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THE EVOLUTION OF DARWINIAN LIBERALISM Larry Arnhart Department of Political Science Northern Illinois University DeKalb, Illinois This paper was prepared for presentation at a conference of the Mont Pèlerin Society on “Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty,” in the Galápagos Islands, June 22-29, 2013


TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 3 Darwin and the Libertarians 5 Natural Desires 8 Cultural Traditions 10 Individual Judgments 11 1. THE EVOLUTION OF MORAL ANTHROPOLOGY 13 From Plato to Lucretius 13 Smith’s Marketplace of Life 16 Darwin, Cobbe, and the Morality of Bees and Termites 22 Hayek’s Evolutionary Liberalism 27 Hayek’s Denial of Instinct 28 Hayek’s Denial of Reason 34 2. THE EVOLUTION OF SELF-OWNERSHIP, PROPERTY, AND MAMMALIAN SOCIALITY 36 Self-Ownership as Liberalism’s First Principle of Human Nature 36 The Neurobiology of Care 39 The Biology of Property 41 3. THE EVOLUTION OF EXCHANGE AND SPECIALIZATION 43 The Evolution of the “Propensity to Truck, Barter, and Exchange” 43 The Neurobiology of Exchange 47 A Darwinian Account of England’s Industrial Revolution 49 The End of the (Human) World 51 4. THE EVOLUTION OF LIMITED GOVERNMENT 53 Liberal Governmentalism Versus Libertarian Anarchism 53 The Lockean History of Political Evolution 62 The Bushmen in Locke’s State of Nature 71 The Evolutionary Anthropology of Egalitarian Hierarchy 74 5. THE EVOLUTION OF DECLINING VIOLENCE AND THE LIBERAL PEACE 81 The Liberal Turn from Violence to Voluntarism 81 The Invisible Hand of the Liberal Evolution Against Violence 83 CONCLUSION 87


INTRODUCTION In 1859, with the publication of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, it became possible, for the first time in history, to be an intellectually fulfilled liberal.1 Darwinian evolutionary science has shown that Adam Smith was right about almost everything. In his defense of what he called “the natural system of liberty,” Smith was right to see that the social orders of morality, markets, law, and politics can arise as largely spontaneous orders, which emerge as unintended outcomes from the actions of individuals pursuing the satisfaction of their individual desires. The Darwinian science of evolutionary order has confirmed this central idea of Smithian liberalism.2 That Darwin’s work favored liberalism was indicated in Thomas Huxley’s review of Darwin’s book a few months after its publication. Huxley declared: "every philosophical thinker hails it as a veritable Whitworth gun in the armory of liberalism."3 The Whitworth gun was a new kind of breech-loading cannon — a powerful weapon, then, for liberalism. Another indication of this link between Darwinism and liberalism came almost one hundred years later, in 1957, at a meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society. Friedrich Hayek delivered a speech entitled “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” which was followed by a response from Russell Kirk.4 Hayek explained that one of the reasons that he preferred to identify himself as a liberal rather than a conservative was that conservatives like Kirk rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution as denying the conservative belief in a divinely designed transcendent moral order. This was a crucial issue for Hayek because his defense of liberalism was founded on a Darwinian explanation of social life as an unintended product of “spontaneous evolution” that did not depend upon intelligent design or a cosmic moral order. The fundamental idea of liberalism is that society is largely a self-regulating unintended order—a largely self-enforcing order created unintentionally by the free exchanges of individuals seeking to satisfy their individual desires.5 1

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (London: John Murray, 1859). 2 I have drawn some of my writing in this introductory section from my essay on “Darwinian Liberalism” at Cato Unbound, July, 2010, 3 Thomas Henry Huxley, “The Origin of Species,” Westminster Review 17 (1860): 541-70. 4 See Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 395-411; and Angus Burgin, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012), 140-45. 5 See Ronald Hamowy, The Scottish Enlightenment and the Theory of Spontaneous Order (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987); Norman Barry, “The Tradition of Spontaneous Order,” Literature of Liberty, 5 (Summer 1982): 7-58; and Ralph Raico, Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2012).


Darwinian evolutionary science supports that liberal idea by showing how human social order arises from the evolutionary interaction of the unintended orders of human nature and human culture and the intended order of human reason. Thus, social order is largely self-regulating insofar as it emerges from the unintended evolution of human nature and human culture; but social order is not completely self-regulating insofar as it is influenced by the intentional choices of human individuals, although those human choices are constrained by human nature and human culture. In Darwin’s lifetime, liberalism meant classical liberalism — the moral and political tradition of individual liberty understood as the right of individuals to be free from violent coercion so long as they respect 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. Although Darwin in his scientific writing was not as explicit as Herbert Spencer in affirming the evolutionary argument for liberalism, those like Huxley saw that Darwin’s science supported liberalism. Darwin himself was a fervent supporter of the British Liberal Party and its liberal policies. He was honored when William Gladstone (the “Grand Old Man” of the Liberal Party) visited him at his home in Down in 1877.6 Like other liberals, Darwin admired and practiced the virtues of self-help, as promoted in Samuel Smiles’ popular book Self-Help, with its stories of self-made men. Darwin was active in the charitable activities of his parish. He was the treasurer of the local Friendly Society. In Great Britain, friendly societies were self-governing associations of manual laborers who shared their resources and pledged to help one another in time of hardship.7 In this way, individuals could secure their social welfare and acquire good character through voluntary mutual aid without the need for governmental coercion. Darwin was also active in the international campaign against slavery, one of the leading liberal causes of his day. In their recent book Darwin’s Sacred Cause, Adrian Desmond and James Moore have shown that Darwin’s hatred of slavery was one motivation for his writing The Descent of Man, in which he affirmed the universality of humanity as belonging to one species, against the pro-slavery racial 6

See Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (New York: Warner Books, 1991), 625-28, 7 On the history of fraternal societies and mutual aid in liberal societies, see David G. Green, Reinventing Civil Society: The Rediscovery of Welfare Without Politics (London: IEA Health and Welfare Unit, 1993); and David T. Beito, From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).


science of those who argued that some human beings belonged to a separate species of natural slaves.8 Also in The Descent of Man, Darwin showed that the moral order of human life arose through a natural moral sense as shaped by organic and cultural evolution. He thus provided a scientific basis for the moral liberalism of David Hume, Adam Smith, and the other Scottish philosophers, who argued that the moral and intellectual virtues could arise through the spontaneous orders of human nature and human culture. Darwin and the Libertarians One might expect that those people in the United States who today call themselves libertarians —who continue the tradition of classical liberalism — would want to embrace Darwin and evolutionary science as sustaining their position. But libertarians are ambivalent about Darwin and Darwinism. That ambivalence is evident, for example, in The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, edited by Ronald Hamowy, under the sponsorship of the Cato Institute.9 There is no entry in the encyclopedia for Charles Darwin. But there are entries for Herbert Spencer, Social Darwinism, and Evolutionary Psychology. In these and other entries, one can see intimations that libertarianism could be rooted in a Darwinian science of human nature. But one can also see suggestions that Darwin’s science has little or no application to libertarian thought. The entry on “Evolutionary Psychology” is written by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, the founders of the research tradition that goes by the name of “evolutionary psychology.”10 They indicate that evolutionary psychology was begun by Darwin. They say that its aim is to map human nature as rooted in the evolved architecture of the human mind. They summarize some of this evolved human nature, including reasoning about social exchange and cheater detection that provides the cognitive foundations of trade and the moral sentiments that make moral order possible. They contrast this idea of a universal human nature with the idea of the human mind as a blank slate that is infinitely malleable by social learning. They say that the false idea of the blank slate explains the failure of those experiments in social engineering that denied human nature, as illustrated by the failed communist regimes. This all suggests that a Darwinian evolutionary psychology could support a libertarian view of human nature.


Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin’s Sacred Cause: How a Hatred of Slavery Shaped Darwin’s Views on Human Evolution (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). 9 Ronald Hamowy, ed., The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism (Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008). 10 Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, “Evolutionary Psychology,” in Hamowy, Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15861.


But Cosmides and Tooby also cast doubt on this conclusion. Although the implementation of public policy proposals needs to take human nature into account, they say, “the position most central to libertarianism — that human relationships should be based on the voluntary consent of the individuals involved — makes few if any assumptions about human nature.” They don’t explain what they mean by this. One interpretation is that they are making a fact-value distinction, and suggesting that while the calculation of means to ends is a factual judgment that might be open to scientific research, the moral assessment of ends — such as the value of individual liberty — is a normative judgment that is beyond scientific research. Perhaps their thought is more clearly stated by Will Wilkinson in his essay on “Capitalism and Human Nature”: We cannot expect to draw any straightforward positive political lessons from evolutionary psychology. It can tell us something about the kind of society that will tend not to work, and why. But it cannot tell us which of the feasible forms of society we ought to aspire to. We cannot, it turns out, infer the naturalness of capitalism from the manifest failure of communism to accommodate human nature. Nor should we be tempted to infer that natural is better. Foraging halfnaked for nuts and berries is natural, while the New York Stock Exchange and open-heart surgery would boggle our ancestors’ minds.11 Wilkinson argues that while our evolved human nature constrains the possibilities of social order, the historical move to liberal capitalism — the transition from personal to impersonal exchange — was a “great cultural leap,” as Hayek emphasized. Within the limits set by evolved human nature, the emergence of liberal capitalism depends on cultural evolution. “We have, through culture, enhanced those traits that facilitate trust and cooperation, channeled our coalitional and status-seeking instincts toward productive uses, and built upon our natural suspicion of power to preserve our freedom.” This dependence of classical liberalism on cultural evolution is also stressed by George Smith in his encyclopedia entries on “Social Darwinism” and “Herbert Spencer.”12 Smith argues that Spencer’s view of evolution was Lamarckian, and therefore quite different from Darwin’s view. While Spencer’s Lamarckian conception of evolution through the inheritance of acquired characteristics has 11

Will Wilkinson, “Capitalism and Human Nature,” Cato Policy Report 27 (January/February 2005), 1, 12-15, 12

George Smith, “Social Darwinism,” in Hamowy, Encyclopedia of Libertrianism, 472-74; Smith, “Herbert Spencer (1820-1903),” in Hamowy, Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 483-85.


been discredited as biological theory, Smith observes, this is actually a better approach for understanding social history than is Darwin’s biological approach. Social evolution — including the evolution of liberal capitalism — really is Lamarckian in that the social practices successful for one generation can be passed on to the next generation through social learning as a system of cultural inheritance. Most importantly for Spencer, the move from regimes of status based on coercive exploitation to regimes of contract based on voluntary cooperation was a process of cultural rather than biological evolution. Smith suggests, therefore, that the liberal principle of equal liberty arose not from biological nature but from cultural history. Furthermore, Smith argues, Spencer and other classical liberals understood that market competition differed radically from biological competition. Biological competition is a zero-sum game where the survival of one organism is at the expense of others competing for the same scarce resources. But market competition is a positive-sum game where all the participants can gain from voluntary exchanges with one another. In a liberal society of free markets based on voluntary exchanges, success depends on persuasion rather than coercion, because we must give to others what they want to get what we want. Smith concludes: “It is precisely in a free society that Social Darwinism does not apply.” There’s a big problem with Smith’s analysis. If Social Darwinism means explaining all social order through biological evolution based on zero-sum competition, then Darwin was not a Social Darwinist. Darwin saw that social animals are naturally inclined to cooperate with one another for mutual benefit. Human social and moral order arises as an extension of this natural tendency to social cooperation based on kinship, mutuality, and reciprocity. Modern Darwinian study of the evolution of cooperation shows that such cooperation is a positive-sum game. Moreover, Darwin accepted Lamarckian thinking about what he called “the inherited effects of the long-continued use or disuse of parts.” And he saw that the moral and social progress of human beings came much more through cultural evolution by social learning than organic evolution by natural selection.13 Darwin’s reasoning has been confirmed by recent research on gene-culture coevolution.14 As Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb have shown, a broad understanding of evolution must encompass four systems of evolutionary inheritance — genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic.15 And although 13

See Darwin, Descent of Man, 140, 155-56, 163, 169, 677, 682, 688-89. See Peter J. Richerson and Robert Boyd, Not by Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006). 15 Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb, Evolution in Four Dimensions:Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006). 14


symbolic evolution is uniquely human, the cultural evolution of behavioral traditions is manifest among other animals, especially primates.16 Darwin’s liberalism combines an Aristotelian ethics of social virtue and a Lockean politics of individual liberty. This is the sort of liberalism that has been recently defended by Douglas Rasmussen and Douglas Den Uyl in their books Liberty and Nature and Norms of Liberty and by Den Uyl in his book The Virtue of Prudence.17 To anyone who knows about my advocacy of “Darwinian conservatism,” it must seem odd that I am now arguing for “Darwinian liberalism.” But the conservatism I have defended is a liberal conservatism that combines a libertarian concern for liberty and a traditionalist concern for virtue. This is similar to the “fusionist” conservatism of Frank Meyer, which is close to the Aristotelian liberalism of Rasmussen and Den Uyl.18 To see how Darwinian science supports classical liberalism, we must see how the liberal principles of equal liberty have arisen from the complex interaction of natural desires, cultural traditions, and individual judgments. Natural Desires If the good is the desirable, then a Darwinian science can help us understand the human good by showing us how our natural desires are rooted in our evolved human nature. In Darwinian Natural Right and Darwinian Conservatism, I have argued that there are at least twenty natural desires that are universally expressed in all human societies because they have been shaped by genetic evolution as natural propensities of the human species.19 Human beings generally desire a complete life, parental care, sexual identity, sexual mating, familial bonding, friendship, social status, justice as reciprocity, political rule, courage in war, health, beauty, property, speech, practical habituation, practical reasoning, practical arts, aesthetic pleasure, religious understanding, and intellectual understanding. In Darwin’s writings on human evolution — particularly, The Descent of Man and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals — he accounts for


See Kevin N. Laland and Bennett G. Galef, eds., The Question of Animal Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009). 17 See Douglas B. Rasmussen and Douglas J. Den Uyl, The Norms of Liberty: A Perfectionist Basis for NonPerfectionist Politics (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005); Rasmusssen and Den Uyl, Liberty and Nature: An Aristotelian Defense of Liberal Order (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1991); and Douglas J. Den Uyl, The Virtue of Prudence (New York: Peter Lang, 1991). 18 See Frank Meyer, In Defense of Freedom and Related Essays (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1996). 19 Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Natural Right: The Biological Ethics of Human Nature (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998); Arnhart, Darwinian Conservatism: A Disputed Question, second enlarged edition, ed. Kenneth Blanchard (Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2009).


these twenty desires as part of human biological nature.20 We now have anthropological evidence — surveyed by Donald Brown and others — that there are hundreds of human universals, which are clustered around these twenty desires.21 Psychologists who study human motivation across diverse cultures recognize these desires as manifesting the basic motives for human action. Rasmussen and Den Uyl identify the natural ends of human action as corresponding to a list of generic goods that resembles my list of twenty natural desires. Their list of generic goods includes health, beauty, wealth, honor, friendship, justice, artistic pursuits, and intellectual pursuits. My assertion that the good is the desirable will provoke a complaint from some philosophers that I am overlooking the distinction between facts and values or is and ought. They will insist that we cannot infer moral values from natural facts. From the fact that we naturally desire something, they say, we cannot infer that it is morally good for us to desire it. But I would argue that there is no merely factual desire separated from prescriptive desire, which would create the fact/value dichotomy. Whatever we desire we do so because we judge that it is truly desirable for us. If we discover that we are mistaken — because what we desire is not truly desirable for us — then we are already motivated to correct our mistake. Much of Darwin’s discussion of moral deliberation is about how human beings judge their desires in the light of their past experiences and future expectations as they strive for the harmonious satisfaction of their desires over a whole life, and much of this moral and intellectual deliberation turns on the experience of regret when human beings realize that they have yielded to a momentary desire that conflicts with their more enduring desires.22 Whenever a moral philosopher tells us that we ought to do something, we can always ask, “Why?” The only ultimate answer to that question is because it’s desirable for you — it will fulfill you or make you happy by contributing to your human flourishing. But even if we know what is generally or generically good for human beings, this does not tell us what is good for particular individuals in particular circumstances. Although the twenty natural desires constitute the universal goods of human life, the best organization or ranking of those desires over a whole life varies according to individual temperaments and social situations. So, for example, a philosophic life in which the natural desire for intellectual 20

Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2nd ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 2004); Darwin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, 3rd ed., with an Introduction, Afterword, and Commentaries by Paul Ekman (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998). 21 See Donald Brown, Human Universals (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1991). 22 See Darwin, Descent of Man, 132-40.


understanding ranks higher than other desires is best for Socrates and those like him, but not for others. Evolutionary biology allows us to generalize about natural desires as the universals of evolved human nature. And yet evolutionary biology also teaches us that every individual organism is unique. After all, the Darwinian theory of evolution requires individual variation. Even identical twins are not really identical. Evolutionary biology also teaches us that human evolutionary adaptations enable flexible responses to the variable circumstances of the physical and social environment, which is why the human brain has evolved to respond flexibly to the unique life history of each individual. If there is no single way of life that is best for all individuals in all circumstances, then the problem for any human community is how to organize social life so that individuals can pursue their diverse conceptions of happiness without coming into conflict. And since human beings are naturally social animals, their individual pursuit of happiness requires communal engagement. Allowing human beings to live together as children, parents, spouses, friends, associates, and citizens without imposing one determinate conception of the best way of life on all individuals is what Rasmussen and Den Uyl identify as “liberalism’s problem.” Liberalism’s solution to this problem is to distinguish between the political order of the state as protecting individual liberty and the moral order of society as shaping virtuous character. While a liberal political community does not enforce one determinate conception of the human good, it does enforce procedural norms of peaceful conduct that secure the freedom of individuals to form families, social groups, and cooperative enterprises that manifest their diverse conceptions of the human good. Cultural Traditions Natural desires constrain but do not determine cultural traditions. If I am right about my list of twenty natural desires, this constitutes a universal standard for what is generally good for human beings by nature, and we can judge cultural traditions by how well they conform to these natural desires. So, for example, we can judge the utopian socialist traditions to be a failure, because their attempts to abolish private property and private families have frustrated some of the strongest desires of evolved human nature. We can also judge that political traditions of limited government that channel and check political ambition are adapted for satisfying the natural desire of dominant individuals for political rule, while also satisfying the natural desire of subordinate individuals to be free from exploitation. But cultural traditions like socialism and limited government arise as spontaneous


orders of human cultural evolution that are not precisely determined by genetic nature or by individual judgment. Recognizing that natural desires constrain but do not determine cultural traditions, Darwinian liberalism avoids the mistaken assumption of biological determinism that biology is everything, culture nothing, while also avoiding the mistaken assumption of cultural relativism that culture is everything, biology nothing. The interaction of human nature and human culture is manifest in the cultivation of moral and intellectual character through the spontaneous order of civil society. Classical liberals believe that while we need the coercive powers of the state to secure those individual rights of liberty that are the conditions for a free society, we need the natural and voluntary associations of civil society to secure the moral order of our social life. The associations within civil society — families, churches, clubs, schools, fraternal societies, business organizations, and so on — allow us to pursue our diverse conceptions of the good life in cooperation with others who share our moral understanding. Darwin showed how this moral order of civil society arises from the natural and cultural history of the human species. The need of human offspring for prolonged and intensive parental care favors the moral emotions of familial bonding, and thus people tend to cooperate with their kin. The evolutionary advantages of mutual aid favor moral emotions sustaining mutual cooperation. And the benefits of reciprocal exchange favors moral emotions sustaining a sense of reciprocity, because one is more likely to be helped by others if one has helped others in the past and has the reputation for being helpful. “Ultimately,” Darwin concluded, “our moral sense or conscience becomes a highly complex sentiment — originating in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit.”23 Recent research in evolutionary psychology has confirmed and deepened this Darwinian understanding of moral order that arises in civil society through the spontaneous order of human action rather than the coercive order of governmental design. Individual Judgments Natural desires and cultural traditions constrain but do not determine individual judgments. Consequently, an evolutionary social science must move through three levels of analysis—the natural history of the species, the cultural history of a


Darwin, Descent of Man, 157.


community, and the biographical history of individuals.24 Classical liberals recognize that the human good or human flourishing is complex in conforming to the natural ends, the cultural circumstances, and the individual choices of human life. Our shared human nature gives us a universal range of natural desires that constitute the generic goods of life. Our diverse human cultures give us a multiplicity of moral traditions that shape our social life. But ultimately individuals must choose a way of life that they judge as best conforming to their natural desires, social circumstances, and individual temperaments. For that reason, liberals believe that the fundamental human right is liberty of judgment or conscience. Darwinian moral psychology explains the evolutionary history of the human capacity for individual moral judgment. Most recently, neuroscience has begun to uncover the emotional, social, and cognitive capacities of the brain that make moral judgment possible. For example, while Darwin explained the evolutionary importance of sympathy for human moral experience, contemporary neuroscientists have studied the neural circuitry in the brains of human beings and other primates that allow individual animals to imaginatively project themselves into the experiences of other individuals.25 As I have indicated, my main claim is that Darwinian evolutionary science supports the fundamental idea of liberalism that social order is a largely selfregulating unintended order that emerges from the interaction of individuals pursuing their individual desires. In support of this claim, I will elaborate the five ways in which Darwinism sustains an evolutionary liberalism as based on the evolution of a moral anthropology (sec. 1), the evolution of self-ownership, property, and mammalian sociality (sec. 2), the evolution of exchange and the division of labor (sec. 3), the evolution of limited government (sec. 4), and the evolution of declining violence (sec. 5),


See Larry Arnhart, “Biopolitical Science,” in James E. Fleming and Sanford Levinson, eds., Evolution and Morality (New York: New York University Press, 2012), 221-65; and Arnhart, “The Grandeur of Biopolitical Science,” Perspectives on Politics 11 (June 2013): 500-503. 25 See Joshua D. Greene, “The Cognitive Neuroscience of Moral Judgment,” in Michael Gazzaniga, ed., The Cognitive Neurosciences, 4th ed. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), 987-99; Tania Singer and Susanne Leiberg, “Sharing the Emotions of Others: The Neural Basis of Empathy,” in Gazzaniga, Cognitive Neuroscience, 973-86; and Roland Zahn, Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza, and Jorge Moll, “The Neuroscience of Moral Cognition and Emotion,” in Jean Decety and John T. Cacioppo, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Social Neuroscience (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 477-90.


