Political scientist Larry Arnhart heads this month’s Cato Unbound. He argues that libertarians need to integrate biological evolution into their thinking about human cultures and even politics.
More provocatively, he claims that the “a Darwinian science of human evolution supports classical liberalism.” This is the case, he argues, even though
market competition differ[s] 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.”
Our genes, however, help get us to where we are, and understanding their contribution to the formation of societies and institutions is one of the most important projects in evolutionary biology, helping to bridge the gap between the hard sciences and the social sciences.
To borrow a phrase used by Karl Popper and later by Daniel Dennett, in a free society, we may allow our ideas to die in our stead, in the course of experimenting with them, debating, and innovating within a framework of laws and rights. This ability is made possible by a set of inheritances – genetic, epigenetic, and cultural – that help make us who we are.
As usual, we have a panel of fascinating commentators lined up for the rest of the week, starting with science-blogging superhero PZ Myers, followed by eminent behavioral scientist Herbert Gintis, and rounded out by pathbreaking anthropologist Lionel Tiger. Stop by during the rest of the month for what’s sure to be a stimulating discussion.