Saturday, January 14, 2017

Does Ethnic Nationalism Have Greater Genetic Fitness than Classical Liberalism?

Both Friedrich Hayek and Paul Rubin have argued that the liberal social order has emerged through a process of evolution as more adaptive than any other social order.  Both Hayek and Rubin have been challenged by some critics who argue that classical liberalism is actually maladaptive in reducing genetic fitness, and that ethnic nationalism is more adaptive in maximizing genetic fitness.  This argument has become part of the new wave of ethnic nationalism that has recently been rising in various parts of the world.

Hayek’s argument is that through a process of selective cultural group evolution, the market order has shown its evolutionary superiority to the alternatives by producing the explosive growth in population and wealth of the past 200 years.  Some of his critics do not dispute the growth in wealth coming from the market order of expanding global trade and specialization.  But they do dispute the claim that market liberalism shows its adaptive superiority in producing growth in population.

The demographic transition—the drop in fertility rates among wealthy people in liberal societies that began to appear at the end of the 19th century—is said by Hayek's critics to show that market liberalism is maladaptive because it reduces reproductive fitness relative to those illiberal groups with higher fertility rates.

Hayek recognized that the demographic transition could slow the growth in population among wealthy people in liberal societies (The Fatal Conceit, 125, 128).  But he did not see this as weakening his argument for the adaptive superiority of market orders in producing population growth.  After all, population can still grow even if the rate of growth has slowed.  And even if the fertility rate of wealthy people in liberal societies declines, the population of those societies could still grow because those societies will attract immigrants (Law, Legislation, and Liberty, vol. 3, p. 159).

The response of the critics has been to argue that there are two reasons why the mass immigration of outside groups into liberal societies is evolutionarily harmful to those liberal societies:

One is that, as ethologist Frank Salter (2004, 2007) explained, in his critique of Rubin, the mass migration from groups into other groups reduces the relative fitness of the receiving population.  Second, differential birth rates potentially biased in favour of newcomers can itself constitute a form of group selection against the original group. Ultimately, if reproductive fitness is the measure of success in the evolutionary process, there is no equally suitable replacement for sheer reproduction.

According to ethnic nationalists like Salter, market liberalism is maladaptive for two reasons.  People in liberal societies tend to have low fertility rates, and liberal societies tend to have open borders that allow the immigration of outside groups with high fertility rates.  If this continues into the future, eventually the native ethnic groups in liberal societies will become small minority groups, or they will go completely extinct. 

So, for example, Salter warns that liberal globalism is not adaptive for Americans, because if unrestrained immigration of non-European people continues, America’s majority white population will eventually become a minority, and America will change from being a nation state to being an ethnically plural state.  This shows that liberal globalism is maladaptive, because liberal ethnic groups have lower reproductive fitness than illiberal ethnic groups. 

The alternative, Salter argues, is “universal nationalism”: every ethnic group should have a right to its own national homeland in which it practices ethnic nepotism—discriminating in favor of its own ethnic identity, so that each ethnic group would pass on its genes to the next generation of people living in its homeland.  The success of ethnic nationalism would depend on two policies: promoting high fertility in the native ethnic group and restricting the immigration of outside ethnic groups. 

Salter has elaborated his reasoning in his book On Genetic Interests (2003), which has become one of the most influential books among ethnic nationalists today, particularly the “alt-right” white supremacists in the United States.  In his review of Salter’s book, American white supremacist Jared Taylor claimed that Salter provides “a scientific justification for racial consciousness and activism.” 

Rubin has responded to Salter.  Like Hayek, Rubin makes an evolutionary argument for classical liberalism.  He claims that modern liberal societies satisfy the preferences or desires of their citizens better than any other social order that has appeared in human history, and that evolutionary science can show that those desires belong to the evolved human nature that evolved to maximize fitness in the environments of evolutionary adaptation that prevailed among our Paleolithic foraging ancestors.  Thus, Rubin starts with the standard assumption of economists that human beings desire to maximize utility.  But his novelty is in arguing that human utility functions have evolved by natural selection, and therefore evolutionary science can explain and clarify the formation of those utility functions.

