Evolution Away from Threats, Versus Toward Desires
Bradley Watson’s essay, “Darwin’s Constitution,” is worth reading in its entirety (subscription required), but this paragraph points toward the problem with the notion that society is evolving in a progressive direction:
Dewey’s elucidation of the new modes of social inquiry drew upon the thought of a number of Social Darwinist and pragmatist thinkers, including William Graham Sumner, Lester Frank Ward, William James, and W. E. B. Du Bois. These thinkers provided the intellectual categories of their age, and today those categories continue to exert a powerful influence over political — and jurisprudential — discourse. Collectively, they point to a view of society as an organism that is constantly in the throes of change and must adapt or die. Like the Social Darwinists, the pragmatists used naturalistic concepts and emphasized change, while rejecting what James called the “rationalist temper” that ossifies rather than adapts. For the Social Darwinists and pragmatists, looking backward — as Lincoln had done — to founding principles, or to any other fixed standard of political practice, inevitably hinders the process of adaptation.
As one observes in other contexts, what progressives are doing, in this regard, is smuggling in their brand of faith as if it were a biological imperative. The adaptation that they laud is not toward survival, not even really toward ease and comfort, but mainly to their concept of what society should be.
In Darwin, a species doesn’t grow or lose a limb because it finds itself thus inclined. Rather, it develops inclinations (and limbs) in response to natural stimuli — sometimes, no doubt, in contravention of other inclinations.
In the context of social Darwinism, the urgings of both nature and God become subsidiary to planners’ observation that they can leverage people’s desires to advance their own political and ideological goals.