1. THE EVOLUTION OF MORAL ANTHROPOLOGY The liberal idea of society as a largely self-regulating unintended order assumes that morality can arise as a spontaneous order from the social interaction of human individuals seeking to satisfy their individual desires. Smith elaborates this liberal view of morality in his Theory of Moral Sentiments. This breaks with the traditional Western idea that moral order must conform to a transcendental cosmic order—the moral law of a cosmic God, a cosmic Reason, or a cosmic Nature. Instead of this transcendental moral cosmology, liberal morality is founded on an empirical moral anthropology, in which moral order arises from within human experience. Darwinian science supports this liberal moral anthropology by showing how it arises from the coevolution of human nature, human culture, and human judgment. From Plato to Lucretius Beginning with Plato’s Timaeus and Laws, Western culture has been dominated by the thought that the best order of human life must be an imitation of an intelligently designed cosmic order, so that human life belongs to a “Great Chain of Being,” in which human beings look up to the eternal cosmic order of God, Nature, or Reason.26 If this is true, then the moral order of a political community requires the coercive enforcement of belief in a cosmology of intelligent design like that prescribed by the Athenian Stranger in Book 10 of Plato’s Laws. As it was later filtered through the tradition of Biblical religion, this intelligent design cosmology dictated the legal and political enforcement of a religious orthodoxy conforming to God’s law.27 Consequently, the liberal argument for individual liberty and limited government could never fully prevail until there was a persuasive alternative to the moral cosmology of intelligent design. For example, when John Locke argued for religious liberty secured through religious toleration, he was attacked by those who assumed that social order required the governmental enforcement of religious orthodoxy; and even Locke himself could not justify tolerating atheists, because he warned that denying the existence of God as the Creator of human beings and of the moral law dissolved the moral bonds of human society.28 In contrast to the moral cosmology of Plato, there was another intellectual tradition in ancient Greece that explained social order not as rooted in an 26

See Remi Brague, The Wisdom of the World: The Human Experience of the Universe in Western Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936); and C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964). 27 See Remi Brague, The Law of God: The Philosophical History of an Idea (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008). 28 John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration and Other Writings (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2010).


intelligently designed metaphysical or theological order but as rooted in a spontaneous order of human biological and historical evolution. In this tradition, thinkers such as Democritus, Protagoras, Antiphon, and Lycophron developed a science of evolutionary anthropology supporting the liberal idea of society as a self-generating, self-enforcing, and unintended order.29 According to this Greek liberal view, society arises from bonds of kinship, reciprocal cooperation, and the mutual gains of economic exchange, and it enforces the legal protection of its members from violence.30 This liberal social thought was associated with a materialist cosmology of atomism developed by Democritus and elaborated by Epicurus and Lucretius. The fullest surviving text of this intellectual tradition is Lucretius’s philosophical poem On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura). Written near the middle of the first century B.C., Lucretius' book was a poetic exposition of the philosophical atomism of Epicurus. Although Epicurus and Lucretius professed to believe in the existence of gods, they argued that the gods were immortal but natural beings who had no care for human beings, and who never interfered with the natural order of the cosmos. That natural cosmic order was explained as the product of atomic particles combining and dissolving by chance and material necessity. As part of that natural motion of atoms, human beings were purely material beings--in their bodies and their minds--and as such they were mortal. Religious beliefs in the immortality of the soul and an afterlife in which those immortal souls were to be eternally rewarded or punished should be recognized as delusions. Indeed, those delusions based on religious fears were the primary source of human anxiety. To be happy, to be able to enjoy the pleasures of mortal life, human beings needed to overcome their fear of death and of divine judgment. They could do that, Epicurus and Lucretius believed, by understanding the way things really are as a product of the evolutionary history of the world as atoms in motion. This materialist cosmology of Epicureanism was a radical alternative to the other views of cosmic order in the ancient Greek and Roman world--including Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism. While many of the early Christian theologians could accommodate modified forms of Platonism, Aristotelianism, and Stoicism as compatible with Christianity, they had to reject Epicurean materialism as utterly contrary to Christianity. The Christian fear of the Satanic temptation of Epicureanism was so deep that the writings of Epicurus and Lucretius were hidden away and largely disappeared from medieval Christendom.


See Eric A. Havelock, The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1964), 5-6, 17, 26-31, 34, 44-45, 49, 57-58, 66, 71-77, 104-105, 109-10, 114, 117, 125, 136, 170, 292, 299, 317, 378, 395, 407410. 30 Havelock, Liberal Temper, 372-75; Aristotle, Politics, 1280a30-b32.


When Poggio Bracciolini discovered a copy of Lucretius’s poem in a monastic library in southern Germany in 1417, that marked the beginning of modern liberalism, if not the beginning of the modern world in general, at least insofar as modernity can be understood as a product of the turn away from the Platonic and Christian cosmology of intelligent design to the Epicurean and Lucretian cosmology of evolutionary atomism.31 Remarkably, even Leo Strauss, who insisted on the modernity of liberalism in contrast to ancient political thought, recognized how far Lucretius had gone in anticipating modern liberalism.32 One can see the fundamental agreement between Lucretius and Darwin in their general cosmology of a world in which the complex unintended order of the living world arises through a natural evolutionary process that does not require special creation by an intelligent designer.33 As part of this Epicurean view of evolution, the moral order of human life arises from within human evolution itself without any reference to the cosmic order, because the cosmos has no moral design. As described by Lucretius, the world arises from the motion of atoms without the intervention of any ordering or purposeful mind, and out of this spontaneously evolving world, the human species emerges as (in Strauss’s words) “the whole source of purposefulness in the universe.”34 Moral order thus depends on a moral anthropology rather than a moral cosmology. Ludwig von Mises saw classical liberalism as rooted in Epicureanism. In contrast to the “holistic and metaphysical view of society,” Mises observed, the Epicurean liberal sees social order not as an intelligently designed imposition by the state conforming to some cosmic or theological conception of the Good, but as an evolved order of spontaneous rules devised by individuals acting for their own ends. That spontaneous moral order arises through a tacit agreement to cooperation for mutual benefit.35 This idea was anticipated by Epicurus: “Natural justice is a pledge of reciprocal usefulness, that is, neither to harm one another nor be harmed.”36


See Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (New York: Norton, 2011); Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002); and Alison Brown, The Return of Lucretius to Renaissance Florence (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010). 32 Leo Strauss, Liberalism: Ancient & Modern (New York: Basic Books, 1968), viii, 29, 31, 40, 85, 125-26, 135, 139 33 See Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, book 5, lines 837-877. 34 Strauss, Liberalism, 123, 126. Compare Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 94 35 Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, third revised edition (New Haven, CN: Yale University Press, 1966), 15, 14547. 36 Epicurus, The Epicurus Reader: Selected Writings, ed. Brad Inwood and Lloyd Gerson (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1994), 5.31.


Smith’s Marketplace of Life The Scottish philosophers of the eighteenth century—particularly, David Hume and Adam Smith—renewed this liberal evolutionary tradition. One can see this in the fundamental idea running through all of Smith's writing--the evolution of unintended order—as supporting Smithian liberalism, or what Smith called "the system of natural liberty." That the evolution of unintended order is the unifying theme of all of Smith's writing has been well stated by James Otteson in his book Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life. He argues that Smith applies a "market model" to explain the origin, development, and maintenance of all extended human institutions as unintended orders. What he calls "unintended order" is what Michael Polanyi and Hayek call "spontaneous order" and what Vernon Smith and others call "emergent order." Otteson defines "unintended order" as "a self-enforcing, orderly institution created unintentionally by the free exchanges of individuals who desire to satisfy their own individual wants."37 An unintended order is contrasted with an intentional order that has been rationally designed by some mind or group of minds for a deliberately planned purpose. The contrast between these two kinds of order underlies a fundamental debate in social theory between constructivists and evolutionists: constructivists think that a good social order must be deliberately and rationally designed for some foreseeable end-state, while evolutionists think a good social order arises through a process of free exchanges between individuals acting for individual ends with no overall end in mind. Since the success of unintended order depends on individual liberty constrained only by rules of justice protecting life, liberty, and property, the idea of unintended order is the fundamental idea of classical liberalism in the Smithian tradition. The importance of unintended order for explaining economic markets in Smith's Wealth of Nations is generally recognized. But what is not generally recognized is how this same idea runs throughout Smith's writing. Otteson presents this as an analytical model with four elements, which he applies not only to The Wealth of Nations but also to The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith's essay on the origin of languages, his Lectures on Jurisprudence, and his essay on the history of astronomy. The four elements of the model are (1) a motivating desire, (2) rules developed, (3) currency (what gets exchanged), and (4) the resulting unintended system of order. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, the motivating desire is the “pleasure of mutual sympathy” of sentiments.38 The rules developed are the standards of moral judgment. The currency is constituted by personal sentiments 37 38

James Otteson, Adam Smith’s Marketplace of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 270. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1982), 13.


and moral judgments exchanged between individuals. The resulting unintended system of order is the system of morality. In The Wealth of Nations, the motivating desire is the “natural effort of every individual to better his own condition.”39 The rules developed are the “laws of justice,” including laws protecting private property, contractual agreements, and voluntary exchanges.40 The currency is constituted by the goods and services that are exchanged. The resulting unintended system of order is the economy as a large-scale network of exchanges of goods and services. In Smith’s essay on the origin of languages, the motivating desire is the desire to make “mutual wants intelligible to each other.”41 The rules developed are the rules of grammar, pronunciation, and so on. The currency is constituted by words, ideas, and wants that are exchanged through communication. The resulting unintended system of order is language itself. Since each unintended order expresses a motivating desire, there is an implicit assumption that the good is the desirable, and thus the natural desires constitute the natural goods for human life. These unintended orders are thereby rooted in an implied hypothetical imperative of human evolutionary experience: if you want to live a desirable life, a happy or flourishing life, then you should participate in those unintended orders that help you do that. Understood in this way, these unintended orders have no transcendental claims to conform to any cosmic order or to instantiate any categorical imperative. Rather, they emerge out of the human experience of individuals striving to satisfy their natural desires. One can see here what Michael Frazer has called Smith’s “reflective liberal sentimentalism.”42 Frazer argues that while the distinctive demand of Enlightenment liberalism was reflective autonomy--the freedom to reflect for ourselves in determining our moral and political standards--the Enlightenment thinkers disagreed about the character of this reflective autonomy. The Enlightenment rationalists (like Immanuel Kant in his later years) assumed that autonomy required the rule of reason over emotion and imagination, because the true self was identified as pure reason. The Enlightenment sentimentalists (like Hume and Smith) assumed that autonomy required reflective choices by the mind as a whole, including not only reason but also emotion and imagination, because the true self was understood as embracing the whole human mind. Frazer's aim is to revive the tradition of Enlightenment sentimentalism as superior to Enlightenment rationalism, and to indicate how recent research in evolutionary social psychology and social neuroscience supports reflective 39

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1981), 26-27, 341, 343, 540. Smith, Wealth of Nations, 687. 41 Adam Smith, “Considerations Concerning the First Formation of Languages,” in Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1985), 203. 42 Michael Frazer, The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). 40


sentimentalism. He uses the term "reflective sentimentalism" to indicate that sentimentalists are not arguing for enslaving reason to emotion, because they are actually arguing for autonomy as the activity of the whole human mind, in which the mind can reflect rationally on itself and thus refine its emotional responses to the world by judging those responses as reasonable or unreasonable. We can reflect on whether our moral sentiments are contradictory or consistent, whether they rest on true or false judgments, and whether they promote or impede our happiness. I would identify the Enlightenment rationalists as following in the Platonic tradition of moral cosmology and the Enlightenment sentimentalists as following in the Epicurean tradition of moral anthropology. What Frazer says in defense of Smith's reflective liberal sentimentalism coincides with what I would say in defense of Darwinian liberalism. As the naturally social animals that we are, we have evolved propensities to care about our fellow human beings, a care that is expressed as sympathy or empathy. Through sympathy, we judge others and judge ourselves as we appear in the eyes of others, judgments that are expressed as moral sentiments of approbation or disapprobation. When we see people suffering unfair injuries, we sympathize with their suffering and share their resentment against those who have injured them, because we have imaginatively projected ourselves into their situations. That resentment against injustice is the natural ground of rights, because we derive rights from wrongs: human beings have the right not to be injured in ways that would elicit our moral resentment.43 Darwinian evolutionary biology can explain the evolution of these moral and intellectual capacities. Darwinian psychology and neuroscience can explain the proximate causes of our judgments in our neurophysiological constitution. This then provides scientific confirmation of reflective sentimentalism. This reflective sentimentalism is liberal because it recognizes the natural separateness of individuals and the moral claims that individuals make. As members of the same human species, we share those general propensities or generic natural desires that constitute our human nature. But we also are unique in our identities as individuals with personal temperaments and social histories. For the harmony of society, there must be some shared experiences between individuals based on sympathy. But sympathy can never be perfect in the sense of being a complete unity of spectator and actor, because this would deny the separate identity of the two individuals. "Though they will never be unisons," Smith observed, "they may be concords, and this is all that is wanted or required."44 43

See Alan Dershowitz, Rights from Wrongs: A Secular Theory of the Origins of Rights (New York: Basic Books, 2004). 44 Smith, Moral Sentiments, I.i.4.8.


This reflective sentimentalism as rooted purely in human experience does not need any grounding in any cosmic order beyond human life. But some of Smith’s readers have not been satisfied with this moral anthropology. For example, Otteson wants to find some cosmic normativity in Smith's teaching. But this creates a big problem in Otteson's interpretation of Smith's "marketplace of life." As we have seen, Otteson presents the evolution of unintended order as the pervasive theme in Smith's explanation of social order--including morals, markets, languages, laws, and the sciences. But then Otteson argues that Smith does not extend this kind of explanation to cosmic nature or human nature, which require explanation through intelligent design by God. The very possibility of unintended order presupposes a certain constitution of human nature and certain recurrent circumstances of social life--such as the natural desires for mutual sympathy and for bettering oneself. This presupposes an order of nature, including human nature, that cannot itself be explained as unintended order, Otteson suggests, and it shows evidence of intentional design by an intelligent, benevolent, and omnipotent God. Otteson can supply plenty of textual evidence for this from The Theory of Moral Sentiments, because Smith often refers to God, the Deity, or the Author of Nature as ordering nature to His benevolent ends.45 Otteson thinks this intelligent-design theology serves two purposes for Smith's account of morality. People are more likely to obey the most important moral rules if those rules are regarded as sacred duties. And if morality is understood as rooted in divine commands manifested in the cosmic structure of nature and human nature, then morality takes on a transcendent character, because it is based not just on hypothetical imperatives of human experience but categorical imperatives inherent in the cosmic order of things. Otteson acknowledges that many scholarly interpreters dismiss Smith's theological language as a rhetorical appeal to popular religious beliefs that Smith himself did not share. Otteson rejects this position by pointing to the language of moral theology in The Theory of Moral Sentiment. But while this textual evidence does seem to support Otteson's interpretation, Otteson ignores the evidence from Smith's intellectual friendship with David Hume and the threat of religious persecution that has led many scholars to conclude that Smith largely agreed with Hume's skepticism, but he thought that he could not risk provoking religious believers the way Hume had. We should remember that as a condition for becoming a professor at the University of Glasgow, Smith was forced to sign the Calvinist Confession of Faith before the Presbytery of Glasgow. He was also required to start each of his classes 45

For other examples of those arguing for the importance of Smith’s theology, see Jacob Viner, The Role of Providence in the Social Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976); and James Alvey, “The Secret, Natural Theological Foundation of Adam Smith’s Work,” Journal of Markets and Morality, 7 (Fall 2004): 335-61.


with a prayer, and his request for an exemption from this requirement was refused. We should also remember that Smith was very close to his mother, with whom he lived, and being a pious woman, she would have been offended by any public declaration of doubt about religion. After her death in 1784, Smith revised the sixth and last edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and many of his revisions either struck out or muted some of the theological passages of the earlier editions.46 Consider also that in The Wealth of Nations, Smith never mentions God, treats religious groups as purely secular institutions for popular education, and condemns the corrupting effect that theology has had upon moral and natural philosophy.47 When Hume was dying, there was intense public interest in the possibility that the great atheist--who had denied the immortality of the soul and the judgment of souls in the afterlife--would show his fear of death and divine judgment. Smith wrote a long letter to William Strahan (November 9, 1776) describing Hume's illness and death and presenting him as facing death with tranquillity. He concluded: "Upon the whole, I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man, as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit."48 This provoked a great controversy in the press, and Smith was denounced as an infidel. A few years later, in a letter to Andreas Holt (October 26, 1780), Smith lamented: "A single, and as, I thought a very harmless Sheet of paper, which I happened to Write concerning the death of our late friend Mr. Hume, brought upon me ten times more abuse than the very violent attack I had made upon the whole commercial system of Great Britain."49 Before his death, Hume asked Smith to take the manuscript of his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion and supervise its publication. Smith promised to preserve the manuscript, but he did not want it to be published in his own lifetime, presumably because he feared the persecution it would provoke. In the Dialogues, Hume wrote a devastating attack on the reasoning for natural theology, employing some of the arguments first formulated by the Epicureans. He also suggested that the apparent design of the universe could be explained by undesigned, unintentional processes of nature, and some of what he said looks remarkably like what Darwin would develop later as his theory of evolution. Hume’s character Philo suggested that the emergence of complex order in the physical and living world could be explained as the result of a process of natural selection of accidental variations in the history of the world. And thus he anticipated Darwin's 46

See Gavin Kennedy, “The Hidden Adam Smith in His Alleged Theology,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 33 (2011): 385-402. 47 Smith, Wealth of Nations, 764-74, 788-814. 48 Adam Smith, Correspondence of Adam Smith, ed. Ernest Campbell Mossner and Ian Simpson Ross (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1987), 221. 49 Smith, Correspondence, 251.


theory of natural evolution: Darwin specified what Hume had already suggested as a theoretical possibility. Philo also indicated, however, that the ultimate first cause of everything remains a mystery, which leaves an opening for believing in a Creator as something like a Cosmic Mind.50 Otteson insists that while Darwin's evolutionary theory might provide an alternative to intelligent design theology, this Darwinian theory was not available to either Hume or Smith. While it is certainly right that neither Hume nor Smith were able to elaborate anything like Darwin's theory, Hume did clearly foreshadow the theory in the Dialogues; and even Smith has a few passages in The Theory of Moral Sentiments where he speaks of species as naturally adapted for survival and reproduction , and this looks like at least a vague foreshadowing of Darwin.51 Darwin agrees with Smith about how religious belief can be important for reinforcing moral conduct. But he also thinks that religious belief is not absolutely necessary for morality, which can stand on its own natural ground as rooted in our evolved human nature. This position is important for liberalism, because religious liberty--including the liberty of atheists and skeptics--can be defended only if we see that there can be a common natural morality that does not require that religious belief be coercively enforced. Darwin also agrees with Smith that the mystery of the origin of the laws of nature leaves an opening for religious belief in a Creator as First Cause. But even so, Darwin would argue, we do not need special miraculous interventions by the Creator to explain the origins of species, including the human species. The new Darwinian social science would support Darwin on both of these points. Darwinian science can explain the evolutionary psychology of religious belief, but this by itself cannot refute the possibility that such belief is true.52 Darwinian science can also recognize role of religion in the evolution of morality, but without denying the naturalness of morality even for those who are not religious believers.53 On all of these points, Darwinian social science supports the core of Smith's teaching about the evolution of unintended order and thus supports the classical liberal tradition that grows out of that teaching. We can conclude from this that in 1859, with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, it became possible, for the first time, to be an intellectually fulfilled Smithian liberal. Darwin's evolutionary theory made it possible to explain 50

David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, in Writings on Religion, ed. Antony Flew (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1992), 217, 228-29, 240-42, 246-47, 261, 268, 270, 273, 277-78, 291-92 51 Smith, Moral Sentiments, 77, 142, 219. 52 See Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained (New York: Basic Books, 2001); Justin Barrett, Why Would Anyone Believe in God? (Oxford: Altamira Press, 2004); and Jesse Bering, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life (New York: Norton, 2011). 53 See David Sloan Wilson, Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002).


the biological origins of human nature as an unintended order that made possible the largely self-regulating society arising unintentionally from the free exchanges of individuals, which was the fundamental idea of Smithian liberalism. By showing how all living species--including the human species--could have evolved naturally, without any need for special creation by God, Darwin extended the idea of unintended order to embrace the whole history of life, and thus he allowed for moral order to be understood as a free-standing human order, as rooted in moral anthropology rather than moral cosmology, without any necessary support from a theology of intelligent design. This then made it safe for governments to tolerate religious pluralism, and even atheism, without fear that the moral order of society would collapse without a coercively enforced religious orthodoxy. Darwin, Cobbe, and the Morality of Bees and Termites The influence of Scottish moral anthropology on Darwin began as early as 1836, when Darwin returned to England from his service as naturalist aboard H.M.S. Beagle, and he began writing in a series of notebooks that would contain the ideas that he would eventually elaborate in his theory of evolution. From the beginning, he knew that explaining human evolution would require explaining the spontaneous evolution of human morality as rooted in the moral emotions, moral culture, and moral judgments of human beings as social mammals.54 His full published account of human moral evolution came in 1871 in The Descent of Man. Darwin recognized the uniqueness of human morality. "Of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense or conscience is by far the most important."55 This moral sense is "summed up in that short but imperious word ought," which is "the most noble of all the attributes of man, leading him without a moment's hesitation to risk his life for that of a fellowcreature; or after due deliberation, impelled simply by the deep feeling of right or duty, to sacrifice it in some great cause." Darwin then quoted a remark by Immanuel Kant: "Duty! Wondrous thought, that workest neither by fond insinuation, flattery, nor by any threat, but merely by holding up thy naked law in the soul, and so extorting for thyself always reverence, if not always obedience; before whom all appetites are dumb, however secretly they rebel; whence thy original?" The quotation from Kant is from a passage in his Critique of Practical Reason, which is immediately followed by a passage in which Kant writes about the sense of duty or "ought" as showing us "man as belonging to two worlds"--the 54

Charles Darwin, Charles Darwin’s Notebooks, 1836-1844, ed. Paul H. Barrett, Peter J. Gautrey, Sandra Herbert, David Kohn, and Sydney Smith (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987), 537, 558, 563-64, 619-629. 55 Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, 2nd ed., ed. James Moore and Adrian Desmond (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 120.


empirical (phenomenal) world of natural causes and the transcendental (noumenal) world of moral freedom.56 By contrast, Darwin indicates that his explanation of morality will be "exclusively from the side of natural history." A careful reader might see here a fundamental difference between the Kantian approach that sees morality as belonging to a transcendent world beyond the natural world and the Darwinian approach that sees morality as belonging completely to "natural history." Darwin explained that human morality could have emerged through four overlapping stages of evolution.57 First, social instincts led early human ancestors to feel sympathy for others in their group, which promoted a tendency to mutual aid. Second, the development of the intellectual faculties allowed these human ancestors to perceive the conflicts between instinctive desires, so that they could feel dissatisfaction at having yielded to a momentarily strong desire (like fleeing from injury) in violation of some more enduring social instinct (like defending one’s group). Third, the acquisition of language permitted the expression of social opinions about good and bad, just and unjust, so that primitive human beings could respond to praise and blame while satisfying their social instincts. Fourth, the capacity for habit allowed individuals, through acquired dispositions, to act in conformity to social norms. Darwin also stressed the importance of tribal warfare in the development of morality: such contests spurred the development of the intellectual and moral capacities that allow individuals to cooperate within groups so as to compete successfully against other groups. “Ultimately,” he concluded, “our moral sense or conscience becomes a highly complex sentiment—originating in the social instincts, largely guided by the approbation of our fellow-men, ruled by reason, self-interest, and in later times by deep religious feelings, and confirmed by instruction and habit.”58 Darwin saw at least three general moral principles arising from this natural moral sense in evolutionary history: kinship, mutuality, and reciprocity. The need of human offspring for prolonged and intensive parental care would favor moral emotions of familial bonding, and thus people would tend to cooperate with their kin. The evolutionary advantages of mutual aid would favor moral emotions sustaining mutual cooperation. And the benefits of reciprocal exchange would favor moral emotions sustaining a sense of reciprocity, because one was more likely to be helped by others if one had helped others in the past and had the reputation for being helpful.


Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs Merrill, 1956), AA, 86-88. 57 Darwin, Descent, 120-22. 58 Darwin, Descent, 157.


Notice that Darwin does not appeal to any cosmic or transcendental moral law, although he does see “deep religious feelings” as supporting the human moral sense. Some of Darwin's first readers saw this, and many of them were deeply disturbed by it. For example, Frances Cobbe wrote a review of the book-"Darwinism in Morals"--for the Theological Review, in which she warned that Darwin's rejection of the Kantian view of morality as transcending natural human experience would destroy all morality.59 Cobbe saw a fundamental conflict between two views of morality. "Independent or Intuitive morality has, of course, always taught that there is a supreme and necessary moral law common to all free agents in the universe, and known to man by means of a transcendental reason or divine voice of conscience. Dependent or Utilitarian Morality has equally steadily rejected the idea of a law other than the law of utility." Darwin clearly takes the second position. She observed "that the Kantian doctrine of Pure Reason, giving us transcendental knowledge of necessary truths, is not entertained by the school of thinkers to which he belongs; and that as for the notion of all the old teachers of the world, the voice of Conscience is the voice of God--the doctrine of Job and Zoroaster, Menu and Pythagoras, Plato and Antonius, Chrysostom and Gregory, Fenelon and Jeremy Taylor,--it can have no place in their science.” She complained that according to Darwin, “there are no such things really as Right and Wrong; and our idea that they have existence outside of our own poor little minds is pure delusion.”60 Darwin maintained that although the moral sense was unique to human beings, it would be possible for evolutionary history to produce another species of animal with a different kind of moral sense. "Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts, the parental and filial affections being here included, would inevitably acquire a moral sense or conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well, or nearly as well developed, as in man." But the content of the moral sense in such an animal would depend upon the desires and needs of the animal. Darwin explained: "If, for instance, to take an extreme case, men were reared under precisely the same conditions as hive-bees, there can hardly be a doubt that our unmarried females would, like the worker-bees, think it a sacred duty to kill their brothers, and mothers would strive to kill their fertile daughters; and no one would think of interfering. Nevertheless, the bee, or any other social animal, would gain in our supposed case, as it appears to me, some feeling of right and wrong, or a conscience.”61 It seems, then, that the moral sense or conscience--the sense of moral "ought"--is a "feeling of right or wrong" that varies according to the instinctive 59

Frances Power Cobbe, Darwinism in Morals, And Other Essays (London: Williams and Norgate, 1872), 1-33. Cobbe, Darwinism in Morals, 5-7, 31. 61 Darwin, Descent, 122-23. 60


desires of the species. So far, the human moral sense is the only moral sense, because human beings are the only animals with the evolved capacities for moral judgment. But if any other species of animal were to evolve such moral capacities, their moral sense would differ from the human moral sense depending upon the differences in their instinctive desires. Cobbe was appalled by this--by the claim that if bees had a moral sense, it would prescribe a sacred duty for sisters to murder their brothers. She saw this as "affirming that, not only has our moral sense come to us from a source commanding no special respect, but that it answers to no external or durable, not to say universal or eternal, reality, and is merely tentative and provisional, the provincial prejudice, as we may describe it, of this little world and its temporary inhabitants, which would be looked on with a smile of derision by better-informed people now residing on Mars, or hereafter to be developed on earth, and who in their turn may be considered as walking in a vain shadow by other races." She warned: "Our moral sense, however acquired, does not, it is asserted, correspond to anything real outside of itself, to any law which must be the same for all Intelligences, mundane or supernal."62 Against what she perceived as Darwin's moral nihilism, Cobbe asserted that ethics was a normative science just like geometry in that both ethics and geometry were based on axiomatic principles that all intelligent beings could recognize as necessary truths. "Love your neighbor" is such a necessary truth of morality, and therefore any intelligent being should eventually understand that moral duty dictates universal love, which would be as true for bees as for humans. Other readers besides Cobbe--including George Jackson Mivart and even Alfred Russel Wallace (the co-discoverer of the idea of natural selection)--warned that Darwin's evolutionary account of morality denied the eternal truth of morality as rooted in the transcendent cosmic order of God, Reason, or Nature. The same warning is heard today from proponents of "intelligent design theory" (like John West and Richard Weikart), who insist that morality cannot be sustained if it is not grounded in some transcendent world of moral truth beyond the empirical world of natural causes.63 Edward O. Wilson—the father of “sociobiology”--has observed that what we see here is a fundamental debate between a transcendentalist view of morality and an empiricist view—“between transcendentalists, those who think that moral guidelines exist outside the human mind, and empiricists, who think them


Cobbe, Darwinism in Morals, 28. See John West, Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest (Seattle, WA: Discovery Institute Press, 2006); and Stephen Dilley, ed., Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013). 63


contrivances of the mind.�64 On the transcendentalist side of this debate, Wilson suggests, are those like Kant and John Rawls. On the empiricist side, are those like Hume, Smith, and Darwin. In defending the empiricist view, Wilson follows Darwin’s example in imagining how the moral evolution of social insects could have diverged from human moral evolution. Wilson speculates that if termites had evolved larger brains to give them capacities for thought, language, and culture comparable to human beings, we could imagine the Dean of the Faculty at the International Termite University giving a commencement address and declaring: Since our ancestors, the macrotermitine termites, achieved 10kilogram weight and larger brains during their rapid evolution through the later Tertiary period and learned to write with pheromone script, termitistic scholarship has refined ethical philosophy. It is now possible to express the deontological imperatives of moral behavior with precision. These imperatives are mostly self-evident and universal. They are the very essence of termitity. They include the love of darkness and of the deep, saprophytic, basidiomycetic penetralia of the soil; the centrality of colony life amidst a richness of war and trade among colonies; the sanctity of the physiological caste system; the evil of personal reproduction by worker castes; the mystery of deep love for reproductive siblings, which turns to hatred the instant they mate; rejection of the evil of personal rights; the infinite aesthetic pleasures of pheromonal song; the aesthetic pleasure eating from nestmates' anuses after the shedding of the skin; the joy of cannibalism and surrender of the body for consumption when sick or injured (it is more blessed to be eaten than to eat); and much more . . . Some termitistically inclined scientists, particularly the ethologists and sociobiologists, argue that our social organization is shaped by our genes and that our ethical precepts simply reflect the peculiarities of termite evolution. They assert that ethical philosophy must take into account the structure of the termite brain and the evolutionary history of the species. Socialization is genetically channeled, and some forms of it all but inevitable. This proposal has created a major academic controversy. Many scholars in the social sciences and termitities, refusing to believe that termite nature can be better understood by a study of fishes and baboons, have withdrawn behind the moat of philosophical dualism and reinforced the crenellated parapets of the formal refutation of the 64

Edward O. Wilson, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (New York: Norton, 1998), 238.


naturalistic fallacy. They consider the mind to be beyond the reach of materialistic biological research. A few take the extreme view that conditioning can alter termite culture and ethics in almost any direction desired. But the biologists respond that termite behavior can never be altered so far as to resemble that of, say, human beings. There is such a thing as a biologically based termite nature.65 Wilson explains: "I have concocted this termitocentric fantasy to illustrate a generalization strangely difficult to explain by conventional means: that human beings possess a species-specific nature and morality, which occupy only a tiny section in the space of all possible social and moral conditions." For Wilson, this shows that there are no moral truths written into the order of the cosmos that are justifiable to any thinking being. "Human beings possess a species-specific nature and morality." And, similarly, any nonhuman animal with cognitive capacities for moral reasoning would arrive at whatever moral imperatives were suited for its species-specific nature. So, for example, rational termites would reject "the evil of personal rights,� but human beings might well conclude that personal rights are necessary for human social order. This debate between a transcendentalist moral cosmology and an empiricist moral anthropology was manifest in the debate between Kirk and Hayek. Hayek’s Evolutionary Liberalism Kirk had stated his metaphysical and religious version of conservatism in 1953 in his book The Conservative Mind. The first canon of conservative thought, he declared, was "belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead." Consequently, "politics is the art of apprehending and applying the Justice which is above nature." In later formulations of this first canon, Kirk spoke of the conservative belief in "a transcendent moral order." In all of his formulations, he connected this principle to "Burke's description of the state as a divinely ordained moral essence, a spiritual union of the dead, the living, and those yet unborn," and he spoke of Burke's view of history as "the unfolding of Design." He mentioned various schools of thought opposed to this conservative thinking, including "those scientific doctrines, Darwinism chief among them, which have done so much to undermine the first principles of a conservative order."66 Here in Kirk we see the


Edward O. Wilson, In Search of Nature (1996), 97-99; Wilson, Consilience, 148. Russell Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Santayana (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1953); Kirk, The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot, 7th revised ed. (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1985), 811; Kirk, Introduction, in The Portable Conservative Reader, ed. Russell Kirk (New York: Penguin Books, 1982), xv. 66


common fear of many conservatives that Darwinian science denies a conservative order by denying the religious belief in a transcendental order of moral law. Since Hayek accepted Darwinian science but doubted the existence of God, this was one of his reasons for disagreeing with Kirk's conservatism. This led Hayek to insist that he was not really a "conservative" at all, but rather a "liberal" in the classical tradition of Burke and the Old Whigs. He objected to the "obscurantism" of a conservative attitude that rejected Darwin's theory of evolution as morally corrupting, and thus failed to see how the moral order of society could emerge as an unintended outcome of “spontaneous evolution.” He elaborated his view of Burkean liberalism as belonging to a British empiricist evolutionary tradition contrasted with a French rationalistic design tradition. In the evolutionary tradition of Hume, Smith, and Burke, Hayek explained, "it was shown that an evident order which was not the product of a designing human intelligence need not therefore be ascribed to the design of a higher, supernatural intelligence, but that there was a third possibility—the emergence of order as the result of adaptive evolution." He then suggested that Darwin's theory of biological evolution was derived from the theories of social evolution developed by the Scottish philosophers.67 Hayek described his classical liberalism as based on a philosophical skepticism. Rejecting the "mysticism" of the conservative, the classical liberal skeptic is willing "to face his ignorance and to admit how little we know, without claiming the authority of supernatural sources of knowledge where his reason fails him." Still, "true liberalism has no quarrel with religion," because classical liberals can be religious believers, and they respect religion as a "guardian of tradition" in so far as the natural or cultural evolution of religious belief has preserved beneficial moral habits.68 In his opening address to the first meeting of the Mont Pèlerin Society in 1947, Hayek had insisted that “unless this breach between true liberal and religious convictions can be healed, there is no hope for a revival of liberal forces.”69 Hayek’s Denial of Instinct In contrast to Kirk’s metaphysical conservatism, Hayek defended an evolutionary liberalism founded in Darwinian science. I have argued that a Darwinian account of social and moral order must see such order as the joint product of instinctive evolution, cultural evolution, and rational choice, in such a way that the intended 67

Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago; University of Chicago Press, 1960), 54-61, 404-408 Hayek, Constitution of Liberty, 406-407; Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 136-37. 69 Friedrich Hayek, The Fortunes of Liberalism: Essays on Austrian Economics and the Ideal of Freedom, ed. Peter G. Klein (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 244. 68


order of rational choice is constrained but not determined by the unintended orders of instinctive evolution and cultural evolution. Although Hayek came close to recognizing this Darwinian explanation of the complex interaction of instinct, culture, and reason, he never quite got it right. In his Hobhouse Lecture delivered at the London School of Economics in 1978, Hayek spoke about “The Three Sources of Human Values,” which, he said, expressed most directly his “general view of moral and political evolution.”70 The fundamental problem in his Hobhouse Lecture is indicated by the contrast between the title of the lecture and the text of the lecture. The title indicates that “human values” have “three sources,” and as the lecture indicates, these three sources are natural instincts, cultural traditions, and rational deliberation. But in the text of the lecture, Hayek contradicts this thought by arguing that cultural tradition alone, in opposition to nature and reason, is the only true source of value—or, at least, the only true basis for the goods that arise in “the open society of free men.” Hayek insists that “what has made men good is neither nature nor reason but tradition.” He explains: “That neither what is instinctively recognized as right, nor what is rationally recognized as serving specific purposes, but inherited traditional rules, or that what is neither instinct nor reason but tradition should often be most beneficial to the functioning of society, is a truth which the dominant constructivistic outlook of our times refuses to accept.”71 Hayek is right to reject the simple dichotomy between nature and reason as the two sources of social and moral order, because this ignores the place of custom or habit as that which comes “between instinct and reason.”72 But I cannot see why he then has to so elevate customary tradition over nature and reason that tradition becomes the only source of morality and social order for human beings. It would be more sensible to say that moral and social order arises through the coevolution of human nature, human culture, and human reason. In the Hobhouse Lecture, Hayek argues that "freedom is an artefact of civilization" that requires the "repression" of the innate desires and emotions of the human mind as shaped by genetic evolution for life in hunter-gatherer bands or tribes.73 The neural structures of Homo sapiens were adapted for life in small groups of foraging individuals. In such a face-to-face society, social order was deliberately organized to satisfy the needs of the known and recognizable members 70

Friedrich Hayek, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, vol. 3: The Political Order of a Free People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), xi, 153-76. 71 Hayek, Political Order, 160, 162. 72 This rejection of instinct versus reason as a false dichotomy that ignores the place of custom is a persistent theme in Hayek’s writing. See, for example, Hayek, Law, Legislation, and Liberty, vol. 1: Rules and Order (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), 20-21; and The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 6-28, 143-47. 73 Hayek, Political Order of a Free People, 155, 161, 163-64.


of the group. By contrast to this prehistoric life in small foraging groups, the advent first of agriculture and then of settled urban life has made possible--over the past 5,000 years--an expansion of social life through trade with distant strangers, which creates an abstract society governed by abstract rules. Eventually, the ancient Greeks discovered how individual liberty and private property made possible the civilization of free men. The modern liberal capitalist society continues the cultural evolution of freedom that began in ancient Athens. Yet Hayek thinks this civilization of free individuals is painful for human beings because it represses the genetic instincts and desires of the human brain as adapted for life in small primitive groups. "In consequence, the long-submerged innate instincts have again surged to the top. Their demand for a just distribution in which organized power is to be used to allocate to each what he deserves, is thus strictly an atavism, based on primordial emotions."74 The demand for "social justice"--for a distribution of resources according to individual need and merit--is implicitly a demand to return to a primitive society. By contrast, a "free society" cannot be a "just society," because the spontaneous order of market competition and exchange does not allocate resources according to any shared standard of just deserts. Consequently, socialism is appealing to human beings because it satisfies our innate instincts for social justice. This is the "Freudian" theme in Hayek's writing, because it follows the argument of Freud's Civilization and Its Discontents that civilization requires that human beings repress their animal instincts.75 This could also be called the "Popperian" theme, because Hayek took it from Karl Popper's Open Society and Its Enemies, in which the popular appeal of the "closed society" is explained as an atavistic return to tribal morality based on personal relationships against the impersonal and abstract relationships of life in the "open society." Generally, Hayek defends the "free society," in which social order arises as an evolutionary order from the unplanned interactions of individuals, and he rejects the "planned society," in which the attempt is made to organize social life by the deliberate design of one or a few minds. But he also suggests that a fully planned society is at least possible in families and tribal groups: Only in the small groups of primitive society can collaboration between the members rest largely on the circumstance that at any one moment they will know more or less the same particular circumstances. Some wise men may be better at interpreting the immediately perceived circumstances or at remembering things in remote places unknown to the others. But the concrete events which the individuals encounter in their daily pursuits will be very much the 74 75

Hayek, Political Order of a Free People, 165. Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents, trans. James Strachey (New York: Norton, 1962).


same for all, and they will act together because the events they know and the objectives at which they aim are more or less the same. The situation is wholly different in the Great or Open Society where millions of men interact and where civilization as we know it has developed. . . . each member of society can have only a small fraction of the knowledge possessed by all, and . . . each is therefore ignorant of most of the facts on which the working of society rests.76 And yet Hayek also says that ethology and cultural anthropology have shown that in both animal societies and primitive human societies, the structure of social life is determined by the evolution of unconscious and instinctive rules of conduct--for example, rules of parent-child bonding, social rank, and property--that have not been explicitly and consciously formulated by deliberate design. Moreover, the eventual formulation of such rules in human language depends upon the evolution of language as a spontaneous order that has not been deliberately designed.77 It seems then that primitive human beings and other social animals organize their social lives according to abstract rules rooted in their evolutionary instincts. "Men generally act in accordance with abstract rules in this sense long before they can state them."78 So, contrary to what Hayek says about free society and civilization as the repression of primitive instincts, the "abstract rules" of the "abstract society" are cultural extensions of the social instincts manifest in primitive societies, which permits an extension of cooperation to ever wider groups. The extension of cooperation in the "Great Society" to embrace millions of individuals who are strangers to one another depends on expanding trading networks. In some of his writing, Hayek suggests that trade arose for the first time in human history five to ten thousand years ago with the invention of agriculture, and thus the propensity to trade could not have been shaped by genetic evolution in the history of primitive human ancestors. But this ignores the extensive evidence for prehistoric trade--both within and between tribal groups--and for the evolution of language and norms of reciprocity as facilitating trade among our huntinggathering ancestors. This would suggest the possibility that the expansion of trading networks over the past five thousand years was the cultural extension of innate propensities for trade. Another problem for Hayek's Freudian/Popperian conception of the "open society" as the repression of primitive instincts is that this ignores the ways in which a liberal society allows for human beings to satisfy their desires for personal 76

Hayek, Rules and Order, 13-14. Hayek, Rules and Order, 72-82. 78 Hayek, Constitution of Liberty, 148-49. 77


social bonding in civil society. A fundamental principle of liberal thought, as Hayek emphasizes, is the importance of civil society as lying between the individual and the state--a social realm in which human beings are free to express their social needs through the natural bonds of family life and the voluntary associations of life. This allows for human beings to satisfy their instinctive needs for familial and social bonding in small groups comparable to those of their hunting-gathering ancestors. The social structures of civil society can satisfy the human instincts for faceto-face social bonding in small groups bound together by traditional moral norms. This is important for Hayek's distinction between "true individualism" and "false individualism�: That true individualism affirms the value of the family and all the common efforts of the small community and group, that it believes in local autonomy and voluntary associations, and that indeed its case rests largely on the contention that much for which the coercive action of the state is usually invoked can be done better by voluntary collaboration need not be stressed further. There can be no greater contrast to this than the false individualism which wants to dissolve all these smaller groups into atoms, which have no cohesion other than the coercive rules imposed by the state, and which tries to make all social ties prescriptive, instead of using the state mainly as a protection of the individual against the arrogation of coercive powers by the smaller groups. Quite as important for the functioning of an individualist society as these smaller groupings of men are the traditions and conventions which evolve in a free society and which, without being enforceable, establish flexible but normally observed rules that make the behavior of other people predictable to a high degree. The willingness to submit to such rules, not merely so long as one understands the reason for them but so long as one has no definite reasons to the contrary, is the essential condition for the gradual evolution and improvement of rules of social intercourse; and the readiness ordinarily to submit to the products of a social process which nobody has designed and the reasons for which nobody may understand is also an indispensable condition if it is to be possible to dispense with compulsion.79 Hayek sees this free society as emerging for the first time in the ancient Greek world. In Greek antiquity, "freedom" originally meant "not being a slave"-79

Friedrich Hayek, Studies in the Abuse and Decline of Reason: Text and Documents, ed. Bruce Caldwell (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010), 66-67l.


that is, not being subject to the arbitrary will of a master. And, thus, we could say that liberty or freedom could be understood as "the state in which a man is not subject to coercion by the arbitrary will of another."80 But then Hayek leaves us wondering why human beings resist being enslaved. If slavery is not natural, if normal human beings are not naturally adapted for submitting to the arbitrary will of others, that suggests a natural propensity for self-rule and for resisting being dominated by others. Some evolutionary scientists--like Christopher Boehm--explain this as an instinctive propensity shaped in the evolution of our hunting-gatherer ancestors, among whom there was a tense balance between the natural desire of an ambitious few for dominance and the natural desire of the subordinate many to resist tyrannical dominance. The establishment of agrarian states allowed for unprecedented oppression of subordinate individuals by ruling elites. But, then, Boehm argues, the emergence over the past few centuries of liberal capitalist societies has restored some of the freedom from oppression enjoyed by ancient foragers while combining it with all the benefits of modern civilization. This suggests that rather than seeing the modern free society as the repression of the evolved natural desires shaped in prehistoric human societies, we should see this free society as providing the fullest satisfaction of those desires. Even in small foraging groups, there was some individual autonomy, and individuals were inclined to resist domination by the arbitrary wills of others. In some respects, the modern liberal society revives the individual freedom of foraging societies, while combining that with all the advantages of modern civilization as based on global exchange networks. Our evolutionary ancestors were adapted for engaging in social exchange and detecting cheaters who violated the norms of fair exchange. Those evolved mental capacities for social engagement provided the psychological conditions in which the cultural evolution of a modern exchange society could succeed. Hayek assumes that trade did not appear until the invention of agriculture about 10,000 years ago, and then it increased with the emergence of urban settlements about 5,000 years ago. If that's so, then there was no trade among prehistoric hunter-gatherers, and trade would have little or no support in genetically innate dispositions. But as I will indicate later in this paper (section 3), there is evidence that trade arose much earlier in human evolutionary history than Hayek thought.


