Friday, February 21, 2014

Does the New Testament Teach Classical Liberalism?

The second half of Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan (Parts 3 and 4) is devoted to the interpretation of the Bible.  For many readers today, this seems odd, because giving so much attention to biblical theology seems out of place in a treatise of political philosophy.  When the Leviathan is used as a text in undergraduate political science classes, it's common for the teacher not to assign any reading from the second half of the book.  Some editions of the Leviathan reprint only the first half of the book.  But having just completed another reading of the whole of the Leviathan in my graduate seminar on Hobbes, I am reminded of how important the interpretation of the Bible has been for the history of political philosophy, and particularly for the history of liberal political philosophy.

A new book that has helped me to see this is Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture, 1300-1700 by Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker (Crossroad Publishing Company, 2013).  Hahn and Wiker show how the "historical-critical method" in the scholarly study of the Bible arose in the 19th century as the culmination of a political interpretation of the Bible that began with Marsilius of Padua and continued with Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke.  The purpose of that political interpretation of the Bible was to secularize politics and privatize religious belief so that the aim of politics would be securing the peace and security of the body rather than the salvation of the soul.  (Hahn has summarized the argument of his book in a YouTube video lecture.)

Hahn and Wiker repeatedly quote a remark by Jon Levenson that "historical criticism is the form of biblical studies that corresponds to the classical liberal political ideal," and they say that Levenson "has hit the bull's-eye" (7-9, 11, 296, 364, 388).  Their book is an elaborate argument to demonstrate this claim--that the historical-critical method for studying the Bible was developed to advance classical liberal politics.  That's their explicit argument.  Their implicit argument is that this liberal bias requires a distorted interpretation of the Bible.

I am persuaded by their explicit argument but not by their implicit argument.  I agree with them that some of the early modern political philosophers initiated a tradition of Biblical interpretation that would support classical liberalism by radically separating Church and State, doing this in such a way as to promote the liberal principles of political secularism, religious liberty, and the privatization of religious life.  I don't agree, however, with their implied claim that this liberal interpretation of the Bible is clearly contrary to the true teaching of the Bible (see, for example, 11, 364, 445, 484).  I would argue that the secularization of politics through the liberal principles of religious toleration and privatization of religious belief is largely a product of New Testament Christianity.  In other words, the liberal reading of the Bible is a plausible reading.  Indeed, it's so plausible that most Christians today--including the Catholic Church--have embraced this liberal interpretation of the Bible.  I suspect that even Hahn and Wiker ultimately accept Biblical liberalism.

It might seem odd, however, to put Hobbes in the tradition of Biblical liberalism.  After all, much of what Hobbes says about church-state relations seems illiberal in that he argues for the absolute power of the political sovereign over an established church, which includes the right of the sovereign to interpret the Bible, so that the sovereign acts as the "supreme pastor," who "ought indeed to direct his civil commands to the salvation of souls" (ch. 33, 254-55 [268-69]; ch. 36, 283-85 [298-300]; ch. 39, 306 [321-22]; ch. 43, 355-56 [372-73], 379 [396]).

And yet one should notice that Hobbes's illiberal argument for the political regulation of an established church is based on his interpretation of the Hebrew theocratic state in the Old Testament, and as he moves into the New Testament, he begins to move towards a separation of church and state.  Critical for Hobbes's political interpretation of the New Testament is the declaration of Jesus that "my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36) and that Christ's kingdom will not begin until his second coming.  During the first three centuries of Christianity, the Christian churches were voluntary organizations that enforced doctrinal orthodoxy through the threat of excommunication from the church but without any coercive force or violent persecution of heretics or infidels.  Hobbes concludes that among the early Christians, "there was then no government by coercion, but only by doctrine, and persuading" (ch. 42, 348 [365]).  The political enforcement of church authority did not arise until the conversion of the Emperor Constantine in 312 AD (ch. 42, 322 [338], 342-44 [359-61]).

By the time he reaches the end of Leviathan, Hobbes is ready to endorse the position of the Independents in Parliament, who wanted no politically enforced church at all and free toleration of religious diversity.  "And so we are reduced to the Independency of the primitive Christians, to follow Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, every man as he liketh best," and if this promotes religious peace, it is "perhaps the best" (ch. 47, 456 [479-80]).

Thus does Hobbes move towards complete religious toleration and the privatization of religious belief as rooted in the New Testament as the best way to secure peace.  In effect, Hobbes adopts the interpretation of the Bible advanced by Roger Williams, who argued that while the Old Testament teaches theocratic enforcement of religious belief, the New Testament teaches religious toleration.  As I have argued in a previous post, Williams was right in interpreting the New Testament as supporting a classical liberal conception of religious toleration and liberty.

We should realize, however, that Hobbes was right in arguing that no matter how much religious liberty might be allowed, even in a state that practices toleration, the sovereign must have the ultimate power to rule against religious doctrines that promote violence, and in that way the sovereign is still the "supreme pastor." 

