Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The Evolutionary Rise and Decline of Monarchy

Recently, many of us have been fascinated by the stately ceremonies surrounding the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the succession of King Charles III.  This should stir us to think about the history of monarchy.  

Why is it that for at least 5,000 years, beginning with the first state-like polities in Mesopotamia, monarchy was the predominant form of government around the world?  And why is it that over the past 250 years, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of monarchies?  Today, there are few monarchical governments in the world--Bahrain, Bhutan, Brunei, Jordan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, and United Arab Emirates. 

The British monarchy is not truly monarchical because the authority of the monarch and the royal family has become purely symbolic, with very little effective power for ruling.  Charles I and Charles II were real monarchs with ruling sovereign powers.  Charles III is the ceremonial head of state, but the executive and legislative powers of British government belong to Parliament and the Prime Minister.  Strictly speaking, the United Kingdom is not a monarchy but a parliamentary democracy.   What explains this remarkable rise and decline of monarchy in the political history of the world?

To answer these questions, we need a historical dataset that reaches far back in the deep history of states around the world, and we need a plausible theory that can suggest testable hypotheses to be judged by how well they are confirmed by the data.  One place to look for this is the work of John Gerring and his colleagues (Tore Wig, Wouter Veenendaal, Daniel Weitzel, Jan Teorell, and Kyosuke Kikuta) in their paper on "Why Monarchy? The Rise and Demise of a Regime Type."  A short version of the paper has been published in Comparative Political Studies (54 [2021]: 585-622).  A long version is available online.

Gerring and his colleagues argue that from the appearance of the first states in the ancient world to the beginning of the modern era about 250 years ago, monarchy was the most common political regime because it was the most efficient solution to the problem of selecting leaders to coordinate social order in large societies where people are isolated from one another.  In the modern era, however, improvements in the technology of communication--for example, the printing press, newspapers, national postal systems, the telegraph, radio, television, and the internet--made it easier for people in large societies to communicate with one another and thus to mobilize a mass public for social coordination, which allowed elites to develop new systems of rule that did not need a central locus of sovereignty in a monarch.

Gerring et al. have been influenced by their reading of Patricia Cone's Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World (London: Oneworld Publications, 2015).  Crone uses the word "pre-industrial" as shorthand for "pre-industrial of the civilized kind" (2-11).  "Pre-industrial" means prior to the Industrial Revolution that began sometime early in the 19th century in northwest Europe.  The "civilized kind" means a society that is based mostly on agricultural production rather than hunting and gathering, which also has the formal governmental institutions of a "state."  Consequently, the history of the pre-industrial societies of the civilized kind stretches from the first agrarian states in ancient Mesopotamia (from around 3,500 BCE) to the modern industrialized states that emerged around 1800.  

This excludes the stateless societies of this period--such as the nomadic tribal societies.  And it's notable that as you look at the global maps in the Gerring paper, that up to 1700, most of the world was stateless, where people lived as "barbarians" without state-like governments.  Crone points out that even within states there were often rugged areas where the state rulers could not penetrate, and people lived in stateless societies.  And, of course, through most of human evolutionary history, human beings lived in hunter-gatherer bands without states.  Today, however, every piece of land around the world is under state rule, with the exception of Antartica, which is defined as an international territory by a treaty between states. 

The pre-industrial world not only lacked modern industrial production, it also lacked the modern means of communication and transportation.  People, goods, and news travelled slowly.  Consequently, in large societies, it was impossible to achieve much economic, cultural, or political integration.  Crone observes that "the vast majority of people continued to live in more or less self-sufficient villages with more or less autonomous cultures of their own, a fact that rendered the political unity of pre-industrial states precarious" (47).

As a result, forms of government like democracy that required mass participation were possible only in small societies (like the Greek and Roman city-states).  In large societies, the coordination of activity by the state required the concentration of authority in the hands of a few, and ultimately in a monarchic ruler.  This explains the argument of political philosophers like Montesquieu that popular government was possible only in small republics.  

"Typically, then," Crone explains, "pre-industrial states were monarchies in which power was exercised through a small ruling elite.  They were monarchies as opposed to oligarchies, partly because the elite could not function without an ultimate arbiter (and was bound to produce one through its competition for power where none existed), partly because one man elevated above all others was a potent symbol of the community over which he presided: its members often regarded him as a common link with the divine" (49-50).

To test this theory, Gerring and his colleagues begin with a strict definition of monarchy as a regime with an executive office that is (1) hereditary, (2) held by a single individual, (3) endowed with life tenure and (4) has sovereign power in ruling the affairs of state.  (The British monarchy satisfies the first three criteria but not the fourth.)  In their historical dataset, state-like governments that satisfy all four criteria are coded as "monarchies," while all the others are coded as "republics."  

They can then show from their historical dataset that most of the state-like governments in the premodern era were monarchies, while in the modern era, most are republics.  They can also show evidence for improving technologies of communication in the modern era.  For example, they point to the spread of radio in the early part of the twentieth century as one way that leaders in large societies could communicate directly with people who otherwise would be isolated from one another.

