a withering away of religious belief. But in recent years, the political effects of religion have been hard to ignore, which has made "politics and religion" a vibrant field of study. Even though Darwinism is sometimes associated with atheism, Darwin recognized religion's importance in the moral evolution of human beings. Following Darwin's lead, David Sloan Wilson has developed an evolutionary theory of religion as a product of genetic and cultural evolution driven by group selection: religion is adaptive insofar as it helps groups to solve collective action problems and function as collective units. American political culture has always been deeply shaped by biblical religion, and so a critical part of the debate over slavery was whether it was compatible with the Bible. It was crucial, therefore, for Lincoln to defend his Emancipation Proclamation as conforming to biblical morality.

(6) Although ambition matters in the study of politics, many political scientists look to impersonal laws of political behavior and abstract models of rational choice in which the personal ambition of political actors falls out of view. Against this tendency, some political scientists have asserted that politics is all about the manly spiritedness of ambitious political actors competing for importance. Darwinian political science recognizes such political ambition as the striving for hegemonic dominance that arises among political animals organizing themselves into hierarchies of dominance and submission. Among human beings and some other primates, this competition for dominance creates a tense balance of power between the desire of the dominant few to rule and the desire of the subordinate many to be free from exploitation. Lincoln was an example of a restlessly ambitious man who yearned to do something great in politics that would bring immortal glory to his name. His ambition was channeled and checked by the American system of constitutional government. But that constitutional system also allowed him to satisfy his ambition by winning the glory that came from issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

(7) Although liberal education matters in the study of politics, the discipline of political science has become so specialized and fragmented as to be almost completely separated not only from the natural sciences and the humanities, but even from the other social sciences, and thus it cannot be integrated into the interdisciplinary activity of liberal learning. Some political scientists worry that this professional isolation of political science from general education prevents students and scholars from seeing how the study of politics ultimately requires a general understanding of the place of human beings in the universe. Darwinian political science employs evolutionary thinking as a way of unifying knowledge across all the disciplines of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities to understand the evolved nature of human beings as political animals. This is illustrated by explaining Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation as an individual political judgment constrained by the natural history of the human species and the cultural history of American politics.

The fundamental framework for Darwinian political science is the theoretical analysis of political behavior as conforming to a nested hierarchy of three levels of deep political history--the universal history of the species, the cultural history of the group, and the individual history of animals within the group. To fully comprehend the human nature of politics, we must understand the unity of political universals, the diversity of political cultures, and the individuality of political judgments. I will work through these three levels of Darwinian deep political history as they are generally manifested in human politics, and as they are particularly illustrated in Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

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