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Taking Evolution Seriously


  • Orion Lewis
  • Sven Steinmo


This paper examines evolutionary theories developed in the life sciences and explores the ways in which specific concepts and/or insights from these theories can be profitably applied to social and political institutions. First, we highlight Darwin’s fundamental insight that evolutionary change depends on the uniqueness of every individual within a population or species. Because all individuals are different, they will respond to or adapt to different environmental stimuli in unique ways. Secondly, evolutionary theories begin with an understanding of change as being a simultaneously endogenous and exogenous process. Instead of seeing the process as one of fundamental stability (what political scientists and economists would call ‘equilibrium’) evolutionary theorists understand the world as a ‘complex adaptive system.’ In the second part of the paper we attempt to use some of the insights drawn from evolutionary theory to help offer insights on two current issues in political science theory: a) Where do preferences come from and b) how can we explain institutional change. Finally, we attempt to push an analogy between genes (which are rules governing cell reproduction and behavior) and political institutions (which are also rules governing reproduction and behavior). This is the most speculative section of the paper were we essentially offer a set of propositions and some comparisons. This section – even more than the rest of this essay – is presented more as ‘food for thought’ than as an attempt to offer a synthetic argument.

Suggested Citation

  • Orion Lewis & Sven Steinmo, 2007. "Taking Evolution Seriously," ARENA Working Papers 19, ARENA.
  • Handle: RePEc:erp:arenax:p0249

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    Cited by:

    1. Salines, Marion & Glöckler, Gabriel & Truchlewski, Zbigniew & del Favero, Paola, 2011. "Beyond the economics of the euro - analysing the institutional evolution of EMU 1999-2010, September 2011," Occasional Paper Series 127, European Central Bank.

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