The common assumption that Darwinism and conservatism are mutually inconsistent is now fiercely debated on the right. A number of conservative thinkers argue that evolutionary biology can replace religion as the source of morality while scientifically confirming conservative public policy. Illuminating this crucial but confusing debate, a new book by Carson Holloway explains why Darwinian conservatism is both illusory and dangerous.
Until recently, the obvious conservative response to Darwinism was hostility because of its atheism and materialism. Prominent scientific writers, particularly those working in fields informed by Darwinian biology, have been contemptuous in their dismissal of religion, calling it not only false but harmful. Too often the debate has degenerated into mere name-calling, the epithets "fundamentalist" and "atheist" flying back and forth.
Lately, however, such authoritative conservative thinkers as James Q. Wilson and Francis Fukuyama have argued that evolutionary biology confirms the objective reality of human nature—a bedrock conservative principle—as well as religion does. Conservatives, then, need no longer insist on religious belief as a source of public morality.
But can a society really dispense with religion as the source of morality? Can the Darwinian account of human nature lend scientific credibility to the moral and political positions of conservatives? Consulting the great philosopher of democratic conservatism, Alexis de Tocqueville, Holloway asks whether religion is necessary for a healthy democracy and probes the possibility of a Darwinian alternative. He concludes that Darwinian conservatism, and Darwinism generally, cannot sustain respect for human rights or provide for the stability of the family and society. In the face of Darwinism’s moral failure, religion remains an essential support for a decent and free democracy.