Thursday, August 30, 2012

Darwin and Haeckel 5

Darwin and Haeckel 1
Darwin and Haeckel 2 
Darwin and Haeckel 3
Darwin and Haeckel 4

The Eugenics Free, Haeckel Free, Charles Darwin Is a Public Relations Myth

It is quite possible that if Darwin had not written On the Origin of Species or if he had written it in a different way,  Ernst Haeckel might have remained a cranky doctor who had no sympathy with his patients and whose bigotry was sustained by his peculiar interpretation of  German romanticism and Lamarck .   If, when Darwin  read in Generelle Morphologie and Naturliche Schopfungsgeschichte that Haeckel was mixing huge doses of political, racial and anti-religious, extra-scientific content with evolutionary science IN THE NAME OF DARWIN,   he had objected at being insanely misrepresented,  perhaps Haeckel would have backed off some of the worst of it.  Or maybe he would have been discredited at the beginning and he would have died in the same obscurity as scores of others prominent at the time have.

But that isn't how the relationship of Darwin and Haeckel went.  Darwin praised those works in the highest terms, not objecting to where Haeckel was taking Darwinism.  Even as Thomas Huxley was appointing Haeckel  the leader of Darwinism in Germany and, perhaps, on the entire continent of Europe.  Darwin fully endorsed Haeckel's books, including those containing  Haeckel's monism, whose "triumph" he attributed to Darwin in those very books that Darwin was reading.   Further political statements about Darwinism in Haeckel's Freie Wissenschaft und Freie Lehre,  claiming that a political interpretation of Darwinism would inevitably lead to aristocracy instead of democracy or socialism, also got Darwin's complete approval.   And it wasn't only Darwin and his closest associate of all,  Huxley - he wrote the glowing introduction to the English version of Freie Wissenschaft und freie Lehre - as well as others in the Darwin circle like Lankester who translated Haeckel,  when he was developing his poisonous concoction of Darwinism, bizarrely off kilter romantic nationalism and his, frankly, deranged  monist philosophy.  Spreading it into the English speaking world.

As I was six years ago, before I started looking into these questions,  I'd have looked for explanations as to how the Darwin I believed was an accurate picture of the man could have overlooked the  obvious degeneracy of Haeckel's books.*    As so many who haven't looked closely at Darwin's record and the record of those close to him, I bought the fictitious Darwin of the BBC and PBS and the Darwin industry.   That Darwin was the creation of a PR machine that, as I've mentioned several times,  got going after the Nazis made the eugenic and Social Darwinist legacy that Darwin left a major liability to the popular acceptance of evolution.  That was an ongoing problem even as science was giving evolution a far stronger base than Darwin had with natural selection**.   In the same period, molecular biology was discovering other ways in which evolutionary change happens other than the most recent version of natural selection.  There were reasons to deemphasize Darwin during the fifties and afterward that were scientific instead of merely an exercise in public relations but that isn't the road that scientists and educators took.  I suspect that was also due to a PR effort that began even as Darwin and his friends were rushing to publish and gain priority for natural selection for him.

But that's all done now, the real record of Darwin is available, online.   The information tying him to eugenics through Galton and Darwin's sons, particularly Leonard Darwin is known.   That part of the creationist attack on the public perception of science is not baseless, it is an air tight case. It is absolute stupidity for people who are always taking about evidence as if it were their private property to deny the massive evidence that Darwin directly supported the developing eugenics of Galton and Haeckel,   It is massively stupid to deny his support for social Darwinism when he, himself, equated "Natural Selection with Survival of the Fittest" and called Herbert Spencer a "great philosopher".   Anyone who reads The Descent of Man and misses that it is filled with scientific assertions of eugenics and Social Darwinism asserting that "weaker members" of society surviving till their child bearing years will lead to a catastrophe for the human species, is willfully blind.  They will cling to the paragraph and odd phrase in the book that Darwin obviously put there, intending those as plausible deniability when those he didn't want to bother him read the enormous percentage of the book which advocated an unfounded assertion of eugenics.

The reliance on the myth of Charles Darwin is bound to fail.  Most people don't have that much of an emotional attachment to Charles Darwin that they will read him with blinders and deny he said exactly what he said.  Increasingly, as even more of what Darwin was endorsing is easily available in online formats that make reading THE ENTIRE DOCUMENTS easy, they will be able to read what Darwin knew was being said by his supporters and friends and can see whether or not he publicly rejected the attribution to him.  They will be able to read his own endorsements.

