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DARWINISM IS SOCIAL
by Robert M. Young
It strikes me that there should be little need for this paper. Only positivists believe that scientific facts and theories are separate from human meanings and values, and even they, inconsistently, set out to extrapolate human and social conclusions from putatively decontextualized facts. Only religious fundamentalists believe that a belief in God cannot be reconciled with science, and that true religion is based on the literal truth of Scripture. This is a sort of religious positivism, as is the notion of creation science, which the ultra-right is currently deploying in opposition to a vulnerable, neo-Darwinian scientific orthodoxy, as part of an attack on the role that science plays in giving legitimacy to a liberal vision of capitalism.
Except for scientific positivists and religious fundamentalists, then, the connection between Darwinism and society is acknowledged. Indeed, the nineteenth-century Comtean positivist historical progression of stages - from theological to metaphysical to positive science - is now more likely to be seen as conceptual layers, rather than stages, with the social totality as the most basic level below those three.
But, of course, I've already made the situation far too simple. There is no such thing as "the" connection between Darwinism and society. And we must pick our way carefully among the various versions of the connection that are now on offer and that were on offer in the nineteenth century.
I have heart for this task, but I want to begin by registering a certain weariness, even impatience, that it's still necessary to argue that: first, the intellectual origins of the theory of evolution by natural selection are inseparable from social, economic and ideological issues in nineteenth-century Britain (I nearly wrote "Victorian", but that would beg the question of what happened for over a third of that century); second, the substance of the theory was, and remains, part of the wider philosophy of nature, God, and society, where the conceptions of nature and God are themselves changing in complex ways which are integral to the changing social order; third, the extrapolations from Darwinism to either humanity or society are not separable from Darwin's own views, nor are they chronologically subsequent. They are integral.
Let me reiterate that it still seems odd to have to argue that the great nineteenth-century debate was about "man's place in nature". Yet I well recall a seminar in which the historian of biology Jonathan Hodge said, in a barbed aside, that not everything in the nineteenth-century evolutionary debate was about man's place in nature. And yet Darwin called it the highest and most interesting problem for the naturalist. Another way of making the point is to say that it's very implausible indeed that the great nineteenth-century quarterlies - rooted in history, literature, and social questions - would have devoted so much space and would have gone into such detail about geology and natural history, unless something rather important was implicitly, and often explicitly, at issue, which was itself centrally concerned with the natural order as the symbolic basis for the social order.
Efforts are still made to separate the origins of the theory of evolution by natural selection from the substance of the theory and from extrapolations to society. Efforts are also made to separate the origins and substance of the theory from social and economic contexts and debates. There is something of a supermarket of distinctions on offer. It's argued that contemporary social and economic conditions and theories played no part; or that since Malthus didn't say what Darwin took him to say, the connection is thereby weakened - as if there were a neutral "what X said", any more than there is a neutral observation language in science; or that we can legitimately trace the geological and/or theological connections while being silent about the social origins and resonances of ideas of the earth or of the deity; or that we can separate out the positivist Darwin from the ideologue, either within the Origin and other relatively strictly scientific works, or between what he said about species and what he went on to say about humanity and society; or that we can separate the Darwin and Wallace scientific theory from the wider debate embracing, most notably, Chambers, Spencer, and (Lyell's version of) Lamarck. Then there is the attempt to privilege natural selection as the mechanism of evolution and deny the real strength of other mechanisms in the Origin, and their growing prominence in subsequent editions and in Darwin's other writings.
I don't deny that there are meaningful distinctions to be made among all these issues, disciplines, figures, and periods, but none of those distinctions is ultimately important. I'm not arguing for a concept of the evolutionary totality so Leibnitzean that every monad reflects all the others with equal intensity. Rather, I'm suggesting that, then as now, the issues are all related to changing notions of humanity and society, and that the points at which the distinctions of issue, discipline, or level are made are themselves of socioeconomic and ideological interest. Once it is granted that natural and theological conceptions are, in significant ways, projections of social ones, then important aspects of all of the Darwinian debate are social ones, and the distinction between Darwinism and Social Darwinism is one of level and scope, not of what is social and what is asocial.
Nature is a societal category, and so is God. The ideological process that, it seems to me, underlies these developments is one that must be seen as arising in nineteenth-century secularization and that culminates in twentieth-century functionalism and sociobiology. That process is the naturalization of value systems. If we look at the debate about man's place in nature in those terms, we have to look much more widely: that is, look backward into a wider process of biological naturalization in the nineteenth-century movement that embraced the work of St. Simon, of Comte, of Gall. Looking forward, we have to consider much more carefully the biologization of human sciences, which is most prominently displayed in the present in ethology and sociobiology.
Once we have begun to consider the process of the naturalization of value systems in broader terms and see the debate on man's place in nature as a part of that wider set of issues, we must also consider our historical explanations as calling for a more comprehensive set of determinations. Just as we are interested in the findings, the data, the ruminations and the thought processes of Darwin - the notebooks, the scraps of paper and the crossings-out - we should also be interested in the large-scale forces and their resolutions, and the prevailing compromises of the period, as well as the issues that frame the inquiries of disciplines and the figures in them. We can, for example, trace these determinations for Paley, for Malthus, and for Lyell. Respectively, they help us to grasp the meaning of a utilitarian natural theologian, a Newtonian concept of progress through struggle, and a religious uniformitarian. Each is arguing a case in relation to particular prevailing views find traditions.
Let's develop these points. Lyell's opposition to a caricatured catastrophism was on behalf of a less hide-bound theology and conception of nature. His exposition of Lamarck made evolution so plausible that it convinced Spencer, among others, and Lyell finally reached a point where he had to put in what amounted to a scholium, to preclude the impending conclusion that he finally came to as late as 1869. He said in the Principles that even if other animals came to be by transmutation, to extend this view to man would "strain analogy beyond all reasonable bounds" (Lyell 1830-1833, 1: 156).
Paley, in his Natural Theology, expressed a certain dying pastoral order. Paley managed to absorb the issues that became the motor of Darwinian progress into a balanced order of nature. Here is the flavour of his world:
But, to do justice to the question, the system of animal destruction must always be considered in strict connection with another property of animal nature, viz, superfecundity. They are countervailing qualities. One subsists by the correction of the other. (Paley 1816, p. 408)
He comments on how this attribute keeps the world full and in balance. But what happens when fruitfulness gets out of hand?
But then this superfecundity, though of great occasional use and importance, exceeds the ordinary capacity of nature to receive or support its progeny. All superabundance supposes destruction, or must destroy itself. Perhaps there is no species of terrestrial animals whatever, which would not overrun the earth if it were permitted to multiply in perfect safety; or a fish, which would not fill the ocean: at least, if any single species were left to their natural increase without disturbance or restraint, the food of other species would be exhausted by their maintenance. It is necessary, therefore, that the effects of such prolific faculties be curtailed. In conjunction with other checks and limits, all subservient to the same purpose, are the thinnings which take place among animals, by their action upon one another. In some instances we ourselves experience, very directly, the use of these hostilities. One species of insects rids us of another species; or reduces their ranks. A third species perhaps keeps the second within bounds; and birds or lizards are a fence against the inordinate increase by which even these last might infest us. In other more numerous and possibly more important instances, this disposition of things, although less necessary or useful to us, and of course less observed by us, may be necessary and useful to certain other species; or even for the preventing of the loss of certain species from the universe; a misfortune which seems to be studiously guarded against. Though there may be the appearance of failure in some of the details of Nature's works, in her great purposes there never are. (1816, pp. 411-412)
He concludes reassuringly:
We have dwelt the longer on these considerations because the subject to which they apply, namely, that of animals devouring one another, forms the chief, if not the only, instance in the works of the Deity of an economy stamped by marks of design, in which the character of utility can be called in question. (1816, p. 413)
Paley's pastoral order was being challenged by an urban industrializing order, in which progress was not the smooth process of the pleasure/pain principle of utility. It was, rather, progress through a more disruptive and rapacious version of pain, evil, suffering, famine, war, and death. Paley tried to accommodate this Malthuslanism with a gentle rendering of God's superfecundity: the necessity of "thinnings". Malthus's Law of Change was more brutal: not pruning shears, but unremitting pressure, the "thousand wedges" we find in Darwin's D Notebook. These were the same wedges that prevented the huge gap between arithmetic increase of food and geometric increase of population from ever opening up.