But while I find all of this persuasive, it seems to me that Gerring et al. have not properly identified the ultimate evolutionary causes of liberal modernity, which brought about the decline of monarchy and the rise of modern liberal democracy.  As important as improving technologies of communication might be, they can be understood as the effect of a deeper cause--the evolution of modern bourgeois culture as Lockean liberal symbolic niche construction.  I will explain that in my next post.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

The New York Attorney General Has Refuted the Rhetorical Myth of Trump as the Self-Made Billionaire

In a previous post, I applied Aristotle's Rhetoric to the study of Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric in 2016.  I indicated that Trump's primary rhetorical technique was the argument from the character of the speaker that stressed the prudence or practical judgment of Trump as a wildly successful businessman, which would allow him as president to Make America Great Again.

One can see this argument in his campaign speeches and in his campaign book Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America (2016).  It can be put into the form of what Aristotle calls an enthymeme:

Major premise: Because of stupid politicians, America no longer wins; and America will not win again until a successful businessman who knows how to win is elected president.

Minor premise: Donald Trump is unique in his business success and his prudence in knowing how to win, because he is a self-made multi-billionaire.

Conclusion: Therefore, Americans need to elect Trump president.

In that previous post, I challenged the minor premise by pointing to the evidence that Trump's business career shows many failures from his imprudent decisions, that he was saved from ruin by his father's life-long transfer of money to him, and so he is not the self-made billionaire that he claims to be.

Now, we have a legal filing by Letitia James, the Attorney General of the State of New York, that also challenges that minor premise by showing that Trump has fraudulently overestimated the value of his wealth, which further undermines his claim to be an extraordinarily successful businessman.

Perhaps the most flagrant example of Trump's fraudulent exaggeration of his wealth is his falsely inflated appraisal of the value of his apartment in Trump Tower in New York City (see pages 75-84 of the filing).  In 2015 and 2016 (during his first presidential campaign), Trump signed his Statements of Financial Condition, which included a fraudulently inflated value for his apartment of $327 million.  This is amazing because in the history of real estate sales in New York City, no apartment has ever sold for much more than $100 million.

This value of $327 million was based on an assessment of $10,900 per square foot multiplied by 30,000 square foot of space.  There are two problems with this.  First, there is no evidence that $10,900 per square foot is a fair market price for an apartment like Trump's.  The second problem is even more obvious:  Trump's apartment is only 10,996 square feet, not 30,000!

This clearly was an intentional and deliberate fraud because many documents within the Trump Organization signed by Trump accurately state the square footage for apartments in Trump Tower.  Moreover, Trump has said that he was regularly involved in the planning and construction of his apartment.

In the deposition taken by the Attorney General's office, Trump was asked about the fraudulent valuation of his apartment.  He was asked: "When you directed the use of that square footage to value your triplex, you knew that the 30,000-square-foot figure was false.  Corrrect?"  Trump answered by invoking his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

In the 215 pages of the Attorney General's filing, there is detailed evidence that the fraudulent evaluation of Trump's apartment was only one of over 200 false valuations.  This false valuation of Trump's wealth benefited him in two ways.  First, it was financially beneficial because it allowed him to secure better deals from lenders and insurers than would have been possible if the true valuation had been known.

James's filing estimates that the financial benefit from the fraud was at least $250 million, and that is the basis for James's asking the court to impose a fine of $250 million as a "disgorgement" that deprives the wrongdoer of illegal benefit (4, 12, 18).  James is also asking the court to prohibit Trump and his family from doing business in New York State for five years.  James indicates that there were violations of state and federal criminal laws that would expose Trump to criminal charges.

There was also a rhetorical benefit to Trump's fraudulent valuations of his wealth, because this supported the minor premise of his campaign enthymeme--that he was a wildly successful businessman as measured by his multi-billion dollar wealth.  As is indicated in the filing, Trump repeatedly instructed the people in his organization to increase the estimates of his net worth.  For many years, he complained that he was not ranked high enough on the Forbes magazine ratings of the wealthiest people in the world.  Trump personally took Forbes editors on tours of Trump Tower and his apartment and argued that they were underestimating his wealth.  

But then in May of 2017, Forbes published an article entitled "Donald Trump Has Been Lying About the Size of His Penthouse," and Trump was enraged.  This was not just a blow to his narcissistic ego but also an assault on his rhetorical argument for his election in 2016, which depended on his claim that he had earned enough business success to be one of the richest human beings on earth.

His 2016 campaign book Great Again ends with an "About the Author" section that gives a story of his business career in 16 pages, which begins: "Donald J. Trump is the very definition of the American success story, continually setting the standards of excellence while expanding his interests in real estate, sports, and entertainment.  He is the archetypal businessman--a deal-maker without peer."  

