Friday, May 31, 2013

The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism

I will be travelling in South America in June and early July--a week in the Machu Picchu area of Peru, two weeks in the Galapagos Islands, and a week in the Amazonian area of eastern Ecuador. 

For the second week in the Galapagos, I will be participating in the conference on "Evolution, the Human Sciences, and Liberty" sponsored by the Mont Pelerin Society.  My paper is on "The Evolution of Darwinian Liberalism."  Much of the material in this paper comes from various posts on this blog.  Here's a summary statement of my argument:

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 growing prosperity and population 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 the liberal peace..

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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Timidity of John Hibbing and the Grandeur of Biopolitical Science

Perspectives on Politics is one of the quarterly journals published by the American Political Science Association.  The new issue (June 2013) is devoted largely to articles on the theme of "nature and politics," with special attention to the application of biology to politics.  Some of the articles are responses to an article by John Hibbing--"Ten Misconceptions Concerning Neurobiology and Politics."  Some are responses to Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.  And some are responses to Peter Hatemi and Rose McDermott's edited volume Man Is by Nature a Political Animal: Evolution, Biology, and Politics.

Hibbing and his colleagues have been far more successful in terms of influence in political science than the older "Politics and the Life Sciences" crowd.  The Hibbing folks have concentrated on applying biological reasoning to the empirical study of political psychology in ways that have gone far beyond anything done by the PLS folks.

My contribution to this issue of Perspectives on Politics is one of the articles responding to Hibbing's article.  My article is entitled "The Grandeur of Biopolitical Science."  Here is the abstract:
"John Hibbing's essay is a persuasive defense of biopolitical research.  I argue, however, that Hibbing does not go far enough in recognizing the broad vision of biopolitical science as a science of political animals.  We need to see this as a science that moves through three levels of deep history: the natural history of the political species, the cultural history of a political community, and the biographical history of political actors in a community.  I illustrate this by discussing Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation at these three levels of biopolitical science."
Here are the first four paragraphs of my article:
"John Hibbing is timid.  He persuasively defends biopolitical research against the misconceptions of its critics.  For that reason, this essay will surely become one of the most cited articles on biopolitics.  But despite my general agreement, I disagree with how he responds to the fifth misconception: 'Political culture is too idiosyncratic to succumb to biology' (p. 480).  His response shows his diffidence in refusing to go all the way in embracing biopolitics as a comprehensive theory for political science."
"If political science is ever to become a true science, it must become a biopolitical science of political animals.  Biopolitical science would incorporate all the traditional fields of political science within a biological science of politics."
"Hibbing is hesitant about promoting this expansive intellectual project.  To calm those traditional political scientists who fear biopolitics as a threat to their professional careers, he suggests that they have nothing to fear, because biopolitics is just one more specialized tool in the political scientist's tool box.  Hibbing argues that biopolitics is limited to studying the 'bedrock dilemmas of politics' that are universal to all political communities, leaving traditional political scientists to study the 'cultural variations' or 'issues-of-the-day' in politics without any grounding in biopolitical science.  While biology can illuminate 'cross-polity commonality,' biology has no application to 'cultural differences' in politics."
"A more comprehensive view of biopolitics is suggested by the title of a book to which Hibbing contributed: Man Is by Nature a Political Animal.  This points back to Aristotle as the first biopolitical scientist, who saw that human beings as political animals by nature could be compared with other political animals, such as ants, bees, wasps, and cranes.  Although he did not identify chimpanzees as political animals, Aristotle did study them--even dissecting them--as the animals that most resembled human beings.  While he did not develop a theory of biological evolution, he did suggest that a true science of politics might have to be a biological science of political animals.  A modern biopolitical science could fulfil the promise of Aristotle's insight."

Here's my last sentence:
"There is grandeur in this view of political life, as originating through the laws of nature for the emergence of irreducibly complex wholes from the cooperation of simple parts, so that, from ants and bees to chimps and humans, endless forms of political order most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
For elaboration of what I sketch in this article, see my "Biopolitical Science" in James Fleming and Sanford Levinson's edited volume Evolution and Morality (New York University Press, 2012), pp. 221-65.

