Darwinism (1889): An Exposition of the Theory of Natural Selection with some of its Applications
This was a book Wallace wrote as a defensive response to the scientific critics of natural selection. In the preface to Darwinism , Wallace had used the term pure-Darwinism which proposed a "greater efficacy" for natural selection.
Alfred Russel Wallace: Books, First Edition
The book is notable for defending August Weismann 's theory of heredity and rejecting the inheritance of acquired characteristics and the concept of sexual selection which Darwin gave credence to. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Columbia University Press. Oxford University Press. Macmillan and Company. New Clarion Press. The Open Court Publishing Company. Wallace, Darwin, and the Origin of Species. They will tend to live long enough to become parents, and their offspring will tend to inherit their winning variations.
But where, on the farm, artificial selection can build up those variations into new varieties of existing species, natural selection, working with infinitely greater precision over far larger timescales, can go further and create new species.
Darwin presented his second main proposal as following from the first. If natural selection operates on whatever variations happen to turn up, favouring them or not depending on the conditions of life that happen to prevail in a place at a particular time, then the overall timing and character of new species will be highly irregular, like the timing and character of the branches on a tree. For just as all of the outermost tips of a tree can be traced back, with unbroken continuity, to ever larger, more comprehensive, and older groupings of branches, all the way back to a shared, single trunk, so living species can be grouped, with each other and with extinct species, until the whole of the history of life on Earth can be seen as forming one or, at most, a few family trees.
It explained, for example, why the birds on the Galapagos Islands belong to the same genera as the birds on the South American mainland, where environmental conditions were so very different; why the fossil species dug up from the rocks in a place so often resemble the species to be found living at the surface; why taxonomists found it so useful to group species into ever larger hierarchical groupings; and why early embryos of very different species look so much alike, only gradually differentiating during development.
At present there is no consensus on either issue. For every generalization one is tempted to make about Darwinism, it is easy to identify complications and counterexamples. A perception of such us-versus-them animosity provoked the American clergyman Charles Hodge to publish What is Darwinism? Likewise, on the whole, Darwinism continued to be identified mainly with natural selection and the genealogical tree of life. But other Darwinians found that unpersuasively dogmatic. Even Huxley and Galton had well-known doubts about the latter.
I had not formerly sufficiently considered the existence of many structures which appear to be, as we far as we can judge, neither beneficial nor injurious; and this I believe to be one of the greatest oversights as yet detected in my work. I may be permitted to say as some excuse, that I had two distinct objects in view, firstly, to shew that species had not been separately created, and secondly, that natural selection had been the chief agent of change…. Some of those who admit the principle of evolution, but reject natural selection, seem to forget, when criticising my book, that I had the above two objects in view; hence if I have erred in giving to natural selection great power, which I am far from admitting, or in having exaggerated its power, which is in itself probable, I have at least, as I hope, done good service in aiding to overthrow the dogma of separate creations.
Strikingly, Darwin here used two terms absent from the Origin. For now, it is worth underscoring the Spencerian origins of what became two of the most enduringly Darwinian terms, adopted by Darwin himself. Three further points about the Descent — where Darwin sought to apply the Origin proposals in a detailed way to humankind — bear emphasis. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes … will no doubt be exterminated.
The break [between humans and the nearest animal species] will then be rendered wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, than the Caucasian, and some ape as a low as a baboon, instead of at present between the negro or Australian and the gorilla. Second, and following the lead of the English journalist Walter Bagehot editor of the Economist , then as now house publication for free-market liberalism , Darwin argued that it was not just higher intelligence but higher morality — in the sense of a greater willingness by individuals to make sacrifices for the good of the collective — which made for success in the struggle between the human races.
Balance was needed because too much of the one could undermine the other, to the detriment of the species. Yes, Darwin acknowledged again following others, notably Galton , medicine and charity protect the weak in body, mind and character from the full force of natural selection, and to that extent may actually erode overall biological quality, by creating conditions under which the weak not only out-survive but outbreed the strong.
Alfred Russel Wallace, First Edition: Books - AbeBooks
Yet the withdrawal of those institutions would so damage what is noblest in humans as to do more harm than good. Better to counteract whatever damage they bring by ensuring that struggle nevertheless remains severe around them. Spencer was a different kind of thinker from Darwin, from a different background; it is the more fascinating to see how their ideas at certain points parallel and converge.
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Where Darwin was a globe-travelling geologist and naturalist whose inherited wealth meant he never had to earn a living, Spencer was a provincial railway engineer turned social commentator and speculative philosopher who lived by his pen. In a series of essays culminating in an book, Social Statics , he set out a version of what we would now call a radically libertarian social theory.
