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The Origin of Politics: An Evolutionary Theory of Political Behavior

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 December 2004

John R. Alford
John R. Alford is associate professor of political science at Rice University (
John R. Hibbing
John R. Hibbing is Foundation Regents University Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln (


In this article we propose that evolutionary biology can supply political science with a theory of the ultimate causes of human preferences and behaviors that it otherwise lacks. For the most part, political scientists are either unfamiliar with the social side of evolutionary theory or misidentify its key features. Far from being genetically deterministic or leading exclusively to predictions that all human behavior will be selfish, modern evolutionary theories stress that adaptive behavior is frequently characterized by a guarded sort of cooperation. We describe modern biological theory, offer our own version of it, discuss new and potentially useful interpretations of political attitudes and public policies, and present scientific evidence, drawn from research on autistic individuals and monozygotic and dizygotic twins, of the startlingly important role genetics plays in shaping politically relevant attitudes and behaviors.The authors are grateful to Chris Larimer, Levente Littvay, David Rapkin, Kevin Smith, Jeff Spinner-Halev, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.

Research Article
© 2004 American Political Science Association

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