The uses of natural selection argument in politics have been constant since Charles Darwin's times. They have also been varied. The readings of Darwin's theory range from the most radically individualist views, as in orthodox socio-Darwinism, to the most communitarian, as in Peter Kropotkin's and other socialist perspectives. This essay argues that such diverse, contradictory, and sometimes even outrageous political derivations from Darwin's theory may be partially explained by some incompleteness and ambivalences underlying Darwin's concepts. “Natural selection,” “struggle for existence,” and “survival of the fittest” are open concepts and may suggest some hierarchical and segregationist interpretations. Circumstantially, Darwin accepted social “checks,” such as discouraging marriage of “lower” individuals to prevent them from reproducing, in a vein of Malthusian politics. This makes Darwin's theory of selection by struggle collide with his theory of social instincts, by which he explains the origins of morality. It also favors reading Darwin's On the Origin of Species or The Descent of Man from opposite, mostly ideological perspectives. Darwin's position is ambivalent, although hardly unreasonable. The recognition he makes of social instincts, as well as the use of the concept of artificial selection, entails accepting the role of human consciousness, by which social evolution cannot be reduced to natural evolution, as socio-Darwinians did next and as some neo-Darwinists seem to repeat. On these grounds, this essay argues the inadequacy of the conventional model of natural selection for understanding politics. If we want to describe politics in Darwin's language, artificial rather than natural selection would be the concept that performs better for explaining the courses of politics in real society.
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Vol. 38 • No. 1