This story in the book concludes with a long list of 70 "properties" said to be "owned and/or developed and managed or licensed by Donald J. Trump," which includes everything from Trump Tower and the Estates at Trump International Gold Club in Dubai to his Boeing 757 jet and 3 Sikorsky 76 Helicopters.

Look, Reader, at this stunning list of Donald Trump's luxurious properties!  Surely these examples of his pile of wealth prove that he's the only person who can lead you as president and Make America Great Again.

James's filing makes it clear that much of this appearance of great wealth depends on fraudulent evaluations of its true worth.  Moreover, as I argued in my previous post, even the true worth of Trump's wealth was not earned by him, because most of it came from his father.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

My Essay on Locke in America in "Law and Liberty"

The Liberty Fund's "Law and Liberty" blog has just published my essay on Claire Rydell Arcenas's America's Philosopher: John Locke in American Intellectual Life.

Friday, September 09, 2022

The State of Nature in the American Revolution: Confirming Locke, Denying Hobbes

In his Second Treatise, John Locke identifies five ways in which the state of nature arises in human history.  First, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived without formal institutions of government, they were living in a state of nature, in which all human beings are equally free; and during Locke's lifetime, he saw that the foraging bands of native Americans were still living in such a state of nature (ST, 49, 101-111).  

Second, people living under a government can choose to leave that country, and thus revert to a state of nature, and then they can emigrate either to another society with a ruling government or to a vacant part of the world where they can set up a new government (ST, 113-18, 121).  

Third, whenever people living under a government find themselves under the immediate attack of aggressive individuals, and there is no way to call in the protection of government, then the people under this threat have the natural right to momentarily enter the state of nature, so that they can reclaim "the executive power of the law of nature" to punish those who violate that law of nature, which includes the natural right of killing in self-defense (ST, 19).  

Fourth, whenever a government is dissolved, the people revert back to the state of nature, and they have the right to establish a new government by consent; this includes the dissolution of government by popular rebellion against a government that has become despotic (ST, 211-43).

Fifth, all the rulers of independent governments around the world are in a state of nature in their international relations because there is no world government over them (ST, 14).

In all five of these ways, we can see Locke's state of nature in the American Revolution.  Much of the evidence for this is conveniently collected in a book by Mark Somos--American States of Nature: The Origins of Independence, 1761-1775 (Oxford University Press, 2019).


First of all, many American colonial thinkers explicitly recognized that many of the Native American Indians were living in a state of nature as described by Locke.  As early as 1725, John Bulkley, a prominent clergyman and surgeon in colonial Connecticut, quoted from Locke's account of the state of nature in the Second Treatise and argued that the "Aborigines of this Country" were living in this state of nature.  Bulkley also followed Locke's lead in applying Jose de Acosta's Natural and Moral History of the Indies (1604) to the Native Americans.  (Bulkley's writing can be found in Exploring the Bounds of Liberty: Political Writings of Colonial British America from the Glorious Revolution to the American Revolution, eds. Jack P. Greene and Craig B. Yirush [Liberty Fund, 2018], I: 595-627.)

In 1768, the Massachusetts House of Representatives sent a letter to their colonial agent in London, which argued that the colonists had a natural right to property, so that the British Crown could not take their property without their consent.  James Otis and Samuel Adams were probably the primary authors of this letter.  In one passage, they wrote:

"Property is admitted to have an existence, even in the savage state of nature.  The bow, the arrow, and the tomahawk; the hunting and the fishing ground, are species of property, as important to an American savage, as pearls, rubies, and diamonds ae to the Mogul, . . . . And if property is necessary for the support of savage life, it is by no means less so in civil society" (quoted in Somos, 68, n. 29).

Particularly interesting here is the recognition that the American Indians had a natural claim to property in their hunting and fishing grounds.  Bulkley had argued that the Indians did not own the land on which they hunted and fished, because they had not invested their labor in the land by cultivating it for agriculture; and consequently, the colonists in Connecticut could claim the land that they had appropriated for farming.

Remarkably, the freedom that the American Indians enjoyed in their state of nature was so attractive that many of the English and French settlers chose to become Indians--"White Indians" they were called.  Hector de Crevecoeur observed that "thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become Europeans!"  Some of the Europeans who became Indians said that they did this because they had "the most perfect freedom."  In his study of the White Indians, historian James Axtell suggested that "it may well be that the adults who chose to become Indians did so for some of the reasons that many of their countrymen turned to revolution" (The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North America [Oxford University Press, 1985], 302-303, 327, 377).

In applying the Lockean understanding of the state of nature to the American Indians, the American colonists saw that in that state of nature all men were equally free and independent, in that no man could rule any other man without that man's consent.  They saw that this natural equality of liberty did indeed apply to all men, including slaves, and to all women as well as men.  This radical conception of human equality of rights was clearly affirmed, for example, by James Otis in his 1761 speech in Paxton's Case and in 1764 in his Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved.


Some of the colonists argued that it was this equal freedom in the state of nature that had drawn so many of the original European settlers to leave Great Britain and go to America, where they could revert to the state of nature.  This would illustrate what Locke identified as the second way in which people could enter a state of nature by leaving their native country to find freedom somewhere else.  For example, in 1765, Dennys Deberdt, who had just been appointed the colonial agent for Massachusetts in London, wrote a public letter that claimed that all the colonies, except Georgia and Nova Scotia, were settled by Englishmen fleeing oppression and seeking "civil and religious liberties," and that when they moved to America, "they were then in a state of nature, under no civil government, but what they form'd themselves."  Their colonial charters should therefore be understood as "compacts" with Britain to which they had freely consented.


The revolutionary colonists also contended that once Great Britain violated those original compacts with the colonies and launched an attack on the rights of the colonists--their natural rights and their rights as Englishmen--the colonists could rightly invoke their natural right of self-defense in the state of nature, which was Locke's third way in which people could return to a state of nature.  The American colonists, however, expanded the individual right of self-defense to a collective right of the American people to defend their community against attack.

One of the clearest statements of this idea came some years after the Revolution in James Wilson's Lectures on Law (1790-1791):

"The defence of one's self, justly called the primary law of nature, is not, nor can it be abrogated by any regulation of municipal law.  This principle of defence is not confined merely to the person; it extends to the liberty and the property of a man; it is not confined merely to his own person; it extends to the persons of all those, to whom he bears a peculiar relation--of his wife, of his parent, of his child, of his master, or his servant: nay, it extends to the person of everyone, who is in danger; perhaps, to the liberty of everyone, whose liberty is unjustly and forcibly attacked.  It becomes humanity as well as justice" (Works of James Wilson, ed. Robert Green McCloskey [Harvard University Press, 1967], 2: 609).

Thus, the people acting as a community could exercise their natural right of self-defense in defending their liberty from unjust attack.

The revolutionary colonists also protested against King George III's attempts to disarm the colonists as a violation of their natural rights and their rights as Englishmen.  That individuals have a natural right to momentarily enter a state of nature in defending themselves against attacks has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as a natural right that is also a constitutional right.  This was most clearly stated in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago (2010), which ruled that cities and states that ban handguns have violated the natural right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, a natural right protected in the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.

In the McDonald decision, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissent in which he argued that recognizing the right of individuals to carry handguns for self-defense is contrary to the state's monopoly on legitimate violence.  In support of this argument, he quoted from section 128 of Locke's Second Treatise, which speaks of the powers individuals have in the state of nature that they must give up when they enter civil society.  In the state of nature, a man has the power "to do whatsoever he thinks fit for the preservation of himself and others within the permission of the Law of Nature."  But when he joins a particular political society, he "gives up" this power that he had in the state of nature.  But here Stevens ignores what Locke says in explaining that a man "gives up" natural rights only "the better to preserve" them in a civil society, and that a man in civil society may kill a thief or anyone who acts as an aggressor threatening his life, in circumstances where there is no way to call in officers of the government for protection (ST, 18-19, 131).


In 1774, the American colonists were divided by a debate between Patriots and Loyalists over the state of nature.  The Patriots believed that since the British imperial government over the colonies had been dissolved, the Americans had been thrown back into a state of nature, in which the American people had the natural authority to establish a new government to secure their natural rights.  The Loyalists believed that Parliament still had governmental authority over the colonies, and therefore the Americans were not in a state of nature, although there was a need to settle the American disputes with Parliament in a way that would preserve American liberty while maintaining Parliamentary rule over the colonies.

On September 5, 1774, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia for the first time.  On the next day, they began their debates; and Patrick Henry of Virginia was the first to speak.  Here is what John Adams wrote in his Diary for that speech:

Mr. Henry. Government is dissolved. Fleets and Armies and the present State of Things shew that Government is dissolved. -- Where are your Land Marks? your Boundaries of Colonies.

We are in a State of Nature, Sir. I did propose that a Scale should be laid down. That Part of N. America which was once Mass. Bay, and that Part which was once Virginia, ought to be considered as having a Weight. Will not People complain, 10,000 People Virginians have not outweighed 1,000 others.

I will submit however. I am determined to submit if I am overruled.

A worthy Gentleman Ego near me, seemed to admit the Necessity of obtaining a more Adequate Representation.

I hope future Ages will quote our Proceedings with Applause. It is one of the great Duties of the democratical Part of the Constitution to keep itself pure. It is known in my Province, that some other Colonies are not so numerous or rich as they are. I am for giving all the Satisfaction in my Power.

The Distinctions between Virginians, Pensylvanians, New Yorkers and New Englanders, are no more.

I am not a Virginian, but an American.

Patriots like John Adams, Samuel Adams, and Roger Sherman agreed with Henry in arguing that they were in a state of nature, and that they would need to establish a new government.

