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Jacques Barzun: “Once the word ‘selection’ was used, no other course was possible, than that of personifying Nature”

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Recently, a friend has been reading Jacques Barzun (1907-), who dissented from the Darwin program as the Nazis were descending in 1941, and now he supplies us with more quotations from Darwin, Marx, Wagner

The genetic fallacy dating back to to Comte is at the root of the trouble—the fallacy of reducing all experiences to one condition of their origin and so killing meanings by explanations. With its mechanical and historical bias, evolution reduced everything to something else. From fear of being anthropomorphic, it deanthropomorphized man. With its suspicion that feeling was an epiphenomenon, it made “refined music” into a “a factor of survival.” Nothing as what it seemed.

Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Jacques Barzun, p. 91

“We are not descended from the apes, but we are rapidly getting there.”

Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Jacques Barzun, p. 96

Believers in the class struggle often saw little difference between race and class…The North and South of Italy were races, with the industrial North naturally superior. Anglos-Saxons and Latins were two races, since Protestantism and Industry could be aligned against Catholicism and centralized government…Politics, art, religion, language, science, everything had a natural, therefore a racial, basis. Nations were races and professions too; there were races of poets and races of sailors, races of democrats and races of pessimists, races of struggle-for-lifers and races of suicides. Apparently the only race not entered on the books was the race of true Christians.

Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Jacques Barzun, p. 97

In truth, once the word “selection” was used, no other course was possible, than that of personifying Nature and making her “watch and seize unerringly” those of her children who deserved survival. The idea of merely resisting the universe, sitting tight and enduring, was not sufficiently anthropomorphic. Competition with other species or individuals, victory earned because of inward merit or determination to win—these were intelligible principles.

Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Jacques Barzun, p. 125

The same injection of a selecting mind into natural affairs led to picturing animals as constantly at each other’s throats. Enlightened opinion condemned as “sentimental” the view that Nature was harmonious; calling it “cruel” instead, and not seeing that to speak of cruelty in reference to the millions of seeds or eggs that perish is a piece of far worse sentimentality. For there is balance and interdependency among living things, whereas ascribing conscious agency to Nature can make it be anything one wants: Nature is kind in that it solicitously feeds the frog with gnats; it is cruel in that it allows innocent gnats to be eaten by frogs. Still as an excuse for human cruelty the ascription was endlessly useful…

Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Jacques Barzun, p. 125 – 126

See also: Jacques Barzun critiques Darwinism (1941): “difficult not to fall down and adore the theory”

More from Barzun: Any questioning of the materialist assumption looked like superstitious folly …

So how did Darwinism gain such authority? Barzun asks

3 Replies to “Jacques Barzun: “Once the word ‘selection’ was used, no other course was possible, than that of personifying Nature”

  1. 1
    Axel says:

    Who needs a God of the Gaps, when they have Mother Nature? Such sophisticates! Children really… only dafter.

  2. 2
    Axel says:

    Christ’s designation of the wilfully ignorant as ‘the children of darkness’ is getting to seem less and less metaphorical.

  3. 3
    Timaeus says:

    Wow! A double Axel!

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