ARTICLE: Liberal Evolutionism and the Satirical Ape

A new article in the Journal of Victorian Culture:

Liberal Evolutionism and the Satirical Ape

Kate Holterhoff

Abstract This article considers intersections between the doctrines of mid-Victorian liberalism and biological evolution using 1860s caricatures and satires from Punch. In the years following the 1859 publication of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, caricatures featuring satirical apes illustrated mutually supportive cultural attitudes about politics and science. Ideas of character united the discourses of mid-Victorian evolutionism with liberalism, and the confluence of these ideas, or what I term liberal evolutionism, dramatized this overlap for Victorian culture. My project shows that the apes depicted in Punch were often intended as not only whimsical responses to the theories put forward by Darwin and Mill, they also point to the formation of the British subject.


BOOK: Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England

Piers J. Hale, Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 464 pp.

Publisher’s description: 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.

On his blog, also called Political Descent, Hale offers a more detailed summary of the book.

VIDEO: A Brief History of Climate Science

I don’t think I have mentioned on this blog that the National Center for Science Education, an organization I have long supported for its efforts in defending evolution education in public schools and ceasing efforts to push creationism, has branced out to doing the same regarding the education of climate change science. There are lots of great videos on their YouTube page, including this latest one on “A Brief History of Climate Science”:

BOOK: Once We Had Gills: Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World

Last year biologist Rudolf A. Raff published Once We All Had Gills: Growing Up Evolutionist in an Evolving World (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2012):

In this book, Rudolf A. Raff reaches out to the scientifically queasy, using his life story and his growth as a scientist to illustrate why science matters, especially at a time when many Americans are both suspicious of science and hostile to scientific ways of thinking. Noting that science has too often been the object of controversy in school curriculums and debates on public policy issues ranging from energy and conservation to stem-cell research and climate change, Raff argues that when the public is confused or ill-informed, these issues tend to be decided on religious, economic, and political grounds that disregard the realities of the natural world. Speaking up for science and scientific literacy, Raff tells how and why he became an evolutionary biologist and describes some of the vibrant and living science of evolution. Once We All Had Gills is also the story of evolution writ large: its history, how it is studied, what it means, and why it has become a useful target in a cultural war against rational thought and the idea of a secular, religiously tolerant nation.

The National Center for Science Education has an excerpt from the book, chapter 19 on creationism, here.

BOOK: The Prince of Evolution: Peter Kropotkin’s Adventures in Science and Politics

Lee Dugatkin (@LeeDugatkin), author of Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose: Natural History in Early America, has a new book about Peter Kropotkin (of which Eric Michael Johnson has some interesting posts about – 1/2/3):

The Prince of Evolution: Peter Kropotkin’s Adventures in Science and Politics

In The Prince of Evolution, Lee Alan Dugatkin introduces the reader to Russian Prince Peter Kropotkin — one of the world’s first international celebrities. In England Kropotkin was known as a brilliant scientist, famous for his work on animal and human cooperation, but Kropotkin’s fame in continental Europe centered more on his role as a founder of anarchism. In the United States, he pursued both passions. Tens of thousands of people followed Prince Peter during two speaking tours that took him around America. Kropotkin’s path to fame was labyrinthine, with asides in prisons, breathtaking 50,000-mile journeys through Siberia, and banishment from most respectable Western countries of the day. In Russia, he went from being Czar Alexander II’s favored teenage page, to a young man enamored with the theory of evolution, to a convicted felon and jail-breaker, eventually being chased halfway around the world by the Russian secret police. While in jail, and while on the run when he was enlightening and entertaining huge crowds, Kropotkin found the energy to write books on a dazzling array of topics: evolution and cooperation, ethics, anarchism, socialism and communism, penal systems, and the coming industrial revolution in the East to name a few. Though seemingly disparate topics, a common thread–Kropotkin’s scientific law of mutual aid, which guided the evolution of all life on earth–tied these works together. Kropotkin was not only the first person to clearly demonstrate that cooperation was important among animals, he was the first to forcefully argue that understanding cooperation in animals would shed light on human cooperation, and, indeed might permit science to help save our species from destroying itself. His overarching goal was to understand cooperation in nature, so that he could promote cooperation in humans. Just like in the animals he watched for five years in Siberia, Kropotkin saw human cooperation as ultimately being driven not by government, but by groups of individuals spontaneously uniting to do good, even when they have to pay a cost to help. In The Prince of Evolution, Lee Alan Dugatkin will make the reader stop and take pause to consider what this one remarkable man did to try and make the world a more cooperative place.

ARTICLE: Another on evolution and Japan

From the Journal of the History of Biology (online first):

The Instinctual Nation-State: Non-Darwinian Theories, State Science and Ultra-Nationalism in Oka Asajirō’s Evolution and Human Life

Gregory Sullivan

Abstract In his anthology of socio-political essays, Evolution and Human Life, Oka Asajirō (1868–1944), early twentieth century Japan’s foremost advocate of evolutionism, developed a biological vision of the nation-state as super-organism that reflected the concerns and aims of German-inspired Meiji statism and anticipated aspects of radical ultra-nationalism. Drawing on non-Darwinian doctrines, Oka attempted to realize such a fused or organic state by enhancing social instincts that would bind the minzoku (ethnic nation) and state into a single living entity. Though mobilization during the Russo-Japanese War seemed to evince this super-organism, the increasingly contentious and complex society that emerged in the war’s aftermath caused Oka to turn first to Lamarckism and eventually to orthogenesis in the hopes of preserving the instincts needed for a viable nation-state. It is especially in the state interventionist measures that Oka finally came to endorse in order to forestall orthogenetically-driven degeneration that the technocratic proclivities of his statist orientation become most apparent. The article concludes by suggesting that Oka’s emphasis on degeneration, autarkic expansion, and, most especially, totalitarian submersion of individuals into the statist collectivity indicates a complex relationship between his evolutionism and fascist ideology, what recent scholarship has dubbed radical Shinto ultra-nationalism.