On September 8, Joseph Galloway spoke for the Loyalists in denying that the colonists were in a state of nature.  Here is what Adams wrote in his Diary:

Mr. Galloway. I never could find the Rights of Americans, in the Distinctions between Taxation and Legislation, nor in the Distinction between Laws for Revenue and for the Regulation of Trade. I have looked for our Rights in the Laws of Nature -- but could not find them in a State of Nature, but always in a State of political Society.

I have looked for them in the Constitution of the English Government, and there found them. We may draw them from this Soursce securely.

Galloway went on later to propose a Plan of Union, which would create a Colonial Parliament that would act together with the British Parliament in legislating for the colonies.  The Congress voted to reject this plan, and the plan was even stricken from the records of the Congress's proceedings.

Loyalists like Galloway had to contend either that the state of nature never existed, or that while it could exist, it was a dangerous condition of violent disorder, and therefore should be avoided at all costs.  In taking the second position, they assumed a Hobbesian view of the state of nature as a "war of all against all."

Patriots like Henry had to contend that the state of nature was a reality of human history, and that it could be a state of social order in which people act as a community capable of establishing a new government.  Thus, the Patriots assumed a Lockean view of the state of nature as a social state of peace, even if it could become a state of war in the absence of government.

The Patriots thought that the experience of Massachusetts in 1774 confirmed their view of the state of nature.  As a result of Parliament's passage of the Coercive Acts in the spring, the government of Massachusetts under its colonial charter was dissolved, and Massachusetts was reduced to a state of nature; but the people of Massachusetts organized themselves through hundreds of local meetings and committees of correspondence to create extralegal governing bodies that could send delegates to the Continental Congress, which could then become a provisional government for a union of the colonies.

We can see here that the fundamental debate in the American Revolution and American Founding was over the state of nature.

This debate continued in some form throughout the Founding period.  For example, when the Constitutional Convention of 1787 proposed the ratification of its Constitution as a substitute for the Articles of Confederation, some of the opponents of ratification argued that the Constitutional Convention did not have the legal authority to frame and propose this Constitution.  They made two arguments.  First, in February of 1787, the Congress of the United States under the Articles of Confederation had recommended a Convention that would propose alterations in the Articles.  But then the Convention in Philadelphia proposed a Constitution that consisted not of alterations in the Articles but a total substitution for the Articles, which went beyond the authorization of the Congress.  Secondly, while under the Articles of Confederation (Article XIII), any "alteration" of the Articles would have to be ratified by the legislatures of all thirteen of the states, the Constitutional Convention proposed that the new Constitution should be submitted to a convention of delegates "chosen in each State by the People thereof," and that the Constitution would come into effect as soon as the conventions of nine states had ratified it.  Far from being a mere alteration or revision of the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution of 1787 looked like a revolutionary overthrow of the Articles, with an appeal to the authority of the People in a state of nature to establish a new government to better secure their natural rights.

In The Federalist, James Madison responded to this objection by in effect admitting that the Constitution Convention was proposing a Second American Revolution based on the principles that justified the First American Revolution.  He did this in two ways.  First, he invoked the revolutionary language of the Declaration of Independence.  He claimed to speak for those at the Convention:

"They must have reflected, that in all great changes of established governments, forms ought to give way to substance; that a rigid adherence in such cases to the former, would render nominal and nugatory, the transcendent and precious right of the people to 'abolish or alter their governments as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness;' since it is impossible for the people spontaneously and universally, to move in concert towards their object; and it is therefore essential, that such changes be instituted by some informal and unauthorised propositions, made by some patriotic and respectable number of citizens" (no. 40).

In doing this, the Framers of the Constitution were "recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature's God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed" (no. 43).

Second, Madison says that the Framers of the Constitution must have understood that what they were doing in 1787 was similar to what was done by the American Revolutionaries in 1774 to 1776:

"They must have recollected that it was by this irregular and assumed privilege of proposing to the people plans for their safety and happiness, that the States were first united against the danger with which they were threatened by their antient government; that Committees and Congresses, were formed for concentrating their efforts, and defending their rights; and that Conventions were elected in the several States, for establishing the constitutions under which they are now governed; nor could it have been forgotten that no little ill-timed scruples, no zeal for adhering to ordinary forms, were any where seen, except in those who wished to indulge under these masks, their secret enmity to the substance contended for" (no 40).

Notice that without using the term state of nature, Madison implicitly affirms that the Framers of the Constitution had entered a state of nature in which the People had the natural right to dissolve the Articles of Confederation and establish a new national government through the Constitution that would better secure their rights.

And if we see the Constitution as the Second American Revolution, should we also see the Civil War and the Civil War Amendments (13-15) as the Third American Revolution.  Because didn't America need that Third Revolution to fulfill the original promise of the First Revolution to secure equality of rights for all men and women, which required the Civil War as an "appeal to Heaven" and new amendments overturning the constitutional protections for slavery and establishing the "equal protection of the laws"?