Consider, for example, what happened after the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001.  When it was discovered that the terrorists were members of al-Qaida, who believed they were obeying the teaching of the Koran in commanding holy war against infidels, this provoked a political debate over whether Islam was a threat to the peace of the world, which would make it impossible to tolerate Islam in a liberal regime that must suppress religious violence. 

In his speech to a Joint Session of Congress, nine days after the terrorist attack, George Bush had to offer his own authoritative interpretation of the Koran.  He said that the terrorists "practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam."  He declared that the teachings of Islam "are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah." 

Bush is a Christian who interprets the New Testament as teaching that religious belief is a voluntary activity of private individuals that can be properly protected from coercive persecution.  But any religious belief that promotes unjustified violence cannot be tolerated by any government that aims to secure peace and liberty.  Consequently, Bush believes that government can rightly interpret religious doctrines to protect the peace while generally tolerating religious beliefs and practices that are non-violent.

This is the Christian understanding of liberal toleration that emerged in the English Civil War and in the writings of Roger Williams.  It was later elaborated by Spinoza, Locke, and others.

Do Hahn and Wiker agree with this interpretation of the Bible as supporting liberal toleration?  They are strangely evasive about this.  They generally present the liberal interpretation of the Bible as driven by a liberal bias that is not really true to the Biblical text.  But then they sometimes speak of liberal toleration as something that "may appear quite ordinary to us," as if they endorse it (446).  Moreover, they often concede that the liberal interpretation of the Bible was an understandable reaction against the brutal violence and moral corruption of the Catholic Church in its exercise of authority over politics (15, 390-91).  And yet they never explicitly concede that the liberal reading of the Bible is plausible.

Hahn and Wiker claim to be following the recommendation of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, who called for "a criticism of criticism" in Biblical interpretation (8).  But they are oddly silent about the statements of Pope Benedict XVI that support the liberal interpretation of the Bible, particularly the liberal argument that the violent persecution and brutality of the Old Testament must be seen as morally inferior to the peaceful toleration and love of the New Testament.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (November 11, 2010), Benedict XVI indicated that the Old Testament had "dark passages" containing "violence and immorality" (sec. 42).  We must remember, he advised, that "biblical revelation is deeply rooted in history."  He explained: "Revelation is suited to the cultural and moral level of distant times and thus describes facts and customs, such as cheating and trickery, and acts of violence and massacre, without explicitly denouncing the immorality of such things."  Notice the implication here that "the cultural and moral level" of the Old Testament was lower than that of the New Testament, because the God of the Old Testament did not explicitly denounce the immorality of the unjust violence perpetrated by the Hebrew people.

Moreover, Hahn and Wiker are silent about the actions of both John Paul II and Benedict XVI in asking forgiveness for the history of religious violence condoned by the Catholic Church.

They are also silent about how the Catholic Church endorsed liberal toleration as rooted in the New Testament in the "Declaration of Religious Liberty" (1965) at Vatican II.

Would Hahn and Wiker agree with these moves of the Catholic Church towards liberal toleration?  Hahn seems to agree with this in his book Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain, and Defend the Catholic Faith (Doubleday, 2007).  Throughout this book, he uses persuasion to try to convert his readers to Catholicism, but he never suggests that violent persecution or coercion would ever be justified by the Catholic Church.  He writes: "We cannot impose orthodox conclusions on our unbelieving friends.  To borrow words from Benjamin Franklin: The mind changed against the will is of the same opinion still.  God endowed every human being with freedom, and we are always free to choose unbelief" (39).  So here he seems to accept Franklin's argument for toleration and conversion only through peaceful persuasion.

And yet I can't be completely sure about this, however, because of what Hahn says about papal infallibility.  He says that although the popes have made some mistakes, they are infallible in matters of Christian faith and morals.  "God has never permitted even the scoundrels to teach error in matters of faith and morals" (130).

This is disturbing.  Does he really mean to say that all the popes who authorized the persecution of heretics--for example,  Innocent IV in his Bull Ad Extirpanda--were infallible?  If so, then were John Paul II and Benedict XVI fallible in asking forgiveness for such religious violence?  Does Hahn agree with Thomas Aquinas that the Church can even authorize the execution of heretics (ST, II-II, q. 11, a. 3)?

I have elaborated some of these points in previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

George Anastaplo at the Second Saturday Club

Standing (Left to Right): Jim Spring, Jason Jividen, Nathan Dinneen, Greg Smith, Lauren Hall, Andy Schott, Christian Cantir, Lewis Slawsky, Chris Thuot

Seated: Larry Arnhart, Morton Frisch, George Anastaplo

Andy Schott has sent me this photograph that was taken on April 1, 2006.  This was a gathering of what was called the Second Saturday Club, a group of faculty and students, mostly from Northern Illinois University, who met at my home for dinner and a discussion.

