This was the year of my Darwinian Grand Tour--from Chicago to the Galapagos to Houston to Atlanta to Freiburg, and a few places in between.
In April, I presented a paper at the Midwest Political Science Convention in Chicago on "Nietzsche's Darwinian Liberalism."
In June, I was travelling in Peru, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands. The trip to the Galapagos began with a week-long yacht tour of five of the larger islands, followed by a week in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on the island of San Cristobal, where I participated in the Mont Pelerin Society meetings on "Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty." For those MPS meetings, I wrote a paper on "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism."
In October, I lectured at Lone Star College-Kingwood, where John Barr was teaching a remarkable course entitled "The Emancipators: Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, and the Making of the Modern World."
Also in October, I spoke at the Philadelphia Society meeting on Russell Kirk and "The Permanent Things" in Atlanta.
In December, I went to Freiburg, Germany, where I lectured for a workshop on "Liberalism and the Evolutionary Agenda," organized by Ulrich Witt, the Director of the Evolutionary Economics Group at the Max Planck Institute (Jena).
I saw the MPS meetings and the Freiburg workshop as especially important moments in the recent intellectual history of evolutionary classical liberalism.
January 1 was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and so I began the year with a post on "Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in Evolutionary History," in which I showed how Lincoln's classical liberalism was based on an evolutionary understanding of human history.
Then, I wrote a long series of posts on Nietzsche (from January to April, in September, and in December). This work on Nietzsche was connected with my graduate seminar on Nietzsche that I taught in the fall semester.
My main argument is that the Darwinian science of Nietzsche's middle period (1878-1882)--particularly, Human, All Too Human (1878)--is superior to Nietzsche's earlier and later writings.
I first began to see this from my reading of Lou Salome's book on Nietzsche, the first book ever written on Nietzsche, and in some ways still the best book. Lou had insights that came from her brief friendship with Nietzsche (April to October, 1882), when Nietzsche repeatedly proposed marriage, and she turned him down. She saw that once Nietzsche broke off his friendships with her and Paul Ree, he moved away from the evolutionary science that dominated his middle period.
The Darwinian science of Nietzsche's middle period is morally, politically, and intellectually superior to the mythic metaphysics of his early and late writings. This Darwinian science is morally superior because it promotes a sober morality of moderation that restrains tendencies to intoxicated extremism. This science is politically superior because it promotes a prudent respect for liberal democracy that restrains tendencies to tyrannical power-seeing. And this science is intellectually superior because it can be grounded in empirical evidence and methodical reasoning rather than the delusions of enthusiastic fantasizing. In contrast to the Darwinian science of the middle period, the distinctive teachings of the late Nietzsche--the will to power, eternal return, and the Ubermensch--are morally corrupting, politically dangerous, and intellectually confused.
In Nietzsche's later writings, we can see how the Darwinian refutation of the universe as a moral cosmology provoked a turn to art and an atheistic religiosity as mythmaking to escape from this "deadly truth."
The attraction of Nietzsche's later writings and rejection of the free-spirited evolutionary science of his middle period is evident among the Nazis and the Straussians.
I wrote a series of posts on Nietzsche's "Sociobiology of Animal Morality" and on his "Aristocratic Liberalism."
I use the term "aristocratic liberalism" to convey the thought that while a liberal regime secures equal liberty under the rule of law, it also thereby secures inequality of results in allowing for "the natural aristocracy of virtues and talents" (as Thomas Jefferson called it). Aristocratic liberalism can thus combine the ancient concern for social virtue and the modern concern for individual liberty. The aristocratic liberalism of Nietzsche's middle period is in contrast to the aristocratic anti-liberalism of his later writings.
Nietzsche's aristocratic liberalism can be sketched out as four affirmations and four negations: affirming constitutional democracy, liberal pluralism, religious liberty, and cosmopolitan globalization, while denying socialist statism, "great politics," anti-Semitism, and atheistic religiosity.
Nietzsche's evolutionary aristocratic liberalism is very similar to what Douglass North and his colleagues identify as the modern "open access society," which was the subject of a post in April.
Also in April, I defended Nietzsche's aristocratic liberalism in his middle period as superior to the aristocratic radicalism that Bruce Detwiler saw in Nietzsche's later period. Detwiler failed to see that his good criticisms of Nietzsche's aristocratic radicalism don't apply to Nietzsche's aristocratic liberalism. Detwiler also failed to see how that aristocratic liberalism was rooted in the Darwinian science that Nietzsche embraced in his middle period.
I also pointed out that Strauss failed to see how his account of Nietzsche as surfing the "third wave of modernity" that led to Nazism does not apply to the Darwinian liberalism of Nietzsche's middle writings.
In the first half of July, I wrote a series of 6 posts as "An Evolutionary Tour of the Galapagos" that was based on my tour of the islands on the Cormorant. (In early February of 2017, I did a second tour of the Galapagos on the Cormorant; and I wrote another series of 12 posts on "Thinking About Galapagos.")
