Darwin's politics of selection

Politics and the Life Sciences : the Journal of the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences
Luis Manuel Sanchez

Abstract

The uses of natural selection argument in politics have been constant since Charles Darwin's times. They have also been varied. The readings of Darwin's theory range from the most radically individualist views, as in orthodox socio-Darwinism, to the most communitarian, as in Peter Kropotkin's and other socialist perspectives. This essay argues that such diverse, contradictory, and sometimes even outrageous political derivations from Darwin's theory may be partially explained by some incompleteness and ambivalences underlying Darwin's concepts. "Natural selection," "struggle for existence," and "survival of the fittest" are open concepts and may suggest some hierarchical and segregationist interpretations. Circumstantially, Darwin accepted social "checks," such as discouraging marriage of "lower" individuals to prevent them from reproducing, in a vein of Malthusian politics. This makes Darwin's theory of selection by struggle collide with his theory of social instincts, by which he explains the origins of morality. It also favors reading Darwin's On the Origin of Species or The Descent of Man from opposite, mostly ideological perspectives. Darwin's position is ambivalent, although hardly unreasonable. The recognition he makes of...Continue Reading

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