As soon as I read The Descent of Man, my great man conception of Charles Darwin began to crack.  As soon as I followed up on the first of his citations, reading Hereditary Genius, that Darwin fell ,  Reading Galton's memoir, in which he published Charles Darwin's unreservedly enthusiastic endorsement of Galton's developing eugenicis, it was buried.  I'd gotten there from Darwin's own extravagant endorsement of  Galton in The Descent of Man.  From there I went on to read what Leonard Darwin had done and said.  With him I began the search for people who knew Darwin who had claimed he was not responsible for eugenics and found only support for the connection among those who knew him.  I, likewise, found no Darwinists who made the case divorcing Charles Darwin from eugenics before the Second World War.   Then I followed up the even more troubling endorsements of Haeckel and found the massive attempt to disassociate Darwin from Haeckel was false, as well.

I think anyone who wasn't looking for every single loophole for Darwin to rescue him from his record would come to the same conclusion if they read that record.  And a few of those loopholes were left by Darwin, even as he made them implausible by the mass of his record.   The mythical Darwin rests on that implausibility.

The mythical Darwin that is the standard received point of view among the self-appointed educated class of the English speaking world was possible to believe in before his real record was widely available.  But the survival of that myth is no longer possible, the environment has changed with that record being there for anyone to read.   That myth is not fit to survive in today's information environment.

* There were also some really foolish sciency  fictitious creations by Haeckel to "fill in" the record, endorsed by no less than Huxley, but that's another post.  Such creations do nothing for the credibility of evolutionary science.

**  Natural selection was an idea that is vague enough to have had different interpretations during Darwin's time.  I'm not convinced that even Darwin and Wallace really meant the same thing when they talked about it.  As I showed in a previous post, Wallace didn't like the term "natural selection".   But a lot of the things that generation of evolutionists left got changed over the years.  Look at how Wallace understood "survival of the fittest".   Darwin made a very good case for evolution in On the Origin of Species and he provided it with what he believed was a solid explanation by interpreting the confirmatory evidence he had available with Malthusian political-economics.  But that interpretation isn't the same thing as evolution.  Evolution does not rest on Darwin, certainly not on the myth and not even on the real one.

This discussion the early decades of Natural Selection in Germany is an illustration of how the idea could mean radically different things at different times, even as the first generation of Darwinists were still living and working.

The superior technical quality of the German biological synthesis of Darwinism with cell biology and embryology should also be taken into account.  From debates over vitalist and mechanist interpretations of evolution, there emerged an organicist consensus by the 1890s.  Darwin's most original contribution to evolutionary theory, that of natural selection, was often lost from sight.  During the 1890s some scientists reformulated natural selection not as competition between organisms but as selection from an immutable germplasm.  Others rejected ideas of redundant liberal individualism.  Darwinism thus meant a general conviction of the truth of evolution, and could include such diverse mechanisms as “Lamarckian” adaptaion and psychic factors such as “will” and learning powers.  German biologists drew on distinctive organicist philosophical and historical concepts in analyzing developmental processes. These biological ideas were distinct from other traditions of racial thought including that of Aryan racial purity.

Health, Race and German Politics between National Unification and Nazism by Paul Weindling Cambridge University Press, 1989

Weindling's book has a lot of excellent material related to the continuing history of Darwinism during this period.  I certainly would not blame Darwin, personally, for much of it, he being long dead and having no knowledge of what people unknown to him would do with the idea.  He was, though, fully aware of what Haeckel was doing while they were in contact and much of what follows grows out of ideas Darwin had already read in Haeckel's work.  Haeckel was certainly responsible for inspiring and encouraging many of Alfred Ploetz's ideas and activities.   And Charles Darwin is certainly responsible for promoting Haeckel, and, in some of those very ideas,  expanding on them in The Descent of Man, giving them the force of his scientific reputation.

Ploetz maintained contact with literary circles containing figures such as the Hauptmanns and Boelsche,  the naturalist, poet and popularizer of Darwinism.  They discussed plans for journals where biology and literature could be combined, as well as technical problems in zoology.  Boelsche required scientific guidance for his monumental work-in-progress Love Life in nature.   The zoologist Pate (a supporter of the liberal freisinnige Volkspartei, a fervent nationalist and anti-semite) formed part of the group.  On 11 May 1901 Ploetz agreed with Gustav Fischer that there should be a monthly journal for racial hygiene.  However, Ploetz was to be disappointed in Fischer,  whom he condemned as “worse than a Jew”.  The plan for a journal re-surfaced on 5 December 1902 when Ploetz was with Stasius. They began to seek sources of support, both financial and academic.