For this occasion, Mr. Anastaplo led a discussion of the Fugitive Slave Laws of 1793 and 1850.  He read a paper that was later published in his Reflections on Slavery and the Constitution (2012), pages 107-13.

I recall that in the discussion I disagreed with Mr. Anastaplo.  He defended the fugitive slave laws as constitutional and necessary.  I criticized these laws as unconstitutional because they denied those people claimed to be fugitive slaves their constitutional rights to due process and trial by jury.

This was an example of Mr. Anastaplo's favorite activity--reading some texts bearing on some deep issues in human life (like the debate over slavery), writing out his thoughts about those texts, leading a discussion of the texts with friends, and then publishing what he has written.

A post on a subsequent Second Saturday Club gathering with Mr. Anastaplo speaking on Strauss can be found here.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Nye/Ham Evolution/Creation Debate

Recently, Bill Nye ("the science guy") and Ken Ham debated evolution and creationism at Ham's "Creation Museum" in Kentucky.  The question for the debate was "Is Creation a viable model of origins in today's modern scientific era?"  Nye answered no.  Ham answered yes.

This debate was streamed live on February 4th, and it's available for viewing online, although I'm not sure how long it will be online.

This debate is 2 hours and 45 minutes long.  It's well worth the time to watch it.  It's one of the best debates on creationism versus evolution that I have ever observed.  I will offer some comments here on what was said.

But first I must point to two important questions that were not discussed in the debate.  If I had been a questioner at the debate, I would have directed two questions to Ham.  First, where exactly does the Bible say that the universe is only 6,000 years old?  Second, why do you reject intelligent design theory as contrary to Biblical Christianity?

Although Nye often questioned whether we should accept Ham's interpretation of the Bible, Nye never challenged Ham's assumption that the Bible clearly teaches that the universe was created by God in 4004 BC.  In fact, the Bible never gives any date for God's original creation of the universe.  The dating of Creation as 6,000 years ago comes not from the Bible but from Archbishop James Ussher's book Annals of the World, which was published early in the seventeenth century.  Ham's organization ("Answers in Genesis") sells copies of this book.  Ussher claimed that if we count up the lifetimes of the people in the Bible and follow the genealogies, we can date the day of Creation. 

At one point in the debate, but without identifying Ussher, Ham said that "when we add up those dates in the Bible, we get 6,000 years."  But what Ham did not say is that Ussher found it impossible to "add up the dates" without going to historical evidence of chronology outside the Bible, because the Bible never lays out the whole chronology.  If you look at Ussher's book, you will see over 12,000 footnotes citing secular sources (like Xenophon and Herodotus).  The fact that the Bible never clearly lays out a chronology and never clearly teaches that the universe was created exactly 6,000 years ago indicates that this is not important for the purposes of the Bible.  The Bible is a book of salvational history not a book of natural history.  And thus, contrary to what Ham and the creationists assert, the Bible was never intended to be a science textbook.  This is important because it suggests that the Bible need not come into conflict with Darwinian evolutionary science.  It's surprising that Nye did not make this point.  I have written previous posts on this here and here.

My second question would be about Ham's opposition to intelligent design theory.  At one point, Nye criticized intelligent design theory, as if Ham's creationism was a form of intelligent design theory.  In fact, Ham has scornfully rejected intelligent design as contrary to the Bible.  And the proponents of intelligent design (like the folks at the Discovery Institute) have stressed that intelligent design theory is not based on the Bible, because they do not rely on the Bible as a science textbook.  But people seem to have a hard time recognizing this, because they don't see that for creationists like Ham, intelligent design theory is an attack on the literal meaning of Genesis.

So now let me turn to some of the points that were discussed in the debate.

Ham stressed the contrast between observational science (based on what we can all see in the present) and historical science (based on what we can only speculate happened in the past).  His claim is that absolute proof is possible in observational science, but not in historical science, because in historical science, our conclusions depend on the fundamental assumptions of our "worldview."  This allows Ham to contrast the Biblical worldview and the naturalist worldview, and to argue that both are faith commitments that cannot be absolutely proven, because the deep historical past cannot be directly observed.

Nye's response to this was to play down the historical/observational distinction and to insist that natural laws apply across the present and the history.  To suggest, as Ham does, that the laws of nature were different in the past from what they are today suggests a "magical" change in natural laws that is unscientific.

I agree with Ham that a historical science is not as absolutely demonstrative as a non-historical science.  Indeed, Darwinian scientists like Ernst Mayr have made this point.  But still the Darwinian scientist will assume a uniformity in natural laws across time as the ground for inferring the past from the present.

If we push back in the past to the very beginning, we might reach the Big Bang.  Nye summarized the evidence for the Big Bang.  But he was asked, What was there before the Big Bang?  His answered: It's a big mystery!  Ham answered: God!

