The Nature of Politics

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Roger D. Masters

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This important and original book examines the nature of politics from a perspective cutting across conventional academic disciplines.  Returning to the traditional emphasis on human nature as the foundation of politics, Roger D. Masters links major issues in Western political philosophy with contemporary research in the life sciences.  By relating evolutionary biology, social psychology, linguistics, and game theory to politics, Masters proposes a framework for the emerging field of biopolitics. 


Masters shows how selfishness and altruism, participation in social groups, languages and cultures, and politics can all be illuminated by empirical evidence from the life sciences.  To explore the nature of the human individual, for example, he presents experimental evidence indicating that the psychology of Plato is more exact than the traditions of Hobbes, Locke, and modern behaviorism.  Cultural evolution is viewed as a process based on the emergence of human language as a system of information coding and transmission similar to the genetic system but not reducible to genetic determinism.  Analyzing the origin of the centralized state, Masters relates contemporary theories of natural selection to the study of social cooperation in political philosophy, game theory, and history.   


This ambitious work, the fruit of more than twenty years of theoretical and experimental research, seeks to overcome the gap between the natural and social sciences.  In addition, it offers a reasonable basis for judging, political institutions and ethical standards.  Challenging the nihilism and relativism that have predominated in the West over the last century, Masters indicates why an evolutionary approach to human nature provides reasons for preferring a constitutional regime to autocratic or tyrannical governments.  By viewing politics in terms of the kinds of social participation typical within our species for millions of years, this “new naturalism” can help us to formulate decent and humane standards of social life while providing a scientific foundation for the study of political behavior.

"Masters has been seriously studying evolutionary biology longer than any other contemporary political scientist; his knowledge is broad and deep. He writes with genuine authority about animal behavior, paleoanthropology, ecology, and neurobiology. . . . A brilliant, clearly written, but fully documented and challenging work--indispensable to anyone interested in the most important problems in contemporary social science, public policy, ethics, and political theory."—Choice

"This is the kind of book Charles Darwin might have written if he were alive today and teaching political science. . . . It is hard to believe that there will not soon emerge a demand for the discipline that The Nature of Politics introduces. . . . Mr. Masters’ contribution may indeed emerge as a ’benchmark work’ . . . in bridging these critical paths."—Valerie Richardson, Washington Times

"Roger Masters . . . has creatively reexamined a number of the great issues of political philosophy by drawing upon evolutionary biology, ethnology, and anthropology, among other fields. The fruit of this cross-disciplinary fertilization has been a series of path-breaking articles. The Nature of Politics brings together revised versions of seven of these articles, published between 1970 and 1986. The result is a volume that is sure to influence scholarly discussion of these issues for many years. . . . Masters is among the few political philosophers alive today who approach the great issues of politics as have our greatest thinkers--by taking advantage of the best science of the day. . . . No reader interested in these issues will complete The Nature of Politics without having been profoundly stimulated by its arguments."—Gary R. Johnson, American Anthropologist

"An outstanding scholarly accomplishment."—Winston E. Langley, Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science

"This is the kind of book Charles Darwin might have written if he were alive today and teaching political science. . . . Masters’ The Nature of Politics . . . may not have made Darwin an immortal, but odds are it would have earned him tenure."—Valerie Richardson, Washington Times

"It is always difficult to be truly interdisciplinary and doubly difficult to bridge the natural sciences and the social sciences. However, Roger Masters does this quite brilliantly in his book The Nature of Politics. He shows that if one is to understand political behavior, then one simply must look at what today’s biologists are telling us about human nature. Yet he is able to do this without falling into any of the arid ideological traps which so dissect so many who have trod the path before him. Altogether Masters shows a sensitive and illuminating grasp of politics and of biology and of the interrelations between the two."—Michael Ruse, Professor of Philosophy and Zoology, University of Guelph, and editor of Biology and Philosophy

"A theoretically sophisticated and richly provocative reconception of political theory."—Thomas Pangle, author of The Spirit of Modern Republicanism

"Professor Masters’ research on the biological bases of politics is giving new insights which also apply to the interaction between law and human behavior. The Nature of Politics will be a lasting contribution to the understanding of legal and political theory. Masters connects ethological research to the foundations of law in a comprehensive manner, providing a scientific outlook on traditional philosophic questions of justice. Clearly written and accessible to the informed reader, this book will be particularly valuable as a text introducing the perspective of the life sciences to courses in law, social behavior, and politics."—Dr. Margaret Gruter, J. S. M., President, Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research

"A benchmark work that inaugurates biopolitics as a systematic and comprehensive discipline."—Hiram Caton, author of The Politics of Progress

"Masters has produced one of the best efforts—perhaps the best— integrating evolutionary biology and political philosophy. I was particularly challenged by his notions of the evolution of the state and his proposals for deriving normative principles of social functioning from neo-Darwinian insights. This book should be read by anyone interested in the great questions of politics and biology."—David Barash, author of Sociology and Behavior

"Masters has married voracious, responsible scholarship with a deeply considered scrutiny of issues at the heart of social science. The result is a benchmark book at once challenging and decent, radical and classic."—Lionel Tiger, author of The Manufacture of Evil

"The Nature of Politics is the first solid and balanced synthesis of biology and political science, wedding these two subjects to show the future shape of an exciting new discipline."—Edward O. Wilson, author of Sociobiology

"Must reading for those who are concerned with what science teaches about life and what life should teach scientists."—-Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind

ISBN: 9780300049817
Publication Date: January 23, 1991
315 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
45 b/w illus.