Hayek, Constitution of Liberty, 11-20.


Hayek’s Denial of Reason In elevating cultural evolution and denigrating rational judgment, Hayek pushed his antirationalist position so hard that he seemed to deny any role for reason in criticizing or correcting spontaneous order traditions, and thus he seemed to fall into a cultural relativism that subverted his commitment to classical liberal principles. This complaint has been made by some of Hayek’s classical liberal critics, such as Norman Barry.81 Although I agree with Barry on this point, I don't agree with his claim that Hayek's mistake comes from the influence of Darwinian evolutionary theory. I suggest that Hayek's mistake comes from his failure to see how Darwin's theory of human evolution recognizes the decisive role of human reason in social order, although that reason is constrained by the spontaneous orders of genetic evolution and cultural evolution. Barry introduces the problem in this way: The role of 'reason' is crucially important here because the theorists of spontaneous order are commonly associated with the anti-rationalist tradition in social thought. However, this does not mean that the doctrine turns upon any kind of irrationalism, or that the persistence and continuity of social systems is a product of divine intervention or some other extraterrestrial force which is invulnerable to rational explanation. Rather, the position is that originally formulated by David Hume. Hume argued that a pure and unaided human reason is incapable of determining a priori those moral and legal norms which are required for the servicing of a social order. In addition, Hume maintained that tradition, experience, and general uniformities in human nature themselves contain the guidelines for appropriate social conduct. In other words, so far from being irrationalist, the Humean argument is that rationality should be used to 'whittle down' the exaggerated claims made on behalf of reason by the Enlightenment philosophes. The danger here, however, is that the doctrine of spontaneous evolution may collapse into a certain kind of relativism: the elimination of the role of reason from making universal statements about the appropriate structure of a social order may well tempt the social theorist into accepting a given structure of rules merely because it is the product of traditional processes. Barry sees Hayek leaning towards relativism because Hayek fails to distinguish "two senses of spontaneous order: noncoercive emergent patterns vs. 'survival of the fittest.'”82 By associating spontaneous order with a Darwinian 81 82

Barry, “Spontaneous Order.” Barry, “Spontaneous Order,” 11.


order of evolutionary survival, Hayek falls into relativism. "For if the criterion of social value is survival in an evolutionary process, what can be said against those institutions which, although they may embody anti-liberal values, have survived?"83 Barry observes: "The difficulty with Hayek's analysis is that social evolution does not necessarily culminate in the classical liberalism that he so clearly favors: there are as many non-liberal institutions which have survived. . . . If we are intellectually tied to tradition, and if our 'reason' is too fragile an instrument to recommend satisfactory alternatives, how are we to evaluate critically that statist and anti-individualist order of society which seems to have as much claim to be a product of evolution as any other social structure?"84 One good example of this problem is that while Hayek favors the spontaneous order of British common law as superior to statutory law, the spontaneous emergence of parliamentary sovereignty in English history has subverted the common law and the liberal order.85 Barry also rightly observes that Carl Menger, who had such a powerful influence on Hayek's understanding of spontaneous order, did not deny the importance of reason and constructivist rationalism the way Hayek did. Menger did not assume that spontaneous evolved rules were always superior to deliberately designed rules. Menger believed that reason could criticize the outcomes of undesigned traditions and try to correct them.86 After all, as even Hayek conceded, the successful functioning of a spontaneous order always depends on a legal and political framework that is subject to rational criticism and deliberate design. Barry is mistaken, however, in attributing this mistake of Hayek to Darwinian evolutionary theory. The Darwinian evolutionary explanation of social order--including economic, moral, legal, and political order--sees a complex interaction of human nature, human culture, and human reason. This is evident in Darwin's account of the evolution of the moral sense in The Descent of Man, in which the emergence of human morality requires social instincts, habituation, language, and deliberation. In Darwinian Conservatism, I lay out this Darwinian explanation of the moral sense as moving through three levels of human experience: moral sentiments, moral traditions, and moral judgments. Moreover, by looking to the twenty natural desires of evolved human nature, we can judge moral, legal, and political traditions by how well they satisfy those natural desires.87 83

Barry, “Spontaneous Order,” 30. Barry, “Spontaneous Order,” 46. 85 Barry, “Spontaneous Order,” 16, 46. 86 Barry, “Spontaneous Order,” 33, 52; Carl Menger, Investigations Into the Method of the Social Sciences, trans. Francis J. Nock (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009), 157-58, 229-34. 87 Arnhart, Darwinian Conservatism, 35-45. 84


The role of reason in this evolutionary understanding of social order is exactly what Barry says about Hume's position as being antirationalist but not irrationalist, which could also be said about Smith’s position. Unaided reason-abstract or a priori reason--cannot by itself design a moral, legal, or political order. Reason needs the lessons coming from "tradition, experience, and general uniformities in human nature." But within the constraints set by our evolved human nature and our evolved human traditions, we can exercise practical judgment in deciding particular cases and devising general rules to promote the fullest satisfaction of our desires. Ultimately, our natural desires are rooted in our natural sense of caring for ourselves and others as extensions of our selves, which expresses our evolved human nature as social mammals.

2. THE EVOLUTION OF SELF-OWNERSHIP, PROPERTY, AND MAMMALIAN SOCIALITY If liberalism is correct in assuming that society can arise as a largely selfregulating, unintended order from the actions of individuals seeking only the satisfaction of their individual desires, then the naturally self-seeking desires of individuals must somehow lead them into social cooperation with others. Smith explains this as an expanding circle of human care rooted in care for oneself and then extended to care for one’s property, one’s family, and to wider groups. Darwinian science supports this individualistic explanation of social order by showing how individuals are inclined by their evolved human nature as social mammals to care first for themselves, and then to extend that self-care into caring for property and for other individuals to whom they are attached. Self-Ownership as Liberalism’s First Principle of Human Nature In moving from moral cosmology to moral anthropology, liberalism teaches us that while the cosmic order of the world does not care for or about us, we care for ourselves. Consequently, the moral order of human social life conforms to the order of human care. And having evolved to be the smart social mammals that we are, our human societies organize themselves through an expanding circle of human care. Human beings naturally care first and foremost for themselves as individuals. But as social animals who cannot live or thrive without the cooperative concern of others, human beings also care for and about others, and they care for how they appear to others—seeking their approval and avoiding their disapproval. Smith sketched that naturally expanding circle of human care. Every person is first and primarily recommended to his own care, Smith observed, because every


person is better situated to care for himself than for any other person, and because every person feels his own pleasures and pains more sensibly than those of others. One’s feelings of one’s own pleasures and pains are the “original sensations,” and what one feels of the pleasures and pains of others is only “the reflected or sympathetic images of those sensations.” After one’s care for oneself, one extends one’s affections first to one’s family—parents, children, siblings, and more distant relatives—then to one’s closer friends and neighbors, then to social relationships of gratitude and reciprocity, then to those individuals of high rank whom one admires, then to people whose suffering elicits one’s fellow-feeling, then to one’s country as stirring patriotic love, and finally, there can be some universal benevolence for all sensible beings insofar as they are brought to our attention.88 At the center of Smith’s expanding circle of care is one’s natural selfownership, which is the first principle of liberalism. Perhaps the earliest clear statement of this liberal principle was by Richard Overton in 1646. Writing as one of the English Levellers in the English civil war, Overton began a political pamphlet by declaring: “To every individual in nature is given an individual property by nature not to be invaded or usurped by any. For everyone, as he is himself, so he has a self-propriety, else could he not be himself.” He saw this claim of self-ownership as an instinctive natural desire. And insofar as every individual can recognize that every other individual naturally asserts the same claim to self-ownership, everyone can see that he must respect the natural liberty of others if he expects them to respect his natural liberty. 89 Later, Locke adopted this same principle of self-ownership as the ground of natural rights.90 In his Two Treatises of Government, Locke writes: “Though the Earth, and all inferior Creatures be common to all Men, yet every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the State that Nature has provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his Labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property.”91 Locke thought it self-evident that though the resources of nature are available in common for all, each man as master of himself and proprietor of his own person could extend himself through labor to claim property in those natural resources.92 Later, in the nineteenth century, British 88

Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, 219-35. Richard Overton, “An Arrow Against All Tyrants,” in The English Levellers, ed. Andrew Sharp (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 55-57. 90 The primacy of the principle of self-ownership in Locke’s liberalism has been stressed by Michael P. Zuckert. See Zuckert’s Launching Liberalism: On Lockean Political Philosophy (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002), 3-7, 193-97, 324-26. 91 John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, II.27. 92 Locke, Two Treatises, II.44. 89


liberals like Auberon Herbert elaborated this principle that each person as “selfowner” was the “owner of his own mind and body and his own property.”93 Locke’s understanding of self-ownership was founded in a biological conception of embodied self-awareness. Locke was a medical doctor and a biomedical researcher who worked closely with some of the leading medical scientists of his day, such as Thomas Sydenham, Robert Boyle, and Thomas Willis.94 For example, he contributed to Boyle's experiments with his air-pump to explore how air provided some element necessary for respiration, which apparently sustained the natural heat of the heart that was necessary for life. Thus, Boyle and Locke were close to the discovery of oxygen's role in sustaining animal life. One of Locke's earliest writings was a draft manuscript on the importance of air in respiration. He wrote: "Nature's aim seems to have been to foster that universal heat or fire of our life. For we live as long as we burn, and are nourished by the same fire."95 One can see here the natural teleology of functional processes in biology. Locke also learned about how the human mind emerges from the brain and nervous system from Willis, who is often considered the founder of modern neurology.96 Like Aristotle, Willis dissected monkeys and apes to study their neurological similarities to human beings, while also looking for differences that would explain the distinctiveness of the human mind. In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke identifies a "person" or "self" as "a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places." All the parts of a human body are vitally united to this thinking self, "so that we feel when they are touched, and are affected by, and conscious of good or harm that happens to them, are a part of ourselves; i.e. of our thinking conscious self." So that "the limbs of his body are to every one a part of himself; he sympathizes and is concerned for them." "Self is that conscious thinking thing . . . which is sensible or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends. Thus every one finds that, whilst comprehended under that consciousness, the little finger is as much a part of himself as what is most so."97 93

Auberon Herbert, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State, and Other Essays, ed. Eric Mack (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1978), 369-75. 94 See Kenneth Dewhurst, John Locke (1632-1704), Physician and Philosopher: A Medical Biography (London: Wellcome Historical Medical Library, 1963); and Roger Woolhouse, Locke: A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 30-35, 58-59, 63-64, 66-69, 75-81, 87-88, 92-97, 104-105, 109, 197-99, 246-47, 302-309, 428-29. 95 Woolhouse, Locke, 68 96 On the influence of Willis’s neuroanatomy on Locke, see Carl Zimmer, Soul Made Flesh: The Discovery of the Brain—and How It Changed the World (New York: Free Press, 2004), 229-59. 97 John Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II.xxvii.9, 11, 17.


This Lockean conception of individual personhood as embodied selfconscious awareness of, and emotional concern for, the survival and well-being of the body can now be confirmed as manifest in the human nervous system as a product of mammalian evolution. The Neurobiology of Care The biological psychology of human care might be illuminated through Antonio Damasio’s "somatic marker hypothesis" for explaining the importance of emotion in decision-making and consciousness. Building on an idea proposed by William James and Carl Lange, Damasio believes that emotions arise from physiological states of the body, so that, for example, the emotion of fear arises from the physiological disturbance of the body associated with some fearful event. Emotions help us to make decisions by assigning emotional valence to our choices. Through imaginative projection, we can foresee the emotional outcome of a choice by anticipating how we will feel--our somatic markers--if we make that choice, and thus we might avoid a choice with fearful associations. Ultimately, this emotional decision-making mechanism can be explained as an evolutionary adaptation to secure the survival and well-being of the body.98 This line of thought has been extended by A. D. (Bud) Craig, a functional neuroanatomist. He has traced out the fundamental neuroanatomical basis for all human emotions, and he has argued that this shows how the neural substrates for human self-awareness or consciousness are based on the neural representation of the physiological state (the homeostasis) of one's body. This manifests the embodiment of emotional self-consciousness. In particular, he argues that there is a phylogenetically novel sensory pathway in primates, most fully developed in human beings, that provides for a self-conscious integration of the physiological condition of the body (the material "self") with one's sensory environment, with one's motivational condition, and with one's social situation in the anterior insular cortex (AIC).99 In imaging studies of emotion, the AIC is jointly activated with the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). The AIC seems to be the primary site for self-awareness based on representations of the feelings from the body, while the ACC seems to be the site for the initiation of behavior, which thus provides volitional agency. 98

Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1994). 99 See A. D. (Bud) Craig, “How Do You Feel? Interoception: The Sense of the Physiological Condition of the Body,” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 3 (August 2002): 655-66; Craig, “A New View of Pain as a Homeostatic Emotion,” Trends in Neurosciences 26 (June 2003): 303-307; Craig, “Interoception and Emotion: A Neuroanatomical Perspective,” in Michael Lewis, Jeannette Haviland-Jones, and Lisa Barrett, eds., Handbook of Emotions, 3rd ed. (New York: Guilford, 2008), 272-88; and Craig, “How Do You Feel—Now? The Anterior Insula and Human Awareness,” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10 (January 2009): 59-70.


This might explain the evolutionary neurophysiological basis for Locke's account of natural rights. Reasoning about natural rights ultimately depends on discerning natural human inclinations, such as self-preservation, property, social attachment, practical judgment, and intellectual understanding, which correspond to what I have identified as the twenty natural desires. Evolutionary neuroscience explains how the human nervous system has evolved to serve those natural inclinations or desires. The concrete expression of those natural inclinations will vary according to individual temperament, individual life history, and cultural circumstances. But there will be a universal human pattern that manifests the evolved natural needs of human beings as the smart social mammals that they are. The evolution of mammalian social behavior depends on the evolution of pain or "negative affect," which includes pain, fear, panic, and anxiety. In all vertebrates, fear and pain are represented in the brainstem and hypothalamus as signals to elicit self-preserving behavior. In mammalian evolution, these neural mechanisms are modified so that animals care for their offspring as well as themselves. This includes modifying the cortex of the mammalian brain to elaborate the representation of pain to include anxiety tied to separation from or threat to loved ones. Craig's research clarifies this neural evolution of pain by classifying pain as a homeostatic emotion rather than as a sensation of touch. Pain belongs to "interoception"--the sense of the physiological condition of the body--and it is therefore part of the evolved mechanisms for self-preservation. The insular cortex receives signals from all the tissues of the body, and these signals are integrated with physical and social stimuli from outside the body and with the memory of past experiences as well as imaginative projections of future experiences. This supports a general awareness of the body's condition in space and time. The ACC can then be activated to motivate behavior to correct whatever is wrong. This neural processing mechanism seems to be unique to primates, but it's more highly developed in human beings. Both the insular cortex and the ACC respond not only to physical pain from bodily injury but also social pain from social injury. It seems that in mammalian evolution, the neural circuitry for physical pain was appropriated for registering social pain in animals adapted for social attachment. Mammals have evolved to care for the survival and well-being not only of themselves but also of others to whom they are attached. Extending the neural mechanisms originally evolved for individual self-preservation to include the welfare of offspring and social partners secures mammalian social order. The uniquely human evolution of the neocortex elaborates this mammalian development to sustain human love and concern for others. When we use the language of physical pain to describe our social pain ("a broken heart"), we recognize the embodiment of our natural social consciousness,


in which our mind, our brain, our body, and our social life are inseparably intertwined.100 Social neuroscience is beginning to explain the neurochemistry of mammalian attachment as the natural ground for human morality and social order as rooted in human care.101 As shaped by evolutionary history, nervous systems are organized to take care of the body. Animals with neural adaptations inclined to care for themselves and for their well-being are selected over those that neglect their self-preservation. In mammals, this caring for oneself is extended into care for others--for one's offspring, for one's mate, for one's kin, and for others in one's group. We are now beginning to explain how this works through the neurochemistry of oxytocin and vasopressin, which support attachment and bonding. This sustains the basic social desires or sentiments that lead to human morality. This neurobiology of mammalian sociality confirms the argument of Locke, Smith, and other liberal thinkers about the importance of mammalian biology as the natural ground for the unintended social order of family life.102 Because of our evolved human nature, we care not only for ourselves and other persons to whom we are attached, but also for the physical goods that have some value for us, and thus we have a natural desire for property. The Biology of Property A Darwinian view of human nature sustains the liberal commitment to private property as a natural propensity that is diversely expressed in custom and law. The particular rules for property rights are determined by customary traditions and formal laws that vary across history and across societies, but that variation is constrained by the natural desire for property. We need to understand the complexity of property across three levels--natural property, customary property, and formal property.103 This is illustrated in the historical case of mining law in California. Once gold was discovered in northern California in 1848, hundreds of thousands of people went there to search for gold, and they showed their natural instinct for property by claiming land for mining by taking possession of it, although they were only squatters on land officially owned by the federal government. To settle disputes over mining claims, the miners developed customary rules that they enforced among themselves by social tradition. Then, finally, in 1866, the United 100

See Naomi I. Eisenberger and Matthew D. Lieberman, “Why Rejection Hurts: A Common Neural Alarm System for Physical and Social Pain,� Trends in Cognitive Sciences 8 (July 2004): 294-300. 101 See Patricia Churchland, Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011). 102 See Locke, Two Treatises, I.86-88, II.77-79; Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, 141-43, 438. 103 See Larry Arnhart, Darwinian Conservatism, 59-67.


States Congress passed a federal mining law that formally legalized these local customs of the miners. Thus, the property claims of the miners moved through three levels--natural possession, customary rules, and formal laws. This manifests the general structure of Darwinian social order as the joint product of natural desires, cultural practices, and deliberate judgments. In recent years, a growing number of law professors have become interested in the evolutionary analysis of law, and one prime area of research has been the evolutionary analysis of property law. This research largely confirms the Darwinian account of property.104 This research provides a scientific confirmation for the evolutionary explanation of property laid out originally by Locke (in his Two Treatises of Government), William Blackstone (in his Commentaries on the Laws of England), and Adam Smith (in his Lectures on Jurisprudence).105 First, among ancient foraging bands, hunting territory was owned communally by the band--excluding other bands--and personal property (such as weapons, tools, and clothing) was owned individually. These original claims to property were based on possession and occupancy, so that the first person to take and hold possession of something was presumed to own it. This was enforced by customary agreement. But, then, when agriculture was developed, the growing scarcity and thus value of land, made it necessary to settle property disputes through the formal institutions of government, and the invention of writing facilitated this. Finally, with the expansion of commerce and trade, property rights became ever more subject to rules of sale, grant, or conveyance. We can explain the evolutionary logic for property through John Maynard Smith's evolutionary game theory analysis of how the "bourgeois" strategy develops among animals to settle disputes over territory and resources.106 If we imagine two animals competing for access to a particular breeding territory, and if they have an equal opportunity of arriving first and possessing it or arriving later and being an intruder, we might imagine two possible strategies: the Hawk who fights until one animal is injured and retreats, and the Dove who bluffs but never fights. Under certain conditions, the best strategy is a "bourgeois" strategy that mixes the other two: "if owner, play Hawk; if intruder, play Dove." In fact, many animals do seem to play this strategy, so that the possessor of a territory tends to 104

See James E. Krier, “Evolutionary Theory and the Origin of Property Rights,” Cornell Law Review 95 (2009): 139-60; and Jeffrey Evans Stake, “The Property ‘Instinct,’” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 359 (2004): 1763-1774. 105 See Adam Smith, Lectures on Jurisprudence, ed. R. L. Meek, D. D. Raphael, and P. G. Stein (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1982), 13-39 106 See John Maynard Smith, Evolution and the Theory of Games (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 94-105.


have an advantage over an intruder, and consequently there is a kind of instinctive rule of property that favors possessors over intruders. The primacy of possession runs through much of our property law, and this could be because it is rooted in the evolved structure of our brains so that it feels right to us. One lawyer concludes: "Possession, as any property lawyer knows, remains the cornerstone of most contemporary property systems--nine points of the law, the root of title, and the origin of property."107

3. THE EVOLUTION OF EXCHANGE AND SPECIALIZATION The liberal idea of society as a largely self-sustaining order assumes that this arises as an unintended outcome of the actions of individuals naturally inclined to mutual exchange and a division of labor. Smith explained this in The Wealth of Nations as rooted in the human “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange.” Darwinian science confirms this liberal idea by showing how a natural propensity to exchange and specialization arose in human evolution, and how the cultural evolution of exchange and specialization explains the prosperity of the modern world. And yet Darwinian science also indicates that human social order cannot be eternally self-sustaining, because human life on earth depends on capturing the energy of the sun through photosynthesis to fuel human survival and reproduction, and the Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that this cannot continue eternally. This seems to confirm a disturbing teaching of Lucretius’ evolutionary atomism: while the atomic cosmos is eternal, the human world is not. The Evolution of the “Propensity to Truck, Barter, and Exchange” Smith claims in The Wealth of Nations that the "propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another" is uniquely human and not found in any other animals.108 Is this true, and, if true, what would it mean for our understanding of human social life? Haim Ofek109 and Matt Ridley110 have argued that what we now know about human evolution confirms Smith's insight about the unique importance of exchange for human history. The whole of human history for the past 200,000 years can be understood as the progressive extension of human cooperation through exchange and the division of labor--from foraging bands to agrarian states to modern commercial societies in global networks of trade. Both Ofek and Ridley 107

Krier, “Evolutionary Theory and the Origin of Property Rights,” 159. Smith, Wealth of Nations, 25. 109 Haim Ofek, Second Nature: Economic Origins of Human Evolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). 110 Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (New York: HarperCollins, 2010). 108


see this as arising from a human propensity to exchange that cannot be seen in any other animal. In the first chapter of The Wealth of Nations, Smith explains the division of labor as the primary cause for the increasing productivity of labor, which includes the famous example of the pin factory. In the second chapter, he explains how this division of labor arose in human history: "This division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” Smith does not see this propensity in other animals: “Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that.” Animals beg for help, and human beings also do this as well. But in a large civilized society, human beings require the cooperation of a great number of strangers who feel no love, friendship, or benevolence for them. Consequently, in such a large human society, we must secure the cooperation of strangers through mutually beneficial trading: “Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Smith then indicates that the emergence of a division of labor through exchange appears originally among savages living as hunter-gatherers, where someone might specialize in making bows and arrows that he can trade for some meat captured by a hunter, so that each fills a particular occupation, and thus their joint labor becomes more productive than would be the case if each were working only for himself.111 This is part of Smith's understanding of human social evolution as passing through four stages of social life--from foraging to herding to farming to commerce. Smith and other Scottish philosophers had developed a theory of the four stages in social evolution from their study of the reports about the native Americans in the New World, which constituted the beginning of evolutionary anthropology.112 At the beginning of this passage, we see the fundamental idea that is common to Smith's social thought and Darwin's biology--the possibility of designwithout-a-designer ("not originally the effect of any human wisdom") through emergent or spontaneous order. Smith then poses an evolutionary question: Was the propensity to exchange an original principle of human evolution, or was it a 111 112

