Evolution

Cato Unbound: Does Evolution Imply Libertarianism?

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Darwinism makes monkeys out of leftists

What relevance, if any, does Charles Darwin and evolutionary biology have for libertarianism? This issue is being debated this week over at Cato Unbound, by University of Northern Illinois philosopher Larry Arnhart, University of Minnesota biologist PZ Myers, Santa Fe Institute behaviorial scientist Herbert Gintis, and Rutgers University anthropologist Lionel Tiger.

Arnhart, author of Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature, argues that Darwin and the findings of evolutionary biology do offer support for the normative claims of classical liberalism. Arnhart defines classical liberalism as

the moral and political tradition of individual liberty understood as the right of individuals to be free from coercion so long as they respected the equal liberty of others. According to the liberals, the primary aim of government was to secure individual rights from force and fraud, which included enforcing laws of contract and private property. They thought the moral and intellectual character of human beings was properly formed not by governmental coercion, but in the natural and voluntary associations of civil society.

On my reading, Arnhart is arguing that classical liberalism better conforms to what evolutionary psychology is confirming about human nature. Societies whose institutions try to go against human nature will do less well than societies whose institutions enable the flourishing of our natures. But if that is so, why is it that truly liberal societies have emerged only in the past two centuries? After all, human nature has not changed much in the past several millennia. (My personal answer is the cultural evolution is a trial-and-error process that is slowly discovering institutions that increasingly conform better to human nature.)

So far, only Myers has responded to Arnhart arguing that he claims too much. Meyers asserts:

Evolution gives us only very general rules for our species. Adapt to the environment, or die. Change is inevitable.

Question to Myers: Just what social and economic systems better recognize and enable people to adapt and change? Possibly those based on the principles of classical liberalism?

Myers points out that all kinds of political tendencies have tried to wrap themselves in the blanket of Darwinian science, including the Revolutionary Communist Party. After all, Karl Marx famously asked Darwin if he might dedicate the first volume of Das Kapital to him. Darwin turned down the honor. I don't know what the Revolutionary Communists might be up to, but at least one prominent leftist, Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, argued that findings of evolutionary biology about human nature do put constraints on leftist social policies. Singer makes these limits explicit in his book, A Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation.

To illustrate Singer's thinking, let me share some excerpts from my 2000 interview with him on this topic:

Reason: Let me put it differently: What limits should be set on a program of egalitarianism?

Singer: Right, right. That's a different question. I think the limits ought to be essentially those that can be achieved without the kind of authoritarianism that would be incompatible with fairly liberal democratic traditions and without enormous costs and enormous loss. You have to consider whether you're going to trade off some element of the total overall prosperity of a society for the sake of having it be more egalitarian. I think those are questions of judgment. I think it's reasonable to trade off some measure of that, but obviously not enough to create a widespread hardship….

Reason: What does Darwinian thinking tell the left about why so many of the social programs they have favored have had difficulties or have failed?

Singer: It tells the left that some of them have failed because their goals were really unrealistic. For example, if their goals were to achieve equality and to combine that with a high degree of liberty–to have the state withering away, as Marx said–it's very difficult to see how you're going to be able to achieve that. If you let the state wither away, then humans' natural tendencies to form hierarchies and rank and so on are going to assert themselves. What happened specifically with the form of communism that was attempted in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was that people went into it with some vague idea that they could have this sort of society. But they kept needing to strengthen the power of the state rather than allow it to wither away. In that sense, the original idea would just collapse. You simply couldn't achieve it. Human beings are not such that you could expect them to work for the common good in the way that the theory assumed. The failure to understand that human nature is not as plastic as socialists often assume is a substantial part of why some of these schemes have failed.

Myers concludes his response to Arnhart by asserting:

Evolution does not incline us to classical liberalism; it is just one of many options that evolution allows.

Indeed, evolution per se may not so incline us, but as both Singer and Arnhart are arguing (I think convincingly) our human natures honed by evolution may do so.

Go here to enjoy the exchange on the social and political implications of evolutionary science.

NEXT: Former FARC Hostage Ingrid Betancourt is Really, Really Ungrateful

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  1. Seen on a bumper sticker:

    If Obama is the Answer
    It Must Have Been One Stupid Question

    1. that is great.

  2. Societies whose institutions try to go against human nature will do less well than societies whose institutions enable the flourishing of our natures.

    Who defines what our “natures” are?

    Catholic teaching on natural law tells us that human instutions should allow our natures to flourish. But, unnatural acts include contraception, homosexuality, etc. Institutions that reflect the same understanding of what nature is would not resemble libertarianism.

    1. unnatural acts include contraception, homosexuality, etc.

      Do they consider these acts unnatural or sinful?

      1. Both. Unnatural=sinful to them, and they seek to control the definition of “natural,” of course.

        1. Two dudes plugging each other in the butt or a husband busting a nut on his wife’s face is perfectly natural; they just do not lead to more little Catholics. And that is really what the church is concerned about.

          I say this as a collapsed Catholic.

          1. Also, the Catholic church views male masturbation as sinful because it spills seed.

            1. Yet they go through some convoluted reasoning to argue that natural family planning, which when done correctly also spills seed with no chance of a pregnancy, is perfectly okay.

      2. I’m Protestant, so I’m not sure if Catholics hold the same view…

        Protestants see man as naturally sinful, so even if an act is natural, it doesn’t mean it’s not a sin.

    2. Nobody defines what our “natures” are.

      We experience and observe our natures.

      1 Humans are motivated by the urge to survive, reproduce, and avoid discomfort, thus they exhibit self-interest.

      2. Humans can act independently.

      3. Humans can act cooperatively.

      4. Humans exhibit a sense of property; territorial behavior.

      5. Humans have intellectual capacity.

      1. Seriously, you sound very Catholic. That is the whole premise of natural law. God wrote the law into our hearts, and therefore we can observe what is moral through observation of human nature.

  3. “why is it that truly liberal societies have emerged only in the past two centuries?”

    My take is that the answer lies within the question of the evolution of conscious itself! There is ample evidence that even medieval man conceived of himself much more as part of a whole system than we do. The idea of individuality (not to speak of individual liberty) would be much more foreign to him or his predecessors than it is to us. Only with the scientific revolution did we start to see ourselves as fundamentally separate from nature – only then would the concepts of classical liberalism even make sense.

