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This fine book might best be classified under the heading of Policing Our Own, as rising conservative scholar Carson Holloway eviscerates the fanciful notion that conservatism can forsake God and find a basis in Darwinism instead. Inevitably certain men find themselves to be both agnostic, or even atheist, and yet conservative by temperament. A number of them -- including Francis Fukuyama, Larry Arnhart, James Q. Wilson, Robert McShea, E. O. Wilson, Roger Masters, etc. -- have sought to argue that it is possible to derive something closely resembling Judeo-Christian morality from Darwinism/evolutionary psychology/Sociobiology, or, at the very least, that a sort of natural order of human behavior is demonstrable that mitigates against the idea of complete relativism:
Contrary to the denials of some on the left, human nature, according to evolutionary biology, exists and is relevant as a principle limiting and guiding moral and political choice--limiting, in fact, the aspirations of the left and guiding us in the direction of conservatism.
As inviting as that might sound to conservatives at first blush, Mr. Holloway proceeds to demolish the claim.

This is a shortish book given the topics it addresses, but Mr. Holloway achieves the concision by limiting the field of battle. First, he chooses not to argue the truth or falsehood of Darwinism as science, wisely treating it as just a form of political philosophy, advocated by a group of conservatives in this case, the tenets of which have certain logical consequences. The fundamental question then is not whether Darwinism is valid scientifically, but whether it is valid as a conservative ideology. Second, he limits the definition of conservatism under discussion. Obviously Darwinism is totally incompatible with the traditional Burkean conservatism that Russell Kirk outlined best -- after all, if God then no Darwinism. Instead he focuses on a Tocquevillian conservatism, "that seeks to conserve the conditions of human dignity and freedom within modern democracy":
In particular, Tocqueville feared that democracy fosters a popular obsession with physical comforts unworthy of our humanity and that it dangerously inclines to majority tyranny. He emphasized religion's role in restraining such democratic tendencies, and therefore Democracy in America accords religion a prominent place in Tocqueville's new science of politics and in the cultural equipment of a healthy democracy. Thus, he insists on the compatibility of religion and democracy, and even suggests that "one must maintain Christianity within the new democracies at all cost."
Finally, having given Darwinism something of the benefit of the doubt for purposes of the book, he affords himself some in turn and, rather than reargue Tocqueville's point about the necessity of Christianity, takes it as a given that if it turns out that the Darwinian Right can not rest its case for conservatism on human nature as described within evolutionary theory, then they must return to God if they hope to rescue their political beliefs. Ultimately, they can either be Darwinists or conservatives, but not both. With that structure in place he has a "quite simple" case to argue, as he's written elsewhere, Losing our religion: Darwinism is too cutthroat to be the source of moral convictions that bind society together (Carson Holloway, August 2, 2006, Science & Theology News):
The problem is actually quite simple. Defenders of Darwinian natural rights are convincing when they argue that our moral inclinations are not arbitrary social constructs, but instead our biological nature. But a Darwinian approach equally demonstrates that many other passions are rooted in our nature, passions that can hardly be called moral and that might well be considered immoral. No doubt a tendency toward cooperation would have been useful in the evolutionary environment. So too would a tendency to exploit the vulnerabilities of others. Darwinians all admit this, and they accordingly admit that human nature is made up of both moral and amoral passions. Once that is conceded, their teaching can only provide an equivocal support for morality. The man inclined by sympathy to help his neighbor may be apt, in other circumstances, to enslave him if the man thinks he and his kin can benefit from such injustice.

The example of slavery is instructive. In Darwinian Natural Right, Arnhart contends that it is contrary to Darwinian morality. After all, slavery is always hard to maintain, both because slaves resist and because masters feel guilty, knowing that deeply rooted norms of reciprocity are being violated.

On the other hand, slavery could only emerge so often and persist for so long if it served some natural human desires -- in this case, the desire to benefit oneself and one's relatives by exploiting those outside one's social group. Darwinian morality cannot forbid slavery, but only inform us of its benefits and costs. A moral theory that cannot refuse to enslave our fellow human beings is of doubtful use, to say the least.

Darwinism cannot provide a principled justification for morality, because it justifies morality in terms of our biological desires and interests while at the same time admitting many situations in which these can be satisfied or advanced by decidedly amoral behaviors.

We are led by this failure, then, to reconsider Tocqueville's emphasis on religion as a necessary part of the cultural equipment of a decent democracy. Our decline in moral consensus presents a real challenge. In light of Darwinism's moral failure, however, Tocqueville would instruct us that a love of democracy does not mean replacing religion, but restoring its credibility.
Despite the brevity of the text it is nonetheless dispositive on the discrete question Mr. Holloway sets out to answer. No, Virginia, there can't be an intellectually coherent Darwinian Right.


Grade: (A)


Carson Holloway Links:

    -Carson L. Holloway (William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life, Princeton University)
    -BOOK SITE: (Spence Publishing)
    -BLOG: Carson Holloway (Cold Type, Spence Publishing)
-ESSAY: Rethinking Libel, Defamation, and Press Accountability (Carson Holloway, 9/21/22, Claremont)
    -ESSAY: Dobbs and Democratic Legitimacy (Carson Holloway, 12/21/21, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: Losing our religion: Darwinism is too cutthroat to be the source of moral convictions that bind society together (Carson Holloway, August 2, 2006, Science & Theology News)
    -ESSAY: The Public-Intellectual Menace: On Richard Dawkins’s irresponsible and irrational dogmatism. (Carson Holloway, 6/19/06, National Review)
    -ESSAY: A Lost Cause: Seriously now, conservative rock is probably an oxymoron (Carson Holloway, 6/07/06, National Review)
    -ESSAY: I Believe Not: the Unreasonable Faith of Skeptics (Carson Holloway, July/August 2004, Touchstone)
    -ESSAY: Dare We Get Real About Sex?: “Pedophilia Chicâ€� & the Challenge to Conservatism (Carson Holloway, April 2002, Touchstone)
    -ESSAY: Serpents, Doves, and Abortion (Carson Holloway, June/July 2001, First Things)
    -INTERVIEW: Survival of the moralist (Amy Doolittle, March 22, 2006 , THE WASHINGTON TIMES)
    -ARCHIVES: Carson Holloway (Mars Hill Audio)
    -REVIEW: of The Right Darwin?: Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy by Carson Holloway (Benjamin Wiker, Crisis)
    -REVIEW: of The Right Darwin (Kate Campaigne, American Enterprise)
    -REVIEW: of The Right Darwin (Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch)
    -REVIEW: of The Right Darwin (seth Cooper, Intellectual Conservative)
    -REVIEW: of All Shook Up: Music, Passion, and Politics. By Carson Holloway (Michael Linton, First Things)

Book-related and General Links:

    -Center for Science & Culture
    -ESSAY: Evolutionary Psychology and Its True Believers (Andrew Ferguson, 3/19/01, Weekly Standard)
    -RESPONSE: Religion, Morality, and Darwinism: A Response to Carson Holloway (Larry Arnhart, 1/09/06, Darwinian Conservatism)
    -BLOG: Darwinian Conservatism (Larry Arnhart)
    -ESSAY: DARWINISM AND THE RIGHT: THE ORIGIN OF C O N S E R V A T I S M: Evolutionary theories suggest that conservative politics are necessary to govern a fallen man. (John O. McGinnis, 12/22/97, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Darwinophobia II - Andy's Attack (Steve Sailer, 3/30/01, V-Dare)