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Man Is by Nature a Political Animal: Evolution, Biology, and Politics Paperback – September 22, 2011
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This exploratory volume advocates grounding general political theory in evolutionary biology. I think this is a great idea, and if you have never thought much about the relationship among evolution, human nature, biology, and political life, this is a useful way to start. The editors seem to think that genetics and neuroscience should be included in evolutionary theory, so there are several chapters that simply analyze genes, neurons, and hormones. These are useful in their own right, but they have little to do with an analytical core for political theory.
The contributors to this volume simply miss the most basic facts about political theory. The most important fact is that the public sphere is the area of human social life where the rules of the game are made, stabilized, evaluated, debated, and transformed. This is important because, while many animals play games, humans alone can conceptualize the notion that games have rules, these rules can be violated or respected, and that we can agree to play by certain rules with the expectation of achieving certain social regularities thereby. Homo sapiens is thus "Homo ludens": Man the game player. This is the central fact of political theory.
We are Homo ludens because we evolved in hunter-gatherer society as fundamentally egalitarian and participatory animals. See my recent article in Current Anthropology on the topic---it's on my web site--as well as my coauthor Chris Boehm's book Moral Origins: The Evolution of
Virtue, Altruism, and Shame (New York: Basic Books, 2012).
The second amazing fact about our species is that individuals are willing to participate in large political events, including elections and collective actions, even though their participation is completely non-consequential. No individual has ever made a difference in a large election or a large demonstration, march, etc. Never. Humans appear to follow a social logic that I call distributed effectivity. For details, see the paper on my web site (under submission at APSR) called Homo ludens, under "Political Theory."
There is a growing literature in this specialization within political science. There are academic organizations focused on this realm. The discipline of political science is increasingly open to this perspective.
The various chapters provide a sense of the scope of biology and politics:
1. Evolution as a theory for illuminating political behavior;
2. Knowledge of primates and the implications for understanding politics;
3. Evolutionary models for the study of politics;
4. Twin studies and political behavior;
5. Genes and political participation;
6. Hormones and politics;
7. Testosterone and politics;
8. The brain and politics.
The reader might not be convinced by all chapters, but the volume does a nice job of introducing this specialization to a broader audience, without compromising the intellectual approach. All in all, a welcome volume. . . .
This book shows that a library is a verifiable gold mine of information lost to scientists in disciplines other than their own. My hat is off to scientists who go to scientific journals dealing with perhaps one or two unfamiliar disciplines and struggle though those papers as the authors in this book have done or are willing to seek co-researchers in other discipline. It is no easy task dealing with the boring details of unfamiliar material and methods and standards for presenting results. In addition, as Hatemi and McDermott pointed out, there must be a fear of professional embarrassment if one publishes, or tries to publish, without an understanding of the basics if a “new” discipline. For example, a political scientist using genetics in their research, a geneticist applying a political science research approach to his or her material and methods, or an endocrinologist apply their craft to political science.
When I bought this book, I foolishly hoped for a readable survey of political sciences and biological sciences written in the spirit of consilience, which is the unity of scientific knowledge, as presented by E. O. Wilson in his book, Consilience: a book that would open the door to cross-disciplinary research projects. This book made me realize how foolish my wish was. We can choke ourselves just on a list the sciences let along expect someone to write about “the unity of all knowledge” involved in them: genetics, political science, anthropology, endocrinology, evolutionary theory, pre-biotic chemistry, psychology and evolutionary psychology, physiological chemistry, and many, many, etceteras. This book made me realize that no scientist could do what I wanted but some are trying as exemplified in this book. The book was a good informative read.