Darwinian politics

Have you ever wondered if political failures might somehow be rooted in man’s nature as a biological being? Paul Rubin has just published a book, Darwinian Politics, Arts and Letters Daily offers this review and summary.

Rubin argues that humans have a long biological experience with constructing political alliances, and our inherited propensities continue to shape our politics. What else does he argue? We often view society as a zero-sum game because early competition for mates was in fact a zero-sum game. We carry this worldview with us. The desire for liberty springs from our early days in hunter-gathered societies, where we were relatively free in political terms. Sports are a reenactment of hunting and bonding rituals. Women are more risk averse than men. We have too much envy for the effective working of modern society, this springs from a tendency to wish to cut down the dominant males in groups. You will note that this is not a politically correct book.

Critics will make two charges. First, Rubin is not a professional biologist and the arguments are not based on his primary research. Second, the major arguments are “just-so” stories rather than the results of testable experiments. Both may be true, but I still would rather read a book that explores interesting and important topics.

Rubin admits his libertarian orientation, but he recognizes that the overall argument does not support libertarianism in every way. For instance he realizes that the desire for paternalism may be rooted very deeply. (Note that Peter Singer tries to ground left-wing ideas in Darwinian argument.) My view is that biological approaches, if you buy into them, strengthen the case for a conservative worldview, and I mean the word conservative in its literal rather than political sense. If politics is rooted in biology, political failures may be very hard to cure. This will support a mix of right-wing and left-wing policies, apologizing for institutional failures on both sides of the partisan spectrum, without necessarily making us feel better about them.

Thanks to Bryce Wilkinson for the pointer, note that readers are encouraged to write to us about bloggable material.


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