Evolutionary Leadership, Evolutionary Ethics, and Redistribution
Ronald F. White, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Mount St. Joseph University
(To be presented at the International Political Science Association Congress, July 26, 2016 to be held at Poznan, Poland)
The cornerstone of “welfare liberalism” is the core belief that social justice requires that government limit (Rawls) or even eliminate (Marx) “social distance” between the “most-advantaged” and “least-disadvantaged” individuals and/or nations. Distance is usually measured in terms of the intra-group (and/or inter-group) distribution of “social goods.” While social redistribution relies on voluntary moral exchange whereby the most-advantaged willingly share their social goods (directly or indirectly) with the least-advantaged; political redistribution is executed, coercively, by political regimes via tax code. For Rawls, the justification for social and political redistribution of social goods is the Difference Principle. With a few exceptions, classical liberals who support redistribution, favor voluntary social redistribution, while most welfare liberals also accept political redistribution. Until recent years, there has been very little research on the “nature” of social distance and the social and/or political origins of redistribution. Contemporary Evolutionary Leadership Theory (ELT) and Evolutionary Ethics (EET) provide important insight into the biological origins of both social distance and redistribution. In this presentation I will argue, based on ELT that “social distance” in its various manifestations is the product of a growing mismatch between our modular brains and human culture; most notably, the cultural evolution of leader-follower relationships within stationary, large-scale, political regimes.
There is a longstanding philosophical debate going back to the ancient Greeks that questions the descriptive facts and prescriptive values associated with human “inequality.” What is inequality? Do some political regimes create more and/or less inequality than others? Is a certain degree of inequality necessarily bad? If so, what (if anything) can be done to correct it? If a certain degree of inequality in “good” how much? In this essay, I would like to focus on one dimension of the twentieth-century debate over inequality as viewed through the lens of social contract theory. I’ll focus on John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, Political Liberalism (1971), and The Law of Peoples (1999); not because I think Rawls got it right, but because much of the subsequent debate over redistribution revolves around his Neo-Kantian social contract theory. First, I’ll identify a cluster of Rawlsian terms, and then, I’ll discuss how ELT and EET might elucidate the Rawlsian framework and perhaps, provide a foundation for more effective and efficient redistributive policies.
As a preliminary observation, it is important to emphasize that Rawls is a political philosopher and that Welfare Liberalism and/or Political Liberalism are political theories. Over the years, he dutifully responded to criticism from both Libertarians and Communitarians, and attempted to clarify and/or meet a host of objections. Therefore, despite his pronouncements, Rawls’ political philosophy, itself, evolved. (Wenar, 1995) Although he insisted that the kernel of his neo-Kantian approach remained intact, many of his basic concepts underwent subtle, but often profound refinements. The most important Rawlsian refinement was his shift from intra-group dynamics (Rawls, 1971) to global inter-group dynamics (Rawls, 1991). I won’t do much with the Rawls’ intellectual development over time. In the following essay I’ll try to focus on the redistribution of social goods via Rawls’ Difference Principle as represented in his three major works. (Rawls, 1971; 1993, and 1999).
The Rawlsian Framework
Since the late twentieth century, the philosophical debate over access to social goods (by individuals and groups of individuals) has been shaped by the territory staked out by John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (Rawls, 1971). Basically, Rawls revived a Kantian form of Social Contract Theory, which sought to forge a rational foundation for both personal liberty and the redistribution of social goods. Rawls argued, hypothetically, that if rationally-self-interested individuals, including the “most advantaged” and the “least advantaged,” sat together at a bargaining table, without knowledge of their own socioeconomic status (under a “veil of ignorance”), they would ultimately agree upon two timelessly universal principles of justice: the Equal Liberty Principle (the “most advantaged” and the “least advantaged” ought to be afforded the same set of basic liberties) and the Difference Principle (the “most advantaged” would willingly agree to contribute to the well-being of the “least advantaged”). The logical relationship between the Equal Liberty Principle and the Difference Principle has long been a bone of contention. (Narveson, 2003 and 2008) In Rawls’ later works, he attempted to apply both principles to international relations; most-advantaged v. least-advantaged “Peoples.” (Rawls 1999)
Much of the subsequent debate over Rawls’ justification for his two principles of justice can be traced to his approach to social contract theory; especially, his distinction between two hypothetical (and ambiguously defined) stages of social agreement: the original position (how autonomous, rationally self-interested humans would have lived their lives in the absence of a social contract); and, the hypothetical contents of that subsequent social contract (what autonomous, rationally self-interested humans (and/or peoples) would contractually agree upon, via an “over-lapping consensus,” if they got together and forged a collective agreement via that original position).
