- Paperback: 159 pages
- Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2005 edition (January 28, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0230621120
- ISBN-13: 978-0230621121
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,643,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Failure of Democratic Nation Building: Ideology Meets Evolution 2005th Edition
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The Amazon Book Review
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'Al Somit and Steve Peterson have written a book that is provocative, unconventional, and all too persuasive. Even if U.S. policies were more thoughtful and consistent, the efforts to create democratic regimes in the Third World are likely to fail: given the trajectory of genetic and cultural evolution, most of us are more comfortable with social systems that are stratified and hierarchical. Democracy requires eternal vigilance, which is a lot of trouble. With a choice between the liberté, egalité, and fraternité trinity and the combination of security and prosperity, most of us will settle for the latter.'- J. David Singer, University of Michigan, USA
About the Author
ALBERT SOMIT is Professor Emeritus at Southern Illinois University, USA. He has served as Executive Vice-President of SUNY-Buffalo and President of Southern Illinois University. He is a pioneer of biopolitics.
STEVEN A. PETERSON is Professor of Politics, Penn State University at Harrisburg, USA and Director of its School of Public Affairs. He has authored or edited 15 books, mostly in the area of public policy. His research interests include political behaviour, political psychology, and biology and politics.
Top customer reviews
This book is well written and hard-hitting, nicely produced, short and to the point, though horribly overpriced. Clearly the publisher expects only libraries and a few benighted souls such as myself, to fork over the cash. The authors delight in acknowledging how unpopular their view is, and how widely it is ignored. Yet, they aver, basic evolutionary psychology leads them inexorably to their dismal conclusion.
Now, I would vigorously dispute their claim that democracy is on the decline in the world, and the United States has wasted its resources in supporting democratic regimes. The democratization of Japan, Germany, and even France and Italy after WWII were directly the result of US efforts, and these democracies have been extremely enduring. The US supported mostly right-wing dictatorships in South America and the Pacific Basin after WWII, prior to the Reagan administration. Following this period, and with US support, there were extremely successful and enduring democratic regime changes throughout Latin America and the Pacific. Of course, there is much more to be done, but to lament the decline of democracy in the world is startlingly out of touch with reality, in my view.
But, the main problem with the authors' thesis is that an evolutionary perspective on human nature leads much more naturally to the conclusion that humans are deeply hostile to being on the receiving end of illegitimate authority and imposed hierarchy, and that most of human history, which consisted of hunter-gatherer bands in the Pleistocene, were probably extremely egalitarian, as are contemporary hunter-gatherer groups. Only with aggregation in cities and the rise of agriculture some 10,000 years ago was it possible for rulers to accumulate land, valuables, and armies to the degree that they could impose their will on the masses. From the dawn of history (i.e., the birth of cities and sedentary agriculture) to the present, the wealthy and powerful have attempted to impose their will and thus expand their wealth and power, and have always encountered the hostility and insurrection of the subjugated, who throughout history have fought against such tyranny. Only in the Twentieth century have the masses begun to win their fight for political power and representation.
Not only do the authors completely ignore this anthropological evidence (they cite in a footnote that they disagree with Paul Rubin and Chris Boehm, who have written at length in support of the historical interpretation given in the previous paragraph), but they never say why. Similarly, the appear never to have heard of the bonobo chimps, who are certainly social primates, very close to humans evolutionarily, and yet are not hierarchical (they do not even cite Frans deWaal, who has written extensively about the bonobo chimps). Moreover, there are many other primate species that are not hierarchical, and chimps differ greatly from humans in many social respects (e.g., they are polygamous whereas humans are predominantly monogamous, males do not care for young, whereas human males are major providers for young in hunter-gather groups).
Perhaps my understanding of the social conditions under which our species evolved is incorrect, although I doubt it. By simply ignoring the mountain of evidence and the received wisdom (I merely express the received wisdom here), they cannot possibly do justice to their position.
Somit and Peterson take aim at one key premise driving the mess: belief in democracy as the high destiny of humanity. They argue that democracy happens only when historically rare enabling conditions are in place. The reason for its rarity is that the human species evolved, as the great apes and simians evolved, a social structure of hierarchy: we prefer kings to average guys and gals. This is a major interpretation of our species behavioural repertoire, offensive (to put it mildly) to the democratic spirit, which likes to imagine that anything is possible. Their arguments and evidence for this position are a little thin, as the strenuous objections of one reviewer show. He complains that the authors neglect the anthropological literature supporting belief in the human egalitarian nature. Since the authors cite one such recent study, they should address the question. Prominent in support of their position is Napoleon Chagnon's many studies of the Yanomamo of the Amazon and Laura Betzig's Despotism and Differential Reproduction: A Darwinian View of History. When you examine anthropological studies purporting to prove that we're born to be free and equal, you find not a native egalitarian temper, but small kin groups in competition for the limelight (the Big Man syndrome) plus the subordination of women (matriarchy is a myth; what was meant was matrilineal descent, a very different thing). To infer a propensity to equality from this evidence has about the same plausibility as inferring a tendency to non-violence from the practice of the Amish and other religious communities that renounce even spanking the kids. Peacefulness works for them thanks to ceaseless prayful indoctrination, endogenous marriage, and xenophobic inwardness. The authors should also have made a canvass of the actual performance of egalitarian enthusiasm, as distinguished from mesmerizing claims. Let's see: Robespierre, Napoleon, the Paris Commune, Lenin, Stalin, Tito, Mao, Pol Pot: such are the liberators who overthrew tyrants to free the oppressed. `Foul!', I hear a democrat cry. `Your sample is biased!' Let's turn that one around: any celebration of the progress of history toward democracy that omits these and other passionate democrats has falsified the tale. My point isn't to deny that genuine democratic leaders are out there, but to remind you that the democratic multitude can't reliably distinguish the real from the fake.
Having mentioned a few criticisms, let me wind it up by strongly endorsing this informative and astute examination of a very important political question.