The Federalist Papers sought to convince the citizens of New York to adopt the newly written American Constitution. This would create a UNION (a word that they capitalized) capable of accomplishing more than any state alone and would showcase America’s Enlightenment experiment as an example for the rest of the world.
Today, that UNION is in such disarray that effectiveness of democracy itself is being doubted. Everyone knows the system is broken but no one seems to know how to do better.
Until now, and from an unexpected source: The current incarnation of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Many people link evolution with Social Darwinism, the idea that competition is the law of nature and deserves to shape human society. This view misses the point that cooperation is often the fittest strategy. In The Descent of Man, Darwin described how we, as a social species, survived only in interdependent cooperative groups, not as individuals. He wrote: “Selfish and contentious people will not cohere, and without coherence, nothing can be effected.”
A science of society built on the biological necessity of cooperation can be called “socialism” in the truest sense of embodying our inalienable social nature. Hence, we call the toolkit of ideas outlined in these papers “Socialist Darwinism”. Historically, the Socialist Darwinian focus on cooperation actually preceded the Social Darwinist focus on competition, and the former fits the latest evolutionary science better.
Socialist Darwinism, suitably updated, provides a practical toolkit for democratic UNIONS, at all scales, from small groups to the planet. We can confidently say that these tools can help you become a better capitalist, or economist, or centrist, or socialist, or whatever–ist, because no -ist or -ism can work well with a false or partial description of human nature and social systems.
This toolkit doesn’t fit current political categories. It isn’t left, right, center or libertarian. It recognizes that markets are powerful engines of coordination but clarifies when self-interest, rightly understood, can robustly benefit the common good. It focuses directly on the welfare of society while recognizing the limitations of top-down planning and regulations that get in the way. Using the latest science to refine the logic of these two main policy narratives, Socialist Darwinism describes what can work.
One key insight is that societies must function as moral communities. As Darwin knew, without a strong moral system, a human group cannot “cohere” or function well. He called our evolved moral sense our “highest faculty”. The great failing of moral systems, of course, is that they are seldom all-inclusive. But we’ll provide examples of multi-level moral systems that can —in principle—be extended planet-wide.
And evolutionary science can upgrade the old “society is an organism” metaphor invoked by great thinkers such as Hobbes and Aristotle. Today we know that human societies truly can qualify as organisms in the benign sense of cooperative wholes that are more than the sum of their parts (UNIONS) and that nurture their parts—but only under special conditions.
Difficult? Of course. Possible? Yes, with the right toolkit.
These short essays will lay out the history, principles, and applications of Socialist Darwinism’s toolkit. The Federalist Papers argued for the creation of a more perfect UNION based on Enlightenment values that predated Darwin. Here we add 200+ years of scientifically refined thought.
Image: “Founding Fathers” by Julia Suits