Why is there something rather than nothing?  Ham would say that God created everything out of nothing.  But the Bible doesn't say this, and it implies that God worked upon some preexisting formless matter.  In any case, the whole question of why nothing rather than something seems to me to be nonsensical.  First, it's an absurd question because since we have never experienced absolute nothingness, we can't know what we're talking about when we talk about the possibility of absolute nothingness.  Second, the principle of sufficient reason--that there must be a cause for everything--applies properly to everything within the universe but not to the universe as a whole.  We face the problem of ultimate explanation.  Ultimately, all explanation must be based on some unexplained first cause--we must start with either God or nature as the uncaused cause of everything.  I have written about this in another post here.

If you start with God as the uncaused cause of everything, then the question is how exactly does God exercise his causality?  Does God have to create everything at every moment of its existence, so that there is no enduring natural order independent of God's will?  Or does he create some general natural order at the beginning that can then unfold without His having to intervene miraculously throughout time?

Ham seemed to say that God has allowed a natural history of evolution of species to occur, but within the limits of the original "kinds" that He created at the beginning.  Ham's example was the finches in the Galapagos--"Darwin's finches."  Ham conceded that the various species that have evolved in the Galapagos do show the evolution of new species, which is what Peter and Rosemary Grant have argued.  But for Ham, this is consistent with the idea that God created finches as a "kind," while allowing diverse species of finches to evolve naturally.  So if one considers the hierarchy of taxonomical levels--species-genus-family-order-class-phylum-kingdom--"kinds" correspond to the level of "family."  God created the "family" of finches, while allowing the various "species" of finches to diverge by natural evolution.  What Ham denies is that new families can emerge by natural evolution without God's creative activity.  And, of course, he denies that there is any evolution "from molecules to man."  I have written about this previously here.

Human beings as a "kind" had to be specially created by God in his image, Ham insisted, so that they would have the mind or soul that is uniquely human and that cannot evolve naturally from matter.  Nye was asked, How did consciousness arise from matter?  He answered, Don't know!  It's another big mystery that needs to be investigated.  I agree that this is a big mystery, but I would say that the general answer is that the soul emerges from the evolution of the primate brain so that distinctive human consciousness arises after passing over a critical threshold in the size and complexity of the primate brain (particularly in the prefrontal cortex).  We can infer this--as a historical science of the brain--by looking at fossil skulls and comparing primate brains today.  There might always be some mystery about this insofar as we have direct access to consciousness only in our introspective experience.  In any case, why couldn't we say that God chose to use the natural evolution of the primate brain to create human consciousness?  Could God as primary cause have used the secondary causality of natural evolution?  That was Darwin's suggestion.  I have written about this here, which includes links to other posts.  I have written about dual causality here.

If Ham is right about "kinds" corresponding to "families" in modern taxonomical classification, then God created the family of Hominidae, which includes bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and humans.  The human species could have evolved naturally from some common ancestor shared with bonobos and chimpanzees, the two living primate species genetically closest to humans.  Intelligent design proponents like Michael Behe accept the evidence for this.  But it's not clear that Ham would accept this.

For me, the most interesting moment in the debate came when Ham was asked, What if anything would ever change your mind?  He showed confusion and uncertainty as to how to answer this question.  But he finally answered that it would be impossible for anything to change his mind, because no one was ever going to convince him that the Bible was not the true science textbook.  Actually, one of Ham's persistent claims was that both scientific naturalism and Biblical religion are ultimately worldviews based on faith--faith in secular naturalism or faith in Biblical supernaturalism.

This points to the difficulty of resolving the reason-revelation debate.  To refute revelation, the proponents of natural reason would have to have such absolute and complete knowledge as to show the impossibility of miracles.  To refute reason, the proponents of supernatural religion would have to prove the reality of miracles even to the skeptics (perhaps by answering the one million dollar challenge of the late James Randi to prove something to be really a miracle rather than a magic trick or a delusion).

Finally, one should notice how Ham in the debate warns about the morally corrupting effects of Darwinian science.  This shows the true motivation for Ham and other creation scientists.  Their primary concern is not the truth or falsity of the science but its moral consequences.  One can see that in an essay that Ham wrote a few years ago for  I also wrote an essay for arguing that Darwinian science actually supports morality.

Some of my other posts on the creation/evolution debate and the evidence for evolution can be found here and here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

George Anastaplo, 1925-2014: Two Teachers, Two Themes, Five Texts

George Anastaplo died last night.

He was a distinguished professor at the Loyola University Law School and in the Basic Program in the Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago.  He was also a professor emeritus at Dominican University (formerly Rosary College).