Malthus's order of society and nature had a very different flavour from Paley's:
The history of the early migrations and settlements of mankind, with the motives which prompted them, would illustrate in a striking manner the constant tendency in the human race to increase beyond the means of subsistence. Without some general law of this nature, it would seem as if the world could never have been peopled. A state of sloth, and not of restlessness and activity, seems evidently to be the natural state of man; and this latter disposition could not have been generated but by the strong goad of necessity, though it might afterwards be continued by habit, and the new associations that were formed from it, the spirit of enterprise, and the thirst of martial glory. (Malthus 1826, 1: p. 92)
He then reflects on the consequences of a population in a congenial environment.
These combined causes soon produce their natural and invariable effect, an extended population, A more frequent and rapid change of place then becomes necessary. A wider and more extensive territory is successively occupied. A broader desolation extends all around them. Want pinches the less fortunate members of society: and at length the impossibility of supporting such a number together becomes too evident to be resisted. Young scions are then pushed out from the parent stock, and instructed to explore fresh regions, and to gain happier seats for themselves by their swords. 'The world is all before them where to choose.' Restless from present distress, flushed with the hope of fairer prospects, and animated with the spirit of hardy enterprise, these daring adventurers are likely to become formidable adversaries to all who oppose them. The inhabitants of countries long settled, engaged in the peaceful occupations of trade and agriculture, would not often be able to resist the energy of men acting under such powerful motives of exertion. And the frequent contests with tribes in the same circumstances with themselves, would be so many struggles for existence, and would be fought with a desperate courage, inspired by the reflection, that death would be the punishment of defeat, and life the prize of victory.
In these savage contests, many tribes must have been utterly exterminated. Many probably perished by hardship and famine. Others whose leading star had given them a happier direction, became great and powerful tribes, and in their turn sent off fresh adventurers in search of other seats. (1826, 1: 94-95)
Paley and Malthus described different social orders, with very different moods and sanctions of God and nature, producing very different conceptions of biological stability and change - both theistic and both orderly. Paley extolled being content with your lot, while Malthus offered upward social mobility in return for moral restraint. Very different mechanisms were at work. The Malthusian law of progress was not inescapably pessimistic. Indeed, Panglossian renderings of it were expressed by Spencer, whereby progress to perfection was the consequence of the law of organic change, and the law of population was its proximate cause (cf. Young 1969, pp. 130-137).
Spencer said in 1851,
Progress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity. Instead of civilization being artificial, it is a part of nature; all of a piece with the development of the embryo or the unfolding of a flower. The modifications mankind have undergone, and are still undergoing, result from a law underlying the whole organic creation; and provided the human race continues, and the constitution of things remains the same, those modifications must end in completeness. As surely as the tree becomes bulky when it stands alone, and slender if one of a group; as surely as the same creature assumes different forms of cart-horse and race-horse, according as its habits demand strength or speed; as surely... so surely must the things we call evil and immorality disappear; so surely must man become perfect. (1851, p. 65)
In 1857 Spencer put forward a comprehensive law of progress:
This is the history of all organisms whatever. It is settled beyond dispute that organic progress consists in a change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.
Now, we propose in the first place to show that this law of organic progress is the law of all progress. Whether it be the development of the Earth, in the development of Life upon its surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language, Literature, Science, Art, this same evolution of the simple into the complex, through successive differentiations, holds throughout. (1901, p. 10)
He then develops the law of progress throughout many manifestations and passes from individual humanity to society, where he, concludes: "The authority of the strongest or the most cunning makes itself felt among a body of savages as in a herd of animals, or a posse of schoolboys" (1901, p.19).
Once again he draws the most general conclusion:
It will be seen that as in each event of to-day, so from the beginning, the decomposition of every expended force into several forces has been perpetually producing a higher complication; that the increase of heterogeneity so brought about is still going on and must continue to go on; and that, thus progress is not an accident, not a thing within human control, but a beneficent necessity. (1901, p. 60)
Nor was Spencer the only person to put a dramatically optimistic interpretation on Malthusianism. Consider, in this light, the passage that ends:
Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (Origin, p. 490)
If it is thought that the last paragraph of the Origin was merely a rhetorical flourish, one also has to explain away the last sentence of the chapter on Instinct:
Finally, it may not be a logical deduction, but to my imagination it is far more satisfactory to look at such instincts as the young cuckoo ejecting its foster-brothers, ants making slaves, the larvae of lchneumonidae feeding within the live bodies of caterpillars, not as specially endowed or created instincts, but as small consequences of one general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die. (Origin, pp. 243-244)
Recent scholarship has confirmed the close link between Darwin's work and both social theories and theological theories, which were in turn closely linked with changing conceptions of the order of nature and society. There is also a growing consensus that Darwinism was a subtle accommodation within natural theology, rather than a clean break with it. Anyone wishing to take Darwin's mature views outside the context of natural theology has a lot of explaining to do, from the frontispiece quotations to many of the forms of reasoning and rhetoric in the Origin. Darwin was meticulous in his revision, as is obvious from Peckham's variorum edition (Origin,1959). Why would Darwin fail to remove forms of address and reasoning if they had become odious to him?
To the extent that the conclusion is gaining credence that Darwinism was a subtle accommodation within natural theology, then Darwin takes a place within the history of Victorian theology, on the one hand; on the other, given the direction taken by middle-brow theology with respect to science, it also points to an increasing embedding of value systems in conceptions of living nature.
Recall, for example, R. H. Hutton's rendering of the deliberations of the Metaphysical Society, where he wrote that "The uniformity of nature is the veil behind which, in these latter days, God is hidden from us" (Hutton 1885, p. 180). It is a changed and very watered-down natural theology within which one finds Darwins mature work, but it is natural theology nonetheless.
An analogous change is that as nature, not God, bore the weight of the laws of life and mind, fundamentalism itself born in opposition to the presumptuous reductionism of science gave the believer a much more personal, intimate, and ethical God. Science could not carry the role of the transcendent. This was clear to Darwin, who on the whole avoided such questions. It was true of the spiritualist Wallace, who invoked a rather pale deity to account for the origin of important (and to him otherwise inexplicable) intellectual and moral faculties of man. He invoked socialist politics to deal with the need for a just and ethical society. Huxley was as clear as Wallace in believing that evolution itself could not bring about the millennium. He argued against Spencer, saying contra inevitable millenniarianism that ethics has to be brought in against the results of biology.
Here we come upon another curious set of distinctions. Edward Thompson has treated Darwin as the careful empiricist and Huxley as the ideologue. In his controversy with Perry Anderson, his side of which has recently been published in the collection of essays, The Poverty of Theory, Thompson tries to make Darwin an empiricist of the first order and to draw a very sharp separation between Darwin on the one hand as an inductive scientist, and Huxley on the other as a political and ideologically tainted publicist (1978, pp. 60-62; cf. pp. 255-256). (Is there a whispered parallel between himself and Darwin on the one hand, and Perry Anderson and Huxley on the other?)
