Darwinizing the Federalist Papers: Epilogue

By Publius May 1, 2020 No Comments

The essays in this collection have been kept short and non-technical, in keeping with the original Federalist Papers, but they rest upon a strong scientific foundation based on the modern study of human society from an evolutionary perspective. This epilogue provides key references for you to deepen your knowledge, including the academic literature, a rapidly expanding genre of books accessible to the general reader, and authoritative online content.

1. Preamble. Why is it new to revisit the theme of the Federalist Papers from an evolutionary perspective? In large part because the study of evolution became narrowly focused on genetic evolution for most of the 20th century, leaving the study of cultural evolution to other disciplines. More recently, evolutionary thinkers have gone back to basics by defining evolution as any process that includes the three ingredients of variation, selection, and replication. These developments are covered in books such as Evolution in Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb, This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution by David Sloan Wilson, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich, and Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind by Kevin Laland. An abundance of free and authoritative content is available in the online magazines This View of Life and Evonomics.

2. On the Origin of Socialist Darwinism. This essay documented how the earliest consistent application of Darwinian ideas to society occurred among the political left (i.e. socialists, communists, anarchists, and other social reformers). Only later did Social Darwinism emerge in opposition to Socialist Darwinism. The most systematic treatment of this can be found in Chapters 2, 3, and 4 of The Struggle for Coexistence (pdf here) by Eric Michael Johnson. Other scholars have looked at specific time periods or regions such as pre-Darwinian evolution in The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London by Adrian Desmond, the United States in American Socialists and Evolutionary Thought, 1870- 1920 by Mark Pittenger, Germany in “Social Darwinism and Socialist Darwinism in Germany: 1860 to 1900” by Ted Benton, England in Socialist Darwinism: The Response of the Left to Darwinian Evolutionary Theory, 1880-1905 by Caroline Ogilvie, and a more general overview in The First Darwinian Left: Socialism and Darwinism: 1859-1914 by David Stack. For a thorough overview of Social Darwinism see Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860-1945 by Mike Hawkins. Also see the Evonomics articles “Ayn Rand vs. Anthropology,” by Eric Michael Johnson, “Economists Forgot Smith and Darwin’s Message: Society Cannot Function Without Moral Bonds,” by Geoffrey Hodgson, “How Bad Biology is Killing the Economy” by Frans de Waal, and the TVOL publication Truth and Reconciliation for Social Darwinism.

3. More Perfect UNIONS Must Regulate Their Parts. This essay introduces the concepts of Multilevel Selection (MLS) and Major Evolutionary Transitions (MET). MLS theory shows that cooperation within any given social group requires a process of between-group selection and tends to be undermined by selection within groups. Most social species are a mosaic of cooperative and disruptive self-serving traits, depending upon the balance between levels of selection for each trait. However, the balance between levels of selection is not fixed but can itself evolve. A MET occurs when mechanisms evolve the largely (never entirely) suppress the potential for disruptive within-group selection, so that between-group selection becomes the dominant evolutionary force for most traits. For MLS theory, Does Altruism Exist? Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others by David Sloan Wilson provides a concise book-length account and there is an abundance of online material on TVOL and Evonomics (e.g., 1,2,3,4). For MET, we recommend The Major Transitions in Evolution by John Maynard Smith and Eors Szathmary, and a new series of TVOL interviews titled “Evolving A Major Transition in the Internet Age.”

4. The Human Social Organism and a Parliament of Genes. This essay elaborates on implications of MLS and MET. The idea that cancer is a form of disruptive selection among cells within multicellular organisms is elaborated in The Cheating Cell: How Evolution Helps Us Understand and Treat Cancer by Athena Aktipis and this TVOL interview with Atkipis. The concept of human society as an organism has long history as a metaphor but only now can be treated as a serious scientific hypothesis. Human cultural evolution is a multilevel process, no less than genetic evolution, and METs have occurred repeatedly in the past, resulting in increases in the scale of cooperation by many orders of magnitude over the last 10,000 years. However, this has not been a continuous process and many reversals and collapses have also occurred. And the achievement of a global superorganism, while theoretically possible, is still in the future. A sample of books include Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society by David Sloan Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth, by Edward O. Wilson, and Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth, by Peter Turchin. A TVOL video conversation with Peter Turchin is available here.