    1. I attribute it to the decentralization of wealth. People living in feudal system Europe or Japan really had no options.

      1. I agree, the increase in wealth of the merchant class drove a lot of this. The ruling class was more dependent on them because they provided so much wealth for them, so they in turn demanded more say in political matters. I think you’ll also see this happen in China going forward. You also can’t discount the increase in trade as being a large reason for the growth of the merchant class.

        1. Wasn’t the invention of the printing press considered one of the major reasons for the flourishing of knowledge? Prior to this, distribution of knowledge through written word was tedious and also controlled in some instances. The invention of the printing press allowed for the cheap dissemination of ideas.

          1. Both true, but I think the rise of Protestantism had a lot to do with it as well.

    2. Medieval Christians saw the world as being evil and separation from it and into the kingdom of God as the ultimate goal. Man considered himself separate from nature long before the enlightenment.

      And as far as being part of a “whole system” I don’t see what you mean. Medieval Christians viewed themselves as alone before the judgment of God and the church as the only way for absolution. They were no more or less inclined to collectivism than we are. Indeed, there is a great ancient and medieval tradition of Christian hermits. And there were plenty of very smart ancient and medieval scientists. They got things wrong but that wasn’t because they were not smart or did not do pretty inventive work.

      If the modern “libertarian” didn’t arise until after the scientific revolution, that is only because people of earlier generation did not have the wealth or security to look beyond their communities.

    3. I offer a counter argument…

      Because of the invention of mass communication, it has become increasingly easy to view oneself as part of a community. We are constantly being updated on what everyone in every part of the country is doing.

      Before such mass communication, man may have been more loyal to a small community, but the conception that he was simply another cog in the machine wouldn’t have been as prevalent.

      Look at it from the perspective of Foucault’s panoptic system: Mass communication allows us to become a society of finger pointers.

      1. True, and the rise of cheap printing in the 19th century and radio and TV in the 20th was linked to various collectivist movements: Progressivism, Communism, Fascism.

        But in the last few decades it may be having the opposite effect. We have so many TV channels + DVDs + Netflix that ever smaller fractions of the population are watching the same thing. Any tiny particular interest has an online forum. (I’m on one devoted to one particular model of BMW, the 318ti.)

        Plus, instead of having our knowledge of subcultures and foreign cultures filtered through newspapers and movies and network news, we see them in all their raw and often scary glory, which can have a strong negative effect on feeling that one is in the same community.

  4. My personal answer is the cultural evolution is a trial-and-error process that is slowly discovering institutions that increasingly conform better to human nature.

    Mine is that there is a personality type that is extremely gratified by the act of controlling other people. They find their foot soldiers within the weaklings of the flock who are petrified of anyone who behaves differently than they do. As governments have evolved over time they have always elbowed their way to the front. Unfortunately nature has done nothing to get rid of these atavistic parasites.

    1. True, but does an opportunist create his own opportunity? Does an avaricious peasant wake up one day and proclaim, ‘today I shall become king’?

      It is not a chicken and egg scenario — no parasite has ever brought its host into existence by force of will. Tyranny is ultimately the fault of the people. It is taking thousands of years, but gradually, they are waking up.

    2. Unfortunately nature has done nothing to get rid of these atavistic parasites.

      Ah, but nature created them. For hundreds of thousands of years, the bands of humans who followed leaders and enforced some degree of conformity had an evolutionary advantage over bands in which everyone did whatever they wanted.

  5. Humans evolved for most of our existence in small tribes of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Those societies tend to be non-hierarchical, lack coercion, allow free interchange of speech and ideas but also are fairly communistic (very little private property) and indirectly suppress (through taboos and tradition) unconventional behavior. You have to assume most humans instinctively feel most comfortable in that sort of society. Hence the constant violence, or threat thereof, needed in every society with a hierarchy.

    Communism failed because it is clearly contrary to human nature – we don’t share outside our tribes, we don’t instinctively identify with large groups beyond the size of an extended family. However, the Ayn Rand type extremism of every individual for himself is also contrary to human nature – our biological nature is to form a small clique and then work for the supremacy of that clique. Interestingly the more homogenous a population is, the more effectively a socialist type economic state seems to function, suggesting the clique mentality is at work here. The challenge to classical liberal thought is that “groupism” is far more deeply embedded in human nature than classical economists want to admit. Employers will discriminate against a talented person from a different ethnic background in favor of their own even if that decision is objectively an economically bad decision (hell, we see this all the time in family businesses – but hiring your nephew is nepotism, which is OK. Hiring a fellow Irish Catholic from your Alma Mater instead of an Asian woman is “racism” and is not OK.) It is also human nature to form cartels and other anti-market type groupings to protect “our own.”

    1. That is why Hayek had it right. People experiment with different forms of association and over time those ones that are the most successful continue to the point that people forget why they worked in the first place. You can’t enforce radical individualism from the top. And you will never get it from the bottom up. Instead, you will get lots of voluntary associations and traditions that arise through the collective wisdom of the crowd. the more you try to tear down and suppress those or displace them with the govenrment, the worse you are going to make things.

    2. In summary, fuck everyone beyond my monkey-sphere. oh, and half the people in my monkey-sphere are disposable.

    3. ?but hiring your nephew is nepotism, which is OK

      Quite literally, this is the only thing that counts as nepotism… 😉

    4. Humans evolved for most of our existence in small tribes of nomadic hunter-gatherers. Those societies tend to be non-hierarchical, lack coercion, allow free interchange of speech and ideas but also are fairly communistic (very little private property) and indirectly suppress (through taboos and tradition) unconventional behavior.

      Tribal societies are very hierarchical. They may tend to be more communitarian, but there is rank and a pecking order. There are often very strict rules about how to divide the spoils of a hunt or a raid on another tribe, and a lot of status and honor issues. It’s just like in the Illiad – Agamemnon takes Achilles war-booty/sex-slave, which is an insult to his honor and a threat to his rank/status in the hierarchy.