What is striking about Thompson's position in this matter is the shocking isolation of his writing as a social historian from the mainstream of debate then and now about these matters. That is, he very surprisingly argues that there should have been much more of a furore, much more manifesto writing, much more debate within the periodicals. And in saying so he ignores just what ubiquitous debate there was throughout the literature of the period. It was not confined to the periodicals; but were one to consider only that sector, it takes Ellegard fifteen pages just to list the periodicals that were involved in his research about that debate. That is, Thompson, has simply ignored the breadth and texture of the debate in which both Darwin and Huxley were embedded, a debate I should add, in which science and ideology were inextricably intertwined (cf. Rad. Sci. J. Collective, 1981, pp. 25-26).
In a related set of distinctions, Greta Jones (1980) has also set about separating the scientist Darwin from the ideologue, and both of those from Social Darwinism. As I see it, both Huxley and Darwin were expressing commonly held positions that were relatively progressive for their time, but relatively shocking to our eyes. I'm thinking, for example, of what Huxley had to say about blacks and women. I shall quote this, as well as passages from Darwin, in some detail, in the hope that these striking examples will destroy once and for all the notion that it's possible to distinguish sharply the scientist from the ideologue.
Huxley's essay is called "Emancipation - Black and White". First blacks:
It may be quite true that some negroes are better than some white men; but no rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that the average negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the average white man. And, if this be true, it is simply incredible that, when all his disabilities are removed, and our prognathous relative has a fair field and no favor, as well as no oppressor, he will be able to compete successfully with his bigger-brained and smaller jawed rival, in a contest which is to be carried on by thoughts and not by bites. The highest places in the hierarchy of civilization will assuredly not be within the reach of our dusky cousins, though it is by no means necessary that they should be restricted to the lowest. But whatever the position of stable equilibrium into which the laws of social gravitation may bring the negro, all responsibility for the result will henceforward lie between nature and him. The white man may wash his hands of it, and the Caucasian conscience be void of reproach for evermore. And this, if we look to the bottom of the matter, is the real justification for the abolition policy. (Huxley 1865, pp. 17-18)
Notice that he's opposing slavery and saying that blacks are biologically inferior, but that we shouldn't make it worse by adding social oppression. He continues:
The like considerations apply to all the other questions of emancipation which are at present stirring the world the multifarious demands that classes of mankind shall be relieved from restrictions imposed by the artfice of man, and not by the necessities of Nature. (1865, p. 18)
On the question of women, he is equally enlightened for his time.
For our parts, though loth to prophesy, we believe it will be [like the result] of other emancipations. Women will find their place, and it will neither be that in which they have been held, nor that to which some of them aspire. Nature's old salique law will not be repealed, and no change of dynasty will be effected. The big chests, the massive brains, the vigorous muscles and stout frames, of the best men will carry the day, whenever it is worth their while to contest the prizes of life with the best women. . . . The most Darwinian of theorists will not venture to propound the doctrine that the physical disabilities under which women have hitherto laboured, in the struggle for existence with men, are likely to be removed by even the most skilfully conducted process of educational selection. (1865, p. 22)
And he concludes: "The duty of man is to see that not a grain is piled upon that load beyond what Nature imposes; that injustice is not added to inequality" (p. 23).
This essay illustrates the principle that the science/ideology distinction is at any point a contingent resolution of historical forces, playing its own ideological role. The more ostensibly pure the science, the deeper one often has to look in order to demonstrate this principle. It is therefore easier in the case of, say, a Spencer or a Chambers than a Darwin or a Lyell. The evaluative conceptions that constitute the problems and parameters of a discipline, however, apply to a Newton and an Einstein just as much as they do to a Voltaire or a Velikovsky. Here, for example, is Darwin in the Descent of Man.
With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated; and those that survive commonly exhibit a vigorous state of health. We civilised men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed, and the sick; we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment. There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.... (Descent, 1874, pp. 133-134)
He goes on:
We must therefore bear the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action; namely that the weaker and inferior members of society do not marry so freely as the sound, and this check might be indefinitely increased by the weak in body or mind refraining from marriage, though this is more to be hoped for than expected. (Descent, 1874, p. 134)
A little bit later:
But the inheritance of property by itself is very far from an evil; for without the accumulation of capital the arts could not progress; and it is chiefly through their power that the civilised races have extended and are now everywhere extending their range, so as to take the place of the lower races. (Descent, 1874, p. 135)
The presence of a body of well-instructed men, who have not to labour for their daily bread, is important to a degree which cannot be overestimated. As all high intellectual work is carried on by them, and on such work, material progress of all kinds mainly depends, not to mention other and higher advantages. (Descent, 1874. p. 135)
American Social Darwinism could take comfort from the following:
There is apparently much truth in the belief that the wonderful progress of the United States, as well as the character of the people, are the results of natural selection; for the more energetic, restless, and courageous men from all parts of Europe have emigrated during the last ten or twelve generations to that great country, and have there succeeded best. (Descent, 1874, p. 142)
He carries on:
Obscure as is the problem of the advance of civilisation, we can at least see that a nation which produced during a lengthened period the greatest number of highly intellectual, energetic, brave, patriotic, and benevolent men, would generally prevail over less favored nations. (Descent, 1874, p. 142)
And further on:
Nevertheless the more intelligent members within the same community will succeed better in the long run than the inferior, and leave a more numerous progeny, and this is a form of natural selection. The more efficient causes of progress seem to consist of a good education during youth whilst the brain is impressible, and of a high standard of excellence, inculcated by the ablest and best men, embodied in the laws, customs and traditions of the nation, and enforced by public opinion. (Descent, 1874, p. 143)
I skip now to the general summary where Darwin reprises the quasi-imperialist views in the above passages.
The advancement of the welfare of mankind is a most intricate problem: all ought to refrain from marriage who cannot avoid abject poverty for their children; for poverty is not only a great evil, but tends to its own increase by leading to recklessness in marriage. (Descent, 1874, p. 618)
Who says, by the way, that Darwin didn't take in what Malthus said? He goes on:
On the other hand, as Mr. Galton has remarked, if the prudent avoid marriage, whilst the reckless marry, the inferior members tend to supplant the better members of society. Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence consequent upon his rapid multiplication; and if he is to advance still higher, it is to be feared that he must remain subject to a severe struggle. Otherwise he would sink into indolence, and the more gifted men would not be more successful in the battle of life than the less gifted. Hence our natural rate of increase, though leading to many and obvious evils, must not be greatly diminished by any means. There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not-be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring. Important as the struggle for existence has been and even still is, yet as far as the highest part of man's nature is concerned there are other agencies more important. For the moral qualities are advanced, either directly or indirectly, much more through the effects of habit, the reasoning powers, instruction, religion, &c, than through natural selection; though to this latter agency may be safely attributed the social instincts, which afforded the basis for the development of the moral sense. (Descent, 1874, p. 618)
I have quoted at length these passages from Huxley and Darwin to show the inseparability of so-called Darwinism from so-called Social Darwinism and, congruent with that, between science and ideology. Anyone wishing to separate the scientific from the social from the theological will have to contend with these passages in these men's work. And anyone wishing to confine Darwin's Social Darwinism to his post-Origin work will have to contend with Silvan Schweber's claim: "To the best of my knowledge the M and N notebooks contain the first presentation of an evolutionary view of society based on an evolutionary view of nature" (1977, p. 232).
Would-be separators of Darwin the biological scientist from Darwin the Social Darwinist would also be likely to stumble over passages from the E Notebook; the projected Chapter 6 of Natural Selection ("Theory Applied to the Races of Man", Stauffer, 1975); the marginal annotations in Darwin's own books on the races of man; a letter to Lyell in 1859 that applied natural selection and the effects of inherited mental exercise as follows: "I look at this process as now going on with the races of man; the less intellectual races being exterminated" (LL 2: 211). These evidences of continuity, along with many more, have been set forth in John Greene's convincing essay on "Darwin as a Social Evolutionist" (1981a, pp. 95-127). This complements his earlier on "Biology and Social Theory in the 19th Century" (1981, pp. 60-94), and both invite us to broaden and deepen our views on the mutual constitutiveness of scientific and social thought.
