Thursday, November 19, 2009

Darwin and Politics

The Bones has an enticing review of a new book The Political Gene, which looks at the influence of Darwinism on politics. Its claims about the resurgence of eugenics are frightening but ring horribly true for anyone who is involved in pro-life campaigning. He quotes one particularly powerful passage in the book:

'When Eric Harris arrived at Columbine High School on the morning of April 20, 1999, he was wearing a “Natural Selection” T-shirt. Before Finnish student Pekka-Eric Auvinen murdered eight people at his high school in November 2007, he wrote that “­stupid, weak-minded people are reproducing…faster than the ­intelligent, strong-minded” ones. “Death and killing is not a ­tragedy,” he went on, “it happens in nature all the time.”

Auvinen’s YouTube handle was “NaturalSelector89” and both boys, says Dennis Sewell, were “amateur social Darwinists”: they used evolutionary theory to justify their atrocities. In this polemical mini-history of the political abuses of Darwinism, Sewell shows how they were part of a miserably long tradition, taking in everything from forced sterilisation to mass murder. It is a disturbing and provocative book.

Sewell admits that Darwin himself was a man inclined to gentleness and modesty, but early enthusiasts for his theory could be a little redder in claw. In Britain, Darwin’s friend Herbert Spencer — who coined the term “survival of the fittest” — argued vociferously against state aid for the indigent. If people “are sufficiently complete to live, they do live”, he wrote; if not, “they die, and it is best they should die”. Or, as Darwin himself observed, “excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed”.

Fabians, socialists and all kinds of nefarious interventionists eagerly signed up to the cause. HG Wells complained that “we cannot make the social life and the world peace we are determined to make, with the ill-bred, ill-trained swarms of inferior citizens”. In America, campaigners paid homeless men to walk around wearing sandwich boards with the legend “I am a ­burden to myself and the state. Should I be allowed to propagate?”'