Monday, September 3, 2012

Darwinism Against Economic Democracy: William Cobbett on Malthus

Plainly said, nothing is said now that has not been said before.  Racine

About five years ago, I was mighty proud of myself when I realized that in all of Darwin's many frettings and frailings about the catastrophe that would come with mass vaccination, giving minimal aid to the poor, keeping the weak and lame and the Wretched of the World in the notably stingy charity available in mid-19th century England, it came to me that he left out the laws against theft as probably the greatest inhibition of natural selection as a way of doing away with the "weaker members" of society.   I noted that in the footnote to a post four years ago.

Well, since then I've read more of William Cobbett.  I'd read from his Cottage Economy years ago.  Looking at his "Advice to Young Men" he'd said the same about Darwin's great inspiration in natural selection,  Parson Malthus.

The audacious and merciless MALTHUS (a parson of the church establishment) recommended, some years ago, the passing of a law to put an end to the giving of parish relief, though he recommended no law to put an end to the enormous taxes paid by poor people. In his book he said, that the poor should be left to the law of Nature, which, in case of their having nothing to buy food with, doomed them to starve. They would ask nothing better than to be left to the law of Nature; that law which knows nothing about buying food or any thing else; that law which bids the hungry and the naked take food and raiment wherever they find it best and nearest at hand; that law which awards all possessions to the strongest; that law the operations of which would clear out the London meat-markets and the drapers' and jewellers' shops in about half an hour: to this law the parson wished the parliament to leave the poorest of the working people; but, if the parliament had done it, it would have been quickly seen, that this law was far from 'dooming them to be starved.'

Darwin was a rich man,  upper middle class when the services and goods of poor people were to be had for next to nothing.  He considered himself a better investor than a scientist and the guy raked in a lot of money through investment that kept him and his children in wealth for decades.  If I wanted to be really inflammatory, I'd give his description of how his family lived during a the food crisis brought on by the famine of the 1840s.   And I might change my mind and give that, someday.  [That day came in today's e-mail.  See Update below] For now, asking why this rich man, the son of two dynasties of prosperous manufacturers and landowners, why he neglected to note that repealing the laws against theft would soon allow him and his family to be subjected to the very laws of nature he asserted.   Something that Cobbett figured out years before Darwin ever looked at Malthus on Population "for amusement," as Darwin put it, himself.   Given how far prepared he was willing to go in repealing even more basic laws of human charity and decency, and if not him then his closest followers and colleagues, it's entirely appropriate to ask how he could have neglected that those civil laws made his class of people even less subject to natural selection than the poor relying on the barest of a living provided to them.  At a minimum, the laws that prevented the "fitter" among the poor from taking everything  that belonged to the Darwin and Wedgewood families, were at least as great a violation of his proposed natural law as vaccinating and feeding the poor could be imagined to be.

Darwin, sciency guy though he was, didn't seem to understand that his family and friends could be subjected to the very scientific laws he proposed that the "weaker members" of the human species were.   Perhaps, enjoying growing up rich in class-saddled Britain,  Darwin was incapable of noticing that other civil laws were what protected his class from the very natural law he asserted were universal.  Those laws, which  he obviously liked,  were quite a huge violation of how nature, as he asserted it, is supposed to work.  They prevented natural selection from working on his class as he said it should work on the poor. They kept the "weaker member" of the rich AND POWERFUL from being weeded out of the population.  He simply took the protection of that law AND THE ADVANTAGES IT PROVIDED TO HIM AND HIS FAMILY* as part of the way of nature.

Here is the next paragraph of Cobbett in which he goes farther with his idea.

Trusting that it is unnecessary for me to express a hope, that barbarous thoughts like those of Malthus and his tribe will never be entertained by any young man who has read the previous Numbers of this work, let me return to my very, very poor man, and ask, whether it be consistent with justice, with humanity, with reason, to deprive a man of the most precious of his political rights, because, and only because, he has been, in a pecuniary way, singularly unfortunate? The Scripture says, 'Despise not the poor, because he is poor;' that is to say, despise him not on account of his poverty. Why, then, deprive him of his right; why put him out of the pale of the law, on account of his poverty? There are some men, to be sure, who are reduced to poverty by their vices, by idleness, by gaming, by drinking, by squandering; but, the far greater part by bodily ailments, by misfortunes to the effects of which all men may, without any fault, and even without any folly, be exposed: and, is there a man on earth so cruelly unjust as to wish to add to the sufferings of such persons by stripping them of their political rights? How many thousands of industrious and virtuous men have, within these few years, been brought down from a state of competence to that of pauperism! And, is it just to strip such men of their rights, merely because they are thus brought down? When I was at ELY, last spring, there were in that neighbourhood, three paupers cracking stones on the roads, who had all three been, not only rate-payers, but overseers of the poor, within seven years of the day when I was there. Is there any man so barbarous as to say, that these men ought, merely on account of their misfortunes, to be deprived of their political rights? Their right to receive relief is as perfect as any right of property; and, would you, merely because they claim this right, strip them of another right? To say no more of the injustice and the cruelty, is there reason, is there common sense in this? What! if a farmer or tradesman be, by flood or by fire, so totally ruined as to be compelled, surrounded by his family, to resort to the parish-book, would you break the last heart-string of such a man by making him feel the degrading loss of his political rights?