Turning now to Social Darwinism per se, my first point is that there is no such clearly separable thing. There was, however, a movement that was concerned chiefly with the interpretation of evolutionary ideas in the social context. It was a Malthusianism buttressed by the law of the history of life. It was based on a conception of the imbalance between human instincts and needs on the one hand, and human industry and nature's bounty on the other. It was not always pessimistic, but it was never very pleasant. Moreover, it was almost always associated with concepts of social hierarchy and mobility via competition.
My own conception of Social Darwinism is that it was an attitude toward nature with common elements, usually including Malthusianism, a belief in the science of social laws, and a belief that nature decreed extreme inequalities that most thought would lead to progress. Social Darwinists usually invoked some version of the survival of the fittest, although there were differing views about what the fittest were fit for. For more on conceptions of Social Darwinism, we can look at some passages from Robert Bannister's interesting monograph, Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought. One definition presents Social Darwinism as "the type of theory that attempts to describe and explain social phenomena chiefly in terms of competition and conflict, especially the competition of group with group and the equilibrium and adjustment that ensues upon such struggles" (Bannister 1979, p. 4). Another described it as "the name loosely given to the application to society of the doctrine of the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest" (p. 5). Another definition said that it's "the more general adaptation of Darwinian, and related biological concepts to social ideologies" (p. 5). A last example was: "a ruthless form of laissez-faire that it has become fashionable to call 'Social Darwinism' " (p. 6).
Moving away from definitions to the question of how broadly this attitude towards nature was represented, it's important to remember that it was very widespread and not confined to post-Darwinian writings. For example, Lyell wrote that "In the universal struggle for existence, the right of the strongest eventually prevails" (quoted in Young 1969, p. 129). The concept of struggle is very common in the Principles (see Young 1969, p. 129, n. 76).
In a way that is echoed in the last passage from the Descent, Malthus himself said: "Had population and food increased in the same ratio, it is probable that man might never have emerged from the savage state" (Malthus 1798, p. 364). Malthus remarked:
The first great awakeners of the mind seem to be the wants of the body. They are the first stimulants that rouse the brain of infant man into sentient activity, and such seems to be the sluggishness of original matter that unless, by a peculiar course of excitements, other wants, equally powerful are generated, these stimulants seem, even afterwards, to be necessary, to continue that activity which they first awakened. The savage would slumber for ever under his tree unless he were roused from his torpor by the cravings of hunger, or the pinchings of cold; and the exertions that he makes to avoid these evils, by procuring food, and building himself a covering, are the exercises which form and keep in motion his faculties, which otherwise would sink into listless inactivity. From all that experience has taught us concerning the structure of the human mind, if those stimulants to exertion, which arise from the wants of the body, were removed from the mass of mankind, we have much more reason to think, that they would be sunk to the level of brutes, from a deficiency of excitements, than that they would be raised to the rank of philosophers by the possession of leisure. In those countries, where nature is the most redundant in spontaneous produce, the inhabitants will not be found the most remarkable for acuteness of intellect. Necessity has been with great truth called the mother of invention. (pp. 356-358)
Of course, Social Darwinism was, one might say, a broad church. A very optimistic interpretation was put on it in the writings of Darwin; the same was true of Spencer's rendering of it, just as was the use to which it was put in Social Darwinist ideas of the American robber barons. There is perpetually an undertone, however, as there was in Malthus, another note, a sense of pessimism. In Malthus's case it was a pessimism that allowed scope for striving and moral restraint. But there were worse forms of pessimism. Henry George one of the passionate followers of Spencer became disillusioned and played in turn an important role in inspiring the social ideas of Wallace (see Young 1968b). George once recalled a conversation between himself and Spencer's great American publicist, E. L. Youmans, concerning the state of American society. "What do you propose to do about it?" George had asked. To this Youmans responded with something like a sigh": "Nothing! You and I can do nothing at all. It's all a matter of evolution. We can only wait for evolution. Perhaps in four or five thousand years evolution may have carried men beyond this state of affairs. But we can do nothing" (quoted in Bannister 1979, p. 75).
The doctrine of this broad church, then, conveyed both optimism and pessimism both a concept of progress and a fatalism about its parameters and its pace. But more important of all, it rooted social ideas in biological ideas. The point I'm making is that biological ideas have to be seen as constituted by, evoked by, and following an agenda set by, larger social forces that determine the tempo, the mode, the mood, and the meaning of nature. In particular, evolutionary concepts of society changed quite fundamentally in the three decades from 1880 to 1910, from those of Social Darwinism to those of functionalism. The change coincides with the shift in the epochs of capitalism from that of primitive accumulation to that of managerialism; from a conception of the frontier and of moving ever onward, exploiting new areas of nature, to a conception of ordering and managing the space in society that is already occupied; from a doctrine of pure competition to one of competition within meritocracy, or consensus; from brawling to achievement; from survival to careers; from omnivorous trusts à la Rockefeller's Standard Oil to philanthropic trusts à la the Rockefeller Foundation; from conquest to organization. And of course some of the most vehement defenders of rampant capitalism set up some of the most philanthropic foundations not just Rockefeller, but also the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. In the succeeding epoch, the great defender of managerial capitalism was the patron of yet another foundation, Henry Ford. The Ford Foundation was concerned with the next generation of philanthropy in the social sciences.
Although it was fed by many streams, the managerial order of capitalism and its theoretical representation, functionalism, used the rhetoric of evolutionary biology. Concepts of structure, function, adaptation, evolution, were fundamental to the whole conceptual vocabulary of both nature and society for two, and probably three, generations.
This framework of ideas, about which I've written in detail elsewhere, became pervasive throughout the human and social sciences and, in particular, in psychology, sociology, and anthropology (Young 1981). The most succinct summary of the assumptions of functionalism, the one in which the density of biologistic concepts is the greatest, is the address "On the Concept of Function in the Social Sciences" , which A. R. Radcliffe-Brown gave to the American Anthropological Association in 1935, where he began:
The concept of function applied to human societies is based on an analogy between social life and organic life. The recognition of the analogy and of some of its implications is not new. In the 19th century the analogy, the concept of function, and the word itself appear frequently in social philosophy and sociology. (Radcliffe-Brown 1935, p. 178)
He goes on to develop the analogy between social life and organic life, and to dwell on the concept of function. He says,
As the word 'function' is here being used the life of an organism is conceived as the functioning of its structure. It is through and by the continuity of the functioning that the continuity of the structure is preserved. If we consider any recurrent part of the life-process, such as respiration, digestion, etc., its function is the part it plays in, the contribution it makes to, the life of the organism as a whole. (1935, p. 179)
By analogy, the function of a particular social usage
is the contribution it makes to the total social life as the functioning of the total social system. Such a implies that a social system (the total social structure of a society together with the totality of social usages in which that structure appears and on which it depends for its continued existence) has a certain kind of unity, which we may speak of as a functional unity. We may define it as a condition in which all parts of the social system work together with a sufficient degree of harmony or internal consistency, i.e. without producing persistent conflicts which can neither be resolved nor regulated. (1935, p. 181)
Radcliffe-Brown acknowledges that the idea of the functional unity of the social system is hypothesis (p. 181). In the functionalist tradition, however, this hypothesis has become the model according to which societies are viewed. It is a model that therefore systematically places second and treats secondarily concepts of conflict, and a model within which concepts of contradiction simply do not arise. In particular, irreconcilable class conflicts are unthinkable, as is the notion of a mode of production as a contradictory unity of forces and relations of production (Clarke 1977). Put another way, the language of functionalism has a profound ideological role to play in the way that social theories operate as lenses through which to view societies. Using concepts like morphology, organic unity, physiology, structure, sets of relations, continuity, adaptation, etc., the functionalist tradition leads us to think in certain ways and systematically diverts our gaze from other directions (Russett 1966).