5. Morality Regulates Our Social Physiology. Moral philosophers don’t agree on much, but they do agree that morality is inherently about the welfare of others and society as a whole—at least among those who are defined as being inside the moral circle. It goes without saying that morality as practiced is seldom universal—nor that it should be expected to from an evolutionary perspective. A universal morality is theoretically possible but it must be socially constructed, which is the whole point of this series of essays. The many books on this subject include Moral Origins: The Evolution of Virtue, Altruism, and Shame by Christopher Boehm, A Natural History of Human Morality by Michael Tomasello, and Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them by Joshua Greene. A good place to begin is this TVOL special issue titled This View of Morality: Can An Evolutionary Perspective Reveal a Universal Morality?

6. The Darwinian ‘Struggle for Existence’ is Really About Balance. The metaphor of the “struggle for existence” has been treated at length by many scholars and historians. Darwin’s understanding that this struggle involved cooperation as well as competition was largely overlooked by his contemporaries. Useful books exploring this issue are Gregg Mitman’s The State of Nature: Ecology, Community, and American Social Thought, 1900-1950, Daniel P. Todes’ Darwin Without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought, Piers Hale’s Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England and Mark Borrello’s Evolutionary Restraints: The Contentious History of Group Selection.

7. Self-Interest, Rightly Understood, is Social. As this essay documents, when the concept of self-interest emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries, its enlightened forms were oriented toward the welfare of society as a whole. For over half a century, however, the concept of self-interest has been dominated by a particular economic worldview that portrays the unbridled pursuit of individual and corporate wealth to robustly benefit the common good, as if led by an invisible hand. This conceptualization of self-interest has had toxic consequences and a modern evolutionary perspective offers a superior conception of the interplay of competition and cooperation in a well-functioning society. Books include The Origin of Wealth: The Radical Remaking of Economics and What It Means for Business and Society by Eric Beinhocker, The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good by Robert Frank, and The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer. The online magazine Evonomics.com includes many authoritative yet accessible articles on this topic, including this one titled “Why New Economics Needs a New Invisible Hand” by David Sloan Wilson

8. Why Socialism Fails. In order to evolve forms of socialism that work, it is necessary to clearly acknowledge forms of socialism that don’t work. An excellent book on this topic is Is Socialism Feasible?: Toward an Alternative Future by Geoffrey Hodgson, who is also a foremost scholar of Darwinism in the history of economic and social thought. The Nordic countries come closest to a form of socialism that works, as discussed in Sustainable Modernity: The Nordic Model and Beyond co-edited by Nina Witoszek and Atle Midttun (open access). An accessible TVOL essay on the Nordic Model from an evolutionary perspective is “Blueprint for the Global Village,” by David Sloan Wilson and Dag Hessen.

9. Why Capitalism Fails. In order to evolve forms of capitalism that works, it is necessary to clearly acknowledge forms of capitalism that don’t work. Extensive documentation is provided by Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Pikkety and Rebooting Capitalism [link forthcoming) by Anthony Biglan. Biglan also has a series of TVOL essays titled “The Cultural Evolution of Social Pathology,” which documents the toxic effects of poorly regulated capitalism for the tobacco Industry, the arms Industry, the food industry, the pharmaceutical industry, the financial industry, the fossil fuel industry, and rampant inequality.

10. We Are All Socialists, Globalists, Democrats, Capitalists, Environmentalists, Technologists, and Scientists. The final essay leaves the reader with a new vision of how to work together to create a more perfect UNION at a global scale. A new series of TVOL essays titled “Evolution, Complexity, and the Third Way of Entrepreneurship” explores the new vision in conversations with twelve thought leaders. If you want to go beyond your own reading to become engaged with others in learning about the Third Way and putting it into action, then go here [link].

Read the full series “Darwinizing the Federalist Papers” below:

  1. Preamble
  2. On the Origin of Socialist Darwinism
  3. More Perfect UNIONS Must Regulate Their Parts
  4. The Human Social Organism and a Parliament of Genes
  5. Morality Regulates Our Social Physiology
  6. The Darwinian ‘Struggle for Existence’ is Really About Balance
  7. Self-Interest, Rightly Understood, is Social
  8. Why Socialism Fails
  9. Why Capitalism Fails
  10. We Are All Socialists, Globalists, Democrats, Capitalists, Environmentalists, Technologists, and Scientists
  11. Epilogue

Published On: May 1, 2020



In the spirit of the Federalist Papers, Publius is a collective pseudonym for the group of people organizing this collection of essays.

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