Prominent Scholars Debate Impact of Social Darwinism

Event presents opposing views about Darwinism’s impact on American politics

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A. Sue Weisler

Ivan Kenneally

Two prominent political scientists and Darwinian scholars will present opposing views on social Darwinism’s usefulness in explaining the development and application of politics and political philosophy in America during a debate and lecture at 4 p.m. March 25 in Xerox Auditorium on the campus of Rochester Institute of Technology.

Larry Arnhart, the Presidential Research Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University and Peter Lawler, the Dana Professor and chair of the department of government and international studies at Berry College, will present Darwin and the Evolution of American Principles, a debate style lecture where each will present their views on how Darwin and Darwinian philosophy impact American politics and thought.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is sponsored by RIT’s Department of Political Science.

“There can be little doubt that Darwin’s theory of evolution has had an indelible impact not just on the character of modern science but also modern moral and political thought generally,” notes Ivan Kenneally, assistant professor of political science at RIT who led development of the event. “This debate brings together two of the nation’s foremost political philosophers to debate the ramifications of Darwin’s theory, it’s overall defensibleness, and the adequacy of Darwinian categories to specifically capture the whole of the American experience.”

Arnhart is a well-known proponent of Darwinian conservatism and the use of social Darwinism to explain political experience and development. He is the author of Darwinian Conservatism and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics.

Lawler has earned notice as a political philosopher and Catholic intellectual and argues that Darwin’s principles do not explain the totality of political experience, particularly in the United States. He is the author of Postmodernism Rightly Understood and was appointed to the President’s Council on Bioethics by President George W. Bush.