But while our natural human desires originally evolved to maximize reproductive fitness in the environments of evolutionary adaptation, Rubin argues, there is no reason to believe that those desires will always maximize fitness in the circumstances of modern life.  So, for example, we can assume that the desires for sexual mating and parental care originally evolved as part of the human nature of our evolutionary ancestors because those desires tended to maximize fitness in ancient environments.  But in modern environments, those desires might not maximize fitness. 

Like all animals, human beings must decide how many offspring to produce and how much to invest in each offspring, and that decision requires trade-offs that depend upon the socioecological circumstances in which they live.  Throughout most of human history, most human beings lived in a world of poverty and high infant mortality, in which it was adaptive for parents to produce many offspring, while investing few resources in each, so that the quantity of offspring was favored over quality.  But in a modern world of wealth and low infant mortality, and a world where high levels of education and training are important for social success, parents might want to produce few children in which they can invest a lot in the education and training of those children; and those parents might also want to delay reproduction in order to have more time to invest in their careers. 

By the beginning of the twentieth century, almost all adults in the liberal societies had learned to read, which had never happened in human history.  Now, increasing numbers of people are going to college and professional schools for the education necessary to be successful in societies where social and economic success requires high levels of training and cognitive talent.  This makes children very costly for parents who want to invest heavily in the education of their children, and as the cost of children rises, the demand for children declines. This can produce small families with low fertility rates that can fall below the levels necessary for replacement. 

People desire to increase the likelihood that they and their children will be socially and economically successful, even when this results in low fertility rates that do not maximize reproductive fitness.  In other words, people desire sexual mating, parental care, wealth, social status, and other goods; but they don’t desire reproductive fitness.  A liberal social order is better than any other social order in allowing people to satisfy their natural desires, but in doing that, it does not necessarily maximize reproductive fitness.

Salter seems to agree with Rubin that modern liberal societies largely succeed in satisfying the natural desires of their citizens.  But Salter believes that these desires are mistaken, and that people are incorrect in not desiring reproductive fitness.  Salter concedes this point when he laments that ethnic nepotism is not instinctive, and therefore serving ethnic genetic interests requires artificial cultural strategies devised by modern scientific reasoning, and that no ethnic state has ever succeeded in securing an adaptive ethnic group strategy.  Salter admits that in protecting their genetic interests in modern states, “humans can no longer rely on their instincts” (On Genetic Interests, 28).

Salter identifies various “ethnic states” in the modern world, but he admits that “no state yet developed has reliably kept its promise as an adaptive ethnic group strategy” (221), which includes “the best known modern ethnic state”—Nazi Germany (231).  None of the ethnic states he mentions have succeeded in raising the total fertility rate of its ethny.  The drop in the total fertility rate for native Germans continued under the Nazis, and the Germans have had one of the lowest fertility rates for any population in the world.  Other modern ethnic states that Salter mentions—such as Malaysia—show the same failure to raise fertility rates.  Malaysia provides special protection for the Malay majority at the expense of the Chinese and Indian minorities, and yet the total fertility rate for Malays has fallen below replacement levels.

It’s not clear what policies ethnic nationalists would have to promote to raise fertility rates.  Should they impose severe tax penalties on those couples who do not produce lots of children?  Is this the kind of illiberal policy that ethnic nationalism would require to maximize the genetic fitness of the ethny?

The success of the multiethnic liberal culture is manifest in the passage by white American legislators of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which eliminated the national origin and racial restrictions on immigration, including restrictions on immigration from Africa and Asia.  The American ethnic nationalists would have to overturn this act.