Family finances were crucial to the success of the venture.  As Ploetz had the support of his brother-in-law, Stasius, he would sink some of the Nordenholz's wealth into the scheme.  They each contributed 12,500 marks to the Archive-Gesellschaft.  The zoologist Plate became engaged in April 1902 to Hedwig von Zylinski,  the daughter of a Prussian general,  so that Plate could also contribute financially to the journal.   Ploetz scouted around for additional capital.  Haeckel recommended Friedmann,  a lawyer who had won one of the smaller “Krupp” prizes, as someone who could finance the journal.  On 19 October 1903 Ploetz could announce to Haeckel that the Archiv was founded as a campaigning force on the side of Darwinism and the modern Weltanschaung.  Prospective contributors were approached.  Forel was offered 160 marks pro Bogen.  On 26 January 1904 the first issue of Archiv fur Rassen und Gesellschaftsbiologie appeared.  

In 1904 the journal underwent further changes. In mid-January 1904, Friedman withdrew.  Ploetz was uneasy with the discovery that Freidmann was Jewish.  Ruden appealed for Forel for an additional editor.  He should be young, progressive and have plenty of money.  The anthroplogist,  Richard Thurnwald, was enlisted in December 1904.  Ruden was paid 200 marks to do editorial work and to contribute a position he he held until 22 June 1911  when Ploetz took sole control of the journal.  By April 1905 the journal's future seemed assured, as publication was taken over by the scientifically reputable Teubner Verlag of Leipzig.  This coincided with the founding of the Racial Hygiene Society in Berlin  The Archiv became the organ of the Society.  A recurrent risk in Ploetz's strategy,  that the Archiv should be scientific in orientation,  was that a popular journal would be established by rival racist ideologues.  Ploetz managed to prevent the first attempt when Ulrich Patz (a pharmaceutical manufacturer) and Ruden proposed a popular journal in 1907.


With Ploetz, who Charles Darwin certainly never heard of, the fuller dangers that were contained in ideas Darwin and Haeckel were asserting in the late 1860s through Darwin's death, came to term.   Charles Darwin couldn't have anticipated Ploetz and the future course of German eugenics in detail.  His death prevents that charge being credible.  Which is the most you can say about it.  His son, Leonard Darwin, doesn't come off even that well,  though.  He took over as the head of British eugenics from Galton and had frequent exchanges with some of the most extreme of German eugenicists.   Directly, and indirectly through the American, Charles Davenport, an infamous figure, as well.  As seen in an earlier post, Leonard Darwin was still praising Ploetz's eugenics activity for "changing German thought in the right direction"  as late as April, 1939.    Six years after the Nazi eugenics laws were in effect.  The extent to which his father would agree can't be known.

I don't think Leonard Darwin's incredible point of view at that late date can be reliably said to represent what his father would have thought about events more than a half-century after his death.  The problem is that there was no one alive at that time who would have had a better claim to the right to speak for him.  That fact produces a dilemma for those who would, as well,  propose to speak for a man they never knew,  never mind knew as well as a son would know his father,   No one has that right these many decades after the catastrophe Leonard Darwin seemed to not anticipate even as it was unfolding.  They have no standing as compared to Leonard Darwin's.   But the Charles Darwin of the 1870s to his death in 1882 is far from blameless.

Considering that throughout his second, major book presented as science, Charles Darwin  repeatedly advanced the idea that a violent struggle for existence, including the deaths of many "weaker members" of the human species was necessary to avoid catastrophic dysgenic results, he is responsible for the idea.   Darwin asserted that over and over, with many horrific examples from around the world purporting that mass death and even infanticide were hygenic for the group as a whole.   And that is what he was presenting AS SCIENCE.  Charles Darwin is responsible for those who took that idea from him as fact, including four of his sons.   Charles Darwin is also responsible for providing those who attack evolutionary science with some of their most persuasive material.   They don't have to lie about his record to associate Darwinism with eugenics and the likes of Ernst Haeckel.

The fact is, what Charles Darwin would have thought of events in 1939 cannot be known and, barring a revelation at a Last Judgement, never will be.   But, looking at what he said, the associations he made and what their work he promoted contained, people will come to conclusions as to what he might have said.  It's clear not all of them will come down on one side or the other in that speculation.  Which is a problem for the public promotion of science today.

No comments:

Post a Comment