Thursday, July 30, 2020

Darwinian Conservatism, Darwinian Liberalism, and the Welfare State: A Reply to Govert Schuller

During my teaching career at Northern Illinois University, I was privileged to have many smart students who taught me a lot.  I designed my courses around three requirements: peer-response journal writing, class discussions, and a final argumentative essay.  For each week there was a reading assignment.  Each student had to bring to the first class each week a journal entry--two typed pages--on the reading for that week.  The journal entry would answer a series of questions.  What is the author saying?  Does the author present good evidence and arguments to support his position?  Or is there an alternative position that is more persuasive?  Each student would bring three copies of this journal entry--one for me and two for the two members of the student's journal group.  Then, at the second class meeting of the week, students would bring two one-page responses to the two journal entries they had received at the first class meeting.  In these responses, the students would express their points of agreement or disagreement with other students in their journal group.  This journal writing guaranteed that each student came to class prepared: they had not only read the assigned reading, but they had also thought about it in a critical way; and so they were ready to engage in a lively class discussion.

I never lectured for long periods.  Instead, I raised questions to stimulate class discussion.  And often my questions came from the students' journal writing.  The only requirement for the discussions was that the students had to support their positions with evidence and argumentation.  Occasionally, some of the assigned reading would be some writing of mine, and the students were free to disagree with me.  (This pedagogy of Socratic questioning is conveyed in my book Political Questions: Political Philosophy from Plato to Pinker.)

The final requirement for each of my courses was a paper that I called an "argumentative essay."  Each student would take up some controversial question that had come up in the readings or the class discussions.  The writer would have to develop at least three arguments supporting the author's answer to the question.  The writer would also have to state, and answer, at least two objections to the writer's position.

Typically, by the end of the semester, each student would have written at least 65 typed pages for the journals and the final paper.  Consequently, the students had a lot of practice in writing clearly and rigorously about some of the deepest questions in political science.

I was reminded of this this week when I saw that one of my former students--Govert Schuller--had just published two of his essays for me at his blog "Alpheus."  The first one--"Darwinian Conservatism and the Liberal Welfare State"--was written for my course on "Biopolitics and Human Nature" in the spring of 2013.  The second--"Nietzsche's Reluctant Acceptance of Liberal Democracy (and Later Rejection)"--was written for my seminar on "Nietzsche and Politics," also in the spring of 2013.

One of the readings for "Biopolitics and Human Nature" was my book Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question.  In his paper, Schuller criticizes my argument in that book.  Darwinian biology supports conservatism, I argued, in five ways.  (1) It supports the conservative view of ordered liberty as rooted in natural desires, customary traditions, and prudential judgments.  (2)  It supports the conservative view of the moral sense as fundamental for the moral order of liberty.  (3)  It supports the conservative view of sexual differences, family life, and parental care as fundamental for the social order of liberty.  (4) It supports the conservative view of property as fundamental for the economic order of liberty.  (5) And it supports the conservative view of limited government as fundamental for the political order of liberty.

Schuller agrees with me that a good social order must conform to the natural desires of our evolved human nature, and that the utopian socialist and Marxist ideologies must be rejected insofar as they deny that evolved human nature.  And yet he makes three arguments to show that a Darwinian account of human nature does not necessarily support conservatism.

First, he claims that my criticism of utopian leftist thinking is a straw-man argument, because there are realistic leftist positions that are not utopian--particularly, the welfare-state liberalism of European social democracy, as manifested in countries like the Netherlands.

Second, he claims that I do not look at the comparative research that shows that welfare-state regimes like the Netherlands can satisfy the twenty natural desires.  Thus, I ignore the evidence that by many measurements of social health, the European social democracies rank higher than more conservative regimes like the United States.

Third, he disagrees with my suggestion that the ranking of the natural desires must be rightly left to the judgment of individuals, and so a social order cannot properly enforce a prescribed ranking.  On the contrary, he thinks that Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of human needs is a good ranking of our natural desires--starting with physiological needs and moving up to security needs, then social needs, and finally self-actualization.  Moreover, he asserts that the European social democracies do a good job of securing the basic biological needs (food, health, and shelter), while also securing the conditions for satisfying the other needs as well.  This is clearly seen, he thinks, in the Netherlands.

What Schuller does not see is that my Darwinian conservatism is a liberal conservatism that can embrace a liberal welfare state.  In previous posts, I have written (here) about Darwinian conservatism as a fusion of traditionalist conservatism (like that of Russell Kirk) and classical liberalism (like that of Friedrich Hayek).  Classical liberals like Hayek reject pure socialism and communism because these systems deny the individual liberty necessary for a free society.  But liberals like Hayek can endorse those welfare state policies that are compatible with individual liberty.  One can see this in the third part of Hayek's Constitution of Liberty, which is entitled "Freedom in the Welfare State."

As I have argued (here), the welfare state systems that one sees in the European social democracies are actually capitalist welfare states with private property and free markets.  And while these welfare state regimes do restrain individual liberty in many ways, they are largely free societies.  Schuller points to this in describing how the European welfare state secures the natural human desires: "A right to work and a minimum living wage would take care of the basic needs, including housing, and a non-corrupt government can provide safety, health insurance and affordable education.  At the same time there should be a maximum of freedom for people to pursue their social, romantic, vocational, economic, creative and spiritual needs."