Smith, Wealth of Nations, 27-28; Smith, Jurisprudence, 347-49. See Ronald L. Meek, Social Science and the Ignoble Savage (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).


late by-product of earlier evolved "faculties of reason and speech"? Although he chooses not to take up this question here, he considers it more probable that reason and speech came first, and then the propensity to exchange came later as a byproduct. In the Lectures on Jurisprudence, Smith says that the "real foundation" of exchange and the division of labor is "that principle to persuade which so much prevails in human nature."113 Like Aristotle, Smith seems to believe that human beings are more political than other political animals because human beings have a capacity for logos--reason or speech--that allows them to persuade one another to cooperate for common ends, which makes exchange and the division of labor possible. Ofek argues, however, that the evidence of human evolutionary history now suggests that exchange was an early agent of human evolution that favored the evolution of human reason and speech. Smith goes on to suggest that while other animals can seem to act in concert when they are in passionate pursuit of the same object--like greyhounds chasing the same hare--this is the consequence not of any contract or deliberate choice but of "the accidental concurrence of their passions" in pursuing the same object at the same time. Non-human animals are unable to communicate with one another well enough to say: "this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that." Notice that Smith thinks that non-human animals can engage in persuasion by begging for attention within their families or their groups or even to elicit benevolent care from human beings. But the range of benevolence for all animals-including human beings--is limited. In human civilization, individuals need "the cooperation and assistance of great multitudes," and for this they must appeal not to benevolence but to self-love, by persuading other individuals to engage with them in mutually beneficial exchanges. Indeed, Smith points out that among human beings, even beggars cannot rely totally on charitable benevolence to secure their needs, because they beg for money that they use to buy what they need. We might wonder whether Darwin would agree with Smith about barter or exchange being unique to human beings in giving rise to the division of labor as a spontaneous order. Remarkably, Darwin says little about exchange in human evolution. But there are at least two passages in Darwin's writings that both Ofek and Ridley cite as supporting their arguments about the human evolution of exchange. In the Voyage of the Beagle, Darwin describes the savage people that he saw at Tierra del Fuego. He reports: "Some of the Fuegians plainly showed that they had a fair notion of barter. I gave one man a large nail (a most valuable present) without making any signs for a return; but he immediately picked out two fish, and handed them up on the point of his spear. If any present was designed for one 113

Smith, Jurisprudence, 352.


canoe, and it fell near another, it was invariably given to the right owner."114 Darwin seems, then, to agree with Smith that even those living in the most primitive foraging societies show "the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another." In The Descent of Man, Darwin describes how man became "the most dominant animal" through technological inventions such as tools: To chip a flint into the rudest tool, or to form a barbed spear or hook from a bone, demands the use of a perfect hand; for, as a most capable judge, Mr. Schoolcraft, remarks, the shaping fragments of stones into knives, lances, or arrow-heads, shews 'extraordinary ability and long practice.' This is to a great extent proved by the fact that primeval men practised a division of labour; each man did not manufacture his own flint tools or rude pottery, but certain individuals appear to have devoted themselves to such work, no doubt receiving in exchange the produce of the chase.115 Darwin implies that the complexity of artifacts in the archaeological record could be interpreted as evidence for a division of labor that promotes the dexterity and inventiveness that comes from specialization. Ofek and Ridley have adopted this line of reasoning in arguing that the explosion of technological complexity in the Upper Paleolithic record of human evolution is a consequence of exchange and specialization, which is confirmed by evidence that some of the material in the human artifacts was transported over long distances, apparently by trade. Darwin does not indicate, however, that this propensity for exchange and a division of labor is uniquely human, as Smith does. Ridley argues that recent research on the evolution of cooperation confirms Smith's view. Other animals cooperate with one another based on kinship, relatedness, and reciprocity (direct and indirect), and human cooperation show these same evolved mechanisms at work. But cooperation based on exchange or barter is uniquely human, and it cannot be explained as a form of reciprocity. Reciprocity means giving each other the same thing. I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine (direct reciprocity). Or I'll scratch your back because you have a reputation for scratching the backs of others (indirect reciprocity). But exchange means giving each other different things. As Smith puts it, "Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want." Other animals can't do this. To support this conclusion, Ridley cites some experiments with chimpanzees: The primatologist Sarah Brosnan tried to teach two different groups of chimpanzees about barter and found it very problematic. Her chimps 114 115

Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle (Washington, DC: National Geographic Society, 2004), 201. Darwin, Descent, 69.


preferred grapes to apples to cucumbers to carrots (which they liked least of all). They were prepared sometimes to give up carrots for grapes, but they almost never bartered apples for grapes (or vice versa), however advantageous the bargain. They could not see the point of giving up food they liked for food they liked even more. Chimpanzees and monkeys can be taught to exchange tokens for food, but this is a long way from spontaneously exchanging one thing for another: the tokens have no value to the chimpanzees, so they are happy to give them up. True barter requires that you give up something you value in exchange for something else you value slightly more.116 It seems to me, though, that Ridley is obscuring some of the complexity in these experiments.117 Brosnan and her colleagues apparently showed that chimps do barter, at least in a situation where they can trade very low valued items (carrots) for very high valued items (grapes). But they do not barter where the gains from barter are small--as in trading valuable apples for slightly more valuable grapes. One possible explanation that they suggest is that the chimps are less inclined to take the risk from giving up a valued food item if the possible gains are too small. Nevertheless, it does seem that these experiments provide some support for the Smith/Ridley position. Even if these chimps can learn to barter under some special conditions in the laboratory, they don't seem to spontaneously barter in the wild. This is in contrast to the human situation where bartering seems to come easily as a spontaneous behavior, even in the most primitive human conditions, as with Darwin's Fuegians. The Neurobiology of Exchange If exchange has been an important factor for human evolution for a hundred thousand years or more, then we might expect that human neurobiological systems would show mechanisms to support the disposition to exchange. Paul Zak has performed some game-theory experiments that seem to show that this disposition to exchange as based on trust is supported by the neuroactive hormone oxytocin, which is found in all mammals, and which evolved originally to support maternal care of offspring.118 The ancient evolution of oxytocin in human beings and other mammals suggests deep evolutionary roots for extended human cooperation. Zak argues that economic exchange depends upon moral values, because it depends upon the trust that makes cooperation possible. There is evidence that this 116

Ridley, Rational Optimist, 59. See Sarah Brosnan, et al., "Chimpanzee Autarky," PloS ONE, January, 2008, e1518, 1-5 118 See Paul Zak, The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity (New York: Dutton, 2012). 117


disposition to trust and cooperation has evolved to be part of human nature, although the expression of that disposition varies in response to the cultural environment. We are now beginning to explain the neural mechanisms of this evolved moral nature. In particular, Zak has shown experimentally that oxytocin supports moral cooperation by promoting attachment to offspring, to reproductive partners, to friends, and even to strangers. What originally evolved to promote mammalian maternal care for offspring has been extended to embrace ever wider groups of individuals who benefit from exchange. In contrast to Hayek, Zak sees economic exchange as rooted in evolved human nature: Values are not specific to the West or East, nor are there broadly distinct Western and Eastern economic institutions. Rather, values across all cultures are simply variations on a theme that is deeply human, strongly represented physiologically, and evolutionarily old. Similarly, the kinds of market institutions that create wealth and enable happiness and freedom of choice are those that resonate with the social nature of human beings who have an innate sense of shared values of right, wrong, and fair. Modern economies cannot operate without these.119 Zak agrees with Hayek in seeing the modern transition from personal exchange to mostly impersonal exchange in markets as making possible the great increases in wealth and population since the Industrial Revolution. But in contrast to Hayek, Zak sees this cultural tradition of impersonal exchange as developing an innate potentiality of evolved human nature. One can see this in the research of Joseph Henrich and his colleagues who studied the play of the Ultimatum Game in small-scale societies around the world. Variations in the play of the game manifested variations in the cultural norms of the societies. The higher rates of fair offers in the game were associated with those societies that had high levels of market activity. It seemed that people who regularly engaged in trade learned that successful trading required that traders agree on a fair distribution of gains.120 The genetically evolved neural mechanism of oxytocin as favoring trust will fluctuate in response to the culturally evolved social environment. Thus, a Darwinian explanation of exchange behavior requires a coevolutionary explanation of the interaction between genetic evolution and cultural evolution, in which cultural evolution taps into human genetically evolved


Paul Zak, “Values and Value: Moral Economics,” in Paul Zak, ed., Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 276. 120 See Joseph Henrich et al., “Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment,” Science 327 (March 19, 2010): 1480-84.


psychology. Such a coevolutionary explanation is surely required to explain the Industrial Revolution. A Darwinian Account of England’s Industrial Revolution Smith was certainly right that the evolution of exchange and specialization has promoted the innovation that has fueled the growth of prosperity. But human economic history has shown a cyclical pattern of explosive innovation and growth followed by collapse, which some economists have called “the Malthusian trap”: short-term increases in income due to technological improvements would bring growth in population, which would eventually force income down as greater numbers of people would divide up the limited resources.121 In the long run, birth rates would have to equal death rates. This was the natural economy of all animal species as subject to natural selection, including human beings. And this was the pessimistic view of human population growth and decline by Thomas Malthus that inspired Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Then something new happened in England around 1800, so that incomes and population rose without falling, and this has subsequently spread around the world to the most prosperous societies over the last 200 years. The common explanation from many economists (like Douglass North) is that the institutional incentives for productivity—private property rights, free markets, low taxes, rule of law, limited government—developed first in England. According to this view, the innate human preferences for accumulating material wealth had always been part of evolved human nature, but the cultural evolution of institutional incentives in England was necessary to direct and channel these preferences. Yet even though these institutional incentives are necessary conditions for the Industrial Revolution, it’s not clear that they are sufficient to explain the unprecedented economic growth in 19th century England. Many, if not most, of these institutional incentives were already present in England in the Middle Ages, when private property was protected, taxes were low, markets were free, and so on. So there must have been something else at work to explain the emergence of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Greg Clark’s answer is that from 1200 to 1800 in England, there was a Darwinian process of “survival of the richest,” by which the richest families had the highest fertility rates, so that their offspring could spread through the population of England. This evolution favored the spread of middle class or bourgeois values. "Thrift, prudence, negotiation, and hard work were becoming values for communities that previously had been spendthrift, impulsive, violent, 121

See Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).


and leisure loving.”122 “The bourgeois values of hard work, patience, honesty, rationality, curiosity, and learning” were embedded “into the culture, and perhaps even the genetics” of the English.123 The evidence for a cultural evolution of bourgeois values in the modern world is strong, and a growing number of economic historians see the cultural dominance of “bourgeois virtues” among the English as a crucial factor for explaining the English Industrial Revolution, and Adam Smith was one of the preeminent authors arguing for the moral dignity of bourgeois life—the life of merchants, traders, inventers, and entrepreneurs—that had traditionally been scorned as ignoble.124 But the evidence that this cultural evolution of bourgeois values could have brought about a genetic evolution favoring such values is not at all clear, since it would be hard to prove that such a genetic change by group selection could occur in only a few centuries. It is more likely, as Smith suggested, that the cultural evolution of a commercial society with bourgeois values began to fuel the innate natural propensities “to truck, barter, and exchange” into a fire of innovation and growth that would not burn out. But these liberal bourgeois ideas needed a material fuel. According to Ridley and some economic historians, the fuel for the ever-burning fire of British economic growth was coal.125 The story of human civilization is the story of capturing the flow of energy from the sun to sustain human survival and reproduction. The Neolithic Revolution was based on a revolution in capturing the energy of the sun: cultivating domesticated plants and herding domesticated animals was a more efficient way of channeling the energy of the sun to do work that would sustain the large populations of people in agrarian societies. The subsequent history shows a movement through harnessing different sources of energy: human muscles, animal muscles, wood, water, and wind. The secret to why the British Industrial Revolution did not peter out was the shift to drawing from the solar energy stored in fossil fuels. Ridley writes: Coal gave Britain fuel equivalent to the output of fifteen million acres of forest to burn, an area the size of Scotland. By 1870, the burning of coal in Britain was generating as many calories as would have been expended by 850 million laborers. It was as if each worker had twenty servants at his beck and call. The capacity of the country's 122

Clark, Farewell to Alms, 166. Clark, Farewell to Alms, 11. 124 See Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy; Donald McCloskey, “Bourgeois Virtue,” American Scholar 63 (Spring 1994): 177-91; Deirdre McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Economics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006); McCloskey, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010). 125 See Ridley, Rational Optimist, 213-46; and Robert C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 80-105. 123


steam engines alone was equivalent to six million horses or forty million men, who would otherwise have eaten three times the entire wheat harvest. That is how much energy had been harnessed to the application of the division of labor.126 Environmentalists warn us that such growth as based on the extraction of energy from fossil fuels is unsustainable, because these fuels will be depleted. Ridley argues, however, that the process of exchange and specialization promotes the ceaseless capacity of human beings for innovative change, and as long as human innovation is rewarded, human beings will find unexpected solutions to their problems. But beneath the surface of Ridley’s rational optimism, there is a current of cosmic pessimism. The history of human civilization and of life itself has been a progressive history as human beings and other forms of life have become ever more efficient at extracting the energy necessary for life, and thus “locally cheating the second law of thermodynamics.”127 But this cannot go on forever. It all comes down to photosynthesis. The End of the (Human) World One of the greatest achievements of modern science over the past two centuries has been the discovery and the understanding of photosynthesis as the process by which the flow of energy from the Sun is harnessed to sustain life on Earth.128 Contrary to so much of the rhetoric of environmentalism that assumes a static "balance of nature" in the biosphere that has been disturbed by human activity, the history of the Earth is an evolutionary history of dynamic change, in which the whole biosphere has arisen as a contingent product of photosynthesis.129 The meaning of photosynthesis is that light makes life. Sunlight provides the energy that is captured by plants and channeled in ways that sustain the living processes of all plants and animals. Plants use photons of sunlight to power the process by which carbon is taken from the air and "fixed" into living tissues, a process that requires water and chlorophyll, and which gives off oxygen. Large multicellular creatures cannot survive without the energy levels provided by oxygen coming from the atmosphere. But there was little oxygen in the atmosphere until about 2.4 billion years ago, when photosynthetic cyanobacteria began to raise the level of oxygen, and now oxygen is about twenty percent of the atmosphere. All complex life as we know it depends on this atmospheric oxygen. This "Great Oxidation Event" was the first great 126

Ridley, Rational Optimist, 231. Ridley, Rational Optimist, 244. 128 See Oliver Morton, Eating the Sun: How Plants Power the Planet (New York: HarperCollins, 2008). 129 See John Kircher, The Balance of Nature: Ecology’s Enduring Myth (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009). 127


environmental catastrophe in the history of life on the Earth. That's why some astrobiologists believe that the best sign of life on another planet would be evidence of oxygen in the atmosphere. As is true for the history of all life, the history of human life depends on the photosynthetic flow of energy from the Sun through the biosphere. The history of human civilization shows the emergence of ever more complex levels of order from structuring the flow of solar energy to sustain order against the entropic tendency of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Within that cosmic pattern, human history's three eras can be seen as three levels of ever more complex order that require ever more complex means for extracting energy to sustain ever larger human populations. Through most of human evolutionary history, foragers extracted energy through hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. Then, about 10,000 years ago, because of the rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at the end of the last ice age, farmers began to extract energy through harvesting domesticated plants and herding domesticated animals. In the modern era, beginning around 1750, human beings have come to rely ever more on fossil fuels as sources of solar energy stored away in the Earth. The ultimate source of all this energy in plants, animals, and fossil fuels is sunlight. And thus it is that life on Earth draws cosmic support from the fires of the Sun. If there were not enough carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, photosynthesis would shut down. Right now, that doesn't seem to be a problem because human activity has been raising the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past two centuries. But scientists project that over the longer term--somewhere between a hundred million and a billion years into the future--this carbon dioxide will disappear, photosynthesis will then stop, and all life on the planet will die. Unless one believes that the cosmos is intelligently designed or divinely created for the eternal good of the human species, we must face up to the future extinction of all human life, and even all life generally. That's the ultimate message of Darwinian science as conveyed through the scientific understanding of photosynthesis as the evolved natural ground of all life. Many people worry about the degrading effects of teaching evolution to our school children. Perhaps they should also worry about teaching them about photosynthesis! Our scientific understanding of photosynthesis confirms Lucretius’s teaching that human life has evolved to be enduring but not eternal. The atomic cosmos is eternal, but every world that evolves out of that atomic cosmos must eventually pass away. This is what Strauss identified as the “most terrible truth” of Lucretian and Darwinian science—that everything that is humanly lovable must die, because the cosmos out of which human life has evolved is indifferent or even hostile to our existence.


But even if the world that we care about is neither eternal nor purposeful, and even if the cosmos does not care for us, our human good can still be rooted in the immanent teleology of human nature as an enduring but not eternal product of a natural evolutionary process. And in securing that human good, government plays an important, even if limited, role.

4. THE EVOLUTION OF LIMITED GOVERNMENT Liberalism assumes that society is a largely, but not completely, self-regulating unintended order, in that some limited governmental regulation is required to enforce legal rules of property and exchange, to prohibit force and fraud, to secure the military defense of society, and to provide certain public goods. Smith defended such a limited government as necessary for the “natural system of liberty.” Darwinian science supports this liberal idea by explaining the evolutionary history of government, so that the limited government in a liberal regime can be seen as a modern revival of the “egalitarian hierarchy” that once prevailed among prehistoric foraging societies. Liberal Governmentalism Versus Libertarian Anarchism Since liberals stress the self-regulating character of social order, some of them have inclined towards anarchism, with the thought that the best social order could organize itself without any governmental regulation at all. Nevertheless, the main line of the classical liberal tradition has recognized that some government, even if very limited, is required for social order, which is supported by an evolutionary history of government that has been confirmed by Darwinian political anthropology. The liberal inclination towards anarchism is manifest, for example, in Ridley's version of evolutionary liberalism, which shows an almost anarchistic scorn for government. Unlike Hume, Smith, Darwin, and Hayek, Ridley fails to see that although governmental power is dangerous when it is unlimited and undivided, the spontaneous order of human civilization can arise only within a framework of general rules deliberately designed and enforced by government. Ridley says: Politically, I still see myself as a liberal, even a radical one, whose distrust of putting people in charge of other people is born of knowledge that government has been the means by which people have committed unspeakable horrors again and again and again: under Sargon, Rameses, Nero, Attila, Genghis, Tamerlane, Akbar, Charles V, Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Kim Jong Il, and


Muammar Gaddafi. Not one of them used the market to repress and murder their people; their tool was government. Of course, we should agree with him about the "unspeakable horrors" that come from tyrannical government. But his mistake is the implied conclusion--that he never quite makes explicit--that we would be better off with no government at all. Without saying so openly, he hints at anarchism. Smith would not agree with this. In The Wealth of Nations, Smith defended the "simple system of natural liberty," in which "every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man, or order of men."130 Consequently, a government securing natural liberty would be released from any duty to supervise the industry of private people to serve some conception of the public interest, which would falsely assume a knowledge in the central planners that they could never have. And yet, in this system of natural liberty, government still has three important duties: the military defense of society against foreign threats, the administration of justice to protect each individual of the society against unjust injuries from other individuals, and the establishment and maintenance of certain public works and institutions that could not be well provided by private individuals. Thus, in a society of natural liberty, the power of government is limited but still essential. Could there be a human society without any government at all? In The Wealth of Nations, Smith sees the history of society as moving through four stages-the age of hunters, the age of shepherds, the age of agriculture, and the age of commerce. Government first arises in the second stage, when disputes over property make government necessary; but when human beings live by foraging-hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants--there is no need for government, since disputes can be settled by informal social authority.131 In at least one passage of The Wealth of Nations, however, Smith suggests that even among hunters, there is a need for "chiefs" to act as judges in peace and leaders in war.132 The reason for this confusion is that while foragers can live in "stateless societies," as anthropologists would say today, because there is no formal structure of authority that would constitute a "state," there is, nonetheless, some informal and episodic social ranking in which some individuals act as leaders in arbitrating disputes or fighting in war. In any case, any civilized society clearly requires government. Similarly, Darwin thought that the primitive foragers he saw at Tierra del Fuego had no structure of leadership, and yet he believed that any animals who live 130

Smith, Wealth of Nations, IV.ix.51. Smith, Wealth of Nations, V.i.a.1-2, V.i.b1-12. 132 Smith, Wealth of Nations, V.i.f.51. 131


in groups need leaders to resolve disputes or to organize fighting with other groups. And certainly in the more civilized human societies, there will be a political ranking in which ambitious individuals will compete for dominance.133 Like Smith and Darwin, Hayek saw that no large human society--or "Great Society"--could exist without government. Only in very small primitive groups was it conceivable to have society without government. Any civilized human society requires governmental organizations to provide central direction for common purposes. Even in the most free societies--those that liberals like Hayek wanted to promote--there would always be some need for governmental coercion to manage military defense, to enforce general rules of justice, and to provide the economic and social security of a welfare state.134 And while general rules of law can evolve spontaneously ("grown law"), Hayek thought, these rules will often need to be corrected by the deliberate decisions of judges and legislators ("made law").135 Furthermore, in times of emergency--war, rebellion, or natural catastrophe--the spontaneous order of society might need to be temporarily suspended, and powers of compulsory organization must be given to someone in government exercising supreme command.136 In contrast to Smith, Darwin, and Hayek, Ridley tells a story of human civilization in which government is denigrated as unproductive exploitation. "Merchants and craftsmen make prosperity; chiefs, priests, and thieves fritter it away."137 "Merchants make wealth; chiefs nationalize it."138 He admits that markets cannot function well without institutions and rules that might come from government--such as the rule against revenge killing: "handling the matter of revenge over to the state to pursue on your behalf through due process would be of general benefit to all." But he immediately suggests that this does not have to be done by government. "I see these rules and institutions as evolutionary phenomena, too, emerging bottom-up in society rather than being imposed top-down by fortuitously Solomonic rulers."139 He cites the examples of medieval merchant law and British common law. But he says nothing about Hayek's point that spontaneously evolved rules often need correction by the deliberate decisions of judges and legislators. In one passage of The Rational Optimist, Ridley concedes that government might be necessary for regulating markets in capital and assets and for bailing out


See Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle, 202-203; Darwin, Descent, 124, 127, 130, 133, 142, 157-58, 629-30, 683 See Hayek, Constitution of Liberty, 133-61, 253-394; Hayek, Rules and Order, 13-14, 32, 46-54. 135 Hayek, Rules and Order, 51, 88, 100. 136 See Hayek, Political Order, 109, 111, 124-26, 130-33. 137 Ridley, Rational Optimist, 161. 138 Ridley, Rational Optimist, 160. 139 Ridley, Rational Optimist, 118. 134


failing banks.140 In another passage, Ridley comes close to agreeing with Smith about the three duties of government even in a system of natural liberty: "Not all of the hangers-on were bad: there were rulers and public servants who lived off the traders and producers but dispensed justice and defense, or built roads and canals and schools and hospitals, making the lives of the specialize-and-exchange folk easier, not harder. These behaved like symbionts, rather than parasites (government can do good, after all)."141 These reluctant concessions to the need for government in these two brief passages are as far as Ridley is willing to go. Nowhere does he indicate to his reader how his leaning towards anarchism separates him from the liberal tradition of Smith, Darwin, and Hayek. Another recent example of a liberal inclined towards anarchism is Ralph Raico. In Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School, Raico claims that the fundamental idea of liberalism is that "civil society--that is, the whole of the social order based on private property and voluntary exchange--by and large runs itself."142 If that is a correct understanding of liberalism, as I believe it is, then Darwinian evolutionary science supports liberalism by showing how the natural order of society can emerge largely as an unintended order of social evolution. Raico observes: "Since liberalism is based on the recognition of the self-regulating capacity of civil society--of the social order minus the state--any social theory that centers on and explicates that capacity furnishes powerful support to the liberal viewpoint."143 Evolutionary social theory does that. Raico explains: Liberalism . . . is based on the conception of civil society as by and large self-regulating when its members are free to act within the very wide bounds of their individual rights. Among these, the right to private property, including freedom of contract and exchange and the free disposition of one's labor, is given a high priority. Historically, liberalism has manifested a hostility to state action, which, it insists, should be reduced to a minimum.144 But how should we interpret "by and large self-regulating"? Does this mean that while society is largely a self-regulating unintended order, it does need some minimal regulation by government in deliberately designing a legal framework that defines the rights of property, contract, and exchange and protects individuals against force and fraud? Historically, liberals from Locke and Smith to Mises and 140

Ridley, Rational Optimist, 9. Ridley, Rational Optimist, 351. 142 Raico, Classical Liberalism, 98. 143 Raico, Classical Liberalism, 23. 144 Raico, Classical Liberalism, 1. 141


Hayek have taken this position, in which the liberal "hostility to state action" has been expressed as a desire for a limited government that minimizes legal coercion and maximizes individual liberty. And yet some people (including Raico) suggest that the logical fulfilment of liberalism is anarchism, in which government is not just limited but totally abolished. That's the argument of those like Murray Rothbard, Roderick Long, and David Friedman, who have defended "anarcho-capitalism� or “libertarian anarchism.�145 A Darwinian view of the evolutionary history of society and government would support the classical liberal endorsement of limited government, while casting doubt on the liberal anarchist vision of abolishing government. Although the evolutionary history of stateless societies shows that social order does not require a Weberian state, social order does require government, even if this governmental rule is informal, episodic, and dispersed. The Austrian school of economics began in 1871 with the publication of Carl Menger's Principles of Economics. Raico shows how Menger's emphasis on unintended or spontaneous order, which was originally developed by the philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment, became a predominant element of the Austrian tradition leading to the liberalism of Mises and Hayek. If the social orders arising as the unintended outcome of the self-seeking actions of individuals can lead to beneficial institutions, even though they are not the products of any intelligent design, this supports liberalism's teaching that the best human orders are those that arise largely as self-regulating social orders free from intentionally designed governmental planning. In his Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences, Menger has a chapter on "The Theoretical Understanding of Those Social Phenomena Which Are Not a Product of Agreement or of Positive Legislation, But Are Unintended Results of Historical Development."146 His question is "How can it be that institutions which serve the common welfare and are extremely significant for its development come into being without a common will [Gemeinwellen] directed toward establishing them?" He goes on to explain how "law, language, the state, money, markets, all these social structures in their various empirical forms and in their constant change are to no small extent the unintended result of social development."147 As he indicates here by the phrase "to no small extent," Menger insisted that intentional design could and should be exercised to some degree in adjusting unintended orders to changing circumstances. For example, while he 145

See Gerard Casey, Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State (London: Continuum Books, 2012). Carl Menger, Investigations into the Method of the Social Sciences with Special Reference to Economics, trans. Francis J. Nock (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009), 139-59. 147 Menger, Investigations, 146-47. 146


argued that legislators and judges should recognize the "unintended wisdom" often inherent in customary legal traditions, he also recognized that customary law often needed to be corrected by statutory stipulation to make the law more suitable for the common welfare.148 Notice also that Menger thought the history of the state could be explained as a combination of unintended development and intentional design. Raico objects: "It should be noted that by including the state in the same category as such social formations as language and markets, Menger is obscuring the crucial liberal distinction between state and civil society, coercion and voluntarism."149 In explaining the origin of the state, Menger thought that the natural instincts for sexual mating, conjugal bonding, and parental care would have created a familial social order in which heads of families--typically, the older males--could develop customary rules for settling disputes between individuals, and this customary order could become "a state community and organization even if it was undeveloped at first."150 Weaker individuals would seek the protection of stronger individuals. Customary rules would arise based on the general understanding of "the necessity of certain limits to despotism." This might arise first in the minds of those few wisest individuals who could see the need for this. Even the strong individuals might see the need for limiting violence, because they would have a personal interest in "the conservation of what their power has achieved."151 In some cases, law originated through powerful conquerors who could impose their laws on the conquered. Thus, "law arose originally from the conviction of the members of the nation or by force."152 Raico recognizes that Menger and the other founders of the Austrian school of economics were not as clearly liberal in their political thought as Mises and Hayek. And even Mises and Hayek disagreed in their interpretation of liberalism, because Mises was more strongly laissez-faire than was Hayek, who insisted that he rejected laissez-faire and defended governmental welfare-state programs, including a guaranteed minimum income for everyone.153 Rothbard followed the lead of Mises, but Rothbard went even farther than Mises in arguing for a radical form of liberalism that would abolish the state and thus allow for a self-regulating, stateless society. Raico suggests that there are two ways of attacking liberalism.154 One way is to argue that liberalism overestimates the self-regulatory capacity of society, 148

Menger, Investigations, 223-24. Raico, Classical Liberalism, 24. 150 Menger, Investigations, 156-57. 151 Menger, Investigations, 225. 152 Menger, Investigations, 230. 153 See Burgin, Great Persuasion, 87-97. 154 Raico, Classical Liberalism, 96. 149


because the economy works well only when it is centrally planned by government, or because the culture cultivates good moral character only when it is centrally supervised by an established religious authority. The second way of attacking liberalism, which Raico regards as more plausible, is to argue that the liberal program for establishing a limited state must fail, because any state has a natural tendency to expand its powers without limit. Raico thinks Hans-Hermann Hoppe is persuasive in this criticism, concluding: "Contrary to the original liberal intent of safeguarding liberty and property, every minimal government has the inherent tendency to become a maximal government."155 This leads Raico to embrace the anti-statist liberalism of Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), a Belgian-born French economist who was identified by Rothbard as the first proponent of "anarcho-capitalism" or "free market anarchism." There are some problems with this appeal to Molinari, however. Molinari did not even identify himself as an anarchist, because he rightly saw that government was necessary for a free society.156 Molinari thought that society has always required government. Human beings are by nature political animals, because they naturally live in social systems that require (at least occasionally) governmental coordination by rulers. In primitive human communities, such as hunter-gatherer bands, this governmental coordination of society by rulers is informal and episodic. In civilized human communities, such as bureaucratic states, this governmental coordination by rulers is formal and enduring, and in a Weberian state, the state claims a monopoly on the legitimate exercise of coercive violence. The choice is not between government or no government. The choice is between a statist government or a stateless government. While arguing for a free market of governments, Molinari denied that this was anarchism, which would require the abolition of government. Unlike the anarchists, he did not expect a utopian transformation in human nature that would allow human beings to cooperate without any need for government to deter and punish criminal aggression. But he did think it was possible for the governmental enforcement of order to emerge in a largely self-regulating society without a centralized state claiming a monopoly on the legitimate exercise of coercive violence. Like Auberon Herbert, the English liberal who adopted a very similar position, Molinari was not an anarchist but a governmentalist. David Hart misses 155

Raico, Classical Liberalism, 96. See David M. Hart, “Gustave de Molinari and the Antistatist Liberal Tradition, Part I,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, 5 (Summer 1981): 263-90; Hart, “Gustave de Molinari and the Antistatist Liberal Tradition, Part II,” Journal of Libertarian Studies, 5 (Fall 1981): 399-434; and Hart, “Gustave de Molinari and the Antistatist Liberal Tradition, Part III,” 6 (Winter 1982): 83-104. 156


this point when he insists: "In spite of his protestations to the contrary, Molinari should be considered an anarchist thinker."157 The crucial issue for Molinari is whether one considers human society natural or artificial. If human beings are not naturally social, then social order arises as an artificial creation of legislators using government to coerce individuals to cooperate with one another. But if "society is a purely natural fact" founded in the "natural instinct" for social life, as Molinari believes, then society is largely self-regulating, and government is necessary only for the limited purpose of securing life and property by deterring and punishing those individuals who would use force or fraud in attacking the persons or property of others.158 By a natural instinct, Molinari observed, human beings know "that their persons, the land they occupy and cultivate, the fruits of their labor, are their property, and that no one, except themselves, has the right to dispose of or touch this property."159 Like Locke and Smith, Molinari argued that property originates as self-ownership, as a natural instinct for taking possession of oneself and then extending oneself into resources that one appropriates for satisfying one's natural needs. As a social animal who needs the cooperation of others, one benefits from exchanging the fruits of one's labor with others, which supports a division of labor in which individuals specialize in different lines of production. But "man being an imperfect creature," some individuals will not be sufficiently aware of their need to respect the persons and goods of others, and some individuals will initiate aggressive attacks on others. This creates a need for security from such attacks, and thus every society will have to provide such security. But if it is best for consumers to have the producers of goods and services competing for their business, so that no producer has a monopoly, then, Molinari asks, why shouldn't this be true for the governmental production of security? From what we know about political economy, why shouldn't we conclude that "no government should have the right to prevent another government from going into competition with it, or to require consumers of security to come exclusively to it for this commodity"?160 Applying the principle of free competition to government, Molinari concludes that the most efficient and least costly way to produce security is to have freely competing governments acting as producers of security, so that consumers are free to buy security from any producer who satisfies the consumers. The producers would provide law enforcement for a fee charged to their customers. 157

Hart, “Antistatist Liberal Tradition, Part II,” 416. Gustave de Molinari, “The Production of Security,” trans. J. Huston McCulloch, Preface by Murray Rothbard (Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2009), 15-21, 41-43, 51, 53-54, 61. 159 Molinari, “Production of Security,” 53. 160 Molinari, “Production of Security,” 23. 158


Roderick Long, the founder and director of the Molinari Institute, has elaborated Molinari's proposal as a market of freely competing protection companies in which there would be no state with a monopoly power over legal services. Long calls this "libertarian anarchism."161 But if anarchism means the abolition of government, then Molinari was clearly not an anarchist, because he defended the need for "free government," as a stateless government without the monopoly power of statist governments. Long has pointed to the history of the medieval Icelandic Commonwealth (930-1262) as showing how libertarian anarchism can really work. But even if medieval Iceland was "stateless"--in the sense that it did not have a centralized bureaucratic state apparatus--it still had political rule. It was a chiefdom, but with multiple competing chieftains.162 So what we see here is not the absence of government, but rather the freedom from tyranny that can come from a system of decentralised, limited government. The natural desire for political rule was not eliminated. But it was channeled through a system of competing elites and countervailing power that secured freedom and minimized exploitative domination. Like Molinari, Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) was a liberal who argued for an enforcement of legal order in society through voluntary associations exercising governmental power. And like Molinari, Herbert insisted that this was not anarchy, if anarchy meant no government, because he thought it was utopian to believe that human beings could cooperate without any need for government to punish those who would become aggressive threats to society. Rather than being an anarchist, Herbert identified himself as a "governmentalist."163 Herbert thought that most anarchists were confused: Anarchy, in the form in which it is often expounded, seems to us not to understand itself. It is not in reality anarchy or 'no government.' When it destroys the central and regularly constituted government, and proposes to leave every group to make its own arrangements for the repression of ordinary crime, it merely decentralizes government to the furthest point, splintering it up into minute fragments of all sizes and shapes. As long as there is ordinary crime, as long as there are aggressions by one man upon the life and property of another man, and as long as the mass of men are resolved to defend life and property, there cannot be anarchy or no government. By the necessity of things, we are obliged to choose between regularly constituted 161

See Roderick Long, “Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections,� 162 See Jesse L. Byock, Viking Age Iceland (New York: Penguin Books, 2001). 163 Auberon Herbert, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State, and Other Essays (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 1978), 375.


government, generally accepted by all citizens for the protection of the individual, and irregularly constituted government, irregularly accepted, and taking its shape just according to the pattern of each group.164 What Herbert calls here "irregularly constituted government, irregularly accepted" is the kind of government seen in hunting-gathering societies, in which customary laws are enforced by social tradition through the actions of prominent individuals exercising informal authority through the mediation of disputes and the punishment of offenders. Like Molinari, Herbert's liberal argument for a largely self-regulating society with a government limited to protecting individual liberty is rooted in the natural instinct for self-ownership.165 Herbert thought that Darwinian science supported this "system of perfect liberty."166 As we have seen, recent advances in evolutionary theory and neuroscience confirm this thought by showing how our bodies and minds are naturally adapted for self-ownership and for a mammalian sociality by which we extend our care for ourselves to others. The Lockean History of Political Evolution Liberalism has been shaped by thinking about the evolutionary origins of government, which was stirred by the European discovery of the New World and the first reports by Europeans about the native Americans. In particular, JosĂŠ de Acosta's Natural and Moral History of the Indies is essential for understanding Locke's liberal political thought and how evolutionary anthropology might support Lockean liberalism.167 Acosta (1540-1600) was a Jesuit priest who worked in Peru from 1572 to 1586, spending his last year in Mexico. His Natural and Moral History of the Indies was published in Spanish in 1590. Following the structure of Pliny's Natural History, Acosta's book was a comprehensive survey of the physical, biological, and anthropological history of the New World. It was one of many travelogue descriptions of the New World that were avidly read in Europe. This was part of a critical turning point in world history, because for the first time in history, the entire Earth was in a global network of human exchange. Some historians regard this as the beginning of the modern era of human history. 168 The 164

Herbert, Compulsion by the State, 383. Herbert, Compulsion by the State, 45-46, 125, 130, 282, 303, 307, 337, 340, 369-75, 387. 166 Herbert, Compulsion by the State, 107-109. 167 See JosĂŠ de Acosta, Natural and Moral History of the Indies, trans. Frances Lopez-Morillas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002); and Claudio Burgaleta, Jose de Acosta, S.J. (1540-1600): His Life and Thought (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1999). 168 See David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004). 165


traditional European histories of human life--as formulated in ancient philosophy and Biblical religion--were challenged by the discovery of an unknown world of human experience. Much of modern political philosophy was a response to this development--particularly, in the speculation about the original state of nature of humanity, which one can see in the work of Montaigne, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, and Smith. Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle continued this tradition of global natural history as inquiry into the universal history of humanity on Earth. When Locke was writing his Two Treatises of Government, he had at least eight books in his library on the history of the New World, including an English translation of Acosta's book.169 Acosta's book is the one that Locke directly quotes in the Second Treatise. This comes in Chapter 8 on "The Beginning of Political Societies," in which Locke argues that human beings are originally by nature free, equal, and independent, so that they enter civil society only by their consent.170 He acknowledges that one objection to this argument is that there is no historical evidence for this claim that human beings were once free and equal, and that they established government by consent. Locke responds by arguing that there are two kinds of historical evidence for this--the history of America and the history of ancient society in the Bible. Locke's appeal to history here is fundamental not only for his Two Treatises but also for most of his other writings. Contrary to what many of Locke's scholarly commentators assume, his reasoning depends not on the logical analysis of abstract ideas but on what he identifies in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding as "this historical, plain method.”171 This method of historical reasoning from observational experience shows the influence of Locke's medical practice and experimental research, in which he followed the lead of his friend Thomas Sydenham, who insisted that medical science be guided by the experimental history of health and disease in particular patients rather than theoretical reasoning about abstract ideas. Remarkably, with only a few exceptions, most commentators ignore this in their reading of Locke. So, for example, many scholars debate the meaning of Locke's account of the state of nature as if Locke were engaged in a purely abstract argument without reference to the observable experience of history. This ignores Locke's clear declaration that "in the beginning all the world was America,” and that "the Kings of the Indians in America" are "still a pattern of the first ages in Asia and Europe.”172 Thus, Locke follows a methodological assumption that has been 169

See Batz, William G., "The Historical Anthropology of John Locke," Journal of the History of Ideas, 35 (1974): 663-70. 170 Locke, John, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970), II, sec. 102. 171 Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Intro., 2. 172 Locke, Two Treatises, II, 49, 108.


fundamental for evolutionary anthropology--that the study of hunter-gatherers who have survived into recent history can illuminate our understanding of what the first prehistoric human beings must have looked like. That's why Locke turns to Acosta's book and quotes the following as a description of the original state of nature: "And if Josephus Acosta's word may be taken, he tells us, that in many parts of America there was no Government at all. There are great and apparent Conjectures, says he, that these Men, speaking of those of Peru, for a long time had neither Kings nor Commonwealths, but lived in Troops, as they do this day in Florida, the Cheriquanas, those of Bresil, and many other Nations, which have no certain Kings, but as occasion is offered in Peace or War, they choose their Captains as they please."173 Here's a new translation of this passage from Acosta by Frances LopezMorillas: "There are clear indications for a long time these men had no kings or any form of government but lived in free groups like the Indians of Florida nowadays and the Chiriguanas and Brazilians and many other tribes, who do not have regular kings but in accordance with the occasions that arise in war or peace choose their chiefs as they like." Notice the ambiguity in this passage. On the one hand, there is said to be among these people "no kings or any form of government" or "no government at all," as Locke says. And yet, on the other hand, it is said that occasionally in war or peace, these people can choose chiefs or captains to lead them. This is an ambiguity in Locke's account of the state of nature. At times, the state of nature seems to be an utterly asocial and apolitical state in which people live as solitary individuals with no structure of rule at all, which can be interpreted to mean that Locke is denying that human beings are political animals by nature. But, at other times, the state of nature does seem to have some structure of rule, because the family is said to be the "first society," and parental power over children is thus the first structure of authority, although this familial society falls short of "political society."174 This ambiguity is seen in Locke's definition of the state of nature as "men living together according to reason, without a common Superior on Earth, with Authority to judge between them."175 Living without any common superior or judge with authority might suggest an asocial state of solitary individuals, but "men living together according to reason" clearly indicates some kind of rulegoverned social order. A similar ambiguity is that while Locke says that the state of nature is a state of peace rather than a state of war, and thus disagrees with Hobbes, Locke also 173

Locke, Two Treatises, II, 102, quoting Acosta, book 1, chap. 25, pp. 73-74. Locke, Two Treatises, II, 77. 175 Locke, Two Treatises, II, 19. 174


says that the state of nature easily becomes a state of war that induces people to establish government to enforce peace, which agrees with Hobbes.176 Here is where the Straussians see Locke's Hobbesianism as his secret teaching.177 But this assumption that this shows some complicated rhetorical strategy of secret writing becomes less plausible if one looks at the anthropological reports about America that Locke was studying. For example, one report from the French missionary Gabriel Sagard-Theodat describes the Great Lakes Indians in Canada as organized by familial and tribal attachments under the leadership of their chiefs, which shows, he concluded, that "man is a social animal who cannot live without company." And yet the reports of violence and warfare among the American Indians show that living without formal government made it hard for them to live always in peace with one another. What look like contradictions in Locke's arguments actually show Locke's effort to accurately generalize conclusions about the complex variability of this historical experience, in which primitive people can live orderly social lives governed by informal customary rules, even though the absence of formal governmental institutions makes it hard to settle all disputes peacefully. Acosta distinguishes three levels or stages in the history of government in Peru and Mexico. The first human beings to arrive in America were savage hunters who crossed over a land bridge from Asia to America. (Acosta was the first person to propose this theory of the original human migration from Asia to America over a land bridge, a theory that is now widely accepted by evolutionary anthropologists.) These hunters had no government. "They had no chief, nor did they recognize one, nor did they worship any gods or have rites or any religion whatsoever."178 The second stage is "that of free associations or communities, where the people are governed by the advice of many, and are like councils. In time of war, these elect a captain who is obeyed by a whole tribe or province. In time of peace, each town or group of folk rules itself, and each has some prominent men whom the mass of the people respect; and at most some of these join together on matters that seem important to them to see what they ought to do."179 The third stage is that of monarchy or empire--like that of the Incas or the rule of Montezuma in Mexico. Originally, this was a "moderate rule" that is the best, in which the kings and nobles acknowledged that their subjects were "equal by nature and inferior only in the sense that they have less obligation to care for the


Locke, Two Treatises, II, 19, 123. See Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), 206-51. 178 Acosta, Natural and Moral History, 380-81. 179 Acosta, Natural and Moral History, 359. 177


public good." But later this monarchic rule became tyrannical as the rulers treated their subjects as beasts and treated themselves as gods.180 In some passages of his book, however, Acosta combines the first two stages and suggests that even the most primitive hunter-gatherers had some informal leadership by which prominent people could mediate disputes and lead them in war, but always constrained by the informal consent or resistance of the community. The one passage quoted by Locke is an example of this, as though Locke figured out that even primitive foragers would have some episodic and informal structure of rule in which some individuals would have more influence than others, although excessive dominance would be checked by popular resistance. In the state of nature, Locke observes, "they judged the ablest, and most likely, to Rule over them. Conformable hereunto we find the People of America, who (living out of reach of the Conquering Swords, and spreading domination of the two great Empires of Peru and Mexico) enjoy'd their own natural freedom, though, ceteris paribus, they commonly prefer the Heir of their deceased King; yet if they find him any way weak, or uncapable, they pass him by and set up the stoutest and bravest Man for their Ruler."181 The American Indian Kings were originally temporary war leaders. "And though they command absolutely in War, yet at home and in time of Peace they exercise very little Dominion, and have but a very moderate Sovereignty, the Resolutions of Peace and War, being ordinarily either in the People, or in a Council. Though the War itself, which admits not of Plurality of Governours, naturally devolves the Command into the King's sole Authority."182 This appeal to the historical anthropology of the American Indians as showing that government was originally limited in its powers and its ends is part of Locke's argument for liberal toleration in his Letters on Toleration. He argues that there is no justification for European rulers in America to compel the American Indians to convert to Christianity, particularly since they are "strict Observers of the Rules of Equity and the Law of Nature, and no ways offending against the Laws of the Society."183 In his Second Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke writes: "There are nations in the West-Indies which have no other End of their Society, but their mutual defence against their enemies. In these, their Captain, or Prince, is Sovereign Commander in time of War; but in time of Peace, neither he nor any 180

