Since there are relatively few conservatives that embrace evolution and the underlying empirical rationalism so it is always a surprise to come across one. The rejection of Darwinism is something conservative fundamentalists – who have become the dominating force behind conservatism – share with their Muslim counterparts. An Islamic creationist named Harun Yahya wrote in the The Evolution Deceit evolution is “nothing but a deception imposed on us by the dominators of the world system.” On reading conservative Alvaro Vargas Llosa appeal to conservatives to reevaluate their position on evolution and Darwin – Darwin and the Right – he cannot resist the conservative fetish for distorting history and science for their agenda.
Darwin was not an atheist but a Victorian believer. He was not a proto-Marxist but a liberal, which in 19th-century Britain meant someone who favored individual liberty over big government.
Llosa’s use of the term “big government” is either out of ignorance, in which case he should not have written the essay or he is trying to backwards define a modern term. Those two words have are modern coded language for an agenda of which Darwin would have no knowledge of, mush less support. While some modern conservatives are fans of Adam Smith there were basic structural aspects to his economic and social theories that are contrary to modern conservatism such as the warning not to be guided solely by self interests. There is this game conservatives play with John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau, where they are cited for individual rights or for the will of the majority respectively, for whichever suits their argument that day. The U.S. and other western democracies are a synthesis of the two. Not using Locke and Rousseau in their proper context in the cultural evolution of liberalism and democracy is dishonest and misleading. Odd Llosa should point out the erroneous conflating of social-Darwinism with evolution yet try to shoe-horn Darwin into political theory. Darwin was a liberal. Darwinism has no political affiliations. Liberals tend toward rationalism, evolution is part of the package along with other scientific theories and mathematical theorems.
It is fascinating that conservatives who advocate for a spontaneous order—the free market—in political economy and decry social engineering as a threat to progress and civilization should resent Darwin’s overwhelming case for the idea that order can design itself. In an essay in the British publication The Spectator, the conservative science writer Matt Ridley reflects on the paradox that the left has claimed Darwin even though leftist political ideas contradict his basic teaching: “In the average European biology laboratory you will find fervent believers in the individualist, emergent, decentralized properties of genomes who prefer dirigiste determinism to bring order to the economy.”
“Spontaneous order” in the free market. That is questionable. This is subtle for a conservative, but he is conflating Adam Smith, laissez-faire economics and Darwinism. Darwin had some ideas about the evolution of culture and altruism for example, but the economic theories that came out of his era were from Smith not Darwin. Cultural institutions do tend to evolve, reach an equilibrium based on societal expectations and demands, but that is not natural selection at work. The tendency toward such cultural cooperation – in the kind of intensity we’ve seen in the last hundred years – is, to be redundant, a modern phenomenon. What we have here is the argument that just as biological evolution produced a complex but stable human – the pinnacle, oddly enough of creationism and evolution in Llosa’s view – without divine intervention the same evolution will produce a complex, stable and perfect marketplace. A marketplace that don’t need no stink’n regulations. Hallelujah, John Galt. It is true we pass on our cultural successes – if ideas work, if courts with juries work, if universities work, if having elected legislators works – than those successes are inherited by the next generation via education and socialization. The whole process may look a lot like Darwin’s “struggle to survive” or what Herbert Spencer called “survival of the fittest” and those things might be part of the recipe but we’re not talking about inherited biological traits, recessive or dominant genes, co-evolution, genetic drift or even biological fitness. Our culture is intimately linked with our biology, but they are not the same thing – even if our biology inclines us toward certain mutually beneficial behaviors like cooperation and self-sacrifice. Behaviors have biological roots, but an animal capable of complex abstract thinking could reject them. And some of us seem to pretty regularly. The quote from the Spectator – a rag written by people who have day dreams and wistful thoughts about the days of Empire – “the left has claimed Darwin even though leftist political ideas contradict his basic teaching” – is wrong and strange. He is once again – like the old European Right dragging Darwin into social imperatives supposedly dictated by biology – which is by any other name social-Darwinism. Liberalism is partly a rejection of social-Darwinism, not the science of evolution. It only looks like a contradiction to people like Llosa and the Spectator who insist on twisting them together, much like Friedrich Nietzsche.
It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be — on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.
A snip from a very long article. After I read this paragraph my first thought was many of these problems are structural problems which those in their late teens to mid-twenties do not have much control over. Some of these problems or issues are ones that every generation deals with. The concept of children leaving and living across town or country is a relatively modern concept. Both western and eastern culture (still the norm in much of eastern culture) children, their parents and grandparents all lived together or in extended housing – the nuclear family. She doesn’t get to that until the very end.