In his response to the commentators on his article, Hibbing includes me as one of those commentators who wonder whether biological research could illuminate particular historical events, and his answer is that biology has no application to historical events.  He writes: "Larry Arnhart wants to know why Abraham Lincoln chose the words he did for the Emancipation Proclamation."  He continues:
"This amazing diversity of questions and topics leads me to conclude that biology might not be appropriate for every one of them, a position that Arnhart calls 'timid' and Duster characterizes as laced with 'tension.'  Still, for those political scientists and historians seeking to explain a particular historical event, I simply do not see biology helping much.  Though Arnhart does a nice job of placing all events in a comprehensive framework with biology at its core, he never says anything about the precise manner in which neurobiological techniques can be used to generate and test hypotheses concerning specific cultural events and even admits toward the end of his essay that non-biological factors must be incorporated."

Apparently, this reference to incorporating "non-biological factors" points to the last section of my essay on "biographical history," in which I say that a political judgment--like Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation--"can only be studied in its contingency and complexity through political biography," and my footnote citation for this sentence refers to Doris Kearns Goodwin's A Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and Allen Guelzo's Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America.  But to say, as Hibbing does, that this "admits . . . that non-biological factors must be incorporated" ignores what I argue in this section of my essay about how biologists (like Jane Goodall and Frans de Waal) studying the political behavior of animals must study their political biography.

Remarkably, for Hibbing "biology" means nothing more than "neurobiology," and thus the biological study of animal behavior is not really biology.  I agree that neurobiology is an important part of biology, and certainly an important part of any biological science of political behavior.  But it makes no sense to me to say that the biological science of animal behavior is not really biological.  If one includes this science of animal behavior within biology, and if one sees that the biological study of animal behavior includes the study of particular events in the political history of animal groups shaped by unique cultural traditions and unique individuals, then any biopolitical science must include political history and political biography.

It seems that biopolitics as understood by people like Hibbing is much more narrow than my conception of biopolitical science as a comprehensive biological science of political animals. 

One can see in Hibbing's article here one weakness in the kind of biopolitical research that he promotes--a kind of "bait-and-switch" rhetoric of making dramatic claims that attract public attention, but then conceding that these claims are exaggerated.  For example, Hibbing writes: "Biology may not tell us why Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in 2012, but it does tell us why some people voted and some people did not."  That's an amazing claim--he can explain biologically "why some people voted and some people did not."  And if the 2012 election was decided by voter turnout, that means that in precisely predicting turnout, Hibbing could have predicted Obama's victory. 

But as I have indicated in a previous post, this claim is dubious.  Apparently, Hibbing is referring to an article by James Fowler and Christopher Dawes entitled "Two Genes Predict Voter Turnout."  The title conveys the dramatic claim that attracts attention.  If they have found that two genes predict voter turnout, that's a remarkable finding that all political scientists would want to understand.  But if you  read the article, you discover that what they're really saying is that two genes raise the likelihood of voting by 5% to 10%.  In other words, two genes do matter in having some small influence on voting turnout, but they probably don't matter very much.

Much of the research that Hibbing promotes is like this.  Political behavior is influenced to some extent by psychological predispositions.  Psychological predispositions are influenced to some extent by genes that influence the brain.  Therefore, genes influence political behavior  to some extent.  That's surely true.  But if the "to some extent" turns out to be minimal, then it's not clear that this is anything very exciting.

The fundamental problem here is that political science has little predictive power in explaining political behavior, because of the irreducible complexity and historical contingency of political events and political actors.  This is also true for biology at the level of animal behavior.  A Jane Goodall or a Frans de Waal can draw conclusions about the general patterns of primate social behavior, but they cannot predict precisely the particular historical events in the social life of particular primate groups.  Each primate group has a unique political culture with unique individuals and thus a unique political history that cannot be precisely predicted.

Some posts on related topics can be found here, here, and here.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Explaining the Modern Revolution: Ideas? Institutions? The Survival of the Richest? Coal? All of the Above?