It was one of the great privileges of my life to have known Mr. Anastaplo for 44 years, since I first met him when he conducted a seminar in 1970 at the University of Dallas, where I was an undergraduate student.  When I went to the University of Chicago in 1971 as a graduate student in political science, I spent a lot of time with him, and he became my mentor in many ways.  We organized an informal study group that included a dozen or more graduate students who met biweekly in Regenstein Library to discuss various texts in philosophy, political science, literature, and theology.  We were teachers together in the Basic Program.  We were also together at the Clearing in Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, where he regularly conducted week-long seminars in the summer.  He became a father-figure to me.  And he was the most remarkable human being that I have known in my life

A son of Greek immigrants, Mr. Anastaplo grew up in Southern Illinois, graduating from high school in Carterville, Illinois.  He served in World War II as a U.S. Army Air Corps navigator, flying bombing missions in North Africa and Europe.  After the war, he entered the University of Chicago, where he earned his B.A. and his law degree.

Although he graduated number one in his class at the University of Chicago Law School, he was refused admission to the Illinois Bar because the Bar's Committee on Character and Fitness was disturbed by his affirmation of the right to revolution as stated in the Declaration of Independence and by his refusal to answer questions about whether he was a member of the Communist Party.  He said that such questions were inappropriate and unconstitutional.  The questions were also unjustified because no one had any reason to believe that he was a communist. 

But this was a time of great fear in the United States about communist subversion.  In 1951, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Smith Act as constitutional in Dennis v. United States, which allowed for the imprisonment of members of the Communist Party, because they endorsed the right to revolution. although there was no evidence that they were actually plotting revolution.  A few days after this decision was announced, the Committee on Character and Fitness announced its decision against admitting Mr. Anastaplo to the Bar.

When Mr. Anastaplo appealed this decision to the Illinois Supreme Court, he lost.  Some years later, he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and argued his own case before the Court, but once again he lost (by a 5-4 decision).  In this case--In re Anastaplo (1961)--Justice Hugo Black wrote an eloquent dissenting opinion.  Justice William Brennan told Black that his opinion would "immortalize Anastaplo."  As suggested by Black's son, an excerpt from this opinion was read at Black's funeral in 1971 at Washington National Cathedral.  The last line of the opinion was "We must not be afraid to be free."

A good account of Mr. Anastaplo's bar admission case, including comments from some of the members of the Committee on Character and Fitness, is Andrew Patner's "The Quest of George Anastaplo" in Chicago Magazine (December, 1982).

This bar admission case was only the first in a series of tense confrontations provoked by Mr. Anastaplo's challenges to unjustified authority.  While travelling in Russia in the 1960s, Mr. Anastaplo was arrested and then expelled from the country.  When Greece was ruled by a military junta in the 1970s, Mr. Anastaplo publicly criticized them, and at one point he was expelled from that country by the military leaders.

Since he could not practice law, he drove a taxi in Chicago for a few years to make a living.  He then returned to the University of Chicago to work on his doctorate in the Committee on Social Thought and to teach in the Basic Program.  His dissertation become the basis for his first book--The Constitutionalist: Notes on the First Amendment (1971).  This was the first of 20 books that he published.  When he died, he was working to finish up one more.  Much of that written work is now conveniently available at the George Anastaplo website.

Mr. Anastaplo's life was truly a life of the mind.  One way to explain that intellectual life would be to say that it was a life devoted to thinking about two teachers, two themes, and many texts (five of which were most important to him).

At the University of Chicago, he came under the influence of two teachers who shaped his whole life--William Crosskey and Leo Strauss.  Crosskey's classes at the Law School were organized around the meticulous interpretation of the Constitution to find its original meaning, which was often identified by Crosskey as very different from what was assumed in many Supreme Court decisions.  In particular, Crosskey argued that the Constitutional text established the supremacy of the United States Congress in exercising a general legislative power over the nation.  He was best known for arguing that the Constitution gave Congress a national power over commerce that was more sweeping than the power over "interstate commerce" as interpreted by the Supreme Court.  Crucial to Crosskey's argument was his extensive research into the original eighteenth-century meanings of the words used in the Constitution. 

Like Crosskey, Mr. Anastaplo thought that the Constitution was a carefully crafted document that could be understood through a close reading of the text itself, free from the often mistaken interpretations of the Supreme Court.  That's clearest in Mr. Anastaplo's The Constitution of 1787: A Commentary (1989). 

In his constitutional reasoning, he emphasized the importance of freedom of speech in the First Amendment, and here his thinking was much influenced by Alexander Meiklejohn, who had lectured on the First Amendment at the University of Chicago.  One reason that Mr. Anastaplo thought the First Amendment so important was that he saw freedom of speech as providing the protection for appeals to natural right and for the freedom of philosophic thought to enter politics.  Here is where the influence of Leo Strauss became important.