The Declaration of Independence concludes with the Continental Congress declaring "that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do."

Just as in the state of nature, all individuals are free and independent, and so any social order is based on the mutual consent of those individuals, likewise in the international state of nature, all states are free and independent, and so any international order is based on the mutual consent of states.  So here we see how for Locke, and other theorists of the state of nature, international relations are a fifth way in which human beings can be in a state of nature.

In their thinking through this idea, the American Revolutionaries were much influenced by their reading of Emer de Vattel's The Law of Nations, or Principles of the Law of Nature Applied to the Conduct and Affairs of Nations and Sovereigns (1758).  Vattel's fundamental principle was that the law of nations was the law of nature of individuals in the state of nature applied to states.

Much of the modern theorizing about international relations and international law has turned on this idea of international politics as a state of nature.


In the American Revolution, we can see the five ways in which the Lockean state of nature appears--in the original human condition of hunter-gatherers, in human emigration from an established government, in individual and collective self-defense against attacks, as a consequence of the dissolution of government, and in international relations.

We can also see here that the American Revolution was a historical experiment that confirmed Locke's account of the state of nature as superior to Hobbes's.  For Hobbes, the state of nature must always be a state of war; and therefore it must be avoided at all costs.  For Hobbes, any government is better than none, because peace is always better than war.  

But for Locke, the dissolution of government does not necessarily lead to the dissolution of society and the state of war.  Although there is always the risk that it will collapse into a state of war, a state of nature can be a state of peaceful cooperation as people organize themselves into a social order without any formal government.  And therefore, even though the state of nature is risky, there are circumstances in which it can become a sanctuary from a condition that is even worse--the loss of liberty under the rule of an oppressive government.  For Locke, people consent to government with the trust that it will secure their natural rights.  When a government has violated that trust, the government can be dissolved, and the people can regroup as a society in the state of nature and establish a new government.  The American people did that in the American Revolution.


Wednesday, September 07, 2022

Natural Rights in Locke's State of Nature Correspond to Natural Instincts in Bowlby's Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness: The Case of Parent-Child Attachment

 John Locke's state of nature is often said to a "hypothetical" or "fictional" concept with no historical reality.  And yet Locke is clear in identifying the state of nature as part of the "history of mankind" that originated among the hunting-gathering ancestors of human beings.  "In the beginning, all the world was America," and that's why Locke carefully studied the first European reports about the life of native Americans living in foraging bands.

This is important because the historical reality of the state of nature is the first and most fundamental of the five arguments for Locke's theory of natural rights.  That first argument is that natural rights are identified as part of the natural liberty that human beings have in the state of nature in the absence of any formal institutions of government.

The second argument is that natural rights are constrained by natural law, because natural law will be enforced by natural punishment--the "executive power of the law of nature"--the natural propensity of human beings to resist and retaliate against those who threaten their liberty.

The third argument is that because this natural punishment in the state of nature can often lead to unremitting conflict, human beings will consent to establish governments to secure their natural rights through formal laws and institutions for making, enforcing, and adjudicating those natural laws.

The fourth argument is that the civil law of government must approximate the natural law, because if the civil law does not secure natural rights, the people have the natural right to overthrow the government, return to the state of nature without government, and establish a new government that they judge will better secure their natural rights.

The fifth argument is that since civil law must approximate natural law, civil law (such as the constitutional law of the United States) can be judged by the standard of natural law as to how well it secures natural rights.

If the first argument for the historical reality of the state of nature were judged to be false, then the other four arguments would also fail.  It is crucial, therefore, for the Lockean political philosopher to see that human nature was originally formed in the state of nature of the prehistoric human ancestors living in hunting-gathering bands, whose life was similar to those American Indians who still lived in foraging bands without formal governmental institutions during Locke's lifetime.

Locke relied on the best anthropological evidence available to him, including the hundreds of books in his library that would today be identified as anthropological ethnographies, to determine what that original state of nature was like.

But now we can turn to the evolutionary anthropology that has developed over the past 150 years to see if it confirms Locke's account of the state of nature.  We can see that what Locke called the state of nature coincides with what evolutionary psychologists like Leda Cosmides and John Tooby call the "environment of evolutionary adaptedness" or EEA.  

This term "environment of evolutionary adaptedness" was originated by John Bowlby in his book Attachment (second edition, 1982), which became a classic work of "attachment theory" to explain the patterns of attachment between mothers and their children.  For Bowlby, this was a Darwinian or biological theory of how the human instincts for attachment of parents and children evolved in the evolutionary ancestors of human beings, along with all of the other evolved human instincts that constitute universal human nature.

Bowlby explained:

". . . What matters here is that, if man's behavioural equipment is indeed adapted to the primeval environment in which man once lived, it is only by reference to that environment that its structure can be understood.  Just as Darwin found it impossible to understand the structure of an orchid flower until he knew what insects flourished and visited in its environment of adaptedness, so, it is held, it is impossible to understand man's instinctive behaviour until we know something of the environment in which it evolved.  For a picture of this we need to turn to anthropological studies of human communities living in the least modified of human environments, to archaeological studies of early man, and to field studies of the higher primates."

