Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226108490 Published August 2014
E-book $7.00 to $36.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226108520 Published August 2014

Political Descent

Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England

Piers J. Hale

Political Descent
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Piers J. Hale

464 pages | 17 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014
Cloth $45.00 ISBN: 9780226108490 Published August 2014
E-book $7.00 to $36.00 About E-books ISBN: 9780226108520 Published August 2014
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.
Frank N. Egerton, University of Wisconsin-Parkside | Journal of British Studies
"[A] wide-ranging historical narrative. . . . Ambitious."
"This book is packed with information about the political dimensions of Darwinian evolution in Victorian England. All the important characters make an appearance, and Hale painstakingly traces the interconnections of their thinking as well as their stark differences. The chapter on Herbert Spencer builds on the groundbreaking work of Robert Richards but adds a number of new dimensions. Darwin’s own contributions regarding the evolution of humans are carefully traced, particularly the evolution of ethics. . . . The last chapter explores the anticipation of the 20th century arising from Darwinism, especially the impact on George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells and the hopes that were dashed by WW I. Finally, a fascinating afterword about the present addresses two central current issues: the attack on evolution by fundamentalist, literalist Christians in the US and the relationship between biology and politics today. Fully indexed, with lengthy references. An excellent text and a treasure for researchers in history, history of science, and political science. Highly recommended."

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

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