      1. You’re confusing primitive tribal agricultural societies with hunter/gatherer. Greeks and Trojans already had city states and forced social order. Most literature on extant hunter/gatherers, and what we know about more “advanced” nomadic pastoral tribes like the Lakota and the Central Asian, seems to indicate a very flat social order. For example traditional Lakota tribes certainly had chiefs and people with privileges – but any warrior felt free to speak his mind and disagree. Decisions were reached by consensus (tribal councils, etc) not by fiat.

        1. The only problem with this analysis is that the vast, vast majority of prehistoric societies of nomads/hunter-gatherers are pretty sketchily understood, and those that we do know more about don’t fall into a neat generalization like this. Yes, you can cite the Lakota or Central Asian nomads, but anyone else could easily cite another dozen that don’t submit to that ‘flat social order’ or decisions by consensus. Even within American Indian tribes there was tremendous differences between tribes, and even within them. Hazel has it more right than wrong in pointing out that the dominant model for human groups over history and pre-history was generally fairly hierarchical. The idea that they weren’t also fails to explain why once these tribes passed from nomadic/hunter-gather stage, they almost ALL transformed into more rigid hierarchical models, where you have a king, the privileged few who enforce his divine authority (e.g. The Temple, or religious authorities), and the schmucks at the bottom. It didn’t appear out of nowhere, and was simply an enlargement/codification of pre-existing unwritten tribal behaviors. A la the Code of Hammurabi.

  6. why is it that truly liberal societies have emerged only in the past two centuries? After all, human nature has not changed much in the past several millennia.

    That’s an easy one I’m surprised is being missed. It’s because until recently, pending the development of technology that made people productive enough, the stakes were much lower, so the incentive/advantage for it wasn’t great enough to provide the push/selection.

    1. I think Robert hit a bulls-eye.

      1. No, because it suggests there should have been a more gradual evolution towards classical liberal thought (or *some *alternative to Rule By Divine Overlord) following the invention of irrigation, or the plow, or any number of productivity-enhancing technologies. It wasnt like people were all subsistence farmers up until the last 200 years. And I think the idea that more recent technological advances have enabled radical transformation of human organization fails to explain why the Greeks came up with such a different notion of civil government without any particularly unique technological advantages in terms of productivity. I think its certainly a factor in human organization, but not one that offers any explanation for classical liberal thinking.

  7. If we are all just animals descended from apes, what is so damned special about the individual? It seems to me that classical liberalism is at its heart humanism and relies on the assumption that there is something uniquely noble about the individual. I don’t see how you square that with Darwinism. Sacrificing the individual for a greater good or the advancement of the species is abhorrent to classical liberalism. But, it seems to be perfectly okay and even desirable from a Darwinian perspective.

    1. If we are all just animals descended from apes, what is so damned special about the individual?

      I think; therefore, I am.

      1. Very good, Priss, now show him…

    2. If we are all just animals descended from apes, what is so damned special about the individual?

      Absolutely nothing, of course, but without primacy of the individual you have no basis for freedom. As much as I disagree with you on almost everything else, we both realize that any system of government not based on self-ownership and individual rights is doomed to become a tyranny, even if only one of the majority.

      I remain uncomfortable with belief systems which hold that we’re special because we’re the slaves/pets of a superior being which created us, and derive our rights only because we’re imperfect images of a more powerful being. (You knew something like this was coming, and I so hate to disappoint).

      1. The question is not whether the primacy of the individual correct, but whether Darwinism actually does anything to prove it correct.

    3. If we are all just animals descended from apes, what is so damned special about the individual?

      What exactly about a self-aware, unimaginably complex, genetically and psychologically unique organism with its origins in a single-celled ancestor billions of years ago and the capability to question its own purpose in the universe strikes you as mundane?

      1. How is it any less mundane or interesting than anything else in the universe? Further, you miss the point. From a Darwinian perspective, the point of our existence, if there is one, is the preservation and improvement of the species. The point of classical liberalism and its off shoots is to provide an environment where each individual can achieve maximum happiness or satisfaction by his own terms. Those two goals are different and sometimes opposed.

        Take the problem of the genetically handicapped. Suppose I have a genetic handicap that is likely to be transferred to my children. And suppose that I have the resources to take care of both myself and my children regardless of handicap. From a classical liberal perspective, I have an absolute right to have as many children as makes me happy provided I can provide for them. From a Darwinian perspective I am literally polluting the gene pool and decreasing the survivability of the species. Eugenics are perfectly reasonable from a Darwinian perspective. But absolutely objectionable from a classical liberal perspective.

        Fundamental to the classical liberal prospective is the idea that the individual is an end in itself. I don’t see how you square that with the implications that go along with Darwinism.

        1. John: You write: From a Darwinian perspective, the point of our existence, if there is one, is the preservation and improvement of the species.

          With due respect, this is completely wrong. Evolutionary biology is all about the differential success of individual members of species.

          1. “Evolutionary biology is all about the differential success of individual members of species.”

            At the expense other members or even the species itself? Ron, explain how evolutionary biology establishes the primacy and innate value of the individual over the species as a whole?

            1. Ron’s right – there’s no biological imperative under Darwinism to “species loyalty”, quite the opposite. That’s the whole point of evolution in fact – I want my individual descendants to be able to change in order to survive. And if my descendants eventually have to evolve into a new species to survive, good for us and screw the old species we evolved from. Clearly we humans benefit to some extent from sharing and helping each other survive, but there’s no reason that altruism needs to extend to the entire species.

              1. Darwin offers a basis for MUTANT RIGHTS!!

          2. And more importantly Ron, explain how evolutionary biology tells me it is wrong to kill other individuals to propagate my genes over theirs?

            1. It doesn’t.

              A more interesting question is why we should ask evolutionary biology to offer a framework for morality?

              1. agreed…but i would ask an evolutionary biology the origin of morality.

            2. John,

              Stop with the existantial crisis already.

              You exist because the possessors of your fore genes killed and raped. In fact you exist because you stand on the shoulders of corpses 1000 miles deep. Not only did your ancestors kill but the genes you carry snuffed out not only whole civilizations but entire species and branches of the tree of life.

              The consolation being that the same can be said about every living thing on the planet.

              1. Fine. Then I don’t expect to hear much complaining on your part about the various killing that goes on in the world. That is the natural state of things and neither wrong nor right.

