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By Piers J. Hale

Historians of technology have lengthy famous the impact of the nineteenth-century political economist Thomas Robert Malthus on Charles Darwin. In a daring flow, Piers J. Hale contends that this specialize in Malthus and his impression on Darwin’s evolutionary suggestion neglects a robust anti-Malthusian culture in English highbrow existence, person who not just predated the 1859 book of the beginning of Species but in addition endured during the Victorian interval until eventually global battle I. Political Descent finds that evolutionary and political traditions built in England within the wake of the 1832 Reform Act: one Malthusian, the opposite decidedly anti-Malthusian and owing a lot to the tips of the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck.

These traditions, Hale exhibits, constructed in a context of mutual hostility, debate, and refutation. members disagreed not just approximately evolutionary tactics but additionally on broader questions in regards to the form of creature our evolution had made us and in what sort of society we ought for that reason to reside. considerably, and inspite of Darwin’s acknowledgement that typical choice used to be “the doctrine of Malthus, utilized to the full animal and vegetable kingdoms,” either side of the controversy claimed to be the extra safely “Darwinian.” by means of exploring the whole spectrum of clinical and political concerns at stake, Political Descent deals a unique method of the connection among evolution and political suggestion within the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

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Additional info for Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England

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Indeed, he argues that Darwin actively sought out Malthus after having read a review that David Brewster had written for the Edinburgh Review of Comte’s Cours de philosophie positive. This, in turn, led Darwin to Adolphe Quetelet’s Sur l’homme et le développement de ses facultés, which had been reviewed in the Atheneum, a publication in which Malthus’s work had been discussed at length. 53 Perhaps so. Whether or not Darwin sought a quantitative element for his theory in Malthus, this was certainly what he found there.

Rather, it seems more productive to see science as just one aspect of broader social and cultural assumptions. From this perspective, the explanatory emphasis is not upon what the causative effect of science is upon society, or, conversely, of society upon science, but rather, as Collini explains, historical explanation comes to focus upon uncovering the intellectual resources that historical actors had available to them and to which they appealed as they attempted to make sense of and order their world.

As I show in chapter 6, this was not only a debate about the veracity of Malthusian political economy; the neo-Darwinian ideas of the German biologist Friedrich Leopold August Weismann seemed to undermine the Lamarckian ideas that were central to the anti-Malthusians’ evolutionary and political strategies for change. Theories of evolution were evolving. Weismann’s views were as significant as they were controversial. If true, he had ruled out the inheritance of acquired characters, with dire consequences for all Lamarckian political schemes, as these had been as important for socialism as they had been for radicalism.

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