When Eduard Bernstein, a leader of the German Social Democratic Party, first defended social welfare policies as "evolutionary socialism," he was criticized by the Marxists as a "revisionist."  Rosa Luxemburg complained that his so-called socialism was really a "variety of liberalism."

That she was right about this should be clear from looking at the Human Freedom Index--devised by the Cato Institute as an empirical measurement of liberty as defined by classical liberals like Hayek--and noticing that the European social democracies (including the Netherlands) rank high on that index.  As I have said in previous posts (here), this shows the human progress towards social orders that secure individual liberty

In my Nietzsche seminar, we read texts from the three periods of Nietzsche's writing--early (The Birth of Tragedy), middle (Human, All Too Human), and late (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil).  We saw that Human, All Too Human differs from much of his earlier and later writing in two ways.  First, he embraces a Darwinian evolutionary science: "everything has evolved" (HATH, secs. 2-3).  And he shows a moderate acceptance of liberal democratic politics and institutions, while strongly rejecting socialism.

Schuller chose to write about this second point.  He rightly sees in Human, All Too Human a "qualified endorsement of liberal democracy" as "the least bad form of government."  And he also rightly sees Nietzsche turning away from this in his later writing:
"if such ideas like democracy and human rights are tossed, then he can 'overcome' his previous reluctant acceptance of liberal democracy and go all out with a cruel, self-assertive, self-legislating, 'value-creating' (BGE, 260) upper class and reduce the rest of mankind to the status of Untermensch to be exploited, which is fine because exploitation 'belongs to the essence of what lives, as a basic organic function; it is a consequence of the will to power, which is after all the will of life' (BGE, 259).  Here we can unfortunately see the foreshadows of a fascist ideology."
As I have indicated in a previous post (here), I believe that Nietzsche's Darwinian aristocratic liberalism in Human, All Too Human can be shown to be superior--morally, politically, and intellectually--to the Dionysian aristocratic radicalism of his later writings.  That is the best answer to the Nazi and fascist interpreters of Nietzsche (like Martin Heidegger).


Govert Schuller said...

Dear Dr. Arnhart,

Thank you for responding to the essays I produced in your class and seminar, both of which I enjoyed very much and learned a lot from.

I'm glad that there is, according to you, some space in Hayek's work in which there might be some room to breath for social democratic regimes, or, as you call it, welfare capitalism. I do not oppose the latter naming and think it actually covers also Senator Sander's 'democratic socialism', which is not socialism because it keeps the capitalist system in place and only reforms it in order to serve most citizens.

I did read a little of the chapter on welfare in Hayek's magnum opus and found indeed many arguments to accept moderate welfare schemes. I also read that Hayek might not be opposed to some kind of basic income.

On the other hand, while just reading and browsing around, there are voices which interpret Hayek as being opposed to any welfare scheme because it would be a slippery slope towards a total regulation of the economy and associated prison regime (Farrant & McFail, 2012).

I'm not sure which interpretation might be correct, but as far as conservatives are concerned, I do think that their folk understanding of Hayek would be to make him into a libertarian opposed to anything that would smack of socialism, including the legislative legacy of the New Deal and Great Society here in the USA.

Let me close with sharing that I am a co-founder of the Alliance For Just Money, a non-profit promoting monetary reform based on a now tested theory of money and banking, named the credit creation theory (Werner, 2014). It makes the case that actually between 93 and 97% of the money supply in circulation originated with banks when they made loans by adding credit out of nowhere to the deposit account of the borrower. Many banks, both commercial and central, government reports and academics, are all proving and / or admitting its truth. Our proposed reform is to bring banks back to being true intermediaries, something most people incorrectly believe is the case, and put the money creation privilege back to the government, in a secure agency, as was intended by the US constitution. Prominent economists already proposed this in the 1930s to combat the Great Depression. It was then called the Chicago Plan, which plan was resurrected by Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) in the 2012 NEED Act. Modelling by the IMF indicated that, as the economists claimed in the 1930s, that such reform would result in no more bank runs, less private and government debt and more equality.

I'm bringing all this up because one of the cruel policies of the current way of economic thinking is that there has to be austerity all around, while the monetary reform we propose will give room for the government to spend debt-free money into circulation by paying for all kinds of infrastructure and welfare schemes without bankrupting the treasury.

In short, we think that sovereign monetary reform will make welfare capitalism work better for all.

Farrant, Andrew, and Edward McPhail. "Supporters are Wrong: Hayek did not favor a welfare state." Challenge 55.5 (2012): 94-105.

Werner, Richard A. 2016. “A lost century in economics: Three theories of banking and the conclusive evidence”. International Review of Financial Analysis, 46 (July 2016): 361-379.

Doug1943 said...

If the conservative movement in America does not embrace something like the attitude towards the welfare state exhibited here by Govert Schuller -- and implicitly by Dr Arnhart (?), and by Hayek ... then WE......ARE.......DOOMED. (I'm not speaking about Mr Schuller's proposal re the banks, the evaluation of which is above my pay grade.)

Anyone who agrees with me should read Francis Buckley's recent book entitled The Republican Workers Party.

(This understanding used to be part of what the neoCons brought to the conservative movement, but they are no longer with us.)