The Darwinian Conservative

(cross-posted @

Conservatives in the latter half of the 20th century have plunged themselves down into the depths of irrationality and fundamentalism. They have buried their heads in the sand, and refused the advances of scientific knowledge with the greatest of passion. But, this refutation of reality has sown the seeds of their demise.

Unlike John Locke, who suggested that ones ideas should change as the facts change, fundamentalist (and people generally) have a tendency to change the underlying facts to be more in line with their belief. There is a new movement among some conservatives that aims to change that perception.

“I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin,” said Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who has spearheaded the cause. “The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought.”

The trouble is that jumping from certain particulars of evolutionary theory and biological science to an acute case of cultural morality is idiotic and shows a distinct lack of understanding of how complex the field really is. It is true that everything we see, every act of consciousness, every societal construct, every political system, and all of our perceived morality is born out of our biological evolution and what it has meant to be a species evolving on this planet. But, we aren’t anywhere near close to understanding all of the facts of the case, let alone the implications of those facts.

In the most general sense, I think liberal democracy, capitalism, and moral pluralism are (relatively clearly) norms that society has evolved to better itself. (But the latter claim would give a fundamentalist the “heebee-jeebees”.)

In “The Moral Sense” (1993), followed by “The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families” (2002), James Q. Wilson used evolution to explain the genesis of morality and to support traditional family and sex roles.

Mr. Arnhart, in his 2005 book, “Darwinian Conservatism,” tackled the issue of conservatism’s compatibility with evolutionary theory head on, saying Darwinists and conservatives share a similar view of human beings: they are imperfect; they have organized in male-dominated hierarchies; they have a natural instinct for accumulation and power; and their moral thought has evolved over time.

Policies that are in tune with human nature, for example, like a male military or traditional social and sex roles, he said, are more likely to succeed.

There is a difference between what seems natural to humans, and what is good for the species. That is the point of evolution: to weed out the bad traits and promote the good ones. A male dominated, hetero-only, barbaric, violent, xenophobic, slavery-laden society is VERY natural for humans. Our societies (taking a historical view) have been more oppressive and cruel than open and caring. But, that doesn’t mean we should have continued down that path. The greatest of modern societies evolved to combat these problems. And the pluralism in modern American society reflects that.

Conservative Fundamentalists will never embrace Darwinism because they can’t embrace change—even if it’s for the better. That’s the political definition of the word “conservative”. But, they might embrace some bastardized version of Darwinism, one that includes what’s natural but doesn’t include the tenet of evolution as a continuing process. And that is itself quite frightening.


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