Two political scientists, John R. Hibbing and Kevin B. Smith, propose that historians acknowledge “that biology is a key factor in a person’s politics.” There has been a lot of recent research that confirms this. But the real issue is not whether historians should acknowledge these findings (they should if the evidence supports them), it is whether or not this knowledge is useful to them in understanding the past. I’m not convinced that it is. While history may be useful in confirming (or dis-confirming) the pattern of conflicts “between innovation and tradition, between stability and progress” that is an expression of these biological predispositions, it offers little help to the historian in understanding particular historical events. And it may even lead us to misleading and false conclusions without any tools, beyond a person’s behavior, to determine someone’s biological predispositions. Given the type of evidence that we have, a person’s social, cultural, and political environment is more useful when it comes to understanding human motivations and behaviors.
This is not to dismiss the grow body of evidence that supports a biological component in human politics as useless. But it seems to be more relevant for human behavior today. This knowledge may be useful to changing human behavior, if it leads us to recognize that “[p]eople are different; they experience the world differently; they do not see, feel, and sense identical stimuli in the same way.” An appreciation of this could possibly “soften the edges of political disputes that are so detrimental.” One can only hope!