The Emergence of Constitutionalism as an Evolutionary Adaptation

97 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2014 Last revised: 29 Jan 2016

See all articles by Fábio Almeida

Fábio Almeida

Universidade de Brasília (UnB); Harvard University

Date Written: December 20, 2013


The emergence of modern societies is an evolutionary puzzle. Homo sapiens is the only animal species capable of cooperating in large-scale societies consisting of genetically unrelated individuals. From a biological point of view, this feature leads to enormous questions. Social scientists typically assume that human life is lived in large-scale societies as a result of cultural, social and institutional history. In this perspective, social institutions such as law, economy and religion, enhance cooperation to higher levels. Gene-culture coevolutionary theories have studied this issue in an integrated framework that accounts for social and biological theories of cooperation. These theoretical approaches have provided an account of the emergence of human institutions with reference to a coevolutionary background in which specific innate psychological features of the human mind enable the evolution of social institutions that impose social pressures requiring the evolution of a complex moral psychology that enables life in a social environment with institutions. However, although gene-culture coevolution theories can explain cooperation in pre-modern societies, they still cannot explain social life in complex societies such as contemporary democracies, in which cooperation occurs even when individuals do not agree about the main values of their society. Acknowledging this fact raises the question as to how it has been possible - from a biological perspective - that people cooperate in large-scale societies with individuals with whom they are not genetically related and with whom they may not even share values and symbolic structures of mutual self-understanding. Following Edward O. Wilson, in hoping to achieve consilience between the natural sciences and humanities, this paper argues that the cooperation level required to drive the evolution of complex societies is possible as a result of the emergence of one particular institutional sociocultural framework: constitutionalism. In this sense, this paper is an attempt to integrate sociology, biology and legal theory in its understanding of constitutionalism as an evolutionary adaptation to specific historical and sociological circumstances that demanded the emergence of institutions to accommodate diversity, pluralism and complexity.

Keywords: constitutionalism, gene-culture coevolution, universal moral grammar

Suggested Citation

Almeida, Fábio, The Emergence of Constitutionalism as an Evolutionary Adaptation (December 20, 2013). Cardozo Public Law, Policy, and Ethics Journal, v. 13(1), 2014, Available at SSRN: or

Fábio Almeida (Contact Author)

Universidade de Brasília (UnB) ( email )

Campus Universitário Darcy Ribeiro
Asa Norte
Brasília, Distrito Federal 70910-900

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics