Darwinian policy briefs?

Patricia Cohen's piece in the New York Times today is headlined, "A Split Emerges as Conservatives Discuss Darwin." It's interesting:

Some of these thinkers have gone one step further, arguing that Darwin's scientific theories about the evolution of species can be applied to today's patterns of human behavior, and that natural selection can provide support for many bedrock conservative ideas, like traditional social roles for men and women, free-market capitalism and governmental checks and balances.
"I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin," said Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who has spearheaded the cause. "The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought."

The point of departure is a conference last week at the American Enterprise Institute, put into context with the disdain that many conservative commentators (George Will and Charles Krauthammer are mentioned) have shown for the creationism-in-schools movement.

The article stretches its standard "To be sure..." paragraph into three, and they're full of fun historical references:

It is true that political interpretations of Darwinism have turned out to be quite pliable. Victorian-era social Darwinists like Herbert Spencer adopted evolutionary theory to justify colonialism and imperialism, opposition to labor unions and the withdrawal of aid to the sick and needy. Francis Galton based his "science" of eugenics on it. Arguing that cooperation was actually what enabled the species to survive, Pyotr Kropotkin used it to justify anarchism.
Karl Marx wrote that "Darwin's book is very important and serves me as a basis in natural science for the class struggle in history." Woodrow Wilson declared, "Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice."
More recently the bioethicist and animal rights activist Peter Singer's "Darwinian Left: Politics, Evolution, and Cooperation" (1999) urged people to reject the notion that there is a "fundamental difference in kind between human beings and nonhuman animals."

Well, "so there", I guess. Colonialism, eugenics, anarchism, Marxism, oooooohh! Protect us from the shades of the past! Save us, Woodrow Wilson!

I will only say that it is hard to take a position appealing to "human nature" if nobody can agree on what "human nature" is. Ignoring Darwin is clearly the wrong move. But the "Darwinian human nature" position has many scientific interlocutors, and they all seem to have trouble agreeing with each other. It's going to be a shaky foundation for moral absolutism. That's why evolutionary psychology (and sociobiology before it) has so many opponents in the academy. It's also why pragmatic conservatives may have a Darwinian perspective on human origins, but moral absolutists never will.