Neo-Darwinian Conservativism in the United States and Its Different Projects

Jon Anstein Olsen

(10.10.2010) My dissertation aims at mapping and discussing a series of undertakings in contemporary American thought which I collect under the umbrella term “neo-Darwinian conservatism.” What marks out the category is the practice of constructively using neo-Darwinian human
nature science and theory (from evolutionary psychology and related fields) in order to argue politically conservative cases.

My point of departure is the joint observation that political ideologies are based to a significant extent on assumptions about
human nature, and that our understanding of human nature may be in the process of receiving an extensive overhaul. Evolutionary psychologists claim that several human behaviors to a significant extent have a
genetic basis as opposed to the alleged social constructionist
assumptions of most intellectuals in the humanities and social
sciences. Although there were heated debates in the U.S. about the
potential for conservative use of sociobiology (the forerunner to
evolutionary psychology) some 30 years ago, this debate took place
largely within liberal-left circles; it is only more recently that a
number of conservatives have themselves become substantially engaged
in advancing evolutionary arguments in support of their beliefs. I
identify and critically discuss the philosophically different projects
that comprise such activity and place them in a historical framework.
Examples of relatively moderate such projects are: reconstructing a
theory of “natural right,” opposing allegedly unrealistic
liberal/progressive policies aimed at effecting moral progress, and
justifying traditional gender roles and the sanctity of marriage—all
through appeals to human nature as revealed in part by evolutionary
science. On the more reactionary and murkier ends of the political
spectrum, the focus is on racial consciousness and on the alleged
genetic differences between ethnic groups, as well as on promoting
deeply reactionary gender roles.

My project can be characterized as a contemporary history of ideas
project, or as a cultural study done with philosophical spectacles. I
aim to present an overview of the broad-spectered phenomenon of
neo-Darwinian conservatism, where part of the job is to dig up the
various goings-on, another part is to organize, categorize and make
explicit what are often implicit structures of reasoning, and a third
part is to do (limited) assessments of the different projects, qua new
trends in conservative ideology (as opposed to full-scale
philosophical critiques).



Jon Anstein Olsen

Adresse: Institutt for litteratur, områdestudier og europeiske språk
Postboks 1003 Blindern
0315 OSLO

Besøksadresse: Niels Treschows hus 12. etg
Niels Henrik Abels vei 36
0851 OSLO
Rom: NT 1218

Telefon: 22858220

E-post: j.a.olsen@ilos.uio.no

Tidligere stipend fra Etikkprogrammet: Nei.