Acosta, Natural and Moral History, 346, 359, 402. Locke, Two Treatises, II, 105. 182 Locke, Two Treatises, II, 108. 183 Locke, John, A Letter Concerning Toleration and Other Writings, ed. Mark Goldie (Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, 2010), 40. 181


body else has any Authority over any of the Society. You cannot deny but other, even temporal ends, are attainable by these Commonwealths, if they had been otherwise instituted and appointed to these ends."184 In his attack on Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration, Jonas Proast asserted that "Commonwealths are instituted for the attaining of all the Benefits which Political Government can yield; and therefore if the spiritual and eternal Interests of Men may any way be procured or advanced by Political Government, the procuring and advancing those Interests must in all reason be received amongst the Ends of Civil Society, and so consequently fall within the compass of the Magistrate's Jurisdiction."185 In his response to Proast, Locke insisted that the question was whether government has any power to use force in matters of religion or for the salvation of souls. The argument against this is that governments are not established to use force for such ends. Rather, governments are established by men only to protect themselves against injuries from other men for which there is no protection except governmental force. Religious opinions or forms of worship do not injure those who disagree in any way that requires governmental force against those with those opinions or worship. To support this conclusion, Locke points again to the American Indians: let me ask you, Whether it be not possible that Men, to whom the Rivers and Woods afforded the spontaneous Provisions of Life, and so with no private Possessions of Land, had no inlarged Desires after Riches or Power; should live together in Society, make one People of one Language under one Chieftain, who shall have no other Power but to command them in time of War against their common Enemies, without any municipal Laws, Judges, or any Person with Superiority establish'd amongst them, but ended all their private Differences, if any arose, by the extemporary Determination of their Neighbors, or of Arbitrators chosen by the Parties. I ask you whether in such a Commonwealth, the Chieftain who was the only Man of Authority amongst them, had any Power to use the Force of the Commonwealth to any other End but the Defense of it against an Enemy, though other Benefits were attainable by it.186 Today's evolutionary anthropologists might complain that Locke has confused two levels of primitive social organization--bands and chiefdoms.187 But 184

Locke, Toleration, 77. Locke, Toleration, 69 186 Locke, Toleration, 76. 187 See Elman R. Service, Origins of the State and Civilization: The Process of Cultural Evolution (New York: Norton, 1975); and Ted C. Lewellen, Political Anthropology: An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003). 185


still, Locke is remarkably accurate in describing how foraging societies without formal governments--called "stateless societies" today--enforce customary norms of conduct through private arbitration, while also organizing around war leaders in defense against outside groups. Notice also that the American Indian societies to which Locke is appealing as a standard for political freedom and limited government are societies of huntergatherers in a primitive state, and they survived only as long as they remained out of reach of the Incan and Mexican empires. Thus, these hunting-gathering societies were both culturally uncivilized and militarily weak. The problem for Locke's liberalism is how to combine freedom, civilization, and power. Beginning 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, with the development of agriculture after the Last Ice Age, human beings formed sedentary communities with growing populations, which led eventually to the first agrarian states. In these novel circumstances, it became ever harder for subordinates to organize to resist the despotic dominance of their leaders, who now ruled through elaborate military, religious, administrative, and monarchic bureaucracies. These agrarian states provided the conditions for high civilization — economic wealth, technological innovation, cultural progress (particularly, through the invention of writing), bureaucratic administration, and military power. But that high civilization came with a big price — the loss of the individual freedom from domination that human beings enjoyed in foraging societies. Among foragers, the inequality of power, wealth, and status is minimal. Foraging societies don’t allow some to tyrannize over others. But agrarian states allow ruling elites to live by exploiting those they rule. Consequently, the history of politics over the past 5,000 years has been largely a conflict between freedom and domination — with the rulers inclined to tyrannical domination and the ruled looking for ways to escape that domination. There has often seemed to be no good resolution to the conflict, because human beings seemed to be caught in a tragic dilemma of having to choose between freedom without civilization and civilization without freedom. Classical liberalism attempts to overcome this dilemma through liberal republican capitalism. The combination of a liberal society, a republican polity, and a capitalist economy promotes both freedom and civilization: people can be socially, politically, and economically free, while enjoying all the benefits of a progressive civilization. The natural desires for social status, political rule, and economic wealth will always create inequalities of rank that will incline those at the top to become tyrannical. But we can mitigate this through social, political, and economic structures of countervailing power that create competing elites so that power does not become unduly concentrated or unchecked. For classical liberals, such a system is imperfect. But it’s the best we can do.


The Darwinian history of politics provides scientific evidence and argumentation that supports the account of political evolution found in the writings of Locke, Hume, and Smith. The political history of humanity turns on the shifting balance between authority and liberty, between the natural desire of the few for dominance and the natural desire of the many to resist dominance. This shifting balance underlies the three-stage evolution of political history: the egalitarian hierarchy of Paleolithic politics, the despotic hierarchy of agrarian-state politics, and the modern emergence of commercial republican liberalism based on a new kind of egalitarian hierarchy combined with high civilization. Locke uses his evolutionary history to explain three features of human social life--property, parental care, and political power--corresponding to three natural desires: self-preservation, reproduction, and political rule. In his history of property, Locke sees three stages of appropriation corresponding to the foraging life, the agrarian life, and the commercial life. The American Indians live as foragers who gather wild plants and hunt wild animals.188 Assuming that each man asserts a property in his own person, he extends his property through the labor of gathering plants or hunting animals that he consumes. With the invention of farming, human beings appropriate land to themselves by cultivating it to produce food for consumption by themselves and their families. If land is abundant and the human population low, there is no conflict over land use. With the invention of money and development of commercial exchange, farmers can produce for the market, which gives them the incentive to expand their land claims, so that soon all the land has been claimed. Now, conflicts over the property in land requires a government to regulate the right of property by legislation. Like Adam Smith, Locke marvels at how commercial exchange creates a spontaneous order in which strangers cooperate to produce something like a loaf of bread.189 In his history of parental care, Locke regards the conjugal society of husband and wife as the "first society," which shows that human beings are naturally social, because they are naturally inclined to sexual mating. From this conjugal society arises the familial tie between parents and children. Comparing human mating with the mating systems of other animals, Locke sees that human beings show a long period of childhood dependency on parental care, so that for human beings, it is natural for parents to provide extensive care that provides not just for the existence of their offspring but for their nourishment and their 188 189

Locke, Two Treatises, II, 26. Locke, Two Treatises, II, 43.


education. Thus does family life as the "first society" arise from the natural desires for sexual mating, parental care, and familial bonding.190 Children are not born in a state of equal freedom, because they are dependent on their parents. But as they mature and acquire reason, they naturally grow into their natural freedom. It was natural, however, for children in "the first ages of the world" to give a tacit consent to being ruled by their fathers, which created patriarchal political authority.191 In his history of political rule, Locke argues that since all individuals are by nature free, equal, and independent, no one can be put under the political power of another without his consent. By their unanimous consent, individuals agree to join a community, and then that community by majority consent can establish any form of government. Locke recognizes two major objections to his reasoning. First, it is said that there are no historical cases of people who begin as free and equal and then meet to set up a government. Second, it is said that all individuals are born under a government to which they owe obedience, and they are not free to set up a new one.192 To the first objection, Locke answers that there is very little historical evidence of the state of nature and the establishment of government by consent only because government first arose before the invention of writing. But even so, we can find some evidence among the American Indians and other foraging people that originally they lived without government. We can also see in the Bible and other records stories of how government first arose. We can see evidence that primitive societies commonly put themselves under patriarchal rulers or others who seemed best suited to rule them. Typically, tribal chiefs were war leaders who exercised little authority in time of peace. Locke sees evidence for this in the books about the New World and in the Bible.193 To the second objection--that all individuals are born under the authority of a government to which they have not consented--Locke answers by pointing to the obvious fact of the multiplicity of governments as showing that human beings have regularly established new governments. Moreover, the history of colonization provides clear cases of where people have left the governments under which they were born to enter a new government. This indicates that when natural born citizens obey their government, they are showing their tacit consent.194


Locke, Two Treatises, I, 86-89; II, 77-84. Locke, Two Treatises, II, 54-63, 74-76. 192 Locke, Two Treatises, II, 100. 193 Locke, Two Treatises, II, 101-12. 194 Locke, Two Treatises, II, 113-22. 191


Locke recognizes that the history of government is largely the history of conquest, and in wars of conquest, popular consent is ignored.195 But when government rules by force alone, without any authority from popular consent, that government can be overthrown whenever enough people are discontented and have sufficient courage and opportunity to rebel. In other words, people are naturally inclined to meet force with force, when they think they are being exploited by tyrants. People can always choose to rebel against their government. And when they do, they have "appealed to Heaven," which is to say, they have invoked the God of battles.196 As suggested by both Hobbes and Locke, the ultimate ground of the natural right to equal liberty is the natural inclination of human beings to use violence in retaliating against those who exploit them. Machiavelli makes the same point when he observes that a prince who is hated by his people is easily assassinated. The Bushmen in Locke’s State of Nature In the past two centuries, anthropological studies of surviving foraging groups has allowed us to fill in the details of what foraging life was like, although we must keep in mind that many of these surviving foraging societies were influenced by contact with modern societies. Much of this research confirms Locke’s liberal account of political evolution. One of the best studied of these foraging societies is that of the Kung Bushmen in Southern Africa.197 In the 1950s to the 1970s, they were studied as one of the last foraging societies in the world. Beginning in the 1980s and 1990s, they adopted agriculture and were forced by governmental programs to give up their foraging way of life. Genetic studies suggest that the Bushmen show the great genetic diversity that one would expect if they were remnants of the original human populations of Africa. Although it's a mistake to look at them as if they were living fossils of our original Pleistocene ancestors, the foraging life of the Bushmen does at least offer hints of the sort of life lived by the earliest human beings. Polly Wiessner, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, has been studying the Bushmen since the 1970s.198 There are remarkable parallels between her descriptions of the Bushmen and Locke's account of human beings in the state of nature. In Locke's state of nature, everyone is equally free, and everyone has "the executive power of the law of nature."199 This "executive power" is the power of 195

Locke, Two Treatises, II, 175-96. Locke, Two Treatises, II, 240-43. 197 See Alan Barnard, Anthropology and the Bushman (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 2007). 198 See Polly Wiessner, “Norm Enforcement among the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen: A Case of Strong Reciprocity?” Human Nature, 16 (Summer 2005): 115-45. 199 Locke, Two Treatises, II, 7-13, 196


everyone to defend lives and property against transgressors, and to punish transgressors in any way that reason and conscience dictate as required for reparation and restraint, which includes the power to kill murderers. Everyone acts to satisfy his natural desires--such as the desires for selfpreservation, sexual mating, parental care, and property--and everyone assumes that others will have similar desires that they want to satisfy. They can conclude, therefore, that to satisfy their own desires, they must satisfy the similar desires of others whose cooperation they need. Their natural desires become natural rights when they reflect on the conditions for satisfying their desires. Their natural rights correspond to their strongest natural desires or inclinations. Equal natural rights to life, liberty, and property are thus rooted in the "principles of human nature."200 In this state of nature, people live in foraging groups, like the Indians in the New World, who live by gathering wild plants and hunting wild animals. Children are dependent on parental care, and kinship ties are primary bonds of social life. Parents exercise authority over children, and patriarchal fathers exercise authority over kinship groups. Occasionally, some individuals will exercise political leadership, particularly as military leaders in time of war. But this authority is limited and episodic. There are no formal institutions of government. There is no common judge with authority to rule over them. But they enforce norms of good behavior through informal, customary agreement, with everyone having the right to punish those who violate the norms. The informal enforcement of social norms can keep the peace. But the tendency to unrestrained vengeance and feuding, particularly when most people are "no strict observers of equity and justice," can turn the state of nature from a state of peace to a state of war, which is "full of fears and continual dangers."201 As people settle into an agricultural way of life, and thus abandon their foraging ways, population increases, and the disputes over land and other property become impossible to settle without some formal institutions of arbitration and punishment. Moreover, persistent wars with outside groups tend to turn temporary war leaders into permanent military commanders. For all of these reasons, people in foraging societies eventually consent to the establishment of formal governmental authority. Consider the many ways that Wiessner's study of the Bushmen coincides with Locke's depiction of human beings in the state of nature. Among the Bushmen, Wiessner claims, "all adult members of the society are autonomous equals who cannot command, bully, coerce, or indebt others."202 There is a "strong egalitarian norm that no adult can tell another what to do."203 "All people as 200

Locke, Two Treatises, I, 86-88, 97; II, 10, 67. Locke, Two Treatises, II, 123; Locke, Toleration, 43. 202 Wiessner, “Norm Enforcement,” 117. 203 Wiessner, “Norm Enforcement,” 126. 201


autonomous individuals are expected to stand up for their rights," and so everyone has the right to enforce the social norms of the group by punishing those who violate them.204 Kinship ties are primary social bonds. Parents care for their children. But parents can call on extended kin to help in rearing their young. Until they reach maturity, children have no authority independent of their kin. Unmarried young males are particularly unruly, and they are often the objects of criticism. The common sources of disputes include food-sharing, claims on land, sexual misbehavior (such as adultery), jealousy over possessions, stinginess, laziness, fighting, power struggles, and "big-shot behavior." Punishment can take many forms--from mild to severe--mocking, mild criticism, harsh criticism, ostracism from the group, or violent acts. Although peace was usually maintained, there was always an underlying threat of violence, and sometimes disputes escalated into general brawls. Although everyone is free to punish transgressors, those who are judged to be too critical or harsh suffer from their bad reputation. While the Bushmen enforce norms of equality, they recognize that people are unequal in their talents and temperaments, and therefore some people will have more property, higher status, or more power than others. They distinguish between those who are "strong" and those who are "weak." The "strong" are those skilled in persuasion, mediation, hunting, gathering, music, or healing. Some who are judged to be superior in their social skills for mediation and persuasion become camp leaders. But those who are powerful or influential invite leveling by those suspicious of "big-shot behavior." Wiessner writes: Weak and average people feel free to criticize the strong and are not reluctant to do so in their presence. Despite the fact that the strong are frequently under fire, they are able to maintain their positive reputations. In fact, some criticism may help rather than hurt their reputations, as it establishes the impression of equality in the face of real inequalities in productive abilities and social influence. The strong generally take mocking or pantomime with good humor, swallow criticism, or make amends. Sometimes they engage in selfleveling by getting drunk or making fools of themselves, thereby remaining “one of the boys.”205 But, sometimes, when leaders are perceived as too aggressively assertive, they can be deposed and thus lose their power. The norms enforced by the Bushmen correspond to the principles of social cooperation recognized by evolutionary theorists. People cooperate with their kin. 204 205

Wiessner, “Norm Enforcement,” 135. Wiessner, “Norm Enforcement,” 129.


People cooperate based on reciprocal exchange with tit-for-tat behavior and based on people's reputations for being cooperators or cheaters. And people cooperate through norms of strong reciprocity, because people are willing to enforce social norms by punishing violators even when the punishment is costly. They do this because they want to live in stable, cooperative groups. Wiessner observes: Norms enforced through reward and punishment conformed closely to desires expressed by Ju/'hoansi hunters and healers who do more than their share to support the community, namely, to eat well and live on their land in stable groups of close kin . . . They also created conditions for . . . the fundamental social organization in human evolutionary history: to live in stable, cooperative breeding communities.206 Thus, the Bushmen live by what Locke calls "the law of nature" for the state of nature. They also show what some anthropologists have called “egalitarian hierarchy.” The Evolutionary Anthropology of Egalitarian Hierarchy The evolutionary history of government is crucial for liberal political thought because it raises a fundamental question for liberalism: Are human beings naturally egalitarian or naturally hierarchical? On the one hand, for most of human evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in foraging communities that were probably very egalitarian, with no one exercising despotic dominance over others. On the other hand, for the past 5,000 years, most political communities have had rigid hierarchical structures, with elite rulers at the top exploiting those at the bottom. Modern liberal democratic republics are officially based on the principle of human equality, with governmental authority based on the consent of the governed. Yet, obviously, these democratic states are hierarchical in that those at the top have more power, privilege, and property than those below them. Much of the debate in political theory turns on how to explain this combination of hierarchical and egalitarian tendencies in human political evolution. One plausible explanation that is compatible with the evidence and theorizing of modern evolutionary anthropology has been developed by Christopher Boehm. "My thesis," Boehm says, "is that egalitarianism does not result from the mere absence of hierarchy, as is commonly assumed. Rather, egalitarianism involves a very special type of hierarchy, a curious type that is based on antihierarchical feelings."207 A society can have an "egalitarian hierarchy" in which the subordinates use sanctions--such as ridicule, disobedience, 206

Wiessner, “Norm Enforcement,” 139. Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 9-10. 207


ostracism, or execution--to restrain "politically ambitious individuals, those with special learned or innate propensities to dominate." In every society, there will be leaders in some form. But an egalitarian society will allow only "a moderate degree of leadership."208 Against the "visionary democrats" like Marx and Engels who believed that hierarchical leadership could be totally abolished in the future withering away of the state into a classless society, Boehm defends the position of the "realistic democrats" who believe that a formal or informal system of checks and balances can allow for moderate leadership without exploitative rule of dominants over subordinates. There is, Boehm argues, "a universal drive to dominance." But that natural desire for dominance can be checked by the natural desire of subordinates not to be dominated.209 Boehm supports his argument primarily through two types of evidence-primatological studies of chimpanzees and ethnographic studies of human foragers and tribesmen--which he uses to infer that the common ancestor of human beings as evolved in the Paleolithic was shaped for a foraging society of "egalitarian hierarchy."210 While chimpanzees have a dominance hierarchy with an alpha male at the top, they show what Frans de Waal has called "egalitarian dominance" as opposed to the "despotic dominance" of rhesus monkeys. The rhesus alpha male is rarely challenged by his subordinates. But the chimp alpha male can be challenged by subordinates who create alliances to resist the alpha male who becomes too despotic. 211 (This is similar to how Hobbes and Locke describe equality in the state of nature.) Likewise, human foragers in small nomadic groups that live by hunting and gathering have ways to punish ambitious people who become too assertive. Individuals who become too proud and aggressive can be ridiculed or ostracized. Others in the group can simply refuse to obey their orders. Or, in extreme cases, those who become aggressively dominant can be killed. Richard Lee, in his study of the Kung! San nomadic foragers in the Kalahari Desert, writes: “Egalitarianism is not simply the absence of a headman and other authority figures, but a positive insistence on the essential equality of all people and a refusal to bow to the authority of others, a sentiment expressed in the statement: 'Of course we have headmen . . . each of us is headman over himself.' Leaders do exist, but their 208

Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest, 154. Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest, 39, 256-57. 210 For a survey of some of the ethnographic studies of primitive societies that show egalitarian hierarchy, see E. Adamson Hoebel, The Law of Primitive Man: A Study in Comparative Legal Dynamics (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954), 27-28, 67, 81-83, 99-100, 132, 144, 171, 193, 220, 294, 296, 309-313. 211 See Frans de Waal, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes, revised edition (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); de Waal, Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996). 209


influence is subtle and indirect. They never order or make demands of others, and their accumulation of material goods is never more, and often much less, than the average accumulation of the other households in the camp."212 Boehm concludes from this that human beings evolved in the Paleolithic era for a social life of egalitarian hierarchy in which leaders would be strictly limited by vigilant subordinates ready to punish any overly assertive upstarts. But, then, beginning 10,000 years ago, with the development of agriculture, human beings formed sedentary communities with growing populations, which eventually led to the first urban agrarian states. In these novel circumstances, it became ever harder for subordinates to organize themselves to resist the despotic dominance of their leaders, who now ruled through elaborate military, religious, and administrative bureaucracies. The profound meaning of this move in human history is captured well in the Old Testament, in First Samuel 8, where the people of Israel want to give up the informal leadership of judges and have a king, so that they can compete with all the other powerful agrarian states around them. Samuel warns them of the despotic oppression that will come from this. But they refuse to listen. Later, modern republican thinkers--John Milton, Locke, and others--cite this as Biblical support for their rejection of monarchic absolutism and embrace of limited republican government. Boehm sees modern republican government as a new form of the egalitarian hierarchy that once prevailed in the foraging groups of our Paleolithic evolutionary history. The universal dominance drive will express itself in the ambition of individuals who want to rule over others, but in a republican system of governance, their ambition is channeled and checked in ways that protect their subordinates from despotic dominance. If Boehm is right about this, then we can say that the cultural evolution of republican politics has produced a system of rule that conforms to the evolved natural desires of human beings as shaped in the Paleolithic. And yet some people would say that this is only a highly speculative "justso" story that cannot be supported with scientific evidence, because we have no scientific way to study human social behavior in prehistoric time. We can study the prehistoric evolution of human anatomy through the evidence of skeletal fossils. But how do we study the prehistoric evolution of human politics, considering that political behavior doesn't fossilize? The answer to this question is that we can now make inferences about prehistoric human societies based on a broad range of evidence and theorizing that has been built up over recent decades. This research includes studies of global 212

Richard Lee, The !Kung San: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society (Cambridge: Cambridge Universtiy Press, 1979), 457.