The applications of this model are not confined to the sociology of "primitive" peoples but are orthodox in the sociology of our own society, and extend to the ruling conceptual framework for the social interpretation of science itself. For, as Barbara Heyl showed in a brilliant paper on "The Harvard Pareto Circle'" (1968), it was within a certain social group centered around Harvard in the 1930s and 1940s that models were taken up from physiology, and particularly the circulatory physiology of L. J. Henderson. These models were applied to society, and extrapolated from the society to units within society, including the sociology of science itself. Robert Merton, the doyen of the sociology of science, was a member of this self-same circle, which has provided the reigning model of the interpretation of science within society (Young 1982a). Looking more broadly, it is a model that has not been confined to the social sciences, but has been applied to epistemology itself, in the work of Karl Popper, Stephen Toulmin, and David Hull. The provocative epigram "Darwinism is Social" is meant to evoke the role of biological and organic analogies, which move freely from biology to society to the theory of knowledge itself, and lead us to think in certain ways about the most abstract levels of nature and society, from the thermodynamics of particles to systems theory, itself a metafunctionalism (Emery 1969; Beishon and Peters 1972; Haraway 1981-1982).
In attempting to understand the ways in which these conceptions operate in the society itself, it's important to realize that in general culture, and in upper-middle-brow culture, the sharp distinction we might choose to make between pure science, applied science, extrapolation, ideology, and popularization, simply do not apply. If we examine the illustration from the Sunday Times magazine of 24 July 1977, we find a gestalt: a picture of the double helix of DNA and portraits with potted biographies of Charles Darwin, Konrad Lorenz, Robert Ardrey, Edward Wilson, and very beautifully portrayed Richard Dawkins. People see the chemistry of life and On the Origin of Species, On Aggression, The Social Contract, Sociobiology, and The Selfish Gene as of a piece.
It's worth adding that in the same issue of the magazine there are pictures of women dressed up as leopards in very provocative poses. That is, concepts of biologism and animality are not only intermingled in the gestalt of the illustration, but are also adjacent to the gestalt of feline conceptions of woman, femininity, and sexuality.
The different elements of that gestalt are really those of a right-wing liberal consensus. In the present, of course, that is under attack. Darwinism and forms represented by ethology, sociobiology, behavioral genetics, are seen as an appropriate target for people who are in opposition to the liberal consensus and feel that Keynesianism, the United Nations, Trilateralism, meritocracy, and expertocracy are undermining traditional values and threatening the moral fabric of society. (Spare a thought for the poor ole liberal-capitalist-scientific consensus: the ultra-right attacks it for being liberal, while the ultra-left attacks it for being capitalist.)
I do not agree with the Moral Majority/radical right about abortion and the nuclear family, for example, but I do see their point in wanting to maintain a basis for values that is not caught up in instrumental rationality (Young 1982b). I also agree with them that sociobiology is pernicious, and utterly reject the thesis that ethics should be given for a time to the people who will here's a neologism "biologicize" it (E. O. Wilson 1975 p. 562). That is, I don't look to genetics, neurophysiology and the study of ants, troops and prides for my conception of society, nor do I accept the thesis that biology is destiny.
And here's where we come up against quite a profound truth about conceptions in science. If you work your way systematically through E. O. Wilson's Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, you will find the following terms as part of his working vocabulary: division of labor (sexual and task), hierarchy, competitiveness, domination and submission, peck order, aggression, selfishness, altruism, rank, caste, role, worker, slave, soldier, queen, host, harem, promiscuous, mob, combat, spite, bachelor, jealousy, territoriality, leadership, indoctrinability, élites. If we look a bit wider to Richard Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, we find cheat, sucker, grudger; wider still, we find nepotism, philandering, rape. What possible source except a society such as ours can we consider for a conceptual vocabulary such as that? What possible significance except the scientific underpinning of a competitive, fatalistic, individualistic, élitist, patriarchal, sexist society can be attached to the following titles that have appeared recently around these questions: On Aggression, The Naked Ape, The Territorial Imperative, The Imperial Animal, The Dominant Man, The Inevitability of Patriarchy, The Biological Imperative, and, once again, The Selfish Gene? Only two of those were written by people who were not professional, academic biological or social scientists. And of course we have On Human Nature itself, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of E. O. Wilson.
These texts provide the current analogy to the nineteenth-century debate, more evidence that the relationship between so-called purely biological and so-called purely ideological ideas, books, and concepts is one that can't be sorted out at all easily. We find that levels and concepts intermingle and that it is from society that we derive our conceptions of nature. These conceptions are in turn inextricably intermingled with our conceptions of human nature. It is, after all, the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection that made conceptions of nature, living nature, and human nature part of a single framework of ideas. It is also in the age of Darwinism that we live in our attempts to formulate a single science.
What is problematic about that attempted formulation is that our conception of living nature may be so paltry as to give us a pessimistic and fatalistic notion of humanity. Some people say that modern science's concepts of matter are not rich enough to give us mind (Young 1967a, argued that conceptions of animality are not rich 1967b). It can also be enough to give us humanity in the required sense. By that I mean a conception of humanity that envisages a society worth living in and a world worth changing.
Here are some examples of recent Social Darwinism, which are so pessimistic that they leave us with conceptions of humanity not worth bothering about. The first is from the work of the Nobel Laureate in ethology, Konrad Lorenz, who wrote during the Nazi era:
This high valuation of our species specific and innate social behavior patterns is of the greatest biological importance. In it as in nothing patterns else lies directly the backbone of all racial health and power. Nothing is so important for the health of a whole Volk as the elimination of invirent types; those which, in the most dangerous, virulent increase, like the cells of a malignant tumor, threaten to penetrate the body of a Volk. This justified high valuation, one of our most important hereditary treasures, must however not hinder us from recognizing and admitting its direct relation with Nature. It must above all not hinder us from descending to investigate our fellow creatures, which are easier and simpler to understand, in order to discover facts which strengthen the basis for the care of our holiest racial, volkish and human hereditary values. (quoted in Kalikow 1978, pp. 174-175)
Lorenz felt that if it turned out that in conditions of civilization where natural selection was inoperative, there was an increase in mutants leading to "imbalance of the race, then race-care must consider an even more stringent elimination of the ethically less valuable than is done today, because it would, in this case, literally have to replace all selection factors that operate in the natural environment" (quoted in Kalikow 1978, p. 176).
These avowedly fascistic views are, of course, the extreme. But, they are by no means extinct. Sociobiology is used to argue for analogously Social Darwinist and racist views in the present. The National Front magazine Spearhead draws routinely on biological reductionism, for example, in the article "Sociobiology: the Instincts in our Genes" by Richard Verrall, who points out that "Genetically determined instinctual behaviour lies at the root of social organisation and even ethical and altruistic impulses" (1979, p.10). He goes on to review recent sociobiological and biologistic literature and draws the expected racist conclusions.
More individualistic forms of Social Darwinism are not hard to find in the mass media. Consider the most gripping scene in The Third Man, when Harry Lime meets his friend Harley on the top of a huge ferris wheel in post-World War II Vienna. When Harley confronts his old friend with the consequences of his selling diluted penicillin horribly brain-damaged children the conversation continues as follows:
Harley: Have you ever seen any of your victims?
Harry: (moving as if to push his friend out) You know I don't feel comfortable on these sorts of things. Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there [at the pedestrians far below]. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you £20,000 for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax. Free of income tax: it's the only way you can save money nowadays.
