Friday, March 4, 2016

Evolution, Theological Anthropology and ... Political Theory?

In connection with an upcoming paper that I will hope to present at the 2016 ESSSAT conference, the following is a good portion of the outline for it. I'm still currently trying to write it up, but there is a lot to say in a short space. The perennial problem. In the paper, I want to make a connection to the political theorist Edmund Burke (1730-97), the classical liberal thinker known (paradoxically) as a father of Toryism. This is the part that is still a bit sketchy in my thinking but Burke's interpretation of society as a natural organic reality, it would seem logical to conceive of his political theory as a sort of natural extension of theological anthropology in a dialogue with nature. He differs from the 'pessimism' of Thomas Hobbes and the somewhat more abstract thought of John Locke. Both of these philosophers preceded Burke by many decades.

Interestingly, I have come across a portion of his 1782 speech on the nature of the representation of the Commons in parliament where he speaks about the importance of time and the rightness of constitutional government. Burke conceives of constitutional government as a kind of prescription which suggests to him that "The individual is foolish; the multitude, for the moment, is foolish, when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and when time is given to it, as a species, it almost always acts right." (Selected Writings, 331) The context for these remarks is the Magna carta and the resulting English constitutionalism. The significance of these comments has to do with Burke's particularly biological way of framing the rightness in a polity that constitutions prescribe - once long periods of time have passed. The biological note is observed in his use of the term 'species'.

In any case, here is that outline: 

Against overly optimistic and negative anthropologies, this paper takes up a theme that is present in three distinct areas of literature: i) Paul’s Letter to Romans, ii) recent literature dealing with the character of addiction and iii) a political theory of human nature. I want to argue for a component of human uniqueness that is tied to what Kierkegaard and others regard as ‘anxiety’. This paper argues that human uniqueness is comprised in part upon an ability to engage in a complex yet necessary assessment of our own human desire in order to arrange human societies in a way that political order reflects human nature as it is found. 

Chapters 5 – 7 of Paul’s Letter to the Romans provides a template for this portrait of human nature by alluding to the following: sin’s entry into the world (5:12), God’s love experienced in our hearts (5:5), the role of law in multiplying the incidence and revealing sin (5:19, 7:7), the experience of enslavement to sin (6:6), the correlation of enslavement with embodiment (6:12), the weakness of flesh (6:19) and the internal struggle between good and evil (7:19ff).

This Pauline template can be shown to have traction within an evolutionary framework in light of current research on the nature of addiction. Addictive personality profiles suggest the presence of a condition analogous to disease. Positive recoveries from such conditions are positively effected through social groups that instill a positive virtue ethics perspective in order to resist addictive behaviours (eg: Alcoholics Anonymous). The classic moral framework of habits, continence and temperance is the most relevant means to understand and overcome these forms of moral weakness. 
Historically, the science-theology dialogue has not incorporated reflections on any political theory that is implied by a human nature informed by various disciplines. But, the moral struggle claimed by Paul’s reflection on sin and anxiety as well as the experience with substance abuse demonstrates the need for a political theory that is sensitive to the limits of freedom, socialization of human nature and yet the impossibility of human perfectibility.

Edmund Burke (1729-97) is an Enlightenment liberal whose embrace of religion and the need for individual rule over the passions is a timely resource. He offers a political theory that recognizes the uniqueness of moral struggle, the danger of utopianism and the created yet frail character of human nature that can be offset by stable social conventions. The uniqueness of human nature lies not in any particular capacity but in the dialectical process in which prudence, virtue and social order can mitigate natural inherited weaknesses.