climatic changes, the cultural anthropology of nomadic foragers, the theoretical models of evolutionary biology, fossil records of hominid braincases, skeletons, and teeth, and archaeological studies of prehistoric human sites. A multidisciplinary survey of this research as illuminating prehistoric political egalitarianism has been provided in a recent article by Doron Schultziner and his colleagues.213 Their article reviews the evidence on the development of social and political organization in the Last Glacial. The Last Glacial is the last ice age, a climatic period that by radiocarbon dating began about 74,000 years ago and ended about 11,500 years ago. The Holocene epoch is the climatic period that stretches from about 11,500 years ago to the present. During the Last Glacial, climatic conditions were colder, more arid, and more unstable than during the Holocene. The key point here is that the unusually stable climate of the Holocene epoch has provided the necessary conditions for human agrarian civilization over the past 11,500 years. Prior to that, the climate of the last ice age made sedentary, agrarian life impossible for our evolutionary ancestors, who could only live in small, nomadic foraging bands as they moved in search of sufficient food from wild plants and wild animals. In such small nomadic bands, with little accumulation of property, and with no conditions for the emergence of complex social hierarchy, social life would be egalitarian. The authors of this article argue that in the harsh climatic conditions of the Last Glacial, human beings must have lived as egalitarian foragers, and thus our human ancestors during this prehistoric environment of evolutionary adaptation must have evolved for an egalitarian social and political life. The implication of this is that human beings are naturally egalitarian, despite the cultural evolution of hierarchy over the past 11,500 years. Although I generally agree with the reasoning in this article, I see a fundamental ambiguity in the argument that is never cleared up by the authors. Here's the problem. On the one hand, the authors adopt Boehm's reasoning, which suggests that they agree with him that the evolutionary adaptation of ancient human foragers was for "egalitarian hierarchy" with "a moderate degree of leadership." On the other hand, the authors contrast "political egalitarianism" to "political hierarchy" in a way that suggests that the ancient human foragers had no hierarchy at all, which would deny Boehm's position. I think Boehm's right. I think human beings are naturally evolved for "egalitarian hierarchy," but they are not evolved for an absolute egalitarianism with no hierarchy at all. I detect a faint Marxist (or Rousseauean) propensity in the writing of Schultziner and his colleagues--a wish to find a utopian egalitarianism in 213

Doron Shultziner, Thomas Stevens, Martin Stevens, Brian A. Stewart, Rebecca J. Hannagan, and Giulia SaltiniSemerari, “The Causes and Scope of Political Egalitarianism during the Last Glacial: A Multi-disciplinary Perspective,� Biology and Philosophy, 25 (2010): 319-46.


our evolutionary past to support the possibility of such utopian egalitarianism in our socialist future. They write: "Political egalitarianism is a social organization in which decisions are reached through deliberation and consensus, individuals do not command authority over, or coerce, other group members; social status, honor, and positions (if and when they exist) are voluntarily granted or withdrawn, and not inherited; and individuals can freely leave their group peers or residence. Political hierarchy is a social organization with opposite characteristics."214 Notice the dualistic opposition they set up--"political egalitarianism" is the opposite of "political hierarchy." This contradicts Boehm's claim that egalitarianism does not result from the absence of hierarchy, because human beings have never lived without at least some leadership. As Boehm says, "We always live with some type of hierarchy, which suggests that our behavior is constrained by human nature"215 Notice also the ambiguity of the parenthetical phrase about social positions of status in an egalitarian society--"if and when they exist"--which leaves the reader wondering whether they think positions of leadership can be totally eliminated or not. Later in the article, they repeat this odd phrasing--"leaders (if they exist) have little authority over group members."216 Well, do they exist or not? We are not told, but we are left with the impression that egalitarian societies could have no leaders at all, which, again, would contradict Boehm, Lee, and others who argue that even the most egalitarian foragers have some form of leadership. Another way in which this ambiguity is conveyed in the article is that the authors say that foragers use "levelling mechanisms" that "keep the political system as close to flattened as possible."217 Well, how flat is it? We are never told. But the suggestion is that it could be completely flat. If that's the claim, then the authors would have to defend that radical assertion of complete equality without any hierarchy at all, which they never do. Despite this disagreement, I can agree with everything in this article if it's interpreted as providing evidence and argumentation for Boehm's "egalitarian hierarchy." The reasoning of Shultziner and his colleagues moves through six steps. (1) They survey the data for global climatic change during the Last Glacial, and they infer that the dry, cold, and unstable climate would have forced human beings to live in small, foraging groups that roamed in search of plants, animals, and water.


Shultziner, “Political Egalitarianism,” 320. Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest, 237. 216 Shultziner, “Political Egalitarianism,” 326. 217 Shultziner, “Political Egalitarianism,” 326. 215


This would have made agriculture impossible. And this would have severely limited group size and forced the groups into a nomadic way of life. (2) Ethnographic studies of foraging groups shows a "foraging spectrum" 218 that includes semi-sedentary foragers that show some hierarchical structure, and some anthropologists have concluded from this that our foraging ancestors in the Paleolithic could have been hierarchical.219 But Shultziner and his colleagues argue that the climatic conditions of the Last Glacial would have forced Paleolithic foragers into a nomadic life, which would have limited the accumulation of personal property, forced food sharing, and restricted the size of the group. Consequently, they would have looked like the nomadic foragers of the Kalahari studied by Richard Lee. They explain: ". . . These limitations on group size make internal group affairs easier to maintain and hence reduce or eliminate the need to concentrate power in the hands of individuals who can resolve conflicts by coercive authority. . . This fluidity of band composition makes the domination of others very difficult, and arguably irrelevant."220 Notice, again, their ambiguous language: "reduce or eliminate" and "very difficult, and arguably irrelevant." But if they agree with Boehm and Lee, then they should say that hierarchy--at least moderate forms of leadership--cannot be eliminated or made irrelevant. (3) Employing the logic of evolutionary biology, the authors argue that if having high rank in hierarchical societies conferred fitness advantages-reproductive success and better access to food and other valuable resources--then we can infer that natural selection would favor an innate desire for dominance. But at the same time, we can infer that there would also be an evolutionary pressure favoring an innate desire of subordinates not to be exploited by dominants. This would create two countervailing tendencies--the natural desire for dominance and the natural desire to be free from exploitative dominance. This is in fact what we see in nomadic foraging bands. "One the one hand, the fact that foragers need leveling mechanisms means that there is an innate tendency of some individuals to exaggerate their rank and status. On the other hand, there exists an innate tendency to thwart others' attempts to gain power because it may become dangerous and harmful to oneself and one's peers."221 What this means is that dominance behavior is never completely lost, but it can be balanced by the natural tendency of subordinates to resist dominance. This required subordinates to find ways to form coalitions to check dominants. The 218

See R. B. Kelly, The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-gatherer Lifeways (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995). 219 See B. Hayden, “Pathways to Power: Principles for Creating Socioeconomic Inequalities,” in T.D. Price and G. M. Feinman, eds., Foundations of Social Inequality (New York: Plenum Press, 1995), 15-86. 220 Shultziner, “Political Egalitarianism,” 327. 221 Shultziner, “Political Egalitarianism,” 329.


evolution of language could have made coalition-formation easier. And the invention of projectile hunting weapons could have increased the power of subordinates to challenge dominants. But then, with the cultural evolution of farming and agrarian states, the innate disposition to dominance created ruling elites who could escape the leveling mechanisms used by subordinates in foraging societies. Notice here that Shultziner and his colleagues clearly concede that dominance behavior is innate in all human societies, and therefore they implicitly concede that equality with no hierarchy at all is impossible. (4) As the fourth step in their argument, they show how the fossil records of hominid brain-size, skeletons, and teeth supports the evolution of political egalitarianism in the Paleolithic. The increase in brain-size and the associated evolution of language allowed subordinates to cooperate in socially complex ways to check dominance behavior. The evolutionary reduction in sexual dimorphism (males being larger than females) and in the size of canine teeth is associated with egalitarianism, because males are less able to build and protect large harems. (5) Archaeologists can see various kinds of empirical evidence for social and political hierarchy. If some people have been buried with signs of wealth, if some people have had larger or more elaborate housing, if there is monumental architecture, or if there are other signs of unequal resources, then we can infer that some people had more wealth, power, or status than others. The authors argue that there is very little evidence of this kind for hierarchy in the Paleolithic. They do concede that Paleolithic cave art might be interpreted as evidence for shamans, who would have had superior status. But while this does suggest differences of social status, they argue, it does not require rigid hierarchy. Ethnographic studies of foragers shows that "social esteem is granted to shamans and other individuals who benefit the group (i.e. successful hunters) only by group members' consent, and shamans who abuse their role are constrained or even killed."222 (6) The authors conclude by explaining the transition from the political egalitarianism of the Paleolithic era to the political hierarchy of the Neolithic era. The transition to a sedentary life allowed the accumulation of wealth, which supported economic inequality. They observe: "some individuals are better than others at hunting, gathering, herding, cultivating land and so on, and those differences can translate into economic inequality if the ecological setting is stable enough."223 The transition to larger and more dense populations with a greater division of labor favored political hierarchy as power was centralized and 222 223

Shultziner, “Political Egalitarianism,” 335. Shultziner, “Political Egalitarianism,” 337.


concentrated in a bureaucracy of specialists who coordinated the collective activity of the agrarian state. For my argument in this paper, what is most interesting about this article by Shultziner and his colleagues is how it provides scientific evidence and argumentation that supports the liberal account of political evolution found in the writings of Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and Smith. The political history of humanity turns on the shifting balance between authority and liberty, between the natural desire of the few for dominance and the natural desire of the many to resist dominance. This shifting balance underlies the three-stage movement of political history: the egalitarian hierarchy of Paleolithic politics, the despotic hierarchy of agrarian-state politics, and the modern emergence of commercial republican liberalism based on a new kind of egalitarian hierarchy combined with high civilization.

5. THE EVOLUTION OF DECLINING VIOLENCE AND THE LIBERAL PEACE If liberalism is correct in its idea that society can arise as a largely self-regulating unintended order from the social interaction of individuals pursuing their individual ends, then every social order must somehow manage the problem of violence by promoting the conditions for individuals to avoid violent conflict so that they can enjoy the gains of peaceful cooperation. Darwinian science supports this liberal idea by explaining the evolutionary history of declining violence as an unintended order arising from the coevolution of human nature, human culture, and human reason. Today, looking back over the entire evolutionary history of human social life, from prehistoric times to the present, we can see evidence for a general trend of declining violence leading to a modern liberal peace. The Liberal Turn from Violence to Voluntarism From the ancient Greek liberals to Adam Smith, liberals have affirmed that the only virtue that can be extorted by force is the virtue of justice, understood as a negative virtue of refraining from injuring one’s neighbors.224 This virtue is rooted in the natural human inclinations to retaliate against attacks on our persons or property and to sympathize with the resentment against attackers felt by their victims. Thus, any natural inclination to aggressive violence is countered by the natural inclinations to retaliation and resentment in defense against attacks. The classical liberal thinkers of the 19th century were the first political theorists to adopt the reduction in the use of force or violence as their fundamental 224

See Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments, 78-91; Smith, Jurisprudence, 17-19, 104-107.


political principle. Although previously some political theorists had condemned some uses of force, they also wanted to use force to promote what they regarded as good ends for social and political life. The classical liberals saw reduction in the use of force as the fundamental condition for increasing liberty and human progress. If liberty arises from the absence of coercive violence, then a decline in violence means an increase in liberty, as people enjoy the benefits of voluntary cooperation while minimizing the costs of violent conflict. So, for example, Auberon Herbert argued that if we recognize the “natural fact” of self-ownership—that each person owns his mind and body and pursues his own happiness as he understands it—then there is no justification for force, by which one person takes ownership of another, except when force is used in defense against force. And yet, the “belief in force” has created a battle throughout human history—“the principle of liberty against the principle of force.” The triumph of liberty over force, Herbert asserted, will require a voluntary state, in which force is never used against anyone, except those who initiate or threaten force against others—“force to restrain force.”225 Thus, the aim of liberalism is to limit force or violence in order to promote the spontaneous ordering of society through the free exchanges of individuals. The history of liberalism in pursuit of this aim has moved in four steps. The first step is Hobbesian—limiting the violence initiated by individuals by establishing a formal government to enforce laws of peace. The second step is Lockean—limiting the violence initiated by government itself by constraining its powers. The third step is Smithian—promoting the bourgeois virtues that limit violence by favoring the “natural system of liberty” in social and economic life. The fourth step is Darwinian—explaining the history of declining violence and spontaneous ordering as part of a general evolutionary history of expanding peaceful cooperation. Darwin saw this as showing moral progress in history: “As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and ages.”226 Robert Wright adopted this quotation from Darwin as the epigram for his book Nonzero, arguing that both biological evolution and cultural evolution are directed towards ever greater complexity and range in developing the potential for non-zero-sum cooperation that is mutually beneficial for all participants.227 225

Herbert, Right and Wrong, 43-51, 312-14, 369-76, 389-92. Darwin, Descent of Man, 147. 227 Robert Wright, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (New York: Pantheon Books, 2000). 226


This Darwinian liberal view assumes a progressive conception of history as moving from force to liberty. “The history of force,” Herbert declared, “is the history of the continuous crumbling of every institution that has rested upon it.”228 Is this true? Or does it show a naively optimistic hope about the course of history leaning towards peaceful cooperation rather than violent conflict? When Herbert died in 1906, there was a growing antiwar movement based on the argument that global trade and interdependence had made war economically futile, because war would disrupt the international networks of exchange that allowed nations around the world to enjoy the gains in trade. But then the violence of the two world wars in the first half of the twentieth century made the earlier predictions of a liberal peace seem foolish. The Invisible Hand of the Liberal Evolution Against Violence And yet, by the beginning of the 21st century, some social scientists saw growing historical evidence confirming the liberal peace. Remarkably, since the end of World War Two, the Great Powers have not fought wars with one another, and this “Long Peace,” as some historians have called it, is the longest period in European history without a war between the Great Powers. Moreover, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, there is some evidence of a general decline in the number and intensity of warfare. At the same time, some historians have noticed evidence that rates of domestic violence (such as homicide) have declined dramatically in parts of Europe from the Middle Ages to the present. In 2004, James Payne’s A History of Force was the first book to survey a wide range of evidence suggesting that Herbert was right about the liberal peace— that the history of force is a history of declining force, so that the trend of history is against the use of physical violence.229 This was followed by Azar Gat’s War in Human Civilization (2006) and Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (2011), which elaborated the evidence and arguments for a history of declining violence rooted in Darwinian evolution.230 All of this new scholarship on the history of war and violence confirms the Darwinian liberal peace argument, because it shows that the decline in violent conflict has been largely the product of a liberal cultural evolution. There are two obvious objections to this claim of a historical decline in violence as manifesting a liberal peace. The first objection is that modern civilized societies generally show a far greater number of violent deaths than do 228

Herbert, Right and Wrong, 224-25. James L. Payne, A History of Force: Exploring the Worldwide Movement against Habits of Coercion, Bloodshed, and Mayhem (Sandpoint, ID: Lytton Publishing, 2004). 230 Azar Gat, War in Human Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Norton, 2011). 229


primitive stateless societies. The second objection is that the 20th century was the bloodiest century in human history, which seems to show that violence has risen rather than declined. In response to these objections, Payne, Gat, and Pinker concede that in absolute numbers, modern societies are more destructive than premodern societies. But, of course, modern societies generally have much larger populations, because since 1800, world population has grown from under one billion to over six billion. If we look at the rate, rather than the number, of violent acts, we can see that the likelihood of dying from violence in the modern Western societies is much lower than it is in premodern societies. The percentage of deaths in warfare tend to be lower in modern states than in stateless foraging or tribal groups.231 And while the absolute numbers of deaths from wars and atrocities in the 20th century seem to justify the cliché that this century was the bloodiest in history, the death rates of some wars and atrocities prior to the 20th century are actually higher. Moreover, most of the deaths caused by governments in the first half of the 20 th century were caused by the illiberal governments of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and Mao Zedong. The decline in deaths due to genocidal governments toward the end of the 20 th century can be attributed to the decline of totalitarianism and the growing influence of liberal political culture.232 Similarly, the decline in other kinds of violence— such as legalized torture, slavery, capital punishment, religious persecution, and rape—shows the influence of liberal cultural attitudes favoring the protection of individuals from violent assaults. The influence of liberal culture runs through Pinker’s history of declining violence as a story of six trends, five inner demons, four better angels, and five historical forces. The first trend in the decline of violence was the Pacification Process, by which agricultural civilizations used governmental institutions and formal laws to reduce the violence of raiding and feuding endemic to the state of nature of foraging and horticultural societies. The second trend was the Civilizing Process, by which centralized authority and commercial society in early modern Europe reduced the violence and brutality characteristic of the Middle Ages. The third trend was the Humanitarian Revolution, beginning in the 17th and 18th centuries, by which the European Enlightenment reduced socially sanctioned forms of violence such as slavery and torture. The fourth trend was the Long Peace, after World War II, the longest period in history in which the great powers have not fought wars with one another. The fifth trend is the New Peace, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, in which all kinds of organized conflicts have declined. Finally, the sixth trend, beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, is the Rights Revolution, by which human beings have shown increasing 231 232

Pinker, BetterAngels, 47-56. Pinker, Better Angels, 190-200, 328-43.


disgust towards violence directed at persecuted groups, such as ethnic minorities, women, children, and homosexuals. To understand the causes of violence, Pinker argues, we must understand the "five inner demons" of human nature. The first inner demon is instrumental violence, or violence employed as a practical means to any end. The second is dominance, or violence employed to gain power or glory in contests over prestige. The third is revenge, or violence employed by a moralistic desire for retributive punishment. The fourth is sadism, or violence employed because of one's pleasure in the suffering of others. The fifth is ideology, or violence employed as a means to achieve some utopian vision of human perfection grounded in a shared utopian belief system. These five inner demons are countered by four better angels. The first better angel is empathy, or a sympathetic concern for the pains and pleasures of others. The second is self-control, or the habituated ability to inhibit our impulses based on our anticipation of the bad consequences of impulsive behavior. The third is the moral sense, or the social norms governing conduct that can sometimes reduce violence, but which can also increase violence towards those outside of one's group. The fourth is reason, or the capacity of deliberate judgment by which we see ourselves as others see us, by which we expand our moral concern to ever wider circles of humanity, and by which we can plan how to use the other better angels of our nature to improve our social life. The success of these better angels in promoting peaceful cooperation and reducing violent conflict depends on five historical forces. The first historical force is the Leviathan, or the legal and governmental institutions that mediate conflict in ways that reduce the disorder that comes from the selfish impulses that incline us to exploitation and vengeance. The second is commerce, or the exchange of goods and ideas over ever longer distances and ever larger groups of people, so that we see people as valuable trading partners, and consequently we are less inclined to attack them. The third is feminization, or the process by which the increasing status and influence of women has promoted feminine caregiving as a check on male violence. The fourth is cosmopolitanism, or the globalization of human culture by which an increasing number of people expand their circle of sympathetic concern. The fifth is the escalator of reason, or the growing application of human rationality to recognizing how violence becomes selfdefeating and how peaceful cooperation with an ever expanding circle of trading partners becomes beneficial for all. If one is persuaded by Pinker’s historical analysis, as I am, then one might see this historical pattern of declining violence as showing a “higher power at


work,” as Payne suggests.233 But instead of invoking some divine or cosmic design in history, one might see this historical pattern as an evolutionary unintended order guided by the hidden hand of natural selection towards the liberal goals of peaceful cooperation and individual liberty. Evolved human nature is capable of both violent conflict (the inner demons) and peaceful cooperation (the better angels), depending upon how the circumstances of life trigger either violence or peace. As Pinker suggests, we can model the choice between peace and violence as a Prisoner’s Dilemma reconceived as a Pacifist’s Dilemma.234 If I am trying to decide whether to be aggressive or peaceful towards you, I face a tragic dilemma. If I think you’re a pacifist, I will be tempted to engage in predatory aggression, because I foresee that you will not defend yourself. But if I think you’re an aggressor, then I will be tempted to launch a preemptive attack against you. If you are thinking the same about me, then you will be tempted to attack me. Thus, both of us are likely to become aggressors, we suffer the costs of our battle, and we lose the mutual benefits we could have gained from peaceful cooperation. The logic of this dilemma explains why human beings have been naturally inclined towards violence motivated by fear, interest, or honor, and why it has been so hard for them to enjoy the benefits of peaceful cooperation. And yet, the logic of this dilemma also explains the Darwinian evolution of declining violence as a historical pattern favoring liberalism. Given that human beings have evolved by natural selection to be selfish, social, linguistic, and rational animals, this combination of self-interest, sociality, language, and reason might inevitably over time lead human beings to want less violence.235 First, as self-loving animals, we care for our lives and our well-being. We claim ownership of our minds, our bodies, and our property. We prefer comfortable self-preservation over a painful death. Second, as social animals, we care about others who are attached to us—our family, friends, and neighbors—and we care about how we appear to them. We project ourselves into the minds of others, and we imagine whether they would approve of us. Although we are naturally tribal animals—favoring our group over other groups—we are also able to extend our sympathies to some extent to ever wider circles of humanity. Third, as linguistic animals, we can communicate with one another, try to persuade one another, and develop shared norms of trustworthy behavior. Finally, as rational animals, we can think through the Pacifist’s Dilemma as a problem to be solved. By reason, we can see that while both sides are tempted to 233

Payne, History of Force, 29. See Pinker, Better Angels, 31-36, 645-48, 678-96. 235 See Pinker, Better Angels, 645-48. 234


mutual predation, they would both be better off if they could achieve peaceful cooperation. We can also reason about how to create conditions that help us to trust one another so that we can win the gains from cooperation. And as each side in the Pacifist’s Dilemma uses reason to persuade the other side not to be violent, both sides discover the reasonableness of nonviolence: if I want to persuade you not to harm me, I must see that you will want to persuade me not to harm you. We are thus led—by the evolved nature of our self-interest, our sociality, our language, and our reason—to the principle that violence is to be avoided except when it’s used to deter or punish violence. We are thus led to liberalism—to the liberal principle of nonviolence and to the largely self-regulating social order that liberal nonviolence makes possible. CONCLUSION Liberalism depends on the idea that social life is a largely spontaneous order that emerges unintentionally from the interactions of individuals pursuing their individual ends. Darwinian evolutionary science sustains this liberal idea in five ways. First, Darwinian science confirms the empirical moral anthropology of liberalism by explaining the spontaneous evolution of human morality through the coevolution of human nature, human culture, and human reason, without any need to appeal to a transcendental moral cosmology of metaphysical moral law beyond the human mind. Second, Darwinian science confirms the liberal principle of self-ownership at the center of a circle of expanding care for oneself, for one’s property, and for other individuals, by explaining how the human nervous system has evolved to serve this circle of care as adapted for human beings as the remarkably smart social mammals that they are. Third, Darwinian science supports the liberal understanding of how social order arises from the natural human “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange,” by explaining how exchange and specialization arose early in human evolution and then progressively expanded into the global networks of trade and communication that sustain the prosperity of the modern world. Fourth, Darwinian science supports the liberal belief that the largely unintended order of society requires some limited governmental regulation by explaining the evolutionary history of government and of the evolved human propensity for egalitarian hierarchy that balances individual liberty and political authority. Fifth, Darwinian science supports the liberal idea that the spontaneous ordering of society requires limiting violence by explaining the evolutionary history of declining violence and expanding peaceful cooperation..


In all of these ways, we see how the publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859 made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled liberal.

The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism  

paper by Larry Arnhart

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