After an interchange in which it becomes apparent that killing Harley won't eliminate the only evidence against him, Harry chuckles and says that he still believes in God and mercy, but that the dead are better off dead since there's not much to miss on earth. As he walks away, he says,
Don't be so gloomy. After all, it's not that awful. You know what the fellow says. In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murders, bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
As to corporate Social Darwinism, we have the following example from an editorial in Computer Weekly commenting on the dominant role of IBM in the industry:
The problem of trying to regulate IBM is that what is good for IBM is in general good for the user, and as the company becomes more innovative and more competitive that becomes increasingly true. IBM is an inevitable product of the capitalist system in which survival of the fittest must always tend toward monopoly. (Anon. 1980)
These examples - drawn from ethology, fascism, film, and business - might be dismissed as on the wrong side of the science/ideology divide. Then try this:
The evolution of society fits the Darwinian paradigm in its most individualistic form. Nothing in it cries out to be otherwise explained. The economy of nature is competitive from the beginning to end. Understand that economy, and how it works, and the underlying reasons for social phenomena are manifest. They are the means by which one organism gains some advantage to the detriment of another. No hint of genuine charity ameliorates our vision of society, once sentimentalism has been laid aside. What passes for co-operation turns out to be a mixture of opportunism and exploitation. The impulses that lead one animal to sacrifice himself for another turn out to have their ultimate rationale in gaining advantage over a third; and acts 'for the good' of one society turn out to be performed to the detriment of the rest. Where it is in his own interest, every organism may reasonably be expected to aid his fellows. Where he has no alternative, he submits to the yoke of communal servitude. Yet given a full chance to act in his own interest, nothing but expediency will restrain him from brutalizing, from maiming, from murdering his brother, his mate, his parent, or his child. Scratch an 'altruist,' and watch a 'hypocrite' bleed. (Ghiselin 1974a, p. 247)
The author of that charming integration of biological and social thought is a distinguished academic biologist and holds a MacArthur Fellowship, one of America's most prestigious research awards. It would be wrong to claim that this is not a minority, even eccentric, view among scientists. But holders of it and of closely related views - for example, the "lifeboat" theory of scarcity, Friedmanite economics, and the biological, social, and historical synthesis of C. D. Darlington and that of Sir Hans Krebs (cf. Young 1973c, esp. pp. 247-249) are all well within the scientific and social scientific cultures of eminent professors at the Universities of California, Chicago, and Oxford as well as Fellows of the Royal Society and Nobel Laureates (see Kalikow 1978; Hirshleifer 1977; and Anon. 1978 for further extremes of conservative biologism).
The point of this portion of the argument is to reject Social Darwinism in an extremely important sense, while embracing it in another. Having rejected crude Social Darwinist extrapolations from other animals to humankind, it is therefore legitimate to ask: What next? Do we turn altogether away from extrapolations? Or do we choose others?
The first option, it seems to me, isn't open, since ideas of nature and humanity, as I've said repeatedly, are mutually constitutive. There is nature apart from human values, priorities, and perceptions, to be sure. But as far as we know it as far as we characterize it, have research programs, put questions to nature, and have criteria of acceptable answers we do so in inescapably anthropocentric and anthropomorphic terms (Young 1973c, 1982c). So my rejection of Social Darwinists' characterization of nature is not in the service of avoiding illegitimate extrapolations in favor of nature "as it is." Nature is as we characterize it, and extrapolations are as inescapable as the humanocentric relationship with nature in the first place.
The issue is how we characterize and work out the humanity and/as nature that is, the humanity and nature, and the humanity as nature relationship. I want to treat it as a transformative process of human labor. This is as true of knowledge as it is of any other form of human industry.
If we take that point seriously, we have to take seriously that, as Marx put it,
Industry is the actual, historical relation of nature, and therefore of natural science, to man. If, therefore, industry is conceived as the exoteric revelation of man's essential powers, we also gain an understanding of the human essence of nature, or the natural essence of man. In consequence, natural science will lose its abstractly material or rather, its idealistic tendency, and will become the basis of human science, as it has already become the basis of actual human life, albeit in an estranged form. One basis for life and another basis for science, is a priori a lie. The nature which comes to be in human history the genesis of human society is man's real nature. Hence nature as it comes to be through industry, even though in an estranged form, is true anthropological nature. (Marx 1961, pp. 110-111)
The point of that quotation is to reinforce once again that nature, knowledge, and human industry are part of a single mode of relating, conceiving, doing.
If we try to look at Darwinism and Darwinism-as-social in this way, the basis for humanity is not biology, genes, instincts, the givenness of our species in an evolutionary sense: not body, not mind, but the concept of person, and that concept is ontologically primitive. There's a parallel ontologically primitive concept that promises to resolve the nature/culture dualism: labor. Labor is neither nature nor culture, but their matrix.
It is at this point that my historiographic argument about how we should think about Darwin, Darwinism, and the debate about the place of humanity in nature as the nineteenth century called it, the debate on "man's place in nature" has to be recontextualized and connected up with the points I've been making here about the concepts of industry, the concept of a person, and of labor. Historiography has to be reintegrated into a new conception of what we mean by humanity, a conception that is not based on nature/culture, body/mind, animal/human dualisms.
This would give us a notion of humanity and secondarily of biology that is not fatalistic, pessimistic, reifying, and scientistic. I would like to think that it is a progressive and optimistic historiography, one without blinkers, as opposed to the historiography of much of what I've come to think of as the Darwin industry, which is very much a historiography whose distinctions and whose narrowness of perspective makes it a historiography of the status quo.
I'd like to drive this point home by recalling a letter that Engels wrote to the sociologist P. L. Lavrov in 1875, because I think it captures quite a lot of the points I've been making. It came as something of a surprise to me after I'd completed the argument. I thought I would include a bit from this letter and found that it really said, for all my reservations about some of Engels's ideas, quite a lot of what I've been trying to say here. The first passage will be very familiar, but I shall go on to three others that I think are quite helpful. Engels says,
The whole Darwinist teaching of the struggle for existence is simply a transference from society to living nature, of Hobbes' doctrine bellum omnium contra omnes [that is, the war of all against all] and of the bourgeois-economic doctrine of competition, together with Malthus's theory of population. When this conjuror's trick has been performed (and I question its absolute permissibility, as I've indicated ... particularly as far as the Malthusian theory is concerned), the same theories are transferred back again from organic nature into history and it is now claimed that their validity as eternal laws of human society has been proved. The puerility of this procedure is so obvious that not a word need be said about it. (Marx and Engels 1965, p. 302)
But of course he does go on. The key to the above is, of course, the sentence, "When this conjuror's trick has been performed, the same theories are transferred back from nature to history and claimed as eternal laws of society", which I think is a fair summary of a great deal of what goes on in ethology, sociobiology, and the human sciences, vis-à-vis their relationship with biology, in particular, genetics, behavioral genetics, and the study of the nervous system, Engels says,
When therefore a self-styled natural scientist takes the liberty of reducing the whole of historical development with all its wealth and variety to the one-sided and meager phrase 'struggle for existence, a phrase which even in the sphere of nature can be accepted only cum grano salis, such a procedure really contains its own condemnation. (Marx and Engels 1965, p. 302)
Once again, a fair summary of much of what I've been saying. But here's the point that moves us on the relationship between animal and human. He says,
The essential difference between human and animal society consists in the fact that animals at most collect, while men produce. This sole but cardinal difference alone makes it impossible simply to transfer laws of animal societies to human societies. It makes it possible, as you properly remark, 'for man to struggle not only for existence but also for pleasures and for the increase of his pleasures to be ready to renounce his lower pleasures for the highest pleasure.' Without disputing your further conclusions from this I would, proceeding from my premises, make the following inferences: At a certain stage the production of man thus attains such a high level that not only necessaries but also luxuries, at first, true enough, only for a minority, are produced. The struggle for existence if we permit this category for the moment to be valid is thus transformed into a struggle for pleasures, no longer for mere means of subsistence, but for means of development, socially produced means of development, and to this stage the categories derived from the animal kingdom are no longer applicable. (p. 303)
And then later he says: "The struggle for existence can then consist only in this: that the producing class takes over the management of production and distribution from the class that was hitherto entrusted with it but has now become incompetent to handle it, and there you have the socialist revolution" (p. 303).
Now what Engels did in this letter was make a critique with which I absolutely agree, about the interplay between social conceptions, their biologization and then extrapolation back to being laws of nature. He then pointed out the limitations of that interplay when applied to humanity. Instead, at a certain point the conceptual and historical framework moves away from mere animality to production, which entails human industry and the concept of labor. The concept of labor is not one which we find inside biology in its narrow, Darwinian sense. But we do find social concepts at every level inside the Darwinian theory. In that sense Darwinism is social.
What I have attempted to convey in this essay is the need for a greater sense of different scope and, more importantly, different levels, of the mutual constitutiveness of conceptions of nature, science, and society, including the deity. We're not forced to choose between Darwin's falsely conscious claims to have nothing to do with politics, on the one hand, and scholars' fears, on the other, that to invoke politics in the broader sense is to pollute natural science. The "pollution" is inherent in the labor of knowing.
The historiographic and political issue is how societies constitute their knowledge, and why they conceive of that process as they do. And that's as important a question about the Darwinian debate as it is about our own time. It entails a historiography of then and a historiography of now and their relationship to whether we're trying to keep knowledge and society as they are or put them in the service of a better world. A better world would be one in which the struggle for existence doesn't have the resonances that it had in the period of Social Darwinism and that it now has in the renewed period of laissez-faire, Friedmanism, Thatcherism, and Reaganism.
Historiographic Afterthoughts on the Science of History
Just as I have argued that the history of science must find its place within history, it is important to realize that the history of science, as an academic discipline that reflects on the history of science per se, must also find its place in history. That is, this volume and the historians writing in it are doing so within a cultural, politico-economic and ideological framework Putting it yet another way, it can be argued that just as Darwinism is social, so is Darwinian scholarship.
I should like to illustrate this point of view with some reflections on the conference at the Villa di Mondeggi near Florence, where the papers for this volume were presented and discussed. I came to the conference in the capacity of a Rip Van Winkle. In the period between 1968 and 1973 I had written a dozen or so papers and a monograph containing a series of hypotheses about the role of certain factors in the nineteenth-century debate on man's place in nature, in particular, natural theology, Malthusianism, political economy, the concept of progress, and the relations between the history of the earth, biology, psychology, neurology, and wider political and economic issues in the period, around the general theme of "The Naturalization of Value Systems in the Human Sciences". This research, and historical and personal issues in the period around 1968, led me to move away from Darwinian scholarship. Indeed, my subject was never Darwin. It was always the nineteenth-century debate on man's place in nature, and my effort was always to combine a detailed reading of texts with a wider perspective on the issues. However, the definition of "texts" is itself a contentious issue in Darwinian scholarship, since my texts have been primarily published ones; in particular, the debate in the Victorian periodicals, which provided the intellectual milieu for the debate on mans place in nature, into which the major papers and monographs were received and which, in turn provided the context for their own views.
Returning to these questions after a decade in order to prepare a paper for this volume and to collect my essays, I felt strongly that there has been a restriction of framework and perspective. In particular, the general issue of the nineteenth-century debate on man's place in nature seems to have fallen off the agenda. The zeal with which current scientists-historians seek to separate Darwin's genius and achievements from the work, ideas, and influences of Spencer, Chambers, and Wallace seems to be to betray a pathetic, sycophantic hagiography Great Man history which I had thought was waning in the history of science, as historians of science thought of their discipline in terms of the history of ideas, the history of culture, and the history of society. Indeed, one distinguished biologist-historian concluded his comments by saying that Darwin was the author of "the greatest and most universal revolution ever experienced in the history of human thought". I found myself asking, why do we defer to great men? Why do we defer to working scientists who are part-time historians? Why do we defer to great men in the history of science? Why do we not consider the social processes of scientific change in their broadest contexts? Where have these questions gone in the past decade?
In place of these issues, we find that scholars are looking deeper and deeper and in greater and greater detail into the minutiae of Darwin's notes and thought processes. What is it that we wish to find there? Is it the key to genius? Why is a higher and higher power microscope applied to rethinking the thoughts of the "great"?
Turning to a more particular issue, I would argue that the influence of Malthus or of other social and political issues on Darwin's thinking is not an empirical question in the sense that, for example, De Beer, Mayr, Schweber, or Greene pose it. The dichotomy between so-called internal and so-called external factors (which I have been advocating transcending since 1969) neglects two points. First, history including intellectual history is overdetermined. Of course we can find sufficient factors to explain the origin and development of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection without appealing to Malthus. Indeed, my own reading of what Darwin "got" from Malthus is remarkably close to interpretations of socalled internalists.
As I re-examine my own claims and compare them to those of Mayr and Schweber, I am at a loss to understand the difference between us. I wrote,
It appears, then, that it was the removal of Malthus's idea of 'moral restraint, and an emphasis on the concept of 'population pressure' which left a natural law about plants and animals, that characterized Darwin's interpretation. He was, in effect, reverting to the purity of the inescapable dilemma of Malthus's first edition. It is 'the strong law of necessity; which Malthus emphasizes repeatedly in both editions, even though in the second it lies side by side with the partial palliative of 'moral restraint'. References with this deterministic basis appear in tens of places in both editions and might themselves have influenced Darwin's application of the principle to man... (Young 1969, p. 129)
I go on to point out that Lyell's Principles of Geology was the work that most influenced Darwin and that there are innumerable references there to the struggle for existence.
I have no quarrel with Mayr's claim that "the role of Malthus was very much that of a crystal tossed into a saturated fluid" (1982b, p. 493), nor with Schweber, who says, "It seems to me that the Notebooks support the view that Darwin was struck with the numerical and deterministic aspects of the Malthusian statement" (1977, p. 296). Schweber also says,
How much we attribute to the Malthusian insight is to a certain extent a reflection of our proclivities. My own reading is that the Malthusian statement gave Darwin the quantitative element he needed to make the theory meet the standards of theories in the natural sciences. (p. 303)
I find it ironic that the work of David Kohn, which Mayr acidly contrasts with my own, concludes, "The work of one recent commentator, Robert M. Young, stands out as nearly definitive" (Mayr 1982b, p. 492; Kohn 1980, p. 142). Kohn proceeds to characterize the relationship in terms with which I wholly agree (pp. 142 sqq.). This agreement relates to my opposition to attempts to demarcate Darwin's thinking sharply from ideological connections with his age. De Beer and Schweber are also at pains to stress that "internal factors" are sufficient to account for Darwin's concept of natural selection. In varying degrees, they are keen to separate Darwin's originality and thinking from the age dramatically so in the cases of De Beer and Mayr, less so in that of Schweber, and not at all in the case of Kohn. The wider and deeper claim, which some are rejecting, is that the history of science is part of history; that science is part of culture, not above it, or an alternative to it; that science is the embodiment of the values of the epoch. It is ever so strange. Scholarship about ancient Greece and Rome, Islamic science, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the seventeenth and even the eighteenth centuries all take as a premise the thesis that the intellectual life of the age, including and especially its conceptions of rationality and of science, were part and parcel of its social and economic structure and value system. The systems of knowledge are part of the culture of the age. Yet at the same time there are scholars who know this, but put on blinkers and burrow deeper and deeper into the minutiae of papers, early drafts, unpublished manuscripts, correspondence and minor works as if these were not occurring in an age and in a context whose role is not contextual but constitutive.
In Darwin studies a trend has become dominant that would be welcome if it were not becoming a near orthodoxy. It has been made possible by the publication of more and more notebooks and early works, especially the M and N Notebooks, Natural Selection, and other manuscript material. Some, but by no means all, of its practitioners are people who did graduate work in biology. They are doing important and interesting research in reconstituting the processes of intellectual development of Darwin and his colleagues. But this work does not interdigitate or articulate with the wider issues in the nineteenth century.
It appears to me that we are, in the late 1970s and 1980s, in a period in which scholars are attempting to cultivate their own gardens as a withdrawal from the social activism of the preceding period. They look at the past in the same terms as they approach the present. One aspect of this orthodoxy was expressed in some waspish remarks at the Florence conference. Reference was made to "primary Whiggism", in which it is claimed that the past leads to the present without any space for the contemporary context of issues, without any consideration of the "losers in history". The concept of "secondary Whiggism" was mentioned and also criticized. It is the belief that a scientist's immature views lead only to his or her mature views. In both cases the retrospect wipes out the integrity and the texture of the prospect. Whiggism also implies that people don't hold clear views until they hold the views we remember them for. Secondary Whiggism, on the other hand, has a tendency to underemphasize people's mature work and can succumb to the temptation of disappearing without trace into the minutiae of someone's "immature" thought processes.
We can go on with this sort of thinking and produce a notion of "tertiary Whiggism", which ignores other figures in the period and our hero's real situation vis-à-vis fame and fortune. A tertiary Whig could leave out the eminence of a Buckland in the geology of the 1830s and could fail to take seriously the Bridgewater Treatises. Carrying on, "a quarternary Whiggism" could privilege topics and issues we consider important and ignore, for example, the role of phrenology in the debate on man's place in nature.
If we look for a way forward in these matters, it would appear important that people define and defend their reference group. Mine has always been Victorian culture and the debate on man's place in nature: man, God, nature, society. The relevant reference group is the debate in the Victorian periodicals. I suspect that the relevant reference group for some current Darwin scholars is either the peer group of the scientific community at the time or the peer group of present knowledge.
With Whiggism goes positivism. Primary positivism treats facts as decontextualized from their matrix of meanings and values. Secondary positivism does not take our hero and his theory out of the context of the scientific community of his time. No, these are meticulously considered, as are all nuances and contemporary meanings of theories and concepts, no matter how they have been treated by subsequent history. But, the secondary positivist draws a sharp boundary around the professional community of contemporary scientists. The secondary positivist also treats all connections as contextual and ignores immanent, structural or epochal causality. Therefore, for example, if there is sufficient evidence in the texts to explain an influence, no consideration is given to the possibility that other ambient forces might be at work in the intellectual formation of a scientist. My view is that history is overdetermined: we have more explanatory factors than we need. Which ones we choose to emphasize and which to de-emphasize or ignore is a reflection of our political and ideological proclivities.
Darwin and Darwinism are important because humanity is part of the history of life at the same time that human history is an open prospect. Or is it? Does biology set the limits to destiny? Shall we await the verdicts of the biologists even the Darwin scholars to set and pursue our social, cultural and political goals? Marx once said, "We know only a single science: the science of history" (Marx and Engels 1968, p. 28n). I think the science of history was and should be much richer than the history of science seems to be making it.
When I say Darwinism is social, I mean it in two senses. First, in Darwin's own work there was never a clear separation of his biological research and thinking on the one hand, and its origins in and extrapolation to social evolution or Social Darwinism on the other. I don't find that conclusion very interesting, except as a stick with which to beat positivists and Whigs of the higher orders. Second, science is social. Of course we can disappear into the texts, but we must ask ourselves what counts as a text. These were people who read and contributed to Victorian periodicals and who lived in places that must he for us texts, for example, Shrewsbury, Edinburgh, Cambridge, the Beagle, London, Down. In the same way that a machine and Victorian Manchester are "texts" for the social and economic historian, these locations are texts for a Darwin scholar. These determinations are efficacious, and no amount of reading Darwin's reading lists and marginal annotations will get us exhaustively through the determinations of Darwin's thinking, however much we might welcome the interpretation of marginal notes done by, for example, Gillian Beer, Jim Moore, John Greene, and the mentor of us all, Sydney Smith.
Darwinism is social because science is. And of all science the theory that links humanity to the history of nature is likely to be most so. Those who wish to find sciences furthest from society should go to the haven of mathematics and physics, but alas, even there, there are polluters such as Hodgkin and Forman to show the social constitution of the issues in those esoteric disciplines.
Why not instead join up scholarly traditions and make contact with political, cultural, literary, and ideological studies of the period? In failing to do so the orthodoxies of the left and right meet. The scientific left celebrates science and tries to show that socialism is scientific. The right attempts to defend science and its autonomy in a way that guarantees that ruling ideas of the prevailing ruling class are scientific. The history of science, is of course, one battleground in this struggle. At the moment it appears to me that the right is winning hands down.
The connection between these two points is very important. It is because science is not above history that no clear separation can be made between Darwin's Darwinism and Darwin's Social Darwinism. That Darwin was a Social Darwinist is not news however often it is conveniently forgotten. The point about that is a deeper one: the search for the neat, isolable influence or cleavage plane is a search for a will o' the wisp. It is a positivist search, and positivism was a historical movement in the nineteenth century just as physicalism in the philosophy of science was in the 1940s-1960s, with its search for a decontextualized neutral observation language. I fear that Darwin studies are lapsing into a positivism about the origins, originality, and unequivocalness of Darwin's theory.
I have no quarrel with people who wish to pursue the most detailed studies of Darwinian texts. I wish only to challenge their doing so in a way that fails to connect with other dimensions of the determination of scientific, intellectual, and cultural phenomena. It is important to point out which questions a given social formation wants through its science to pursue. This broader question extends from the most general features of its philosophy of nature and society to its most mundane facts. At the most general level a given socio-economic order a mode of production constitutes and is constituted by a world view, which includes a framework of assumptions and methods about what is known, what is discoverable, what it wants to discover, and how to set about discovering it. At an intermediate level certain sorts of issues preoccupy investigators at a given phase in the development of the mode of production, reflecting, in more or less mediated ways, the contradictions of that period. In the eighteenth century it was classification. In the mid-nineteenth century it was origins the historicity of genesis of earth, life, mind, and society. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was structures and functions in the psychological and social sciences with particular emphasis on stability, systems, and equilibria. In our own time it is mechanisms and abilities the least elements and their recombination to suit specified needs.
These intellectual preoccupations are closely linked (in ways we need to explicate further) with the development of machinofacture, the division of labor, de-skilling, and the call for general ability in the society abstract ability for abstract labor. Scientific research is seeking a secure foundation in our own epoch for gradations of ability, for élitism (usually at least formally meritocratic), for hierarchy, for a growing split between mental and manual labor, for dominance and patriarchy. It seeks to root these social relations in biological givens to naturalize them. These preoccupations can be seen as our era's analogy to the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries' attempt to re-base its socioeconomic order on biological, evolutionary, and physiological equilibria rather than the deistic principle. Competitive individualism and functionalist views of the social order, cohesion and progress, were more consistent with an urban industrialism and mobility of labor than with the rural pastoral order that suited a deistic age of fixed, classified social stasis the world of Paley. Looking at the issue and attempting to conduct the ideological battle on this terrain makes it completely unsurprising that investigators whose disciplines however unself-consciously favour the exisitng socioeconomic order will propose and defend certain inquiries, and that radicals and some liberals will not. This is not just to prove them wrong at the empirical or even the conceptual level but to say it is wrong to ask such questions in isolation and to pursue whole areas in inquiry in a blinkered way. Nor is it because one group is right and the other wrong, but because they have starkly conflicting visions of the social order that throw up starkly different issues for scientists and historians to pursue. The debate, therefore, becomes one between competing ideologies and interest groups. My own perception of it is that it is a conflict between those scholars concerned with the struggle for socialism and those concerned with the struggle for existence.
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