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."
Wallace*sche Theorie? In England, Wallace was better to the reading public than Darwin. He was a far known clearer and terser writer, and a more consistent believer in natural selectiona hypothesis which he had as much right as Darwin to call "my theory," since he had arrived at it independently. The answer lies in the special fitness of the man and the book to the times. In the first place, Darwin did publish his book before Wallace, and his was not a mere article written in
of 1830 everything "A had just broken out) driven into exile/ "We fellow," . . . "the reigning family will be do not seem to understand each other, my dear am not speaking of those rejoined Goethe. "I people ... I am speaking of the open break that has occurred in the Academy between Cuvier and Geoffroy St. Hilaire over a matter of the highest importance to science you cannot imagine what I felt on hearing 7 the news of the meeting of July . . . iQ."
of course from have no great quickness of ap . My power to follow a long and prehension or wit. . purely abstract train of thought is very limited; and there fore I could never have succeeded with metaphysics or Darwin himself. He says: "I . mathematics. My memory is extensive, yet hazy. Therefore my success as a man of science, whatever this may have amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can judge, by complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of these, the most
tion of matter and energy: Physiology had got rid of the Vitalists* life force: there was nothing left but the mechan ical impact of particles. The nervous system and the human brain were material, hence life and thought must rise from matter. As the French philosophers had said a century be fore, the brain secretes thought as the 5 liver secretes bile. Huxley entertained the theory that we were all automata, with consciousness as an "epi-phenomenon"; 6 he even thought for a moment
Marx went one step further. He relied on the method of political economy, the only branch of social study which had as yet been accorded the name of science. It was the Dismal Science, to be sure, but perhaps all the more scientific on that account. Its flaws Marx meant to remove by this very Critique of 1859. In what, then, did it consist? hears in this echoes of Hegel, Saint-Simon, Marx has told us that economics is the skeleton of society. But the economic ways of a society are not such