                1. That is the natural state of things and neither wrong nor right.

                  It is inefficient.

                  By the way i am glad there are humanists in the world cuz as we all know their policies have never hurt anyone ever.

                  Ditto for Christianity and Islam and communism and the trillion other moral frame works that state that Murder is wrong.

          3. The problem you are seeing is that evolution sees the success of the individual lies in having progeny who also successfully reproduce. Anything beyond that, evolution does not “care” two whits.

        2. From a Darwinian perspective, the point of our existence, if there is one, is the preservation and improvement of the species.

          As far as I understand it (I’m not a biology professor, just an interested layperson), Darwinism has nothing to say about the point of our existence. It’s simply a description of how natural processes work, not a prescription for how humans should behave. To claim otherwise is falling into the naturalistic fallacy.

          Secondly, natural selection has never been a process directed at preserving or “improving” a species. Selective pressures act on individuals (though there are currently still arguments about group selection), with no regard to what is best for the species. Male lions have evolved a behavior where they kill the offspring of the previous male when they take over a pride, for instance. Bad for the species – fewer lions in the world – but good for the individual male.

          Eugenics is bad science.

          How is it any less mundane or interesting than anything else in the universe?

          Inherently? It’s not. “Special” or “mundane” are labels we slap on things because we’ve decided to value them. I’m saying there are plenty of reasons (our evolved capacity for empathy, for instance) to consider individuals valuable while still acknowledging that they are the product of a non-random process acting on random mutations.

          1. “t’s simply a description of how natural processes work, not a prescription for how humans should behave. To claim otherwise is falling into the naturalistic fallacy.”

            But time and time again people act counter to those things they claim are innate. It is the whole nature versus nurture paradox. You can’t say that my genes rule my behavior except when they don’t. Or that my sense of morality comes from my genes but I am free to disregard such. If I am free to and can disregard them, then my genes don’t matter.

            Evolutionary biology is nothing but a fairy tale. Saying that we have morality because we evolved that way is no more valid or interesting than saying we have it because a supreme being gave it to us.

            1. I confess, I can’t follow your logic anymore, and I don’t want to start arguing against points that you’re not making. Could you please clarify what your objection is?

              Are you saying that a theory of evolved morality is incompatible with the idea of free will? Or are you objecting to the distinction I’m drawing between how humans are “wired” to behave and how we actually should behave?

              Evolutionary biology is nothing but a fairy tale.

              I’m not sure what you mean by this. Are you rejecting the theory of evolution? Or are you saying that it’s just another Genesis story for the human race, no more or less valid as any other founding myth?

              Saying that we have morality because we evolved that way is no more valid or interesting than saying we have it because a supreme being gave it to us.

              Again, I’m confused. By “valid,” do you mean “true”? Because if you’re saying that neither of these scenarios is more true (or even more likely to be true) than the other, then we have a very fundamental disagreement about the nature of truth.

          2. …with no regard to what is best for the species. Male lions have evolved a behavior where they kill the offspring of the previous male when they take over a pride, for instance. Bad for the species – fewer lions in the world – but good for the individual male.

            Actually, this isn’t the most accurate example. There is a finite amount of lions that can be supported by the available prey. When the male lion kills the cubs, he immediately mates with the mothers of those cubs*. He’s replacing the cubs of another male with his own. So, the number of lions didn’t really change. The new male had to defeat the old male, so he is more dominant and powerful. Killing and replacing the weaker male’s cubs ensures that the next generation of lions inherits the genetic material from the more dominant male. Thus, the lion “society” selects for powerful, aggressive males through the generations.

            *Not such a great way to pick up Homo sapiens females, though.

        3. suppose that I have the resources to take care of both myself and my children regardless of handicap

          That doesn’t sound like much of a handicap. Throw it in the mix and we’ll see what happens. Just don’t ask me to pay for your medicine.

    4. Sacrificing the individual for a greater good or the advancement of the species is abhorrent to classical liberalism. But, it seems to be perfectly okay and even desirable from a Darwinian perspective.

      Not really. Evolution occurs primarily on an individual level. You pass on your genes to your offspring. Group selection only occurs if genocide occurs — one tribe essentially wipes out another.

      Sacrificing an individual may benefit the authoritarian individual ordering the sacrifice, but it tends to not be very beneficial or desirable for spreading the genes of the sacrificee.

      1. If I wipe out everyone but me and my kind, I have have been very successful at spreading my genes. The most successful human male in history by that standard was Genghis Khan. His genes are all over the human race.

        1. He didn’t randomly kill everybody. He strengthened his own tribe at everyone else’s expense. He ensured there would be future civilizations in Central Asia and China in which his descendants could flourish and prosper. Still morally questionable, but not as ridiculous as your example.

      2. Tell that to worker bees. Evolution set them on a path to live and die for their mother’s special daughters’ survival.

    5. Sacrificing the individual for a greater good or the advancement of the species is abhorrent to classical liberalism. But, it seems to be perfectly okay and even desirable from a Darwinian perspective.

      The Nazis, who sacrificed 11 million individuals, would have done better if they had given those 11 million guns and pointed them at the Russians.

      Of course if they did that they would not be Nazis.

      Individuals have a utilitarian use. Sacrificing them needlessly has a cost.

      In fact in my view the basis of humanism comes from utilitarianism. Societies that waste individuals lose wars.

      1. You are woefully naive. The Nazis lost but it wasn’t because they were murderers. They just as easily could have won and killed even more. Indeed, our treatment of the Indians was pretty awful. But since we had bigger numbers and better technology, we won. The fact that we were pretty awful and killed them by the score didn’t make any difference one way or another. You don’t have to look too far in history to see that those who are the most efficient and ruthless at killing do pretty well.

        1. Indians were not part of “American Society” The Jews and gays and all the others the Nazis killed in mass were part of their society…and they wasted them.

          Also i think the US would have been better off if it did not kill off the Indians. Even in strictly utilitarian terms.

