American anthropologist, author, and playwright, Robert Ardrey was known for his contributions to anthropology, the gilded stage, and silver screen. Born in Chicago, Illinois, Ardrey’s interest in science and writing were sustained after attaining a PhD from the University of Chicago (1930). Though performing numerous jobs to support his first wife and two children (Ardrey was married twice: Johnson in 1938 and Grunewald in 1960), Ardrey’s efforts resulted in numerous plays and screenplays; among the popularized were The Three Musketeers (1947), Madame Bovary (1948), The Secret Garden (1949), The Adventures of Quentin Durand (1955), The Power and the Prize (1956), The Wonderful Country (1959), The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (1962), Khartoum (1966), and Thunder Rock (1939, 1943, and 1985). However, Ardrey’s contribution and popularizing of science stemmed from his major works: African Genesis: A Personal Investigation into the Animal Origins and Nature of Man (1961), The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations (1966), The Social Contract: A Personal Inquiry into the Evolutionary Sources of Order and Disorder (1970), and The Hunting Hypothesis (1976). Interested in both human origin and human behavior, the discovery of Australopithecus in Africa influenced Ardrey’s scientific perspective for the remainder of his life; he died in Cape Providence in South Africa.
Contributions and Perspectives
Robert Ardrey’s contributions to the anthropological perspective regarding our species can be considered both iconoclastic and intellectually provocative. Drawing upon the observations of paleontologists, zoologists, psychologists, and work in sociobiology, Ardrey attempted to explain our species behavior, primarily in terms of aggression, within a naturalistic framework. The basis for his speculation regarding human behavior is not grounded in myth, theology, mysticism or unrealistic metaphysics; rather, his view was drawn from scientific speculation based on scientific evidence. As an anthropologist, Ardrey was grounded within an evolutionary structure.
The influence of Charles Darwin (1809-1882) upon science cannot be understated. Darwin’s theory of organic evolution created a scientific framework for our species’ existence and behavior. Regarding our species’ evolution, speculation as to the place where our species evolved varied; for Darwin, our species’ origin was in Africa. For others, Asia became the point of constructive speculation. Although Darwin’s critique of human behavior falls short of contributions given by sociobiology, the significance of culture and derived behavior was put into an evolutionary framework. However, the physical evidence needed to refine plausible speculations was lacking. Although discoveries of fossil hominids would increase scientific awareness of human origin, it would be the discovery of Australopithecus by Raymond Dart that would influence Ardrey’s depiction of human behavior.
Based upon the work of Dart and contributions of primatology, Ardrey stated that our primal behavior, similar to that of other primates, is rooted in our evolutionary past (whereas any differences are due to the evolution of the human brain). As depicted by the evidence regarded by Dart, Ardrey supported the belief that our hominid ancestor, Australopithecus africanus, was aggressive, skillful (use of tools), and a “culturally advanced” Pliocene killer (killer apes).
Consequently, human behavior that became romanticized and supported an anthropocentric view was reevaluated as being deeply instinctual primate behavior. Behavior derived from the need of sustenance, reproduction, and territory, closely linked by the complexity of the human brain, modified this instinctual aggressiveness that was depicted by Dart’s specimens (evidence). In Ardrey’s opinion, unlike earlier evolutionists’, our species’ moral nature was no different than any other animal’s moral nature. This is due to the territorial imperative, whereby territory is the principal stimulus in this natural morality. In an evolutionary process, Ardrey depicted that the “moral” life is played and identified within these territories or arenas. The drama and interconnectedness of life, via territorial periphery, creates the probability for instinctual aggression; albeit aggression may not be fatal. Behavior, inter- and intragroup populations, is regulated by what Ardrey terms the “amity-enmity complex” (prompted by external and internal threats), which provides an individual a means for identity, stimulation, and security.
Although Ardrey’s portrait of human behavior is devoid of any romanticism or metaphysical autonomy, the truth of the underlying biological factors does not detract from the human experience. Humanity, for all its virtues and vices, is greater than the sum of its biological parts, though the former is solely derived and dependent on the latter. Yet, Ardrey’s convincing explanation of human aggression, as with all animal aggression, does not bode well for the human animal that is capable of destruction on a massive scale. Perhaps it was the close affinity with other primates (social, biological, and behavioral) and modern technological advancements that stimulated Ardrey’s interests in the present human condition. This is particularly troublesome when considering ourselves progeny of our ancestral “killer apes.” Though critics had pointed out cracks and fissures in Ardrey’s theoretical framework, Ardrey never wavered from Darwin’s sentiments regarding our species in relation to the great apes: We differ only in degree and not in kind.
- Ardrey, R. (1963). African genesis: A personal investigation into the animal origins and nature of man. New York: Delta Books.
- Ardrey, R. (1966). The territorial imperative.New York: Atheneum.
- Ardrey, R. (1970). The social contract: A personal inquiry into the evolutionary sources oforder and disorder. New York: Atheneum.
- Dart, R. (1982). Adventures with the missing link.Philadelphia: Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential.
- Dawkins, R. (1999). The extended Oxford: Oxford University Press.