In the second half of July, I wrote a series of 14 posts on the lectures and discussions at the Mont Pelerin Society conference. The Mont Pelerin Society was founded in 1946 by Friedrich Hayek as an organization for people who wanted to think about classical liberalism in the modern world. Hayek saw classical liberalism as rooted in an evolutionary science of liberty and spontaneous order. In recent years, there has been growing interest in how contemporary sociobiology and evolutionary science might apply to Hayek's evolutionary conception of liberalism. This was the concern of the MPS meetings in the Galapagos, which brought together some of the leading evolutionary scientists and classical liberal thinkers.
In my paper for the conference--"The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism"--I argued that evolutionary moral psychology has largely confirmed the truth of the liberalism defended by Adam Smith and Hayek. But I also argued that Hayek's socialist "atavism" thesis--that socialism appeals to our evolved instincts, but liberalism does not--is mistaken. I made the same argument at the Freiburg workshop.
From the end of July into the first week of August, I wrote a series of 6 posts on the book Darwinian Evolution and Classical Liberalism: Theories in Tension, edited by Stephen Dilley, which had recently been published by Lexington Books. Of the 13 authors in this book, 9 are opponents of Darwinian classical liberalism, and most of their criticisms are directed at me. 2 of the authors seem neutral, and 2 seem to be defenders (somewhat) of Darwinian liberalism.
The argument that seems to be embraced by the nine critics can be called Dilley's Syllogism, because it's stated by Dilley in his introductory chapter:
Classical (Lockean) liberalism is founded on Christianity.
Darwinism denies Christianity.
Therefore, Darwinism denies classical (Lockean) liberalism.Consequently, the nine critics are proponents of what they call "Christian classical liberalism" or "theistic classical liberalism." They also identify this with the liberal political thought of the American founders, and so they defend "the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding." I have inserted "Lockean" into the syllogism because the nine critics generally appeal to John Locke as "the quintessential classical liberal," although they also often identify Adam Smith as a paradigmatic classical liberal.
The nine critics say that they are attacking "Darwinian conservatism," which "integrates a Darwinian conception of human nature with the essentials of classical liberalism, drawing on the work of Locke, Smith, Hayek, and others." They identify the most prominent proponents of Darwinian conservatism as me, Thomas Sowell, Robert McShea, James Q. Wilson, Michael Shermer, and Francis Fukuyama. Most of their attacks, however, are directed at me.
Most of the nine critics are associated with the Discovery Institute, and most of what they say conforms to the famous "Wedge Document" of the Discovery Institute, which lays out a strategy for saving Christian civilization from the moral and political degradation promoted by Darwinian science, a strategy that depends on "intelligent design theory" as the alternative to Darwinian evolution.
In my series of posts, I answer their criticisms.
One of my posts on the MPS meetings was on Richard Wrangham's lecture on his "chimpanzee model" for explaining the evolution of war. This is part of an intense debate among biologists and social scientists over whether Hobbes was right that the state of nature is a state of war or whether Rousseau was right that it was a state of peace. Those on the Hobbesian side think that war has been natural for chimpanzees and human foragers. Those on the Rousseauean side deny this.
Although I agree with Wrangham and lean towards the Hobbesian side, I argue that the opponents in this debate end up agreeing on a position that is neither Hobbesian nor Rousseauean but Lockean. Thus does the evolutionary anthropology of war and peace confirm John Locke's account of the state of nature and the evolution of government. Hobbes was partly right. Rousseau was mostly wrong. And Locke was mostly right. I wrote posts on this in August and September. (This became part of my paper "The Biopolitical Science of Locke's State of Nature" that I presented at the 2015 meetings of the American Political Science Association.)
I have written a long series of posts on the evolution of war among chimps and humans (August of 2013, September and November of 2014, June of 2015, January of 2016).
In September and October, I wrote about my participation in the national meeting of the Philadelphia Society in Atlanta on Russell Kirk and "The Permanent Things."
In my lecture, I argued that an evolved human nature that is enduring but not permanent is enough to support an evolutionary conservatism rooted in an evolutionary moral anthropology of natural desires, customary traditions, and individual judgments.
That’s not enough, however, for a metaphysical conservatism that appeals to a transcendent moral cosmology of eternal order as intelligently designed by the Creator.
This contrast between evolutionary conservatism and metaphysical conservatism was displayed in the debate between Friedrich Hayek and Russell Kirk at the 1957 meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society.
At the Philadelphia Society meeting, I was disturbed by how many of the speakers assumed a divine command theory of ethics, so that we cannot know what is right or wrong except by obeying God's commands, particularly in the Hebrew Bible. As I suggested in my remarks, this is dangerous, because it would mean accepting slavery and the brutal despotism of Mosaic law.
Almost all of the speakers at the meeting were uncritical in their praise of Kirk. The only critics were me and Alan Charles Kors. Kors is a prominent historian at the University of Pennsylvania who is known for his studies of the intellectual history of seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe. Kors defended the French Enlightenment, which was a bold move before an audience of Kirkian conservatives. I defended Friedrich Hayek's evolutionary conservatism as an alternative to Kirk's metaphysical conservatism.