Mr. Anastaplo attended all of Mr. Strauss's classes at the University of Chicago, from 1949 to 1967.  He was attracted by Mr. Strauss's rigor in the close reading of philosophic texts in the history of political philosophy.  There was a methodological similarity between Mr. Strauss's philosophical textualism and Crosskey's constitutional textualism.  Mr. Strauss once said to Mr. Anastaplo that he had heard that there was someone in the Law School who read the Constitution the way Mr. Strauss read Plato.

While many of Mr. Strauss's students identified themselves as political conservatives, Mr. Anastaplo did not.  In 1964, some of Strauss's students publicly endorsed the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater, and Mr. Anastaplo indicated that he thought it was a mistake to suggest that Strauss's work in political philosophy supported a politically partisan position.

From Mr. Strauss, Mr. Anastaplo picked up the two major themes that run through most of his writing--nature and prudence.  The idea of nature was discovered by the ancient Greeks when they recognized that there was a rational order in the universe and in human life as part of the universe, a rational order that is universal and unchanging, and therefore distinguishable from the conventional or customary order of particular human groups.  Prior to the discovery of nature, human beings looked to the ancestral customs of their society as the authoritative and even divine guides to life.  The politics, art, science, and religion of the Western world all show the influence of the Greek discovery of nature.  Since nature is universal, there are intimations of nature in every tradition of human thought, but only those traditions influenced by Greece show a fully explicit, self-conscious awareness of nature as distinguished from custom or convention.

From the idea of nature, the Greeks derived the idea of natural right, because in human nature they discerned the enduring natural desires and capacities that set norms of good and bad, just and unjust.  Natural right or justice is that which conforms to human nature and is therefore universal, whereas conventional right or justice is that which has been established by human contrivance or custom in particular societies.

With the philosophic awareness of how the universal and unchangeable order of nature differs from the particular and changeable order of custom, there also arose (particularly in Aristotle's writings) an awareness of the need for prudence or practical wisdom in judging the variable circumstances of action in the light of an invariable or enduring human nature.  What is naturally best for any particular society or individual will vary according to the character of that society or that individual, so that a prudent person must judge what is practicable and what is not for a society or an individual in the circumstances in which they find themselves.  The prudent person judges how best to fulfill the enduring inclinations of human nature within the historical conditions in which he finds himself.

Mr. Anastaplo thought through these two themes--nature and prudence--by seeing how they arise in the great texts of philosophy, science, history, mathematics, theology, art, and literature.  His writings offer careful readings of hundreds of texts.  Five texts were especially important for him--Plato's Apology of Socrates, the Bible, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the writings of Abraham Lincoln.

Some of Mr. Anastaplo's readers were not satisfied by the style of his published writing, particularly in his many book collections of lectures and essays that don't seem to be tightly organized around a well-developed and unifying argument.  He often said that he wanted to write a short book exploring his idea of nature.  It is regrettable that he never wrote that book, because it might have elaborated and defended his reasoning about nature and prudence as the recurrent themes that tie all of his writing together into one long argument.

My own thinking about "Darwinian natural right" is in some respects a working out of some of the lines of thought that Mr. Anastaplo intimated in his writing.  I have argued that the twenty natural desires of evolved human nature constrain but do not determine cultural traditions and prudential judgments.

Mr. Anastaplo lived his life with unyielding devotion to high principles, even when this was costly for himself and his family.  Many people saw this as his great strength.  Some saw it as his weakness.  Even Justice Black said that Mr. Anastaplo was too stubborn for his own good.

I was fortunate to spend some time with Mr. Anastaplo a few days ago.  He was alert as he talked about his life and intellectual career.  Hundreds of boxes of papers were being collected for delivery to the University of Chicago Library where they will be organized in the Special Collections section.  He was hopeful that people in the future might find some of that material instructive. 

He was calm and thoughtful in preparing for his death.  I was reminded of his essay on death in his book Human Being and Citizen, in which he wrote: "Death, if faced up to--if not concealed by euphemisms and cosmetics--should remind us of the natural terms of living things and hence of nature and of models for a good life, models that do not depend on one's individuation but rather on one's approximation to a standard guiding other men as well."

Although Mr. Anastaplo did not have much interest in David Hume, I have written about what I see as the many points of agreement between Hume and Mr. Anastaplo.  And as I now think about his life and death, I am reminded of Adam Smith's report about Hume's death, which ended thus: "Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit."

I will miss him. 

But he will live on in my memories of him.  He will also live on in my reading of the texts and my thinking about the themes that were important to him, and which should be important to all of us as human beings and citizens.

George Anastaplo's Word Processor Has Been Silenced

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin

Once again, it's time to celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin, who were born on February 12, 1809.

I have commented on some of the many points of comparison for the two in previous posts here and here, which include links to many other posts.

I see at least seven points of similarity between Darwin and Lincoln.

(1) Both saw the universe as governed by natural laws, which included the natural laws for the evolution of life.

(2) Both were accused of denying the Biblical doctrine of Creation.

(3) Both spoke of God as First Cause.