"Few peoples on earth today still obtain their food solely by hunting and gathering, and even fewer good accounts of their social life exist.  The evidence available shows, nevertheless, that without exception all live in small social groups comprising individuals of both sexes and all ages.  Where some social groups are reasonably stable, others change in size and composition.  But whether the larger group is stable or not, the tie between a mother and her children is always present and virtually unchanging" (60-61).

Among mammalian animals, young offspring cannot survive without extensive parental care, and particularly care by their mothers or maternal surrogates.  This parental care is intensive and prolonged among human beings and other primates because of the slow development of offspring to maturity.  We can expect, therefore, that natural selection has favored the evolution of the instincts for parental care and parent-child attachment as adaptations for survival and reproduction.  The evolution of these and other human instincts in the primeval environment of evolutionary adaptedness constituted the universal human nature that we see today.

Although Locke did not have a Darwinian evolutionary theory, he did understand much of the logic of this theory as applied to parental instincts.   He understood that human beings had developed a natural desire for self-preservation because this secured their survival, and natural desires for sexual mating and propagation of offspring that would secure their reproductive success.  "For Children being by the course of Nature, born weak, and unable to provide for themselves, they have by the appointment of God himself, who hath thus ordered the course of nature, a Right to be nourished and maintained by their Parents" (FT, 86-89).  Consequently, human beings are naturally social animals, because the "first society" was the social bond between husbands and wives and between parents and children (ST, 77).  And notice that while Locke invokes God as Creator, he indicates that God works through "the course of nature," so we can see this as the law of "God or Nature."  Notice also that these natural inclinations or desires for familial bonding create natural rights.  Parents have a right and a duty to care for their children.  And we can judge civil law by how well it secures this natural law of parental care.

In this way, Bowlby's natural instincts become the natural grounds for Locke's natural rights.

We can see this illustrated in some of the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court concerning parental rights.  In Troxel v. Granville (2000), the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a Washington state law authorizing courts to give visitation rights to any person who could argue that this was in the best interests of the children, even when this was contrary to the wishes of the parents.  The Court declared that this law violated the fundamental right of parents to rear their children.  (I have mentioned this case in a previous post about how the Lockean political philosophy of the Declaration of Independence enters the Constitution.)

What's interesting about this is that the U.S. Constitution never specifically mentions a right of parents to rear their children.  So the Court had to identify this as one of the unenumerated rights protected by the Constitution.  Justice Thomas said that this was one of the unalienable rights recognized by the Declaration of Independence and the Ninth Amendment.  But in his dissenting opinion in Troxel, Justice Scalia denied that Supreme Court judges had the authority to secure this right.

The Declaration of Independence affirms as self-evident that all human beings are naturally endowed with "certain unalienable rights," and "that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."  The phrase "among these" suggests that there are other natural rights that are not being enumerated here, and that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are prominent illustrations.  Similarly, after enumerating certain rights, including "life, liberty, and property" in the first eight amendments, the Constitution in the Ninth Amendment declares: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

In Troxel v. Granville, Justice Scalia argued:

"In my view, a right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children is among the 'unalienable Rights' with which the Declaration of Independence proclaims 'all men . . . are endowed by their Creator.'  And in my view that right is also among the 'othe[r] [rights] retained by the people' which the Ninth Amendment says the Constitution's enumeration of rights 'shall not be construed to deny or disparage.'  The Declaration of Independence, however, is not a legal prescription conferring powers upon the courts; and the Constitution's refusal to 'deny or disparage' other rights is far removed from affirming any one of them, and even further removed from authorizing judges to identify what they might be, and to enforce the judges' list against laws duly enacted by the people.  Consequently, while I would think it entirely compatible with the commitment to representative democracy set forth in the founding documents to argue, in legislative chambers or in electoral campaigns, that the State has no power to interfere with parents' authority over the rearing of their children.  I do not believe that the power which the Constitution confers upon me as a judge entitles me to deny legal effect to laws that (in my view) infringe upon what is (in my view) that unenumerated right" (530 U.S. 57, 91-92 [2000]).

It is hard to see the logic of Scalia's claim that in refusing to affirm "unalienable rights" that are protected by the Constitution, he is not thereby denying or disparaging them.  He asserts that the Constitution confers upon judges the authority to secure those unalienable rights specifically enumerated in the Constitution but not those unalienable rights that are protected by the Constitution but not enumerated.  He does not support this assertion with any citation of the constitutional text or any evidence that this was the original meaning of the text.

Scalia asserts that the protection of the unalienable rights affirmed in the Declaration of Independence and the Ninth Amendment must depend upon debates "in legislative chambers or in election campaigns," without any interference by judges.  This ignores the argument by the Framers of the Constitution that the greatest threat to the rights of the people is the legislative power and the power of the majority to infringe on the rights of the minority.

