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The curious connection between Charles Darwin and John Brown

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Via W. E. B. Du Bois. David Klinghoffer, thinking about the recent review of Richard Weikart’s Darwinian Racism: How Darwinism Influenced Hitler, Nazism, and White Nationalism at National Review (his own old stomping grounds), reminds us of a curious coincidence on which reviewer M.S. Aeschliman remarks:

“In 1909, on the 50th anniversary of the execution for treason of the radical-Christian abolitionist John Brown, the black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois published a tribute to him, who in his own time and after his death, during the subsequent American Civil War, had become an inspirational martyr for anti-slavery, anti-racist whites and blacks. But Du Bois was confronted with a logical and rhetorical problem that he struggled to overcome in his tribute. After the Civil War and the death of Lincoln, “those that stepped into the pathway marked by men like John Brown faltered and large numbers turned back,” Du Bois wrote. “They said: He was a good man — even great, but he has no message for us today — he was a ‘belated [Protestant] Covenanter,’ an anachronism in the age of Darwin, one who gave his life to lift not only the unlifted but the unliftable.”

What had intervened between 1859 and 1909 was the emergence and intellectual domination, in the United States and elsewhere, of Darwinian racism, often called “scientific racism,” whose first key document was published in the very year of Brown’s execution, Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Brown was captured (by Colonel Robert E. Lee) in his failed insurrection against slavery in Harpers Ferry, Va., in October; Darwin’s momentous book was published on November 24; and Brown was executed on December 2, 1859. The ascendancy of the “scientific racist” conceptualization of Darwin and his many American, British, German, other European, and Japanese disciples was to prove stronger than the Judeo-Christian idealism of Brown and Abraham Lincoln — and of Frederick Douglass and many other noble souls — in the period after the Civil War, especially when married to the melodramatic, hammer-and-dynamite moral nihilism of Friedrich Nietzsche.”

David Klinghoffer, “Aeschliman: The Charles Darwin/John Brown Connection” at Evolution News and Science Today (March 30, 2022)

Darwinism did not, of course, create racism. But it did enable racism to speak in the voice of science, as Weikart methodically demonstrates. And that was a very significant development in an increasingly scientistic age.

You may also wish to read: Richard Weikart gets noticed at National Review. Aeschliman: “But Weikart has doggedly and rightly concentrated on the Darwinian intellectual bacillus as it inspired, affected, and accelerated the modern German tragedy of 1870–1945.”

and

New edition of Aeschliman’s Restoration of Man challenges scientism again

2 Replies to “The curious connection between Charles Darwin and John Brown

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    Nope. John Brown was a gangster, recruited and relabeled by NYC bankers and industrialists to serve their cause. Gangs have often been used and ‘sanctified’ by political leaders. The IRA and the Black Panthers are later examples.

  2. 2
    chuckdarwin says:

    I agree that Brown was a gangster, although I think he would be better labeled a terrorist and a psychotic murderer, particularly given his history in Bleeding Kansas. All veneered with the patina of a “Calvinist abolitionist” which he claimed predestined him to end slavery. After Harper’s Ferry, the most telling incident of Brown’s sordid history is told in Smithsonian Magazine:

    A party of Free-Staters led by Brown dragged five pro-slavery men out of their isolated cabins on eastern Kansas’ Pottawatomie Creek and hacked them to death with cutlasses. The horrific nature of the murders disturbed even abolitionists. Brown was unrepentant. “God is my judge,” he laconically replied when asked to account for his actions. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/john-browns-day-of-reckoning-139165084/#:~:text=Brown%2C%20whose%20beliefs%20were%20rooted,conductors%22%20on%20the%20Underground%20Railroad.

    I haven’t seen evidence of any connection between Brown and Wall Street, I think that is an urban myth. Apropos the OP, however, is the bizarre “connection” between Darwin and Brown, with a dose of Nietzsche thrown in for good measure, connections that only Uncommon Descent or Evolution News could concoct. Brown was hung as a seditionist and murderer a few days after publication of the Origin of Species? I mean, seriously? What, really does one event have to do with the other except to feed UD and EN’s obsession to destroy everything Darwin?
    W. E. B. Du Bois hagiography of Brown was surely misplaced. Brown was not a “great man.” He was not even a good man. He was a blood-stained monster infinitely more culpable of evil than anything attached to Darwin’s mis-represented legacy.

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