(4) Both appealed to the Bible as a source of moral teaching, even as they also appealed to a natural moral sense independent of Biblical religion.

(5) Both abhorred slavery as immoral.

(6) Both were moral realists.

(7) Both were classical liberals.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Hobbes, Aristotle, and the Sociobiology of Political Animals

The debate between Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes over whether human beings are political animals by nature is another example of a fundamental issue in the history of political philosophy that depends on empirical natural science.  Aristotle's account of political animals was rooted in his biological science.  In criticizing Aristotle, Hobbes relied on his understanding of the new natural science being developed by Galileo, William Harvey, and others.  When Richard Cumberland wrote in 1672 in defense of Aristotle against Hobbes, Cumberland argued that the biological science of Harvey and Thomas Willis supported Aristotle.  Although Aristotle did not specifically identify apes as political animals, he did conclude from his anatomical studies that apes were an intermediate species close to human beings.  When Edward Tyson in 1699 wrote the first modern anatomical comparison of human beings and apes, he saw that Aristotle was right in identifying chimpanzees as halfway between monkeys and human beings.  Now, I argue, the new Darwinian sciences of sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, and animal behavior sustain Aristotle's position rather than Hobbes's.

Aristotle would agree with the Hobbesian claim that human politics is uniquely human insofar as it manifests uniquely human capacities for language, conceptual abstraction, and shared intentionality.  But Aristotle thought that an adequate political science should understand both the continuity and the discontinuity between human politics and the politics of the other political animals.  We see continuity if we understand that human beings are like the other political animals in cooperating for some common end or function (koinon ergon), in showing social cooperation as an extension of the natural impulses to sexual coupling and parental care of the young, in organizing their social life based on kinship, mutualism, and reciprocity, and in having political leaders that either direct a community to its common ends or divide it into factions.  We see discontinuity if we understand that human beings do all of this in a uniquely human way because their cognitive capacities for reason and speech (logos) allow them to organize their social life around authoritative concepts of expediency, justice, and goodness.  Consequently, human beings are more political than the other political animals, because human cooperation and competition is more complex and extensive in its shared intentionality than is the case for the other political animals.

In De Homine (ch. 10), De Cive (ch. 5, par. 5), and Leviathan (ch. 17), Hobbes makes various arguments against Aristotle, which depend upon three fundamental claims.  First, in the state of nature, human beings are solitary animals.  Second, among the naturally political animals, social cooperation is completely harmonious because there are no conflicts of interest to create competition, but this is not true for human beings.  Third, nature and instinct are necessarily antithetical to artifice and learning, so that social order cannot be natural or instinctive if it depends in any way on artificial or learned activity; and therefore human politics cannot be natural because it arises from cultural learning.

In some of his most famous words, Hobbes describes the state of nature as a lawless anarchy in which human life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."  But as many of his critics have pointed out, this cannot be true, because it ignores the fact that human beings have always lived as social animals.  Even when there is no centralized state, human beings have lived in bands and tribes organized by social norms of kinship, mutuality, and reciprocity.

Oddly, Hobbes admits this, because he recognizes that even in the state of nature, one sees the "government of small families," as among the American Indians.  Parents were the original sovereigns, who enforced customary rules of behavior within their families, and who selected arbitrators or judges to settle disputes between families.  The customary rules of social life in primitive bands constitute what Hobbes calls "the laws of nature," and these natural laws correspond largely to what evolutionary anthropologists have seen among foraging bands, showing the kind of life lived by our evolutionary ancestors.  So, clearly, the state of nature for human beings must be a naturally political state.

Hobbes was right, however, about the centralized state being a uniquely human contrivance based on a social contract.  But this social contract is natural in the sense that it fulfills the natural human inclinations to social cooperation based on kinship, mutuality, and reciprocity.

Human social cooperation is never perfect because it is always disrupted by conflicts of interest.  Contrary to Hobbes, this is true for other political animals like bees and ants.  As E. O. Wilson has observed, the only perfect society free from conflict might be found among colonial invertebrates--that is, colonies of genetically identical individuals.  Since the social insects are not genetically identical, there can be conflicts of interest.  Reproductive competition between individual insects can create aggressive encounters and dominance hierarchies.  There can be conflicts between colonies, between queens, between workers, or between queens and workers.  This requires some means of conflict resolution in which dominant individuals enforce their will over others.  So human beings are not the only political animals who need "a common power to keep them in awe, and to direct their actions to the common benefit."

Of course, the establishment and maintenance of a human political order requires a tradition of cultural learning for the transmission of the rules of political authority.  Contrary to what Hobbes claims, culturally learned order is not uniquely human.  Aristotle recognized that many animals have natural instincts for social learning, which can create cultural traditions.  Recent studies of animal culture suggest that Aristotle was right about this.