In James Madison's speech to the House of Representatives in the First Congress, on June 8, 1789, in which he proposed a bill of rights as amendments to the Constitution, he stated that the purpose was to protect these rights "sometimes against the abuse of the executive power, sometimes against the legislative, and in some cases, against the community itself; or, in other words, against the majority in favor of the minority."  A declaration of rights would be "one means to control the majority from those acts to which they might be otherwise inclined."

To explain the need for what become the Ninth Amendment, Madison observed:

"It has been objected also against a bill of rights, that, by enumerating particular exceptions to the grant of power, it would disparage those rights which were not placed in that enumeration; and it might follow, by implication, that those rights which were not singled out, were intended to be assigned into the hands of the General Government, and were consequently insecure.  This is one of the most plausible arguments I have ever heard urged against the admission of a bill of rights into his system; but, I conceive, that it may be guarded against.  I have attempted it, as gentlemen may see by turning to the last clause of the fourth resolution [the Ninth Amendment]."

The effectiveness of such a bill of rights would depend upon the judiciary: "If they are incorporated into the constitution, independent tribunals of justice will consider themselves in a peculiar manner the guardians of those rights; they will be an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive; they will be naturally led to resist every encroachment upon rights expressly stipulated for in the constitution by the declaration of rights."

Scalia might assert that "rights expressly stipulated" indicates that judges can be guardians of those rights that have been enumerated in the Bill of Rights but not the unenumerated rights of the Ninth Amendment.  But Madison did not say that "expressly stipulated" meant "enumerated," because this would have nullified the whole point of the Ninth Amendment.  The constitutional protection of "those rights which were not singled out" was "expressly stipulated" by the Ninth Amendment.

Moreover, as Madison indicated in his speech, the rights to be protected by the Bill of Rights were not just the rights of Englishmen or the rights of Americans but "the great rights of mankind," which echoes the language of the Declaration of Independence in affirming the natural rights of all human beings.

These "great rights of mankind" are grounded in the evolved instincts of human nature as originally formed by natural selection in the primeval human environment of evolutionary adaptedness.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

The Biopolitical Science of Lockean Liberal Punishment: A Paper for an APSA Convention in Montreal

On September 16 (Friday), I will be presenting a paper at the 2022 Convention of the American Political Science Association in Montreal.  The title of the paper is "The Biopolitical Science of Lockean Liberal Punishment."  This will be part of a panel on "Emotions and Politics," meeting in the Westin Hotel, third floor, in the St.-Suplice room, 2:00-3:30 pm.

Here is the concluding section of my paper:

For political science to become a biopolitical science, political theory would have to become a biopolitical theory by applying biological science to the reasoning of political theorists.  As an illustration of how this could be done, I have applied evolutionary biology to John Locke’s theory of how the natural human propensity to punish violations of the law of nature enforces the liberal principle that all human beings are by nature equally free.  I have summarized how Locke understood the emergence of forcible punishment and reputational punishment in the state of nature, the popular consent to forcible punishment by government, and the popular punishment of despotic government.  From this Lockean theory of liberal punishment, I have generated five testable predictions, and I have argued that they can be largely confirmed by evolutionary anthropology.

          First, evolutionary anthropology can show how in the evolutionary state of nature of hunter-gatherer bands, people enforced a cooperative social order by punishing those individuals who violated those informal norms of good conduct that Locke identified as the law of nature.

          Second, in the debate among evolutionary anthropologists as to whether the state of nature in the foraging era was a Hobbesian state of war or a Rousseauian state of peace, we can see that Locke was closer to the truth than either Hobbes or Rousseau, because while the foraging life can be generally peaceful, it easily becomes violent; and therefore people will choose to establish governmental institutions for punishment that pacify society.

          Third, as Locke predicted, evolutionary moral anthropology and social neuroscience have shown that there are some universal norms of good conduct enforced by forcible and reputational punishment.

          Fourth, we have seen that the archaeological and anthropological studies of the earliest history of government confirm what Locke learned from Acosta and Sagard about popular council democracy being one of the earliest forms of government, in which people punish those individuals who try to coercively dominate others, thus enforcing the liberal idea that every adult individual is equally free and independent.

          Finally, in support of Locke’s prediction that people will punish despotic government by rebelling against it, we have seen that the evolutionary history of government shows a natural human propensity to punish despotic rulers through violent and nonviolent resistance, although these revolutionary movements are not always successful.

          This biopolitical science of Lockean liberal punishment illustrates how political philosophy can become a biological science of human political life.  A biopolitical philosophy can become part of a biopolitical science that employs evolutionary thinking as a way of unifying knowledge across all the disciplines of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities in studying the evolved nature of human beings as political animals.  Through such a biopolitical science, we can better understand how these human political animals find their home in the order of living nature.