Dan McCarthy points out the blog of Larry Arnhart on Darwinian Conservatism. There might be something to be said for a Darwinian conservatism in the sense that conservatives acknowledge certain biological realities as given parts of the structure of our existence (they may be realities that change over time, but they are real nonetheless) and that you cannot really change the nature of a being or that you can do so but only with great risks of perilous and unforeseen consequences. In this sense, both social and genetic engineering, while both theoretically possible, might well be undesirable and unethical from the perspective of a Darwinian conservative because of the numerous potential pitfalls and bad mutations, so to speak, that might arise as a result. What is not particularly conservative about Mr. Arnhart’s Darwinian conservatism is the claim:
Conservatives object, arguing that social order arises not from rational planning but from the spontaneous order of instincts and habits. Darwinian biology sustains conservative social thought by showing how the human capacity for spontaneous order arises from social instincts and a moral sense shaped by natural selection in human evolutionary history.
When I hear the phrase “spontaneous order,” I reach for my arqebuss. As I said some months ago about this phrase:
For my part, I will say that I’ve never liked the libertarian phrase “spontaneous order,” which sounds like the kind of order that has suddenly burst into flames.
I am often curious what people think they mean when they say, “spontaneous order.” Presumably they mean that order just happens. No one sets down the norms that govern a society–the norms just well up from the ground, so to speak. That is what the phrase suggests. But as anyone might notice perusing the news from, say, Iraq, order doesn’t just happen. More to the point, I have never known a conservative thinker who, while sober, ever suggested that order just came about by chance. When he looks at the natural world, moreover, he does not see “spontaneous order” because he does not see much order at all.
Order is an artefact of civilisation and the discipline of civilisation, just as liberty is. Humans are naturally sociable, yes, but that does not mean that that they have organised their societies by anything like a principle of spontaneity where practices and habits come together to form some kind of cultural melange without some guiding authorities dictating and approving of this or that habit. Practice becomes regulated by customary observances and is defined by the expectations of those in positions of respect and authority. What is appropriate, what is pious, what is meritorious–these things are not determined by some randomly developed consensus, but but certain people or classes of people saying that it is so and other classes of people accepting these definitions. Culture is not just the outgrowth of human practices and habits, but is reinforced and enforced by authorities using stigma, social pressure and coercive methods.
It is quite one thing to say that men here below cannot perfect themselves through rational planning and that it is not possible to transform human behaviour completely by creating an environment favourable to perfected man. It is quite another to talk about “spontaneous order,” which has not existed and will never exist.
That being said, Mr. Arnhart also says some very smart things on Iraq, many of which echo my own stated views.