And yet, Aristotle and Hobbes also saw that human social learning is unique insofar as it shows a human capacity for symbolic understanding that makes possible concepts of political authority based on shared intentionality, which is not possible for the other political animals.

I will have more to say about "shared intentionality" as unique to human political psychology.

I have elaborated my points here in three publications:

Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature (SUNY Press, 1998)

"Aristotle, Chimpanzees, and Other Political Animals," Social Science Information 29 (1990): 479-559.

"The Darwinian Biology of Aristotle's Political Animals," American Journal of Political Science 38 (1994): 464-485.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Political Leadership Among Cranes: Aristotle Was Right

                                Whooping Cranes Led in Migration by an Ultralight Aircraft

From his biological studies of animal behavior, Aristotle concluded that human beings, ants, bees, wasps, and cranes were political animals by nature (History of Animals, 488a1-14).  Some of these animals, such as bees and cranes, are ruled by a leader (hegemon), while others are not.

Aristotle was impressed by the politics of the social insects, particularly honey bees.  He described the bee hive as a well-ordered political community (HA, 533a17-554b21, 623b5-629b4; Generation of Animals, 759a8-761a12).

It's not hard for us today to see why Aristotle thought the social insects were political animals, particularly because of the work of entomologists like Edward O. Wilson who have argued that explaining the social behavior of the social insects can be part of a general science of sociobiology, which includes human social behavior.

It's harder to understand why Aristotle identified cranes as political animals.  But now some recent research suggests that he was right.  Aristotle thought that birds show  their prudence (phronesis) in building nests, in cooperating in rearing and teaching their young, in deceiving predators and prey, and in navigating over long distances (HA, 612b18-620b9).  He thought that cranes show their political prudence in their migration, in that a leader guides their flight path and acts as a guard when they stop (614b19-26).

Some recent studies of the migration of American whooping cranes (Grus Americana) confirm Aristotle's claims about leadership among cranes in their migration.  Some of this research is briefly summarized in an article in the New Scientist.

To keep  the North American whooping cranes from going extinct, conservationists have been rearing them from birth and then introducing them into the wild.  To do this successfully, researchers have dressed as cranes so that the birds imprint on the scientists as their parents, and then the scientists can teach them how to fly south for the winter by leading them with an ultralight aircraft.  The eastern migratory population must fly in the fall from Wisconsin to Florida, and then fly back to Wisconsin in the spring.  After they have been led to Florida in the fall by the scientists, the birds can then can fly back in the spring on their own.

This suggests that they must learn their path of migration from leaders.  Presumably, this requires some interaction between their genetic nature and their social learning.  A recent study in Science (Mueller et al. 2013) tried to elucidate this nature/nurture interaction and the role of leadership in migration.  Here's the abstract for the paper:

"Successful bird migration can depend on individual learning, social learning, and innate navigation programs.  Using 8 years of data on migrating whooping cranes, we were able to partition genetic and socially learned aspects of migration.  Specifically, we analyzed data from a reintroduced population wherein all birds were captive bred and artificially trained by ultralight aircraft on their first lifetime migration.  For subsequent migrations, in which birds fly individually or in groups but without ultralight escort, we found evidence of long-term social learning, but no effect of genetic relatedness on migratory performance.  Social learning from older birds reduced deviations from a straight-line path, with 7 years of experience yielding a 38% improvement in migratory accuracy."

Notice that they are showing the complex interaction between three levels of behavioral causality: innate programs (natural instincts), social learning (cultural traditions), and individual learning (individual cognition).  The older and more experienced cranes can become leaders of migration with the younger and less experienced cranes learning from them. 

A similar pattern has been found with homing pigeons, so that individuals with more homing experience become the leaders and those with less the followers (Flack 2012).  There is some evidence from homing pigeons and other animals that this leadership arises not just from greater experience in the leader but also from the leader's individual personality traits (such as boldness and dominance) (Harcourt et al. 2009; King et al. 2009).

If political animals are those animals who can coordinate their behavior for collective action in pursuit of common ends, sometimes with leaders steering that behavior to their ends, then cranes are political animals with political leaders.

Some people insist, however, that this is not politics, and that true politics is uniquely human because it depends on some conceptual understanding of authority that only human beings can have, and that learning the conventions of authority is artificial rather than natural (just as Hobbes argued).  I'll respond to that in my next post.


Flack, Andrea, et al.  2012.  "What Are Leaders Made Of?  The Role of Individual Experience in Determining Leader-Follower Relations in Homing Pigeons."  Animal Behaviour 83: 703-709.

Harcourt, Jennifer L., et al.  2009. "Social Feedback and the Emergence of Leaders and Followers."  Current Biology 19: 248-52.

Mueller, Thomas, et al.  2013.  "Social Learning of Migratory Performance."  Science 341 (August 30): 999-1002.

King, Andrew J., et al.  2009.  "The Origins and Evolution of Leadership."  Current Biology 19: R911-R916.