Among the journals Spencer worked for was the Economist. By its constant, freedom-limiting meddling in human affairs, it shields people from learning to deal in full with the complexities of life, leaving them poorly adapted to each other and to their wider circumstances. Take away government, make people fend for themselves, and, Spencer predicted, two things will happen. Under the new conditions of struggle, some people will work harder, gradually becoming not just better adapted but better in themselves, with stronger bodies, sharper minds and enlarged capacities for moral action — refinements, Spencer believed, which they would pass on to their children in Lamarckian fashion.
As for the rest, they will die, culled just as the weaker animals in a herd get culled.
What will emerge in the end is a far better society, indeed a utopia, where truly free people live peaceably and happily thanks to optimally adjusted bodies, minds and morals. Over the course of the s, Spencer went on to embed this social vision within a truly cosmic developmental-evolutionary scheme, drawing on the whole of the sciences of his day — from matter-and-motion physics to Malthus on populations — and presenting the universe, and everything within it, as progressing naturally from an initial state of undifferentiated homogeneity to ever higher states of differentiated, integrated heterogeneity.
Darwin was ambivalent about Spencer, but Wallace was a fan, even naming his son after Spencer. The penultimate volume of the Synthetic Philosophy came out in The next year, Enrico Ferri, an Italian Marxist and disciple of the Darwinian criminologist-anthropologist Cesare Lombroso who regarded criminals as evolutionary throwbacks , published Socialism and Positive Science Darwin, Spencer, Marx. But Marx did, in , send Darwin a signed copy of the second German edition. By the time Ferri wrote, a comprehensive Darwinism-and-society bibliography would already have been long, multilingual, and nigh on impossible to sort into sensible categories.
Here are some others:. The fallacy, he argued, is to infer that because something is natural it must therefore be good. From studies of French skulls down the centuries, Lapouge had concluded that the selection pressure which formerly had made French aristocrats not just had distinctive but superior had relaxed after the French Revolution, bringing about degeneration. To sound an alarm is one thing; for others to take notice is something else. And they discussed social Darwinism, under that name, as one of the options then being explored, especially in Continental Europe.
Extension at an enduringly large scale took place shortly thereafter. Social Darwinism in American Thought , a PhD-dissertation-turned-first-book by the young American historian Richard Hofstadter, was an instant classic. In the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie wrote of the law of competition:. We accept and welcome therefore, as conditions to which we must accommodate ourselves, great inequality of environment, the concentration of business, industrial and commercial, in the hands of a few, and the law of competition between these, as being not only beneficial, but essential for the future progress of the race.
But though he gave more space in the book to the critics of social Darwinism than to social Darwinism per se, and allowed that there were progressive as well as conservative readings of the Synthetic Philosophy, he was clear about the main drift. Acceptance of the Spencerian philosophy brought with it a paralysis of the will to reform. His message that Spencer, not Darwin, was ultimately responsible for social Darwinism suited an era coping with revelations about the Nazi abuse of biology and eager to see in the new, genetical Darwinism — which had no truck with the old race hierarchies — a reclaiming of the scientific and moral high ground.
It is explicit in the criticism of Hooton just quoted, from That same year saw the publication of From Luther to Hitler , by the political historian and military man William McGovern.
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An early and widely read entry in the explaining-Hitler genre, the book included a chapter on German social Darwinism, depicted as the latest, scientifically updated expression of old blood-and-soil, master-race fascist impulses that ran deep in German culture. When Hofstadter was at work on his dissertation on social Darwinism, there was thus no historical topic that was more topical.
Even so, the best of the accumulated scholarship has clarified many of the facts to be contended with as well as the difficulties in interpreting them. Nineteenth-century Germany was where Darwinism and socialism had the greatest uptake in Europe; indeed, to a large extent, they marched together. Marx and Engels were representative of the eagerness with which German socialists, for all their differences, embraced Darwinism, from the early s onward. Against fantasies of social equality, Haeckel insisted, Darwinism taught that, in society as in nature, the struggle for existence pitilessly elevates the born aristocrats, consigning the rest to death.
There was nothing democratic, let alone socialist, about the Darwinian process. Furthermore, Haeckel was, on Darwinian grounds, a pacifist. Far from celebrating Haeckel, the Nazis purged his books from public libraries. Beyond Haeckel himself, there was nevertheless, around the turn of the century, a rightward shift in the German-speaking public discussion of Darwinism, along with heightened self-consciousness about the biological condition of the Volk and the need to safeguard it.
The rest argued in various ways for greater state control of human affairs. The idea that, for Darwinian reasons, the state ought to keep criminals from reproducing, by segregation if not sterilization or extermination, became a commonplace. An attempt to legalize abortion failed, with opponents underscoring the need to keep the German birth-rate high enough to supply good soldiers in the next war.
By the time of the First World War, an aggressive, militaristic, racialized Darwinism, nurtured in the meetings and publications of the Pan-German League and combining — after the fashion of Lapouge, Ammon and others — the race fatalism of the mid-century French thinker Joseph Arthur de Gobineau with Darwinian and, for German biologists especially, Weismannian selectionism and progressivism, had become rife in the German high command.