Darwin, Marx, Mearsheimer: Towards a theory of social evolution

I have an interest in the connection between two theories. At school, I developed an interest in theories of international relations, including Mearsheimer’s structural realist theory of great power politics. At university, I developed an interest in political economy, particularly Marx’s theory in that field. My tentative thesis title was: ‘Darwin, Marx, and the evolving theory of social evolution’. In brief, I wondered if classes compete with each other over resources in a way that is analogous to Darwinian competition among species or organisms. I suspected that the analogy for the genetic code is technology, whose development (like gene ‘replication’) is the closest thing to a ‘direction’ to evolution. The reason technology is developed, I hypothesised, is that classes need to survive in a world of scarce resources, and, in order to do this, develop technology to gain competitive edges over each other. I believed there is some root for this analogy in select passages in Marx’s Capital itself, which I explored last year.

Meet Charles Darwin, natural scientist and theorist of evolution.

I had hoped to extend this by investigating the degree to which states compete over scarce resources by developing technology just as classes do. Through Darwin, I wanted to compare Marx’s theory of class struggle to your theory of interstate struggle. I thought, in both cases, there is a Darwinian logic of evolution — with corresponding ‘selective pressures’. I wondered if, just as classes compete through trade, states compete through war. And just as classes gain access to technology through trade, states gain access to technology through war. The classes and states that survive this struggle are ‘selected for’, and those that do not are ‘selected against’, by the competitive pressures of trade and war. In each case, the technology is a little different — classes are mostly competing over economic technology, or ‘forces of production’ (in Marx’s parlance). States, as Mearsheimer noted, compete primarily over military technology, or ‘forces of destruction’ (as scholars Barry Buzan and George Lawson put it). Just as Charles Tilly insisted that war makes states, I wanted to suggest that trade makes classes — and that trade and war are like Darwinian selective pressures which weed out the states and classes less adapted to scarcity on planet Earth. Through Darwin, in short, I would like to synthesise Marx and realism. Well, at least, I did. Then I read James Harrington.

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