      2. Joshua,

        The Nazis were quite pragmatic and utilitarian – they believed that Jewish/Gypsy women, children and old people were consuming food and other resources that Germans (and German allies) badly needed. Germany had significant material constraints throughout the war and limited access to natural resources. The healthy Jewish/Gypsy men and POWs were used as slave labor to help the German war effort – certainly more rational than sending them to fight Russians or Americans to whom most would have defected. And in any case adding a bad soldier is often worse than adding no soldier at all. From a strictly utilitarian viewpoint you can argue the concentration camps were a rational response to resource constraints (within the larger complete irrationality of trying to conquer and colonize the Soviet Union), which is why utilitarian arguments are suspect.

        1. In my defense i am a libertarian and expected to have encyclopedic knowledge of the Nazis and world war 2.

          And like 90% of my fellow libertarians I fake it.

          Note: unlike 90% of my fellow libertarians i do not have encyclopedic knowledge of the civil war….but yeah i fake that as well.

    6. There is nothing Darwinian about sacrificing an individual for the sake of the species. Natural selection does not work for the good of species.

      1. I think using the word “species” is just mucking up the discussion.

        If you’re going to talk about Darwinism as it applies to the individual, then the concept of a species is irrelevant – all that matters is the single organism.

        If you were to pair a political philosophy with natural selection, it would obviously be anarchy – might makes right, and all that.

        You could argue that any form of government at all is in opposition to what is “natural” and Darwinian since any kind of government is going to impose limits on anarchy.

        Libertarianism is in opposition to Darwinism in that it recognizes the rights of OTHERS as well as one’s own rights. So Libertarianism is certainly not exclusively about the individual.

        1. I disagree that anarchy is “natural” for humans. Every group of humans anywhere at any time has a form of government, and I challenge you to put a group of people together and see how fast one develops spontaneously, be it an autocracy or democracy.

          1. I challenge you to put a group of people together and see how fast one develops spontaneously

            Ok, I’ll start collecting resumes.

            Anarchy is natural in the since that it’s animalistic, and humans, in our most basic form, are animals.

            You could argue that animals also have their own social structure, but that social structure is usually based on who’s strongest and has the longest fangs – call that an autocracy if you want, but I think of any social system in which power is determined purely by strength and violence as anarchy.

            Don’t forget about feral humans – any average group of humans will form a social structure because that’s what they’ve been trained to do since birth. Feral humans are likely to be much more animalistic.

  8. (Sorry for the long response, but this posting touches on some real problems with the use of evolutionary biology as a metaphor for understanding culture. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but almost all of these sorts of questions have a lot of unstated assumptions that don’t really work.)

    Question to Meyers: Just what social and economic systems better recognize and enable people to adapt and change? Possibly those based on the principles of classical liberalism?

    I’m going to read “better recognize and enable people to adapt and change” as a statement about fitness (i.e., these things make people more fit in an evolutionary sense). If that’s the case, I have to point out that this question assumes the very fallacy implied by Marx’s request to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin. It assumes that evolution is teleological in nature, i.e., that it has an optimal end to which it is somehow striving or would arrive at absent external factors that keep it from reaching that end.

    On the contrary, at best with evolution you can state, post hoc, that something evolved in response to a particular condition, but you cannot predict, in advance, what will evolve in response to those conditions. Even if you could run the game over again, it is highly unlikely that the results would be the same, since there is a substantial random element. While it is true that some conditions do dictate certain broad sorts of evolutionary responses (if you want to have powered flight, you’ve got to have wings?or something a lot like them?, for instance), the ways for achieving those responses are tremendously variable.

    In other words, there is no optimal outcome in biological evolution. Whether there is an optimal outcome for cultural evolution is another matter. The Victorians certainly thought there was (and that optimal outcome, by happy coincidence, happened to be upper-class Victorian man). But in asserting that they really didn’t understand that evolution is not directed: it isn’t about progress towards an end. And they also showed the same fallacy I see in these arguments in modern settings: everyone?liberal, libertarian, communist, conservative, fascist??can play this game and show how evolution inevitably arrives at their point, but at this point it has become like religious folks trying to prove that God looks like them.

    I have seen far too many things trying to prove that conservatism is an evolutionary backwater and liberals are more advanced and vice versa (all backed with impressive sounding statistics and statements) to put any store in them. I might give them some more credence if I ever saw one where the person making the argument ever arrived at a conclusion you wouldn’t have been able to predict from before they started their research. If Richard Dawkins, for instance, suddenly starts telling me that his evolutionary research has forced him to believe in a god and that a board of scientific solons is not the optimal way to run society, I’ll sit up and take notice, but you know that no matter what he finds that will never be his answer. Similarly, if someone from the Creation Institute says that they’ve found proof that evolution contradicts their beliefs, I’ll find that interesting, but I’m not waiting for that either.

    When looking at biological systems, it is true that there is a tendency toward greater complexity over time, but it doesn’t even follow that complexity itself is an end. It is more likely that the addition of complexity in some segments of the environment necessitate complexity in others. For example, if you have the development of pathogens, you need the development of immune systems, but without pathogens, immune systems are needless complexity and maladaptive. You cannot know if a change is adaptive or not without knowing the conditions in which it develops, so trying to state that classical liberalism is an optimal outcome requires you to know what it is a solution to, and if the answer is something as vague as what’s argued above, you can bet that it isn’t really an answer to anything at all.

    (None of this is to argue against classical liberalism, in which I am a firm believer, but the Jesuitical reasoning evidenced in books that “prove” something this way isn’t terribly convincing unless you already share the premise that is to be demonstrated.)

    If you want to apply evolution to culture, remember that even in biology, evolution is a local process that may result in seemingly contradictory outcomes. So if I had to wager, I would say that evolution has little to tell us at all about what specific social conventions and institutions are the best fit for human nature. (And that leaves aside the huge question begging about what “human nature” is. Here again we approach a religious concept, not a scientific one.)

    1. well said

    2. RM kippah: Thanks for your thoughtful comments. With regard to the existence of “human nature” I will simply refer you to work done by Steven Pinker or Tooby & Cosmides. Arnhart references work that finds that there are several hundred human “universals.” Human nature in this context means that we are not blank slates that can be molded by our environments into just any form. If that is so then I would suggest that means that through trial and error people have been discovering that some social institutions work better (even on the basis of the narrow definition of fitness meaning the successful rearing of more offspring) than others. With regard to fitness, one interpretation of demographic trends is that people in modern societies seem to be moving more in the direction of K-selection [quality] and away from r-selection [quantity]. See Hayek’s Fatal Conceit for more on this topic.