Since the eighteenth century, the Western Liberal conceptual framework for distinguishing between equality and inequality has been measured in terms of distributive justice in terms of access and/or possession of “social goods.” There are many competing definitions of “social goods.” Most scholars agree that (in general) social goods refer to the “good things” in life that become available to us (as individuals and groups) as the result of cooperation within and between social and/or political groups. Scholars rarely explore “social bads” or the bad things in life that also emerge out cooperation. (Kellerman, 2004) Rawls often focused on the equality of access to primary goods; or “things which it is supposed a rational man wants whatever else he wants…rights and liberties, opportunities and powers, income and wealth.” (p.92) But he also viewed primary goods in more abstract terms; as the necessary conditions or prerequisites to other goods desired by the human species. They are usually identified as human needs (food, clothing, and shelter) which are pre-requisite (necessary) for the attainment of other goods, or wants, that comprise the “good life.” Over time, the list of proposed human needs has tendency to proliferate. Peter Corning identified fourteen “primary needs domains.” (Corning, 2011) Ambiguity surrounding the concepts of “primary goods” and “social goods” ultimately obscures exactly what kinds of “goods” are (or ought to be) subject to redistribution. (Goetze, 2007)
Rawls hypothesized that in that “original position” (state of nature) social goods would have been (or might have been) distributed unequally on the basis of Darwinian evolution, or what he called the “natural lottery;” whereby competitive advantage and disadvantage would have been distributed based on Darwinian chance variation and natural selection, without regard for justice as fairness (merit, need, quality, or utility). In that “state of nature” Rawls acknowledged the “natural” inevitability of a certain degree of social distance between the “haves,” who often produce social goods (and services); and the “have-nots,” who often seek to consume those social goods (and services). But how much “advantage” (in terms of access to primary social goods) ought to be afforded the producers? Rawls argued that given that our natural advantages are acquired via genetic inheritance (from parents that we did not select) we cannot claim unfettered ownership of social goods based on “merit.” Hence, a degree of redistribution of primary goods is morally and rationally justified, based on the amoral “natural lottery.” After all, neither the “haves” nor the “have nots” would have deserved their current endowment of “advantages” and/or “disadvantages.” As a consequence of that hypothetical bargaining session, Rawls argued that those rational bargainers would eventually arrive at an “overlapping consensus” on the Difference Principle; and that both the most and least- advantaged would benefit from a limited degree of social distance between the producers and the consumers of social goods (and services). But how much social distance is necessary and/or morally acceptable?
Ultimately, the Rawlsian puzzle was how to incentivize the production of social goods over the long-run, by allowing the most advantaged to benefit from producing those goods, without creating a sociopolitical environment where social distance between the “haves” and the “have nots” is socially accepted, but limited. So the long-term goal of Rawlsian redistribution is not to achieve social equality but to prevent “the rich from getting richer and the poor from getting poorer.” Rawls’ Difference Principle, therefore, was intended to provide rational self-interested arguments that might convince the rationally self-interested “haves” (producers) and the rational “have-nots” (consumers) to voluntarily cooperate in redistribution.
But in the real world, this raises two justice-related challenges: First, how do political leaders rationally convince the “haves” to be satisfied with less than they already possess? Second, how does a regime (or “Peoples”) rationally convince the “have-nots” to be satisfied with more than they possess in the “state of nature,” but less than what the “haves” possess? Most political philosophers focus on the First puzzle and ignore the Second. But even if the Difference Principle is rationally acceptable to both the “haves” and “have-nots,” then the key practical question would remain: “How might political regimes develop effective and efficient redistributive public policies?”
Rawls wrote before there was much known about the evolutionary history of the human species, social psychology, or brain science. And, like most political philosophers of that era, he expended little (if any) time and effort studying the social sciences or biology. His early critics immediately attacked the ahistorical” and utopian basis for that original position and Rawls’ insistence that the original contractors (haves and have-nots) would willingly “bargain” under a hypothetical “veil of ignorance.” (Wolf, 1977) Other critics questioned how those would-be “bargainers” could negotiate without knowledge of their own advantages and disadvantages? Even if all rational bargainers ultimately agreed on social redistribution, what could the rational bargainers do about irrational bargainers who resist cooperative redistribution and/or rationally self-interested “free-riders” who seek to reap the benefits of cooperative redistribution, without paying the price?
In this essay, I shall argue that in order to develop any redistributive public policy that is acceptable to both the “haves” and the “have nots,” policymakers would have to know a lot more about human nature than Rawls did; especially Evolutionary Social Psychology. SEE Part II.