Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (2nd Edition)
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This early work by Jacques Barzun is both expensive and hard to find in its first edition. It details the history and social influence of Darwin, Marx and Wagner during the nineteenth century. This fascinating work is thoroughly recommended for inclusion on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the influential figures of science, politics and the arts.
This is a wonderful book. Barzun, a Columbia historian, develops this thesis: the three cited in the title personify the mechanical materialism of their age as well as the ideology which caused this century so much grief. Essentially, these three symbolize the notion that moral values are illusions in our world of facts and that human will is helpless against the ineluctable laws of nature. These three men participated in the development of a world view which has had dire consequences for our age.
Barzun expands upon his thesis by dramatically portraying the central year of the development of mechanical materialism as 1859, the year in which Darwin published The Origin, Marx brought out Political Economy, and Wagner produced Tristan. Germane to this bibliography, all three were reluctant to credit their sources. Indeed, in the cases of Marx and Wagner, they insisted that they owed nothing to anyone, that their contributions were the result of their genius. Darwin was a bit more modest but he was also reluctant to admit his indebtedness to his grandfather Erasmus or to Lamarck; it was only late in life, after he had achieved great fame, that he admitted to have had sources for his ideas. The three focused on ideas which were, as it were, already in the air.
The time was ripe for the notion of evolution, for the growth of class warfare (struggle), and for the form of the musical drama and its nationalism. To put the matter simply, the three men took up the ideas which surrounded them and formed them in new ways, using new metaphors. They did not make "original" contributions.
Concerning their works: "When their systems are examined they appear, usually, almost
incredibly incoherent, both in thought and in form. Of the many books which Darwin, Marx, and Wagner have left us not one is a masterpiece... Imperfectly aware of their intellectual antecedents and impatient of exact expression, they jumbled together a bewildering collection of truths and errors and platitudes. They borrowed and pilfered without stint or shame, when the body of each man's work stands as a sort of Scripture, quotable for almost all purposes on an infinity of subjects."
and Wallace by Malthus in terms of the prevalent severity of industrial competition; and those phenomena of the strug gle for existence which the light of contemporary economic 6 Huxley, Nature, 7 The author Nov. i, 1894. of the classic Natural Religion (1802) which argues the existence of the Deity from the evidences of design in nature. is difficult now to realize the impetus which the works of Paley gave to the study of Natural History." Professor E. B. Poulton, "The Value of Colour
and modernists down to Proust and Thomas Mann. art, science, and so and thinking American of the science-any reading period I am harking back to would have had to be in vincibly distrustful not to believe that he owed his true perceptions and refined sensibility to the triple revolution led by Darwin, Marx, and Wagner. The reasonable and the real, human life as against prehistory, dated from The Ori Surveying the three realms together cial first sketch of Capital, the full score of Trjstcm,
the line We saw in a previous chapter what this tradition was which Darwin inherited. His originality in the sense of his power to hit afresh upon an old hypothesis is of course not capable of assessment In any case it is of minor interest A man might unaided rediscover Euclidian geometry tomorrow and still not receive much thanks for his pains. But the fact that Darwin was a great for the history of ideas. assembler of facts and a poor joiner of ideas was of great importance in making his
causo-mechanical factor in species forming and hence as the sufficient explanation of descent, is discredited and cast down." Kellogg, Darwinism Today, 1907, 374. AFTER DARWIN: WHAT is 121 SCIENCE? knowledge does anyone know, nor wfll know until, as Brooks says of another problem, we find out. are ig norant; terribly, immensely ignorant. And our work is to We learn. to To observe, to experiment, to tabulate, to induce, deduce." 9 Today, after thirty years of experiment,
And he con problem of the fitness of organisms should be omitted entirely from any evolutionary study ... [a] vague anthropomorphic concept . . . which we cannot define or tions of genetics to cludes, Op. "The cit, 387. Biology and Human Behavior, 1936, 250. Fitness of the 254, 246. See also L. J. Henderson, The Environment, 1913. 10 Mark Graubard, n Ibid., 122 THE BIOLOGICAL REVOLUTION make use of fruitfully. ... It is more sider the situation as it really exists in