Something always puzzled me about a number of learned evolutionists and their followers:  They tend to be leftist in their politics.  Why?  I wondered why they hadn’t thought through
the ramifications of evolutionary theory, the spontaneity of it, the lack of
planning, its anti-teleological aspect, and the possibility of progress without
a mastermind.  I also wondered why they
never considered the strong implications offered by evolutionary theory for the
nature of human beings and their societies, and the resulting implications for
political philosophy and ideology.


 


I’m not the only one with such thoughts.  A philosopher named Larry Arnhart has devoted his scholarly career to the carefully thought out linkages
between biological evolution and cultural evolution.  By so doing, he has determined that conservative
thought naturally flows out of biological evolutionary thought. 


 


Leftism, by contrast, more closely resembles religious thought.  Not by assuming the existence of God or gods or the supernatural, but by assuming
that if things exist and persist in the human realm, they must be carefully
planned by some sort of central authority.


 


Is it possible for non-believers to develop a strong, consilient, conservative evolutionary philosophy?  I believe so.  We can start here at Atheist Nexus, building
it with a great deal of help from Arnhart.


 


Larry Arnhart writes one of the best blogs in the observable universe, IMHO.


 


Here is his summary of his beliefs:


 


“The Left has traditionally assumed that human nature is so malleable, so perfectible, that it can be shaped in almost any direction. Conservatives object, arguing that
social order arises not from rational planning but from the spontaneous order
of instincts and habits. Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought
by showing how the human capacity for spontaneous order arises from social
instincts and a moral sense shaped by natural selection in human evolutionary
history.”


 


He is the author of a book with the same name, “Darwinian Conservatism,” published in 2005.  Here are the names of the chapters:


 


Chapter 1: Three Sources of Ordered Liberty 
Chapter 2: The Moral Sense 
Chapter 3: Men, Women, and Children 
Chapter 4: Property 
Chapter 5: Limited Government 
Chapter 6: Religion 
Chapter 7: Intelligent Design 
Chapter 8: Emergence 
Chapter 9: Social Darwinism 
Chapter 10: Biotechnology 


 


He uses his blog as a means of publishing a number of learned essays on evolutionary theory and political conservatism (in the American sense of the word, not in the European
sense of conserving aristocracy and clericism). 
Here is a portion of one:


 


“Most people assume that one big problem with Darwinian science is that it denies that life has any meaning or purpose. After all, to find
meaning--to see our lives as part of some enchanting cosmic drama--don't we
have to look to some religious or transcendent vision of the world that goes
beyond the materialism of Darwinian science? If we are just animals produced by
a natural evolutionary process that doesn't care for or about us, and if like
all other animals, we live for only a moment and then die, how can human
life--how can
 my life--matter? Unlike
other animals, it's not enough for us that we exist, we need some reason for
our existence. Otherwise, what's the point? (That's the question raised in a
good scene in the new George Clooney movie
 Up in the Air, where a
bridegroom gets cold feet just before his marriage because he foresees his
whole future life played out without there being any point to it all.)



Owen Flanagan thinks we can find meaning in a
Darwinian world. In his book
 The
Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World
 (MIT
Press, 2007), Flanagan argues that Darwinian naturalism--with its fundamental
conclusion that we are animals in a purely material world--allows us to find a
natural meaning to our lives without any resort to supernatural mystification.
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Replies to This Discussion

In political philosophy, conservatism means to defend the existing order. Leftism means to tear down the existing order and replace it with something else. Right there, conservatism relates far more closely to evolutionary theory, since that theory clearly describes a system of preservation of received change. In other words, most things remain the same while mutations and cross over tweaks the system a bit each generation.

Remember, each society has a different order, and so each society has different types of conservative seeking to preserve that order. A very traditional type of society will seek to conserve its traditions. A Communist society will seek to conserve Communism. An aristocracy will seek to conserve the noble classes while a monarchy will seek to conserve the king and kingdom. Likewise, a free society will seek to conserve its freedom. Hence, the very different nature of American conservatism. It seeks to conserve traditional American freedoms.

Various conservatives (and liberals) did the various things you list in varying degrees in various societies. But your list is such a mishmash that it is very difficult to generate any real political generalities from it.

For instance, Christianity has over the centuries been used to defend slavery and freeing the slaves, Christian leftists have bitterly attacked American society based on their leftism and their views of Christianity (pacifism and anti-wealth stances come to mind), while Christian conservatives have embraced American society. Christian societies have included some of the freest societies and some of the most tyrannical. Go figure.
Well, by your definition of conservatism and leftist, I'm neither. I evaluate things rationally, and fight to ditch those positions that are not rationial. I can see no reason why someone would want to stand up for the existing order if it is irrational or immoral. Likewise, why would anyone want to overthrow something that works and is fair and leads to a higher quality of life.
But, do you believe the history of human cultures proceeded rationally? I don't. That's one of my main points. No matter how rational certain people may be in a given society, the way large numbers of people interact over long periods of time can never be rational. No one person or small group can possess the knowledge to manage the process rationally (or in any other way). Cultural evolution, like the biological version, is self-organizing, emergent, unguided, unplanned, etc.

