Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-Enchantment of the World

By George Levine | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Using Darwin

I have focused thus far on the interpretations of Darwin that emphasize his indebtedness to his own class and moment. But historians of science have been aware of the remarkable variety of interpretations to which Darwin's ideas have been subjected, and if anything can suggest how impossible it is to consider any particular ideological positioning as intrinsic to a theory such as Darwin's, that variety should do it. Janet Oppenheim argues that “Darwin's theory of evolution was infinitely pliable. It could be twisted to justify militarism and pacifism alike, imperialism and cooperation, unbridled laissez-faire capitalism and socialism. Perhaps the chief reason for the ubiquity of evolutionary modes of thought …lay expressly in the capacity to appeal to all ideologies.”1 “Darwinian science,” says Paul Crook, “was multivalent …it inspired liberalism as well as reaction” (199). Or as Steve Jones has recently put it, “Evolution has been an alibi for socialism, for capitalism, and for racism; and no doubt would have been seized on by the one hundred thousand systems of belief that [E. O.] Wilson estimates have existed since consciousness began.”2 Darwin was almost all things to almost all men— and women—or, as George Bernard Shaw claimed rather contemptuously, “He had the luck to please everybody who had an axe to grind.”3

But some uses are more Darwinian than others. It is difficult to disentangle, from among those who are committed to the idea of evolution by natural selection, those who are pro-Darwin and those who are anti-Darwin. The popular view of Darwin regards as Darwinian any of the ideas that either rely on Darwin's theory in any way, or that seem to rely on them, as Herbert Spencer's do, no matter how different Spencer's thought was from Darwin's. Certainly, whatever the version of evolution taken, its cultural

-73-

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Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-Enchantment of the World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xxv
  • Chapter 1 - Secular Re-Enchantment 1
  • Chapter 2 - The Disenchanting Darwin 45
  • Chapter 3 - Using Darwin 73
  • Chapter 4 - Amodern Use Sociobiology 93
  • Chapter 5 - Darwin and Pain: Why Science Made Shakespeare Nauseating 129
  • Chapter 6 - “and If It Be a Pretty Woman All the Better” Darwin and Sexual Selection 169
  • Chapter 7 - A Kinder, Gentler, Darwin 202
  • Epilogue: What Does It Mean? 252
  • Notes 275
  • Index 297
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