Tuesday, September 23, 2008

James Q. Wilson at the Manhattan Institute

I attended a luncheon sponsored by the Manhattan Institute, a New York City-based institute, and James Q. Wilson was the speaker. The luncheon was at the New York Yacht Club on 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Professor Wilson described research that attributes political ideology to genetic differences. The research is based on identical twin studies. I am sure that this line of research is rigorously documented but I am not convinced of its importance. I raised this question at the end of the meeting: Did the shift from the Federalist-Democratic/Republican to a single party system in the "era of good feelings" (1800-1830) reflect a genetic shift? Did the introduction of new gene pools in the late nineteenth century cause a shift in the party system or party ideologies? Can't the near 50% votes for Democratic and Republican presidential candidates be explained by rational vote-seeking by two competitive, economically motivated parties? I would add--did the shift in Republican Party ideology from that of laissez-faire in the late nineteenth century to Progressivism in the early twentieth century reflect gene therapy on Theodore Roosevelt? In the end, I do not doubt that, as Jefferson points out somewhere in his letters, ideology is linked to temperament, and temperament is likely genetic, I am not at all convinced that ideology is important to American politics or that any genetic link has any practical importance.

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