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» » The Right Darwin?: Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy

The Right Darwin?: Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy by Carson Holloway

The Right Darwin?: Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy
The Right Darwin?: Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy
Carson Holloway
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Spence Publishing Company; 2 edition (December 30, 2008)
224 pages
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Social Sciences
The common assumption that Darwinism and conservatism are mutually inconsistent is now fiercely debated on the right. A number of conservative thinkers argue that evolutionary biology can replace religion as the source of morality while scientifically confirming conservative public policy. Illuminating this crucial but confusing debate, a new book by Carson Holloway explains why Darwinian conservatism is both illusory and dangerous. Until recently, the obvious conservative response to Darwinism was hostility because of its atheism and materialism. Prominent scientific writers, particularly those working in fields informed by Darwinian biology, have been contemptuous in their dismissal of religion, calling it not only false but harmful. Too
  • Gunos
This book is not properly titled, or researched in my opinion. It should be called "Political Theory of Conservative Evolutionists" or "Conservative Right Sociobiology." Darwin is not cited throughout the entire book, nor does Darwin appear in the bibliography. Don't buy this book if you want to understand Darwin. Unfortunately throughout the author carelessly uses "Darwinian" and "Darwinism", when he should use "post-Darwinian" or better "conservative evolutionists." Darwin is not responsible for the political theory of Francis Fukuyama, Larry Arnhart, James Q. Wilson, Roger Masters, and Robert McShea. If you want to know about those authors, buy and read this book - but at least make the further effort to read Darwin's thoughts himself. In any book with Darwin prominently in the title, at least some citation of the original man's works or thought should be made, otherwise the term "Darwinian" or "Darwinism" really is completely hollow in this book - a straw man that represents the above listed five authors (and nothing but those five authors). Instead of choosing Alexander de Tocqueville for his lens of analysis (as Holloway does) he should really have cross-checked to see if these five conservatives generally represented the political, religious, and philosophical outlook of Charles Darwin. I think that they do not, and we must remember that Darwin himself never wrote a systematic political treatise nor was a political theorist. Hence, stop using his name in examining the ideas of others!
  • AGAD
In this book Holloway tackles several related questions: Can secular Darwinism account for human morality? Can political and social conservatives embrace Darwinism in general, and socio-biology or evolutionary psychology in particular? How successful is the attempt to argue conservative principles through Darwinian theory?

As such it features an intriguing blend of various disciplines and themes: philosophy, political theory, evolution, morality, sociology and public policy.

The background to the book is this: Recently a number of more-or-less conservative social thinkers have tried to argue that Darwinism is not necessarily inimical to conservatism. Because Darwinism is usually seen as totally non-religious, or even anti-religious, and conservatives often tend to be mostly religious, the two have seemed to be irreconcilable.

But some of these new thinkers argue that conservative morality can in fact be deduced from, or explained in terms of, our biology, and not from some transcendent source. And the key conservative themes such as family, private property and limited government are compatible with our understanding of evolutionary determinism.

Thus Holloway here presents the main thinkers seeking to make these arguments: names well known to most conservatives, such as James Q. Wilson and Francis Fukuyama, and names not as well known: Larry Arnhart, and Roger Masters.

The bulk of this book consists of a careful analysis of, and interaction with, these thinkers. Holloway concedes that on most issues a conservative - and Darwinian - case can be made to some extent. For example, the argument of Hobbes and Locke that morality and sociability are basically artificial, social constructs is countered by the new Darwinists who contend that our ability to act socially and morally is basic to who we are. Indeed, it is built into us by nature.

Thus nature itself is the source of our gender differences, of the importance of family, of our preference for private property, and other conservative goods. Holloway is happy to see a natural footing to these goods, as opposed to the idea that these are merely human constructs. But is nature a sufficient explanation and justification of these goods? Can Darwin succeed without any cosmic teleology, such as transcendent religion?

Holloway thinks not. In the end, an appeal to our evolved nature, to our natural desires and propensities, is not sufficient as a basis of morality. Why prefer good desires over bad ones? How do we account for psychopaths? Indeed, how do we account for Mother Teresa under a purely Darwinian framework?

Not only can Darwinism not explain a Mother Teresa, it cannot explain our admiration of her either, argues Holloway. Something more is needed than mere nature to account for the difference of man and the difference he makes.

Although Holloway appreciates some of the insights gained from sociobiology, and believes that those he interacts with have made a good start to their case, in the end he feels the overall argument cannot succeed. Darwinism is incapable of fully explaining either morality or human nature.

Without some objective, transcendent source of morality, mere human desires are not enough to make man moral nor explain his uniqueness. And some of these new Darwinians acknowledge this. For example, Fukuyama argues a strong case against the biotech revolution in his Our Postmodern Future. However, in order to argue against the runaway biotechnologies, he has to resort to religion to buttress his case. But in doing this he undermines his Darwinian understanding which he advanced in his earlier book, The Great Disruption.

Fukuyama wants desperately to argue for the uniqueness of mankind and the need to resist the abolition of man by the new technologies, but his Darwinian framework just does not allow him to successfully do so. Says Holloway, while both Fukuyama and John Paul II championed man and his uniqueness, only the latter had the proper basis on which to argue for the preservation of human nature.

So morality without some transcendent source is simply not up to the task. As to what that transcendent source of morality is Holloway does not explore. But he is satisfied in arguing that a Darwinian morality and social order cannot succeed, and more is needed than mere nature or biology.

Although a potentially complex and difficult subject, Holloway has done a good job of making clear his arguments, as well as those of his opponents. As such this is an important book dealing with a host of important issues. Undoubtedly the discussion raised here will continue, but we owe the author thanks for helpfully introducing us to the debate.