If we look over the evolutionary history of human society, we see two great revolutions--the Ancient Revolution that occurred 5,000 to 10,000 years ago and the Modern Revolution that began about 200-250 years ago,  The Ancient Revolution came with the transition from foraging to farming, which eventually brought urban settlements, bureaucratic states, and the invention of writing.  The Modern Revolution came with the Commercial and Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, which has brought an astounding increase in peace, prosperity, and population. 

It is remarkable that social scientists cannot agree on how to explain these two great social revolutions.  We might think the difficulty of explaining the Ancient Revolution comes from the limited evidence provided by the archaeology of the ancient world.  But the Modern Revolution is so recent in human history that we have plenty of evidence that should help us to explain it.

Whenever I read the work of scholars offering explanations of the Modern Revolution, I often feel exhilaration followed by frustration.  I feel exhilarated when someone makes a persuasive case for one factor as the primary cause for the Modern Revolution.  But then I feel frustrated when I see the good criticisms of this explanation coming from those who favor other factors as more important.  My intuition now is that the causality of the Modern Revolution is so complex--with the interaction of many causes--that the explanations focusing on only one cause can be only partially correct.

That was my thought while reading the issue of "Cato Unbound" from a few years ago on "Bourgeois Dignity: The Virtue of the Modern World."  This is a wonderfully rich debate between Deirdre McCloskey, Gregory Clark, Matt Ridley, and Jonathan Feinstein.  I do wish, however, that someone like Douglass North had been included to represent the "institutionalist" position in this debate.

Many economists like North explain economic history by assuming that people always respond to incentives, and therefore a historical revolution like the Industrial Revolution must have come from institutional changes that created new incentives for innovation--institutional changes such as secure property rights, free markets, low taxes, and the rule of law.  All of the participants in the "Cato Unbound" debate reject this explanation for the Industrial Revolution, because they argue that many of the institutional changes identified by North and others were to be found in medieval England, long before the revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Actually, they suggest, fully incentivized societies can be found throughout the history of the past 10,000 years.  But they don't comment on North's argument about the importance of the general incorporation laws in England in the middle of the nineteenth century, which provided for the first time "open access" to incorporation, and which brought an explosive growth in corporate organizations.  Here North's institutional argument looks strong to me.

The lead essay by McCloskey summarizes her argument for explaining the Modern Revolution as a intellectual revolution in ideas or rhetoric, in which people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in northwestern Europe were persuaded to accept the bourgeoisie--merchants, traders, artisans, and others of the commercial middle class--as morally dignified and politically free.  For the first time in history, the bourgeois class came to be regarded as virtuous--as displaying the "bourgeois virtues"--and this new moral respect for the bourgeois life stimulated the social and economic innovation that created the Modern Revolution.

Greg Clark agrees with McCloskey that there was a cultural change during the British Industrial Revolution, but he doubts that this was a purely intellectual change in cultural fashion.  Rather, what we need is a Darwinian theory of cultural evolution that would explain the Industrial Revolution as a cultural change coming through the "survival of the richest," in which economically successful families had more offspring who inherited the bourgeois values of those families.  Although there is some evidence for this, summarized in Clark's A Farewell to Alms, Clark is vague about how exactly this happened, and he's especially vague about whether this worked through genetic inheritance.  I have noted these problems in a previous post.

Matt Ridley agrees with McCloskey that the Industrial Revolution was driven by the growing influence of liberal ideas.  But Ridley insists that liberal ideas can be found throughout history, because human history has always been driven by the innovation stirred by exchange and specialization, which is the fundamental idea of liberalism.  But whereas in the past, the bursts of innovation from exchange and specialization leading to prosperity have burned out, something happened in the British Industrial Revolution to keep the fires burning.

The cause of this, Ridley insists, was coal.  The story of human civilization is the story of capturing the flow of energy from the sun to sustain human survival and reproduction.   The Ancient 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 channelling 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 (slaves), animal muscles, wood, water, and wind. 

