Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, And The Politics Of Evolution In Victorian England

Hardcover | August 5, 2014

byPiers J. Hale

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Historians of science have long noted the influence of the nineteenth-century political economist Thomas Robert Malthus on Charles Darwin. In a bold move, Piers J. Hale contends that this focus on Malthus and his effect on Darwin’s evolutionary thought neglects a strong anti-Malthusian tradition in English intellectual life, one that not only predated the 1859 publication of the Origin of Species but also persisted throughout the Victorian period until World War I. Political Descent reveals that two evolutionary and political traditions developed in England in the wake of the 1832 Reform Act: one Malthusian, the other decidedly anti-Malthusian and owing much to the ideas of the French naturalist Jean Baptiste Lamarck.            
           
These two traditions, Hale shows, developed in a context of mutual hostility, debate, and refutation. Participants disagreed not only about evolutionary processes but also on broader questions regarding the kind of creature our evolution had made us and in what kind of society we ought therefore to live. Significantly, and in spite of Darwin’s acknowledgement that natural selection was “the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms,” both sides of the debate claimed to be the more correctly “Darwinian.” By exploring the full spectrum of scientific and political issues at stake, Political Descent offers a novel approach to the relationship between evolution and political thought in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

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Historians of science have long noted the influence of the nineteenth-century political economist Thomas Robert Malthus on Charles Darwin. In a bold move, Piers J. Hale contends that this focus on Malthus and his effect on Darwin’s evolutionary thought neglects a strong anti-Malthusian tradition in English intellectual life, one that n...

Piers J. Hale is assistant professor in the Department of the History of Science at the University of Oklahoma. He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:464 pages, 9 × 6 × 1.4 inPublished:August 5, 2014Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022610849X

ISBN - 13:9780226108490

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Table of Contents

Introduction: The Politics of Evolution

1 Every Cheating Tradesman: The Political Economy of Natural Selection
2 A Very Social Darwinist: Herbert Spencer’s Lamarckian Radicalism
3 A Liberal Descent: Charles Darwin and the Evolution of Ethics
4 Liberals and Socialists: The Politics of Evolution in Victorian England
5 Malthus or Mutualism?: Huxley, Kropotkin, and the Moral Meaning of Darwinism
6 Of Mice and Men: Malthus, Weismann, and the Future of Socialism
7 Fear of Falling: Evolutionary Degeneration and the Politics of Panmixia

Conclusion: Political Descent: Anticipations of the Twentieth Century and Beyond

Afterword: Engaging the Present
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Editorial Reviews

“In his exploration of the crucial role of Malthusian thought in the evolutionary theory of liberal radicalism, Hale has provided scholars with a sort of sequel to Adrian Desmond’s Politics of Evolution. Hale shows that the debate over the validity of Malthus split liberal radicals into opposing camps. This is a novel approach to the relationship of evolution and political thought in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. It makes sense of what previously has been a confusing mass of debates involving important political thinkers and scientists who at first glance appeared to be allies. Impressive in its scope, Political Descent is a bold and exciting book.”