Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Your Own Personal Darwin

For a long time I have believed that this contrast in Darwinisms is one of the prominent political distinctions between conservatives and liberals. Reich sums up the problem on the conservative side well:
If mankind did not evolve according to Darwinist logic, but began instead with Adam and Eve, then it seems unlikely societies evolve according to the survival-of-the-fittest logic of Social Darwinism [as articulated by modern conservativism]. By the same token, if you believe one’s economic status is the consequence of an automatic process of natural selection, then, presumably, you’d believe that human beings represent the culmination of a similar process, over the ages.
By way of analogy, conservatives are prone to a contrived and self-contradictory dualism that argues that the flow of financial capital is at once "natural" (and thus, "amoral," by which I think they mean "unrelated to ethical considerations" rather than "lacking moral standards") and "virtuous" (and thus, worth moral celebration). A primary cause for the self-contradiction is that in the virtue tradition of moral philosophy, being virtuous itself is considered the natural end of human behavior. Since the free (assuming that it actually is free) market is nothing more than one more form of human interaction, then it is not amoral. Since the natural end of human behavior is the virtuous life, then all aspects of human behavior, including the free market, are related to ethical considerations.

But one need not advance ideals of "virtue" in order to argue that the flow of money is primarily natural and "amoral." All one needs is some ethical naturalism with a pinch of sociological naturalism topped off with a dose of realpolitik. Appeals to virtue in such an argument come across as either over-the-top or snake-oil. But if one is going to argue that a free market is "amoral" along these lines, then one cannot ignore money's political corollary, power. Economics and politics are two sides of the same "amoral" coin. If the free market is "amoral," then political governance in itself is also "amoral."

If we're all going to be naturalists about human relations, let's try to be consistent in our Darwinisms, shall we?

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