The secret to why the British Industrial Revolution did not peter out, Ridley argues, was the shift to drawing from the solar energy stored in fossil fuels.  In The Rational Optimist, 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 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" (231).

Although they disagree about what they regard as the primary cause of the Industrial Revolution, all of the scholars here agree that the key is not accumulation but innovation.  Marxists argue that the British Industrial Revolution arose from the accumulation of capital by exploitation of domestic workers and foreign colonies.  But these scholars argue that mere accumulation is not enough if there is no openness to innovation or to what Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction."  The true source of wealth through innovation is the human mind, and more importantly, what Ridley calls the "collective brain" that arises from exchange and specialization.

These scholars also seem to agree in their optimism--in their hope that as long as human innovation is rewarded, human beings will find unexpected solutions to their problems.

But beneath this surface of optimism, there is a current of cosmic pessimism.  Consider the following from Ridley's Rational Optimist:
"Civilization, like life itself, has always been about capturing energy.  That is to say, just as a successful species is one that converts the sun's energy into offspring more rapidly than another species, so the same is true of a nation.  Progressively, as the aeons passed, life as a whole has grown gradually more and more efficient at doing this, at locally cheating the second law of thermodynamics.  The plants and animals that dominate the earth today channel more of the sun's energy through their bodies than their ancestors of the Cambrian period (when, for example, there were no plants on land).  Likewise, human history is a tale of progressively discovering and diverting sources of energy to support the human lifestyle.  Domesticated crops captured more solar energy for the first farmers; draught animals channelled more plant energy into raising human living standards; watermills tool the sun's evaporation engine and used it to enrich medieval monks.  'Civilization, like life, is a Sisyphean flight from chaos,' as Peter Huber and Mark Mills put it, 'The chaos will prevail in the end, but it is our mission to postpone that day for as long as we can and to push things in the opposite direction with all the ingenuity and determination we can must.  Energy isn't the problem.  Energy is the solution.'" (244)

"The chaos will prevail in the end"! 

Is this the dark side of an evolutionary view of human life as emerging within a cosmos that is indifferent or even hostile to human cares?  Is this what Leo Strauss identified as the "fear of the most terrible truth" in the evolutionary liberalism of Lucretius--even if the atomic world is eternal, the human world is not, and thus the thought "that nothing lovable is eternal or sempiternal or deathless, or that the eternal is not lovable"? 

Is this why so many of the Straussians scorn Darwinian science as nihilism--because it teaches "the most terrible truth" of Lucretian moral anthropology and denies Platonic moral cosmology?

Some of these points have been elaborated in previous posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Adam Smith's Theology as Secret Writing

Adam Smith's handling of theological ideas in his books is a good illustration of what Leo Strauss called "the art of secret writing."   It also shows the importance of Darwinian science in fulfilling Smith's liberal understanding of social life as a largely self-regulating order created unintentionally by the free exchanges of individuals seeking the satisfaction of their individual desires.

Smith explains a wide range of social orders--morals, markets, laws, languages, and sciences--as spontaneous orders arising from human actions but not by human design.  As James Otteson has shown, Smith's explanations of these spontaneous orders manifest an analytic model with four elements: a motivating desire, the rules developed, a currency (what gets exchanged), and a resulting unintended system of order. 

Otteson argues, however, 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 that motivate spontaneous orders and circumstances such as the dependence of children on adult care.  This presupposes an order of nature, including human nature, that cannot itself be explained as unintended order, because, Smith suggests, 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.

There are at least three possible explanations for this theological language in Smith's writing.  First, one could say, as Otteson does, that Smith was a religious believer--perhaps an orthodox Christian, or at least a Deist.  Second, one could say that Smith was not a religious believer, but that he needed to feign religious belief to avoid persecution by religious zealots and to avoid offending the religious believers around him.  Third, one could say that while he was not an orthodox believer in a divinely designed world, he had no alternative explanation for the appearance of design in nature, and so he was forced to use the language of divine design. 