When ethnic nationalists warn that a liberal culture must inevitably lead any ethnic group that adopts that culture to below replacement levels of fertility that will bring the extinction of that group, they assume that steep declines in fertility rates are never reversed.  In fact, that is not true.  Some of the lowest fertility rates appeared in Europe and the United States in the 1930s, but this was followed by the post-World War Two rise in fertility rates (the “baby boom”).  Beginning in the late 1960s, the rates began another steep decline.  But in recent years, there has been some evidence that as societies move into the very highest levels of human development—as measured by long life expectancy, great wealth, and high levels of education—the declining trend in fertility is reverse.  Recently, Sweden and some other highly developed societies have shown this, although the increase in fertility is still not up to replacement levels (see Mikko Myrskyla et al., “Advances in Development Reverse Fertility Declines,” Nature 460 [6 August 2009]: 741-43.)

For me, this shows that the natural human desire for children and parental care will always assert itself, although parents in the socioeconomic circumstances of modern liberal societies will often prefer to invest heavily in fewer children, which can reduce reproductive fitness.
Paul H. Rubin, Darwinian Politics: The Evolutionary Origin of Freedom (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002).
Paul H. Rubin, "Utility, Fitness, and Immigration: Reply to Salter," Journal of Bioeconomics 9 (2007): 53-67.

J. Philippe Rushton, "Ethnic Nationalism, Evolutionary Psychology, and Genetic Similarity Theory," Nations and Nationalism 11 (2005): 489-507.

Frank K. Salter, "Estimating Ethnic Genetic Interests: Is It Adaptive to Resist Replacement Migration," Population and Environment 24 (2002): 111-40.

Frank K. Salter, On Genetic Interests: Family, Ethny, and Humanity in an Age of Mass Migration (New York: Peter Lang, 2003).
Frank K. Salter, "Is Ethnic Globalism Adaptive for Americans?" Population and Environment 25 (2004): 501-527.
Frank K. Salter, "Proximate and Ultimate Utilities: A Rejoinder to Rubin," Journal of Bioeconomics 9 (2007): 69-74.
Other pertinent posts are here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.


Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post. I wanted to suggest one consideration that has not been properly evaluated:

Setting aside the question of whether liberal states are beneficial (from a reproductive fitness perspective) to the populations that create such states, even with no immigration, are liberal societies capable of sustaining themselves in the long-run?

This question is prompted by the observation that even within liberal societies, the people that benefit the most (from a reproductive fitness perspective) in a liberal society often are incapable of creating or sustaining the liberal society. This is a parallel to differential reproductive rates of immigrants who come from populations that may not be capable of creating or sustaining liberal societies (whether due to IQ or other differences).

If this is true, then your last paragraph does not support your argument as you claim, because while the natural desire for children will re-assert itself, it may result in the production of people who cannot sustain the liberal society that they benefited from, and thus liberal societies do not appear to be stable in the long-run.

I think the true evolutionary stable form of social organization may be the patriarchal family, which is stable regardless of the form of political organization it happens to be located in. Liberal societies appear to best serve human interests but may not be capable of long-run survival as their productive citizens do not reproduce themselves.

Anonymous said...

I think liberals are less concerned with ethnic survival than are ethnic nationalists in part because they are universalists, in part due to Christian influence. As a consequence they feel happy with the idea of a liberal world where everyone comes to have a better existence, even if their own particular ethnic group diminishes in numbers.

--Les Brunswick

bjdubbs said...

Why is the criterion of "adaptive ethnic strategy" raising fertility rates? Let's take the example of Quebec. If Quebec had surrendered to anglophone business interests in the 1970s, it would have been reduced to a small "French quarter" in Montreal for tourists to visit. Quebec would no longer exist as a French political unit, and the francophones would face the same fate. But because Quebec did defend its ethnic interests, it continues to exist, though birth rates are below replacement. And so? Quebec may be on a trajectory towards extinction (based on birth rates), but at least the ethnic core still exists (and as you note, fertility rates go up and down). Preserving that ethnic core surely has to be considered an "adaptive ethnic strategy," surely more adaptive than the strategy pursued by anglophones in Cameroon, for example.