From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Might Makes Right’

Full post here.

‘I’ve noticed that Darwinism seems to support one of the fundamental claims of classical liberalism:  natural rights emerge in human history as those conditions for human life that cannot be denied without eventually provoking a natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation.’

A deep and interesting argument.  Both Thomas Hobbes and John Locke had to deal with a constantly warring, reformation England.

Arnhart:

‘The problem, of course, is that the vigilantism of the state of nature easily collapses into perpetual feuding, and then people will consent to establish formal governments and the rule of law.  To do that, people must give up their executive power to the government, which then might become even more oppressive than any individual in the state of nature.  But if the people feel oppressed, they can take back their natural executive power in an “appeal to Heaven” in war.

Hobbes and Locke were not just speculating about this.  They had seen the English Civil War.  They had seen that Roundheads can defeat Cavaliers, and that kings can be beheaded.  Locke had plotted with the Whigs in assassination conspiracies directed against the King.

Hobbes and Locke had also studied carefully the reports about the foraging societies of New World, which Hobbes and Locke used as the basis for their depictions of the state of nature.’

Here is the full passage of Locke’s “appeal to Heaven”:

‘Sec. 20. But when the actual force is over, the state of war ceases between those that are in society, and are equally on both sides subjected to the fair determination of the law; because then there lies open the remedy of appeal for the past injury, and to prevent future harm: but where no such appeal is, as in the state of nature, for want of positive laws, and judges with authority to appeal to, the state of war once begun, continues, with a right to the innocent party to destroy the other whenever he can, until the aggressor offers peace, and desires reconciliation on such terms as may repair any wrongs he has already done, and secure the innocent for the future; nay, where an appeal to the law, and constituted judges, lies open, but the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice, and a barefaced wresting of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence or injuries of some men, or party of men, there it is hard to imagine any thing but a state of war: for wherever violence is used, and injury done, though by hands appointed to administer justice, it is still violence and injury, however coloured with the name, pretences, or forms of law, the end whereof being to protect and redress the innocent, by an unbiassed application of it, to all who are under it; wherever that is not bona fide done, war is made upon the sufferers, who having no appeal on earth to right them, they are left to the only remedy in such cases, an appeal to heaven.’

To repeat: On Locke’s view, the state of nature is not sufficient to handle the injustice that two warring groups do unto each other lest they keep fighting in perpetuity.  Both must have recourse to fair determination of the law, some body to whom they can appeal, and so must have faith in some form of government.  Yet, that government (possibly filled with those having won the struggle, and hopefully being recognized by the opposition as having some legitimacy lest the process begin again) can also become a threat itself, to which Locke allows great leeway in response:

Another quote from Locke:

‘This is to think that men are so foolish that they take care to avoid what mischiefs may be done them by pole-cats, or foxes, but are content, nay think it safety, to be devoured by lions.’

Arnhart:

‘Eventually, human social and political evolution has brought a general decline in violence (as Steven Pinker has shown).  But that decline in violence can never bring perpetual peace (contrary to the utopian pacifism of people like Herbert Spencer), because the enforcement of the liberal norm of voluntary cooperation will always depend on the threat or use of force against those who would violate that norm.’

I’m still a little skeptical of the argument for overall ‘human social and political evolution,’ but won’t respond at the moment.

I find myself wishfully thinking it’d be nice to have a return to Lockean liberalism.  With all the appeals to science and much scientism, top-down rationalism, the social sciences and the eventual social engineering that can come through public policy administered by experts with tax-payer money, too many modern liberals are uncomfortable with limited government.

Locke was not, as he understood many of its dangers, especially the danger of slipping us back into perpetual warfare in a state of nature (not in, say, a more Rousseauian state of nature where man is free, and the individual forms a much more anarchic relationship with all civil institutions, still visible in France today, with more of a tilt between anarchy and hierarchy and with intellectual ‘rock stars’ and a more libertine morality in the public sphere).

**As a brief thought experiment:  Could the ‘appeal to heaven’ argument apply in the same capacity for black folks in America held in bondage by the laws?  Any ‘natural human tendency to violent resistance against exploitation‘ by black folks was met with both lawful and unlawful violence, psychological humiliation, punishment, and usually sympathy and support for those doing the punishing or simple indifference by the society at large.  The response to such injustice is worthy of note given such circumstances, and has manifested itself in various ways, some violent, some non-violent but all affecting our current cultural and political landscape and our national character (e.g. The Nation Of IslamThe Black PanthersThe Civil Rights MovementMLK’s theology, social gospel, Gandhian nonviolent resistance and support of rights enacted at the Federal level, and many others).  Perhaps an ‘appeal to heaven’ is no doubt a genuine appeal to heaven in faith, to maintain the body and spirit against such injustice.  Locke, in response to Enlightenment developments around him, laid some of the first foundations of empiricism, which reached its peak with David Hume, and which generally leads to atheism.  Locke’s defense of his own rationalism (he argued forcefully against Robert Filmer and others who wanted to maintain a kingdom of heaven here on earth) and the possibility of transcendent objects like God is incomplete at best.

John Gray’s review of Pinker’s book. A response to that review.  An FAQ page by Pinker.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This SiteFrom Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Locke’s Evolutionary History Of Politics’…A Few Quotations: Leo Strauss On John LockeFrom Darwinian Conservatism By Larry Arnhart: “Surfing Strauss’s Third Wave of Modernity”Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Some Sunday Quotations: (On) Kant, Locke, and Pierce..

Snyder is perhaps not a fan of libertarianism Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’  What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Darwin and the arts: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

Repost-From The Spiked Review Of Books: ‘Delving Into The Mind Of The Technocrat’

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Jonathan Haidt’s Darwinian Conservatism’From Edge: ‘Re: What Makes People Republican? By Jonathan Haidt’…Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

God and continental philosophy…regulated markets and progressive liberation theology?: Robert George And Cornel West At Bloggingheads: “The Scandal Of The Cross”

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Categories: Current Events, Philosophy, Politics, Public Debate, Religion, Science

Author:chr1

An independent blogger seeking to discuss deeply while keeping an open mind. I'm mostly on the right, but living in Seattle I have to think about what that means on a daily basis. I like to read philosophy.

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2 Comments on “From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Might Makes Right’”

  1. December 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    I’ve always felt that there was a valid but weak natural rights argument concerning ‘human flourishing’ i.e. we all have a natural right to be free of a certain degree of coercive force because otherwise human flourishing would suffer. Unfortunately, like the Darwinian argument above, this argument doesn’t take us very far.

  2. December 13, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Malcolm, thanks for reading.

    I’m pretty much in agreement with you. J.S. Mill’s harm principle seems to cover a broader definition of liberty often used by those who define liberty to include it in a list of rights the government is ‘obligated’ to provide, freedom from coercion and violence high on that list.

    ‘Human flourishing’ is easily taken into the domain of ‘positive’ rights which are used by many to increase the size and scope of government. Many are using Darwinism to that end.

    It’s interesting to revisit Locke’s liberalism, however.

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