I think the second and third explanations are the most persuasive, and here my thinking has been influenced by two articles--Ronald Coase, "Adam Smith's View of Man," Journal of Law and Economics, 19 (1976): 529-46; and Gavin Kennedy, "The Hidden Adam Smith in His Alleged Theology," Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 33 (2011): 385-402.

Kennedy makes a good case for the second explanation--that Smith had to feign religious belief to avoid being persecuted or being offensive in a society where Christian orthodoxy was pervasive.  Kennedy reminds us, for example, that Smith could never have been a professor at the University of Glasgow if he had not signed the the Calvinist Confession of Faith before the Presbytery of Glasgow.  He also reminds us that Smith was deeply devoted to his mother, with whom he lived, and that any public questioning of religious belief would have offended her.  Kennedy shows how, after his mother's death in 1784, and as he was nearing death himself, Smith made revisions to the 6th and final edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments that eliminated or muted the more overtly theological passages of his earlier editions.  Moreover, Smith's deep friendship with David Hume, who was notorious for his reputation as an atheist, and his praise of Hume as the most wise and virtuous man suggest that he shared Hume's skepticism, but that he could not be as open as Hume in expressing this in public. 

All of this is evidence that Smith was a practitioner of secret writing--conveying a conventional acceptance of orthodoxy to his popular readers, while suggesting to the few careful readers that his true teaching was subversive of orthodoxy.

And yet even in the 6th edition of The Theory of Moral Sentiments, when the fear of persecution or of offending loved ones was lessened, Smith still has many passages about the divine design of cosmic nature and human nature.  This might require the third explanation, which is suggested by Coase:  although Smith was not a religious believer, and although he preferred to explain the world as a product of purely natural causes, he could see that human nature was well adapted to the circumstances of life in ways that were hard to explain as a purely natural product of spontaneous ordering, and consequently he was forced to use the language of divine design.

Coase notes Smith's preference for naturalistic explanations in The Wealth of Nations, where Smith writes: 
"The great phenomena of nature, the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, eclipses, comets, thunder, lightning, and other extraordinary meteors; the generation, the life, growth, and dissolution of plants and animals; are objects which, as they necessarily excite the wonder, so they naturally call forth the curiosity of mankind to enquire into their causes.  Superstition, first attempted to satisfy this curiosity by referring all those wonderful appearances to the immediate agency of the gods.  Philosophy afterwards endeavoured to account for them, from more familiar causes, or from such as mankind were better acquainted with, than the agency of the gods.  As those great phenomena are the first objects of human curiosity, so the science which pretends to explain them must naturally have been the first branch of philosophy that was cultivated.  The first philosophers, accordingly, of whom history has preserved any account, appear to have been natural philosophers" (V.i.f.24, p. 767-68).
The problem, however, as Coase indicates, is that in Smith's day, the science of "the life, growth, and dissolution of plants and animals" had not yet reached the evolutionary theory of Darwin that would explain the origin of species, and thus there was no good alternative to religious belief in the divinely intelligent design of the living world, including human nature. 

Nevertheless, Coase recognizes that in some passages in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith comes very close to the kind of evolutionary explanation that was later elaborated by Darwin.  Smith identifies "self-preservation, and the propagation of the species" as "the great ends which Nature seems to have proposed in the formation of all animals" (II.i.5.6, p. 77).  He stresses the instinctive bond of parents in caring for their offspring as rooted in mammalian nature (VI.ii.1.5, p. 219).  And he sees how the moral sentiments as based on sympathy are adaptive for the human animal, a fundamental idea for Darwin in explaining the evolution of human morality.

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 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 free-standing, 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.

Related posts can be found here. and here.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Part 2 of "Liberalism, Anarchism, and Darwinism"

While liberalism seeks a society that is largely self-regulating with a minimal government, anarchism seeks a society that is completely self-regulating with no government.  If so, then it might seem that anarchism is a radical form of liberalism.  That's the thought suggested by Ralph Raico and Murray Rothbard, who endorsed Gustave de Molinari's anti-statist liberalism as the first expression of "anarcho-capitalism." 

