Darwinism in the Press: The Evolution of an Idea

Darwinism in the Press: The Evolution of an Idea

Darwinism in the Press: The Evolution of an Idea

Darwinism in the Press: The Evolution of an Idea

Synopsis

Numerous books and articles have outlined Darwin's impact on American scientists, philosophers, businessmen, and clergy in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Few, however, have undertaken a study of Darwinism in the form in which it was presented to most Americans -- popular newspapers and magazines. The main concern of this book is to identify how the press is treated as a part of our culture - - pointing to its ability to shape and to be shaped by the forces that act on the rest of society and its ability to be critical in the interpretation of ideas for "the masses."

Excerpt

Edwin Lawrence Godkin was the founder and editor of the Nation, one of the most intellectual and critical newspapers of the 19th century. He commented incisively, often acidly, on a myriad of social and political issues. During this era of growth and change in America, explanations of nature, society, even morality, were shifting from the Divine to the scientific. Malthus' Essay on Population, Darwin the Origin of Species and Spencer "synthetic philosophy" were among the works that were reshaping the lense through which the human condition was viewed. Science became a pervasive, although not always explicit, explanation of human institutions and behavior.

In the last three decades of the 19th century, the United States became an industrial and imperial power. Immigrants poured in from around the world, drawn to the promise of America and, along with industrial growth, swelling the size of cities. Urban slums grew; corruption and government at times were synonymous; the age's gilding glittered ever brighter under the sheen of manifest destiny. the ensuing rush for riches and reform left many thinkers, still searching for order, trying to explain scientifically everything from economic law to universal order. in this era, the Nation advocated civil service reform, rights for Blacks and women, and public education, while assailing government interference in social and economic issues. the apparent divergence of Godkin's thinking, liberal in advocating reform and conservative in arguing for minimum government, finds a point . . .

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