      One difference is that cultural evolution is more Lamarckian in that new learning can accumulated and passed down generations. Hence Dawkins’ idea of memes. So as an empirical fact (not a theoretical construct), classical liberalism creates social institutions that encourage the production and accumulation of memes that better enable individuals in their struggle to survive and reproduce.

      BTW, I did not use the word “optimal” in any of my arguments, just “better”.

  9. *Myers

  10. Ron Bailey, it’s “PZ Myers” (one “e”), not “PZ Meyers.” Myers is quite the prickly character, and he’s sensitive about the spelling of his name (not unreasonably so).

    Myers’ is also hugely anti-libertarian.

    1. Corey & Tonio: I even looked up his website before posting and I still misspelled it. Thanks. It’s fixed now.

  11. Cultures, states and economies compete.

    Cultures economies and states and their corresponding militarys tend to be more competitive the more free their individual citizens are.

    In bleak Darwinian terms libertarian states will tend to survive because they are more fit…those that are less libertarian are less fit and will tend to not survive.

    That said i would say the peek of the bell curve shows that the species is not libertarian by nature. Why on earth would we evolve to be hyper adaptive when we changed so little for a million years then over the past 5000 changed so much.

    Libertarianism is a product of our technology and the obvious advantages that come with rapid adaptation that libertarianism allows and produces.

    1. In bleak Darwinian terms, those societies that cook and eat their neighbors and piss in everyone else’s gardens may be the most fit in some contexts. In others a cooperative society might do much better. It all depends on all sorts of things not stated in the question. To make the question answerable would be to create a question of such mind-boggling complexity that we’d have to let it play out in real time for thousands of years to get the answer.

      Your last paragraph is right in pointing out that libertarianism is a product, not an end.

      1. In bleak Darwinian terms, those societies that cook and eat their neighbors and piss in everyone else’s gardens may be the most fit in some contexts.

        Every sociaty does that…that is what i ment by “compete” and is not new or an advantage. One assumes this is already the case universally….but the society with say the bow and arrow can do this with immunity…the bow and arrow is the new thing…the killing of your neighbor is not.

        1. I guess I misunderstood your point with this then:

          Cultures economies and states and their corresponding militarys tend to be more competitive the more free their individual citizens are.

          I thought you were making an absolute claim that freer societies are more competitive (which seems to be what this is saying, does it not?) and I was simply objecting that this isn’t necessarily the case, which you seem to agree with. So I guess I’m not clearly seeing what your argument was in what I responded to.

          1. err, not absolute, but still pretty general

          2. Yeah…when all things being equal the more classically liberal society will beat the less liberal society.

            In that sense it is an absolute, but obviously there are other considerations. And there can never be a situation in which all things are equal.

            1. joshua corning|7.14.10 @ 3:24PM|#
              Yeah…when all things being equal the more classically liberal society will beat the less liberal society.

              HA Ha HAHA hA hA hA.

              You wait and see tough guy! We own you! I pee in your Coke too! And I bootleg Avatar 500 times today! In your face, crassical riberal!

    2. The counter to this is that states that are less libertarian can keep up somewhat to more competitive libertarian states simply by adopting the best technologies that are created by the more libertarian state.

      This also works in the inverse. More libertarian states see their work being co-opted by other states and try to protect those technologies and thus adopt policies that are less libertarian. This is the irony and also the reason why the adaption to libertopia is slow and can appear to be a change of one step forward and two steps back.

      If you do not believe me then look more closely at the trade relationship between China and the US.

      1. If you do not believe me then look more closely at the trade relationship between China and the US.

        Uhm. I’m not THE CHINESE guy above…

        But I’m not sure how this point actually supports your thesis. Are you suggesting that US/China trade relationships have changed THEM more than US? To the better? I think that is pretty debatable.

        Also, how does this explain the US itself becoming less ‘libertarian’-ish every year for the last 6 or 7 decades or so? Your model would suggest the opposite.

    3. A true “libertarian” society wouldn’t last ten minutes. Without an army, my collective is going to kick your libertarian society’s ass. The most successful societies have been the hybrid societies of the modern west that combined just enough liberalism with just enough collective coercion to get the advantages of both. But before that hybrid arose, the most successful societies were generally pretty brutal collectives.

      1. There is nothing preventing a libertarian society from being a collective society.

        You are conflating libertarianism with anarchy.

        1. So you would call 18th and 19th Century Europe and America “libertarian societies”? I sure wouldn’t. If you would, I would be curious to hear your rational.

          1. I would call them more libertarian then the rest of the world at that time.

            As I said the more libertarian societies tend to be more competitive then the less libertarian societies.

            Why do you think 18th and 19th century Europe and America dominated the world at that time? Why didn’t China kick their ass?

            1. You just proved my point. They were hybrid societies that were just liberal enough to get the wealth generated by freedom and capitalism but just collective enough to go out and use force derived from that wealth.

              A true libertarian society would have never colonized the world. Such a society could not defend itself much less conquer the world.

              1. There is more then one way to colonize the world.

                I hear you can buy Levis in Moscow now.

                1. You can only sell levis if you are free to produce them. And you can only be free to produce them if you have some way to keep me from coming over and bashing you in the head and stealing everything you have.

                2. Also why do you think a “real” libertarian society would have no army?

                  It is not as if socialist nations of the world have huge standing armies at the moment.

                  The in per capita terms the only one i can think of is North Korea and any annalist worth his beans would tell you that South Korea with a far smaller army would kick North Korea’s ass.

                  It seems your definition of a true libertarian state requires that it has an insubstantial military force.

                  I do not see why that should be the case. Maybe there are libertarians here who think libertopia requires an army smaller then what its external threats requires, but my libertopia has an army bigger then its external threats.

                  …and none of it is on foreign soil.

  12. Ron, how did you get the link to the Myers article? It’s not coming up in my browser, and I’ve tried three different ways to burrow in to it. If you have a direct link to post, that would be great, thanks!