The reason is that doing that is essential to maintaining the standard of living of the rich, such as the Parson Malthus and Charles Darwin, his family, his friends and his professional associates.  Either they had wealth or they aspired to it.

I first read Darwin,  Voyage of the Beagle and Origin of Species in ignorance of how truly depraved and oligarchic his source, Malthus, was.    It was when I read The Descent of Man,  how entirely saturated his scientific assertions were with a line of thought so clearly tailored to his economic and class interests became obvious.  It's hard to imagine any way that could not be considered relevant to its credibility in anyone else making those kinds of assertions as science.**

Marx was attracted to Darwin because of the usefulness of Darwinism for his attempt at a more objective materialism that wouldn't be an articulation of class privilege.  As I said in an earlier post in this series, I think Darwin became a rallying point through his use by atheists to attack religion, something that may have also attracted Marx's interest.  But if that is true then Marx betrayed large parts of his idealistic Manifesto in doing that.   Atheists who use Darwin as a standard in their war against religion do so by turning up a chance to point out the rank hypocrisy of Malthus as a clergy member of a tax supported, state church,  who called for poor people to be deprived of sustenance from the very funds that provided him with a comfortable living.  Though others who adopt his economic dogma while they reject Darwin miss the point that this Christian clergyman was entirely negating the entire gospel of Jesus and the entire Law requiring justice for the destitute and poor that is the heart of  that religious tradition.  The content of Malthus, named or not, corrupts both Darwinism and the Republican right even as those two ideologies are at odds.  

I'm struck at how repeatedly, from Haeckel, during Darwin's lifetime and with Darwin's knowledge, Darwinism has been used to articulate assertions of aristocratic superiority as having the blessings of science.  That is what eugenics was all about, the assertion that the rich are better than the poor and the poor are a danger to the human species AND THAT THEY MUST BE KEPT FROM HAVING CHILDREN at the very least.  NOT INFREQUENTLY, IT SAID, EXPLICITLY, THAT THE POOR SHOULD DIE.

Politically, Darwinism is profoundly anti-democratic, it is founded in an assertion of inequality and it denies the possibility of effectively mitigating that inequality FOR THE POOR, THE DISABLED AND THE ILL EVEN AS IT EXEMPTS THE RICH.   Darwin explicitly removed the rich and well off from being subject to his dogma*** AS SCIENCE.  And, repeatedly, I find that kind of talk among Darwinists even in the modern period.   Francis Crick was a supporter of the racist neo-eugenics of Jensen and attacked political and racial equality in Nature magazine.   That happens often enough and by those considered competent to articulate science that it can't be considered an eccentricity of  the odd unorthodox Darwinist.   It happens often enough that the same anti-democratic, aristocratic content that Darwin took from Malthus has to be considered an intrinsic feature of natural selection.   Eugenics is making a comeback under different guises and with new clothes, scientific racism based in assertions of natural selection is central to that effort.  Crick's associate, James Watson, who held Charles Davenport's position at Cold Springs Harbor, is an infamous figure in that.   These things are too numerous to constitute a coincidence.  They are not incidental to the idea of natural selection in the human species, they were built into it from the start.

*  This is especially true of the Wedgewoods and the Darwins who had a family history of chronic illness of exactly the kind Darwin complained made other people inferior, the kind that natural selection should weed out of the population, leaving the population more vigorous.  I can easily imagine Charles Darwin born as a poor man in Georgian Britain being weeded out through a combination of chronic illness and malnutrition before he married his cousin and had ten children with her, four of whom went blithely on to promote eugenics.

** You could compare the accusations of the ultra-Darwinists of Sociobiology and evolutionary-psychology, that Lewontin and Gould's critique of their version of science is motivated by extra-scientific, Marxist ideology.

