The State of Nature and the Evolution of Political Preferences
Paul H. Rubin
Emory University - Department of Economics
Analysis of political and legal institutions often proceeds from a "state of nature" argument, where humans are analyzed as if they once existed as solitary individuals with no rules or government. In fact, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, and study of related species (e.g., chimpanzees), indicate that humans have never existed as humans in such an environment. Rather, hominids (humans and their direct ancestors) have always been a group living species, and rules and preferences about rules would have evolved along with humans. As hominid brains became more complex, rules would also have become more complex, but there was never a time when humans lived with no rules and no time when rules were in any sense "created" de novo. These evolved rules and preferences for rules have implications for contemporary law and government. Human groups have generally been in conflict, and an important distinction has always been between group members and outsiders. It is useful to distinguish three classes of rules that would have existed in the state of nature. First would have been those defining group membership; these rules seem to be remarkably flexible. Second would have been rules regulating private conduct of individuals within the group. I argue that a libertarian regime, with few such rules, would have been unstable, which may explain why there are few persons with tastes for libertarian governments. Current resistance to libertarianism can be related to rules that would have been useful in evolutionary times, though the issue of the desirability of these rules today is worth further investigation. This analysis can explain why utility functions seem to contain elements of envy. The third class of rules would have been those regulating relationships between individuals within the group essentially, rules of property, contract, and hierarchy. Such rules are well developed and universal among humans. One implication of the argument here is that, while biological forces involving conflict created a value or demand for increased intelligence and group size, supply of energy to support intelligence in the form of first, meat, and later, agriculture were also needed. The analysis also has implications for the willingness of individuals to contribute to public goods, including voting, and for the emphasis on identified rather than statistical individuals in political discourse. It can also explain the role of religion in economic and legal affairs.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 51
JEL Classification: H1, K0working papers series
Date posted: January 27, 1999
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