  13. Answering my own question, from the main Cato Unbound page:

    http://www.cato-unbound.org/20…..iberalism/

  14. I’d be careful in jumping from Darwinian evolution (which is about how species evolve due to natural selection of certain traits) to arguing about whose society is more likely to prevail over other societies. Strikes me as a category error.

    Humans are territorial pack animals. “By nature”, such animals are possessive, defensive, and capable of violence, as well as status-conscious and hierarchical.

    That set of traits strikes me as perfectly compatible with all manner of authoritarianism, as well as libertarianism. The behavioral/interactive predispositions that are wired into us by evolution are so broad that they are not anywhere to being determinative of any particular fine-grained political structure.

    1. Humans and wolves — pack animals.

    2. even wolves have bell curves…

      But yeah even wolf bell curves have their tails.

      If they didn’t you would never let your kids play with the family dog….unless you really hated your kids.

    3. Strikes me as a category error.

      Yes, exactly. Which is the same reason debating about it is a no-doubt engaging yet pointless diversion.

    4. R C Dean|7.14.10 @ 2:53PM|#

      Strikes me as a category error….. Humans are territorial pack animals. “By nature”, such animals are possessive, defensive, and capable of violence, as well as status-conscious and hierarchical. That set of traits strikes me as perfectly compatible with all manner of authoritarianism, as well as libertarianism. The behavioral/ interactive predispositions that are wired into us by evolution are so broad that they are not anywhere to being determinative of any particular fine-grained political structure.

      Well put. I’m 100% with you on this. I tried to say as much myself but didnt quite articulate it that well.

      It also reminded me of the latin, ‘Homo homini lupus’; ‘Man is Wolf to Man’…

  15. On my reading, Arnhart is arguing that classical liberalism better conforms to what evolutionary psychology is confirming about human nature. Societies whose institutions try to go against human nature will do less well than societies whose institutions enable the flourishing of our natures. But if that is so, why is it that truly liberal societies have emerged only in the past two centuries?

    Its more complicated than that. Human evolution has pushed us to be predisposed toward socialism, because the core societal unit we all are familiar with is a family, where socialism actually works (most of the time).

    So, it is counterintuitive to human nature to have the epiphany that such socialism does not scale up worth a damn, that something that works with closely genetically related people working toward more or less common goals does not work well with strangers who are not closely genetically related and who are pursuing vastly different goals.

    It is HARD to realize that markets work better than socialism once you get to more complicated and larger social units than the family.

    1. Also, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of social insects knows, socialism CAN work very well for societies like such insect colonies, where all the workers are non-breeding sisters of the queen and thus can only advance their Darwinian interests by working for her — or finding a way to shake off her biochemical controls and become independently reproducing beings.

  16. I think Singer is dead on accurate about his analysis of why socialism fails, but the point that it’s “against human nature” is oversimplifying it.

    Nobody really knows what human nature is, and there are lots of way in which culture has changed, so it’s not unreasonable to think you can get people to be more tolerant or cooperative. Though they do overplay the malleability of the human mind A GREAT DEAL.

    But it’s the need to employ the state to achieve the goal that feally fucks everything up. The left keeps running up against the problem that people just don’t want to behave certain ways, and they keep employing the state to make them. They keep trying to force the situation. And that always ends up in thise horrific totalitarianism where everything including people’s thoughts must be controlled. I.e. can’t let people try to be better then their neighbor, so we have to indoctrinate him to think he should strive for equality. can’t let people selfishly hoard scarce resources, so we have to shoot hoarders.

  17. Humans in their “natural” state are quite socialistic. Resources are rationed among members of a small tribe and everyone is expected to contribute their part for the good of everyone. This is because such tribes are likely to be composed of genetically similar individuals. In terms of how we evolved, “it takes a village” is truly the essence of humanity.

    But we don’t live that way anymore. Modern civilization is the product of technological advancement, and there’s no guarantee it’s good from a natural selection perspective (convincing arguments have been made that developing agriculture was bad for our species in a lot of ways).

    So evolution should have no bearing on how we structure society; attempts to do so have historically seriously misread science and have lead to unimaginable horror.

    So we have to cope with a completely artificial social arrangement (now a global society), and no natural first principles can inform it. We have to decide how we want to live, and do our best to implement it. I suggest applying our natural tendency to socialize risk and reward to a global tribe. Libertarians want to apply a more anarchic system than even our tribal ancestors enjoyed in a state of nature.

    1. Tony,

      The real reason why there are so few libertarian women is that most want to take care of their children.

      Kidding aside you are conflating society with the state.

      Families, communities, churches, towns and on and and and on have taken care of their own. Your contention is that now that everyone is more wealthy including the above mentioned institutions that the federal government and the UN should take care of everyone.

      It is your scheme of remote central control at the expense of local and individual control that is unnatural.

      1. I don’t see a difference. Differently-sized communities require different forms of government.

        1. The difference is time line and the origins of our nature.

          Our natural state was forged in small communities based on family units. Individuals within those communities had vast powers in regards to that community vs the powers we have in regards to our government. pre-civilized man (and woman and child and even the fucking dog) had better access and greater value to the state then an individual does today. If the right person dies at the right time the whole community could fall apart. So the hierarchy has to listen to EVERYONE. Furthermore the hierarchy in those communities had to be more responsive to their community’s needs as the community was in essence their family and their individual survival depended on their relationship with the individuals in the community.

          The state in contrast does not have those checks and balances and your simple socialist ideals of democracy are in direct opposition to those innate checks and balances. And in fact you have shown time and time again that you oppose any attempt to graft checks and balances to the state in an attempt to simulate that natural state.

    2. Take the government you have today, Tony. Pass a law which states that tax collection will no longer be enforced. All else follows — I request no further alterations.

      And before you jump to any conclusions, answer me this: did the church disappear after it left off the use of force? Or, what were its comparative levels of membership, before and after. That metric is problematic though, since as with citizenship now, a person was a member of the church by birth. Were citizenship optional, what percentage of the population would you expect to see voluntarily accepting the citizenship deal, along with the rights and responsibilities it entails?

      What about the concept of ? la carte citizenship? You’re an open-minded, free-thinking person, aren’t you? What might be some of the possible ramifications of that type of scenario?