This thought was elaborated in a long article by David M. Hart, "Gustave de Molinari and the Antistatist Liberal Tradition," published in three parts in The Journal of Libertarian Studies (Summer 1981, Fall 1981, and Winter 1982, vols. 5-6), which is available online.

My response to this is to argue that the evolutionary history of social order shows that while a stateless society is possible, 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 Hobbesian/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. 

Molinari agreed with this.  While arguing for a free market of governments, he denied that this was anarchism, which would require the abolition of government.  Unlike the anarchists, Molinari 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 this point when he insists: "In spite of his protestations to the contrary, Molinari should be considered an anarchist thinker" (JLS, V, Fall 1981, 416).

The first and best statement of Molinari's free market governmentalism was in 1849 in an article--"De la production de la securite," in Journal des Economistes 21 (February 1849): 277-90.  Both the original French text and the English translation can be found online.  He elaborated his reasoning in a book published the same year: Les Soirees de la rue Saint-Lazare (Paris: Gauillaumin, 1849).  My references will be to the English translation of "The Production of Security," with a Preface by Rothbard.

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 (15-21, 41-43, 51, 53-54, 61).

By a natural instinct, 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" (53).  Thus, 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" (23)?

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.

 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."  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 Icelandic Commonwealth (930-1262) as showing how libertarian anarchism can really work.  But as I have argued in a previous post, it is true that medieval Iceland was "stateless"--in the sense that it did not have a centralized bureaucratic state apparatus--but it still had political rule. It was a chiefdom, but with multiple competing chieftains. 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 channelled through a system of competing elites and countervailing power that secured freedom and minimized exploitative domination.

Like Molinari, Auberon Herbert (1838-1906) 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" (The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State, and Other Essays, Liberty Fund, 1978, p. 375).

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 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" (383).
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 (45-46, 125, 130, 282, 303, 307, 337, 340, 369-75, 387).  Herbert thought that Darwinian science supported this "system of perfect liberty" (107-109).  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.  (This last thought is elaborated in an previous post.)

Much of this debate over anarchism seems to turn on a mere matter of definition.  If "anarchy" is defined as "no rule" or "no governance," then anarchy has never existed.  But if "anarchy" is defined as "self-rule" or "self-governance" without a centralized State, then anarchy has existed.

This is, I think, Peter Marshall's point in his history of anarchist thinkers and movements--Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism (2010).  Anarchists begin by distinguishing between society and the State, he indicates, and then they argue that a society can be a self-regulating order of governance without a State.  He writes: "Pure anarchy in the sense of a society with no concentration of force and no social controls has probably never existed.  Stateless societies and peasant societies employ sanctions of approval and disapproval, the offer of reciprocity and the threat of its withdrawal, as instruments of social control.  But modern anthropology confirms that in organic or 'primitive' societies, there is a limited concentration of force.  If authority exists, it is delegated and rarely imposed, and in many societies no relation of command and obedience is in force" (12).

If one defines "anarchy" as "self-governance" in a stateless society, then Molinari and Herbert were anarchists.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Liberalism, Anarchism, and Darwinism

In Classical Liberalism and the Austrian School (Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2012), Ralph 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" (98).  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" (23).  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" (1).
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 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 Murray Rothbard, Roderick Long, and David Friedman, who have defended "anarcho-capitalism."

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" (Book 3, Chapter 2).  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" (146-47).  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 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 (223-34).

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" (24).

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" (156-57).  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" (225).  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" (230).

Raico recognizes that Menger and the other founders of the Austrian school of economics were not as clearly liberal in their political thought as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.  And even Mises and Hayek disagreed in their interpretation of liberalism, because Mises was more strongly laissez-faire than was Hayek, who actually defended governmental welfare-state programs, including a guaranteed minimum income for everyone.  Murray 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 (96).  One way is to argue that liberalism overestimates the self-regulatory capacity of society, 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" (96).

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.  As I will indicate in my next post, Molinari did not even identify himself as an anarchist, because he rightly saw that government was necessary for a free society.

Some of my previous posts on unintended orders, anarchism, and government can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.