*** Man accumulates property and bequeaths it to his children, so that the children of the rich have an advantage over the poor in the race for success, independently of bodily or mental superiority. On the other hand, the children of parents who are short-lived, and are therefore on an average deficient in health and vigour, come into their property sooner than other children, and will be likely to marry earlier, and leave a larger number of offspring to inherit their inferior constitutions. But the inheritance of property by itself is very far from an evil; for without the accumulation of capital the arts could not progress; and it is chiefly through their power that the civilised races have extended, and are now everywhere extending their range, so as to take the place of the lower races. Nor does the moderate accumulation of wealth interfere with the process of selection. When a poor man becomes moderately rich, his children enter trades or professions in which there is struggle enough, so that the able in body and mind succeed best. The presence of a body of well-instructed men, who have not to labour for their daily bread, is important to a degree which cannot be over-estimated; as all high intellectual work is carried on by them, and on such work, material progress of all kinds mainly depends, not to mention other and higher advantages. No doubt wealth when very great tends to convert men into useless drones, but their number is never large ; and some degree of elimination here occurs, for we daily see rich men, who happen to be fools or profligate, squandering away their wealth. The Descent of Man.

UPDATE:   All right, to the person who sent that oh-so-polite e-mail, here's the letter Charles Darwin wrote to Susan E Darwin, as posted on  the Darwin Correspondence Project .  

Wednesday 3rd Sept., 1845.
My dear Susan

Please to thank Jos for the Railway Dividend; and further ask him how it comes, that as additional shares were bought in our three Railways in July of this year, the last Dividends in all three have been the same as hitherto. It is long since I have written to you, and now I am going to write such a letter, as I verily believe no other family in Britain would care to receive, viz., all about our household and money affairs; but you have often said that you like such particulars. First, however, I am sorry to say, that poor Emma is more uncomfortable to-day than before: but her teeth are better than two days: she really has had a most suffering time and it has been so provoking that no one could come here to comfort her: Elizabeth would have been such a pleasure to her. When we shall move, and what we shall do, must remain in the clouds. Erasmus is here yet; he must have found it woefully dull for I also have not been up to my average: but as he was to have gone on Saturday and then on Monday and willingly stayed, we have the real pleasure to think, wonderful as it is, that Down is not now duller to him than Park St. I have taken my Bismuth regularly, I think it has not done me quite so much good, as before; but I am recovering from too much exertion with my Journal: I am extremely pleased my Father likes the new edition.

I have just balanced my 1⁄2 years accounts and feel exactly as if some one had given me one or two hundred per annum: this last half year, our expenses with some extras has only been 456£, that is excluding the new Garden wall; so that allowing Christmas half year to be about a 100£ more, we are living on about 1000£ per annum: moreover this last year, subtracting extraordinary receipts, has been 1400£ so that we are as rich as Jews. Caroline always foresaw that our expenditure would fall. We are now undertaking some great earthworks; making a new walk in the K. Garden; and removing the mound under the Yews, on which the evergreens, we found did badly, and which, as Erasmus has always insisted was a great blemish in hiding part of the Field and the old Scotch-firs; and now that we have Sale’s corner, we do not want it for shelter. We are making a mound which will be excavated by all the family, viz., in front of the door out of the house, between two of the Lime Trees: we find the winds from the N. intolerable, and we retain the view from the grass mound and in walking down to the orchard. It will make the place much snugger, though a great blemish till the evergreens grow on it. Erasmus has been of the utmost service, in scheming and in actually working; making creases in the turf, striking circles, driving stakes, and such jobs. He has tired me out several times.

Thursday morning. I had not time to finish my foolish letter yesterday, so I will today: Emma intends lying in bed till Luncheon, so that I shall not be able to say how she really is. Our grandest scheme, is the making our schoolroom and one (or as I think it will turn out) two small bedrooms. Mr Cresy is making a plan and he assures me all shall be done for 300£. The servants complained to me, what a nuisance it was to them to have the passage for everything only through the Kitchen: again Parslow’s pantry is too small to be tidy, and some small room is terribly wanted to put strangers into (as you have often insisted on) and all these things will be effected by our plan; and besides there is another advantage equally great. If it is done for 350£, which with Murray 150£ I can pay out of my income I shall think it worth while. It seemed so selfish making the house so luxurious for ourselves and not comfortable for our servants, that I was determined if possible to effect their wishes; and had we not built a schoolroom and bedroom; we should have had only two spare bed-rooms; so that for instance, we could never have had anyone to meet the Hensleighs and their children. So I hope the Shrewsbury conclave will not condemn me for extreme extravagance: though now that we are reading aloud Walter Scott’s life, I sometimes think that we are following his road to ruin at a snail-like pace. We have had some more turmoil in the village (though I have not yet been involved): old Price has been agitating building a wall across the pool, but thank Heavens he has at last aroused everybodies anger, except Sir Johns: Capt. Crosse told him the old women would hoot him through the village:and Mr. Smith cut short his usual rigmarole of his “having no selfish motives” by asking him, “if it is not for yourself, who the devil is it for?” Mr. Ainslie, the new Methodist resident at old Cockle’s house is also litigious and has been altering the road illegally; and defies us all, casting in our teeth that we allowed Mr. Price

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