Kors and I were in complete agreement. That might seem odd, particularly since Hayek presented his Burkean evolutionary conservatism as rooted in the British and Scottish Enlightenment as opposed to the French Enlightenment.
But Kors argued that what Burkean conservatives criticize as the excesses of the French Revolution--the Jacobins and the Reign of Terror--manifest the intellectual legacy of Rousseau rather than the philosophes. After all, Rousseau was a vehement opponent of the philosophes. Leaders of the French Enlightenment like Voltaire and Montesquieu opposed every form of despotism and supported the tolerance, liberty, and commercial spirit that they saw in Great Britain. Robespierre's "Republic of Virtue" was inspired not by the thought of Voltaire or Montesquieu but by Rousseau's Social Contract. For example, Robespierre's "Religion of the Supreme Being" was explicitly an attempt to enforce Rousseau's teaching that all citizens must embrace a deistic religion, and that neither atheists nor Christians can be true citizens.
In his speech, Kors often referred to Hayek in ways that suggested that most of French Enlightenment thought was in agreement with Hayek's evolutionary liberalism, which I defended in my speech.
In December, I wrote 6 posts on the Freiburg workshop on liberalism and evolution.
One of the benefits for me of this workshop was that it helped me to think through my ambivalence about Hayek's evolutionary liberalism. I am persuaded by Hayek's claim that Darwinian science supports the fundamental idea of classical liberalism that social order--including morals, markets, and laws--can arise as a largely spontaneous or unintended order from the interactions of individuals acting to satisfy their individual desires. But I am not persuaded by Hayek's account of exactly how cultural evolution produces the modern liberal order.
My conclusion is that we need to see how Darwinian science corrects the mistakes in Hayek's account while confirming Hayek's insight about how liberal thought can be rooted in an evolutionary science of spontaneous order. Naomi Beck was one of the participants in the workshop, and I saw her critique of Hayek's evolutionary liberalism as reinforcing this conclusion.
At least half or more of the participants were proponents of Hayekian classical liberalism who were interested in the possibility of grounding liberalism in evolutionary science, although they were unsure as to whether Hayek was correct in the details of his evolutionary theory of liberalism. A few of the participants--including Beck--were opponents of Hayek and of liberalism in general. This was similar to the situation at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos Islands last summer, where much of the discussion turned on the assessment of Hayek's evolutionary liberalism.
In the discussions at the MPS meetings and at the Freiburg workshop, I criticized Hayek’s suggestion that the market order requires a suppression of our natural human desires. This is what I have identified as Hayek’s Freudian theory of human evolution, in which civilization requires the repression of our evolved human instincts. Here is where Hayek’s argument for liberalism becomes incoherent.
If a liberal society is so painful because it requires the suppression of our deepest natural instincts, why does it succeed? And if a socialist society satisfies our deepest natural instincts, why does it fail?
As I have indicated in various posts, I see the same incoherence in the “mismatch theory” of Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. At the MPS meeting, Cosmides and Tooby indicated their agreement with Hayek on this point. At times, they seemed to say that Karl Marx was right about the “primitive communism” of hunter-gatherers, but at other times, they seemed to say that Marx was wrong, because even hunter-gatherers show only conditional sharing or reciprocation, and therefore their sharing is not indiscriminate. Moreover, Tooby and Cosmides seemed to agree with John Locke and Adam Smith in seeing trading behavior in hunter-gatherers that would provide the natural basis for the modern commercial society.
At the Freiburg workshop, I agreed with Naomi Beck in criticizing Hayek for not reading Darwin and considering his theory of cultural evolution. Remarkably, Hayek in The Fatal Conceit dismisses Darwin as having nothing important to say about cultural evolution, although Hayek never cites Darwin, and thus leaves the reader with the suspicion that Hayek never read Darwin.
Darwin's Descent of Man offers an elaborate account of the evolution of morality that should have been important for Hayek. Darwin presents the evolution of morality as moving through three interacting levels--natural instincts, cultural traditions, and individual reason. To me, this seems more reasonable than Hayek's attempt to deny instinct and reason in elevating culture as the only ground of morality. That was one of my arguments in my paper for the Freiburg workshop.
A portion of my Freiburg paper was published in the Journal of Bioeconomics (2015) 17:3-15. I reprinted this as a post in May of 2015.
I have written many posts on how Darwinian biology supports Aristotelian teleology. One of the best of these posts was written in September with the title "The Biological Teleology of Natural Right: Aristotle, Darwin, Strauss, and Rand." It highlights the remarkable work of Allan Gotthelf in showing how Darwinian evolutionary biology restored Aristotelian teleology to biology and thus showed how modern biology can sustain Aristotelian natural right. Strauss claimed that the "problem of natural right" today is that "modern natural science seems to have refuted teleology." Gotthelf demonstrated that Strauss was mistaken about this.
In October and November, I wrote some posts on the foolishness of longing for immortality and the wisdom of Wallace Stevens' insight that "death is the mother of beauty."
I also wrote some posts on music--Wagner's Die Meistersinger (February) and Parsifal (November) and Handel's Messiah (December).