Conservatives who believe such processes must be left to themselves, who believe we have no choice, unless we are willing to bow down to tyranny, are in that sense, much more evolutionarily-minded than leftist humanists who believe command from the center is the only way humans can ever possibly progress.
i havent read this Arnhart guy, but it sounds like (from the way you're talking about it) he's gone waaaaay too far in applying the concepts of Biological evolution to culture. you should really reexamine whatever your ideas on this are. people got this all mixed up a few years ago and got turned onto eugenics and genocide and other such nonsense. i'm not saying that's what he or you are advocating. i'm just saying mixing this stuff up with politics can have consequences.

and i think you should be more specific about what you mean by conservatism. because if you're advocating is american conservatism (Rep party or Ron Paul types or Tea-bagging) then you are confused. which wouldn't be a surprise, because IMO the only american conservatives who aren't confused are the ones holding power.
because IMO the only american conservatives who aren't confused are the ones holding power.

Really? Have you not heard of Sarah Palin? =P
good point :/

seriously tho, if Palin ever had a real chance at getting elected we'd probably see her get reigned in the same way McCain did.

what i was hinting at, but didn't clearly say, is that Sally M. is going on about "Centralized Planning, Leftists, One party government control, blah blah." But if she was concerned about this issue in actual reality (and not only in theory as it seems she is) then the US Rep. party and the corporate/old money elite that own them (if i can say without sounding like a conspiracy theorist) should scare the ever-loving crap out of her.
Well, Sarah Palin was elected twice in Alaska...just saying. Governor isn't a nothing position.

But I agree, Sally doesn't seem to be dealing in reality too much..just a world of strawmen attacking her faith in conservative policies.
But, do you believe the history of human cultures proceeded rationally? I don't.

I completely agree.

No matter how rational certain people may be in a given society, the way large numbers of people interact over long periods of time can never be rational.

This I disagree with. The goal should be rational action of the masses. If you cede everything to the irrational, basically you are letting the insane run the asylum.

Conservatives who believe such processes must be left to themselves, who believe we have no choice, unless we are willing to bow down to tyranny, are in that sense, much more evolutionarily-minded than leftist humanists who believe command from the center is the only way humans can ever possibly progress.

AGAIN, where do you get that leftists or humanists think command from the center is required? Have you not noticed the countless small organizations of humanism working toward common goals? Where did you come up with this strawman crap anyways?

Here you go:

I'm liberal. I'm also liberatarian. I'm also quasi-socialist. In economics I think government intervention is a good thing as it keeps capitalistic powers and greed from crushing the relatively poor masses that support them. In civil liberties, I'm libertarian. No one's freedom of speech, assembly, religion, press or thought should ever be infringed upon short of stopping physical harm (yelling fire in a theatre).

I don't trust the government. I find most of the people in office cowardly, insane or corrupt...and a lot of the time all three.

Problem is, I don't trush multi-national corporations even more. I trust religious organizations even less than that. So, if given a choice at who I want to trust my health insurance to, for instance, I'll choose the government. Looking at world-wide track records, governments seem to do much better of a job, and for less money, than the corporations. And of course the religions just take your money and do nothing but hope really hard that you get better.

I will act rationally, and attempt to get others to do so. If you are willing to admit that you are just going with the irrational masses then I think your position is clear to all and this conversation has hopefully enlightened those reading. I doubt it has enlightened you any, since you choose an irrational path over a rational one.
Well stated, Stephan. Thanks!
I'm probably way off the mark here. I am not a scientist or a "deep thinker" as most of our contributors appear to be. However, I try to follow these discussions as I can. I've read the beginning of this discussion as well as the replies and I don't understand how "conservative" and "liberal" are being defined.

If I understand the course of the discussion, I feel that conservative thought is (personally) very limiting while liberal thought is (personally) liberating. Having said that, I believe I create my own "meaning of life" every time I teach my children or help someone whom a conservative wouldn't. i.e. by providing the poor with health care. I don't believe, but I'm not sure, that altruism is hard-wired into the human brain. If so, more conservative thinkers would be more humane. I do understand however, that I'm mixing conservative thought with conservative politics but in my liberal brain one does seems to develop from the other, but I don't suppose that's an evolution :-)
It depends on how many coercive government acts you are willing to endorse in, saying, providing poor people with health care. A free society will do this through individual voluntary acts, not at the point of the IRS gun.

I know that a certain amount of altruism is hard-wired into the human brain. If it wasn't, how would you explain the following true story? I personally witnessed this:

We had gone out to a busy family restaurant at lunchtime from work. Lots of workers and moms with young children waiting for their food at their tables. At one point, a baby started to cry. At another table, a toddler (2 years old at the very most) sympathetically cried, "Baby." Why would that youngster care about a baby she had never seen before and would never see again, unless there was genuine biological altruism involved? Clearly, the child was far too young to have learned any religious tenets, such as love your neighbor, or the ten commandments. Likewise, if she was a member of a non-believing family, she was far too young to have learned secular reasons for caring for strangers.
It depends on how many coercive government acts you are willing to endorse in, saying, providing poor people with health care. A free society will do this through individual voluntary acts, not at the point of the IRS gun.

Silliness. People voluntarily vote to have government health care. Why is it okay for a group to get together and form a charity, but it isn't okay for the majority to vote to have the government do it? Seems to me the only argument is that the majority shouldn't have the power to make others help the poor. In that case, should the majority be allowed to force the minority to do anything that doesn't protect people from injury?

Perhaps taxes should be voluntary too? Obviously military service should be. I shouldn't be forced to recognize anyone's marriage at all should I? Why should the government force me to recognize any such thing?

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