      1. What might be some of the possible ramifications of that type of scenario?

        Tony functions on envy. Without poeple paying into his system even if it was only one out of 300 million he would either explode in a spontaneous fusion reaction or simply blink out of the universe all trace of his existence wiped from the world.

        Because of this threat to Tony’s existence he is incapable of contemplating your described scenario. Because from his view what you are calling for is the end of the world and his death.

      2. With a voluntary citizenship scheme my only question is where would you go? You don’t own the dirt and the air, what gives you the right to be on my country’s territory without agreeing to its rules? Voluntary citizenship is problematic as resources are scarce, namely land for 7 billion individual countries.

        1. I wouldn’t go anywhere, Tony…I wouldn’t go anywhere.

          1. That would make you one of them illegals.

    3. “So evolution should have no bearing on how we structure society; attempts to do so have historically seriously misread science and have lead to unimaginable horror.”

      Interesting you should say that as practically every form of socialism has perverted science to justify its ideology.

      1. And in exactly the way you do. Tribal altrusim does not scale up very well beyond the people we know and love. One of the only known ways to scale those feelings up higher is to encourage strong feelings of national identity, which can lead to other difficulties.

  18. HM: “nobody really knows what human nature is” —
    Part of my argument is that through trial and error we are discovering those institutions that conform better to our nature, whatever it may turn out to be. In other words, we are still discovering what our natures really are.

    In any case, you may wish to take a look at this list of human universals to get some idea of what some researchers think our nature is.

    1. meal times

      Obviously this human universal is communal and therefore libertarianism does not work and cannot sustain an army to meet its external threats.

      I am now going to vote for who ever Ralph Nader tells me to….and Joe Boyle was right about everything.

  19. I don’t think Arnhart is reaching, but he really doesn’t say much. When one rates society on its deference to individual values, libertarianism wins by default. The problem then shifts to truly describing what form of government and what policies it prescribes are most libertarian.

  20. Everything implies libertarianism.

  21. Anyway back to the original question

    Is libertarianism in our nature.

    The answer is no.

    For two reasons. Our nature is communal at least in the local level. So to have a libertarian state that is different and functioning on different principles then our local community will always be unnatural. But one should note that the state is natural no matter its ideological underpinnings.

    Which brings us to the second reason. Libertarianism like the state never existed in the world we evolved in. They are deus ex machina magic to our nature. Like iphones dropping from the sky into a neanderthal camp.

  22. But one should note that the state is unnatural no matter its ideological underpinnings.

    Fixed

  23. Only an extremely naive understanding of evolutionary theory allows one to claim that evolution implies libertarianism (or any other remotely similar claim). Out of all the millions of species that currently exist (which have all spent exactly the same time evolving to their current state) only one has any notion of “liberty.” There is a tediously long essay possible here to rebut this facile claim, but I won’t write it, I’ll merely ask: Where is the evidence? And add “Calling Dr Pangloss, Dr Fine, Dr Howard.”

  24. Naturalist fallacy, I choose you!

  25. “Arnhart, author of Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature, argues that Darwin and the findings of evolutionary biology do offer support for the normative claims of classical liberalism.”

    Arnhart is venturing into dangerous territory. Using a scientific concept to justify ethical philosophies outside the proper scope of the concept is an abuse of science.

  26. Dancing. About. Architecture.

    Philosophers speculating about biology, Biologists pretending to be philosophers, geneticists theorizing about political science…

    How hard would it be to get a bunch of Hard-Left academics together in room and all bloviate about how Darwin & evolutionary biology offers support for the claims of modern progressivism? Or, as Ron noted, Marxism? Or the Divine Right of Kings, maybe?

    Ron brings up most of the obvious complaints himself; if you suggest cultural evolution is a trial and error process – as evolutionary biology is – it makes little sense that modern classical liberalism should have only appeared in the last 200 years. Anatomically modern humans have existed for about 200,000 years. And we’ve pretty much had “kingdoms” – rule by divine right, hereditary claim, biggest biceps, etc – for 99.99% of it. From a ‘trial and error’ point of view, there has been virtually NO TRIAL until about 3000 years ago, and even then, the trial (pun intended; reference to socrates) didnt really go very far, or spread very rapidly until the last 400 years (0.1% of human ‘history’). So anything remotely resembling libertarian ‘instincts’ have only emerged in the latest .001% of human biological existence. Color me unimpressed, from a Darwinian point of view at least. Things don’t ‘evolve’ overnight.

    I suppose i find the Hobbesian explanations of human nature more compelling; that in our ‘state of nature’, we are not political or social beings at all, but rather animals that want to eat, fuck, and kill, and accept no authority over us or responsibility whatsoever… “bellum omnium contra omnes”. We eventually are compelled to engage in social contracts to establish a civil society. Yadda yadda yadda. I disagree with Josh Cornings’ above characterization of human evolutionary nature as “communal”; every crowd of monkeys has an alpha male, every tribe has a chief, and so on. In so far as we have successfully organized groups of people over history, they have largely been “do as I say *because I’m the boss!*” groups, not “communal” in the sense of shared property or equality of status. Genuinely communal societies have been a minority over history, and have only emerged in fairly unique situations. The norm, it aint. If libertarian ideas are closest to the what biological evolution tells us about human psychology, I assume it would be the “Eat!Fuck!Kill! No one tells me what to do!!”-part. Not exactly the stuff you go around bragging about. Most people would point out that we have ‘civilization’ simply to keep these elements of human nature *at bay*.

    My beef is that I see too much ‘scientism’ out there that tries to find some biological/neurological basis for what are essentially political ideas. I just don’t find it very compelling, and would be happier if academics focused on their own fields rather than try and apply biology to explain modern politics, and such. While cross-pollination of fields is of course legitimate, and can sometimes be highly successful, I find that the majority of what I see is ‘scientists’ or academics simply using their field to say something (sometimes relevant, most of the time not) about another field about which they actually have no credibility. Its like asking Dr Phil his opinion on how to treat a malignant tumor.

    And Ron, please… its been ages since a proper disclosure. Next time, please. A long one.

  27. Marx did not offer to dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin. He did send Darwin a copy of the book, which Darwin apparently never opened.

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