Monday, April 30, 2018

Bergman on eugenics, economics and political economy

The Darwin Effect: Its Influence on Nazism, Eugenics, Racism, Communism, Capitalism and Sexism. By Jerry Bergman. Green Forest, AZ: Master Books, 2014. Paper. 358 pages. $16.99

Jerry Bergman’s The Darwin Effect is a wide-ranging survey on the impact of Charles Darwin and Darwinism on culture, political philosophy, social policy, and economic policy.
His first three chapters serve as an introduction to Darwin and Darwinism. Among many interesting details, Bergman notes the impact of Darwin’s family tree. Of particular interest to economists, he connects Darwin to John Maynard Keynes: his sister-in-law was Darwin’s grand-daughter; his mother and Darwin’s daughter worked for an organization that promoted eugenics. (12)
From there, Bergman turns to Darwinism’s role in American culture. In Chapter 4, he ties the growth of racism to Darwinism. “Racism has a surprisingly recent origin” and its growth “parallels the rise of evolutionary thought.” (25) “Skin color was of little importance in most parts of the world throughout much of recorded history.” (26) Or as Stephen Jay Gould wrote: “biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1859, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.” (135)
In Chapter 8, Bergman extends the argument by connecting KKK rhetoric and practice to Darwinian philosophy. Darwinists believed that blacks were closer to apes than whites. (17, 37) As an aside, Bergman notes the irony that gorillas, chimps and orangutans all have white skin! (35) Darwin believed that the Negro race and all other “lower races” would eventually be eliminated by survival of the fittest. (66) He believed in living “primitive races” (67), including blacks and other immigrants. His cousin, Galton Darwin believed that some dogs were smarter than “some races” of humans. (56-57)
Some of the confusion stemmed from early science on brain size and intelligence. Brain size is correlated with intelligence, but the causation is with diet and environment, rather than size per se. Fortunately, “research has slowly demolished the view that some races are biologically inferior to others, demonstrating the brotherhood of all humans as taught in Genesis.” (75)  
Along the same lines, Bergman points to the biblical concept of “monogenism”—where all humans are related and biological inferiority is far more difficult to assert. In contrast, “polygenism” is implied by Darwinism. And so, the evolution of different classes of people became tenable, since natural selection could, in theory, yield profound differences. (27-28) Moreover, Christianity makes no claims about racial inferiority (38)—whether the inclusion of Jews and Gentiles in God’s redemptive plan; the incident in Numbers 12 where God supports Moses’ interracial marriage; or the “every race, tribe, people” references in Revelation.
Bergman also notes that females were routinely judged as inferior to males, using evolutionary rationales. (12) “Female inferiority was a logical conclusion of the Darwinian worldview, because males were believed to be exposed to far greater selective pressures…A male must prove himself both physically and intellectually superior…a woman must be superior only in sexual attraction.” (219) For awhile, men and women were even classified as distinct species. (220) As such, evolutionists and progressives often held a dim view of women in politics, including opposition to women’s suffrage. (229)
Bergman devotes chapters 9-11 to the impact of evolutionary thinking through circuses, zoos, and “freak shows” in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Barnum & Bailey’s circus plays a central role. Ota Benga, a Pygmy, was displayed at the Bronx Zoo in the early 20th century as an Ape-Man. People with handicaps, diseases, and genetic deformities (microcephalic, dwarfism, hirsutism) were sold to the public as “missing links” into the 1970s. In a word, Bergman argues that millions of people were influenced through pop culture and pseudo-science.
All of these historical details are fascinating and sobering. But then, Bergman turns to the connections between Darwinism, political philosophy, and public policy. He notes “how often—and how easily—Darwinism has been exploited for sinister political ends” (9), ranging from “the radical Right to the extreme Left”. (10)
Bergman has three chapters on “eugenics”. Eugenics was promoted as a social good—or even for the good of the individual as “mercy killings”. (83) Again, science crossed into pseudo-science and ethics with little difficulty. Breeding had been effective with animals and plants. Progress and science might dictate the same for humans.
At the national level, Bergman notes how governments embraced Darwinist ideas, leading to mass murder and genocide. From the British in Tasmania (chapter 6) to Marxist Communism (chapter 14), Chinese Communism (chapter 15), and general fascism and genocide (chapter 17), he argues that Darwinism was not the only factor, but still primary. (353)
Bergman devotes chapter 16 to the impact of Darwinism on the atavistic theories of criminality that dominated the criminal justice field through much of the 20th Century. He also notes how Darwinism wrongly influenced the courts (63-64)—ironic given the unscientific faith in courts by those who enjoyed the judicial black eye given to Intelligent Design theory in Kitzmiller v. Dover (2005).
Unfortunately, at least for an economist, Bergman’s weakest effort is (chapter 13) on “Social Darwinism” and what he labels “ruthless capitalism” (a term he uses 16 times). He describes “robber barons” in general, but focuses most of his attention on the views of Andrew Carnegie. Bergman notes the immense philanthropy of the “barons”, but dismisses it since the money did not go to “the direct relief of the unfortunate classes.” (261) He rightly notes that Christianity exhorts disciples to take care of the needy, vulnerable, weak (39)—whereas Social Darwinism calls for survival of the fittest and argues against such efforts. But laying this at the feet of the “robber barons” is an unwarranted stretch.
Bergman’s history is consistent with “conventional wisdom”, but not supported by a coherent definition of greed or capitalism—or an understanding of the role of competition (or not) in economic markets. Worse, he conflates laissez-faire economics with the pursuit of government to enhance monopoly power. The irony in all of this is that businesses were often worried about laissez-faire and “cut-throat business practices”—and thus, sought government protection for their industries. (Gabriel Kolko’s The Triumph of Conservatism [1977] is must-reading on this topic.)
You can skip the chapter on economics, but Bergman’s work is still helpful for understanding the impact of Darwinism on cultural norms and social policy.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home