We are almost at the half-way point of our journey and it is time to see where we have been and where we are going. We have looked at how men were portrayed in Western art and literature over the past few centuries and how their image changed. We argued that what can be seen over the past hundred and fifty years is a process of masculinization of Western man, which has now largely come to an end and is partly (or at least tentatively) being reversed. We examined how men were depicted in sexual relationships in literature, and how male behaviour in love changed radically over the past two centuries, in a more masculine direction: that is to say, towards more detached, cynical sexual exploitation, and less sentimentality, less emotional involvement, and less verbal expression of feelings. We then looked at attitudes to war in Western literature and how they too evolved in modern times, from humanist protest to cynical acceptance – until stoic indifference to acts of violence and massacre, a kind of stony insensitivity in the face of horror and atrocity, becomes the prevailing mid-20th century male style. We saw how this cult of toughness, of not flinching at atrocity, facilitated the gargantuan programmes of mass-murder of the two totalitarian ideologies which emerged from the First World War – rival ideologies of total revolution, of abolishing the past, of starting history again from zero after exterminating all opponents. And we saw how these ideologies of revolutionary destruction were expressed in the arts, and above all the visual arts – Futurism in the case of Fascism, Constructivism and Suprematism in the case of Communism. A cult of perpetual revolution, sweeping away the heritage of the past, invaded all the arts. But while literature escaped the worst of it, because of the influence of the market and the taste of the reader, the academia-controlled visual arts were dominated by this cult throughout the century. A fashion for abstraction, dehumanization, a hatred of nature and beauty, a cult of the machine and the industrial, of non-feeling, non-expression and nihilism, made the arts of painting and sculpture more and more autistic, sterile and life-hating until they finally descended into the cult of rubbish and manufactured junk known as conceptual art. We tried to show how much of this is related to the extreme masculinization of man’s sensibility during the century of war, with its psychological concomitants: autism, inability to empathize, emotional sterility, obsession with the mechanical and the abstract, psychopathic aggression, and ideological fanaticism. 

But militarism, total war and the cult of revolution in the 20th century were merely the culmination of a development that had been going on for much longer. It is time to look in more detail at its roots, at how this masculinization of man developed during the nineteenth century and made total war and mass murder on a colossal scale possible. We will examine the influence on the Anglo-Saxon character of the colonial, pioneering experience both of the British empire and of frontier America, the role of the British public school culture, and the growth of the Victorian cult of “manliness”. And we will then look at the development of the underlying ideologies of violence and struggle in the latter half of the 19th century, in particular Darwinism and Marxism, which inspired the 20th century programmes of mass murder. We will conclude by looking at the most recent off-shoot of Marxism, feminism. We will consider to what extent this movement can be seen as part of the general process of masculinization of Westerners, a determination by women to adopt the masculine role and character which are deified in the modern age. And we will discuss whether this movement is preventing any attempt to move back towards a more balanced way of life.


When did the English become what they are? Reserved, taciturn, keeping a stiff upper lip, unable to express their feelings adequately, down-to-earth, practical, solid, phlegmatic, stubborn, unimaginative, unpoetic, and no-nonsense? In short, Conan-Doyle’s Dr Watson, the stolid companion of Sherlock Holmes. This is substantially the same picture of the “ideal Englishman” of the early 20th century offered to us in a recent book, The English, by the journalist Jeremy Paxton. Describing “the Breed”, the private school-educated upper and middle classes who ran the empire, he says they were “bold, unreflective, and crashingly pragmatic, men you could trust”. He throws in as extras (in a roundup of previous writers’ categorisations of the type, including stolid, self-controlled, repressing all emotion and so on) these qualities: a serenely complacent sense of national superiority, contempt for foreigners, ignorance of literature or the arts, suspicion of intellectuals, love of sport, all-round athletic ability, stoicism, and an astonishing lack of interest in sex. 1

Now apart from sporting ability, patriotism and contempt for foreigners (which the English apparently displayed even in the 16th century) it is doubtful if Shakespeare would have recognized any of these characteristics as typical of the Englishman of his day. In all the amazing range of Shakespeare’s creations, there is not a single character who embodies the traits which have been thought to be typical of Englishmen for the past two centuries. Polonius is too garrulous and fussy, Sir Toby Belch too fantastical and exuberant, Falstaff too eloquent, cowardly, sly, boastful and mendacious, and his friend Prince Harry too fun-loving, mocking, witty, cynical and calculating. Hotspur, though he comes close in his taciturnity and contempt for the Welsh, is too choleric, impetuous and quarrelsome. None of them have that element of bluff stolidness, of stiff upper lip reserve, of unromantic pragmatism, which characterized “the Breed” of Victorian and Edwardian times. Shakespeare’s young romantic heroes, from Romeo to Florizel, are by our standards exuberant, demonstrative, spontaneous, witty, garrulous, eloquent, sensual, poetic and emotional creatures, who wear their hearts on their sleeves. What strikes us, in short, is their effeminacy – something commented on by the actor Richard Burton, who called Shakespeare’s young heroes “ladies” and hated to play them. They are, in fact, far more like modern Italians than modern Englishmen. But the whole character and atmosphere of England in that age was far more like today’s Italy than today’s England. Shakespeare’s England was apparently the only place in Europe at that time where women greeted male acquaintances with a kiss. The manners of Englishwomen, described with delight by Erasmus a century earlier in 1499, resembled those of Frenchwomen today (and were far freer than Frenchwomen at that time, since Erasmus had already studied in Paris, and this did not prepare him for the effusiveness of Englishwomen):  

Wherever you come you are received with a kiss by all. When you take your leave, you are dismissed with kisses. You return, kisses are repeated. They come to visit you, kisses again; they leave you, you kiss them all round. Should they meet you anywhere, kisses in abundance; in fine wherever you move there is nothing but kisses. 2

The historian Christopher Hibbert comments:

It was a habit that persisted. In 1620 it was said that saluting strangers with a kiss was considered immodest in a foreigner but merely civil in England, and at the end of the eighteenth century it was still considered
“the form of salutation peculiar to our nation.” 3

What went wrong? What happened at the beginning of the nineteenth century?  Suddenly, from being at the cutting edge of liberated, free-and-easy, demonstrative manners, sensual and “tactile” (as the Lonely Hearts adverts now call someone who doesn’t flinch when touched), the English underwent an abrupt change and veered to the other extreme. By the mid-nineteenth century Englishmen had become a byword on the continent for reserve, stiffness, and inhibition – men who shook hands with their own children. How and why did this radical transformation come about?

It has always astonished me how little this change has astonished anyone else. It is  sometimes noted in passing by social historians, but little attempt is made to explain it or even comment on its significance. And yet it is a change in character so fundamental that in the history of the nation it is almost as important as the industrial revolution – with which it coincided in time. It is of course the outward sign of the coming to power of the industrial middle class, with their puritan leanings. These were much the same people who had just seized power in France by force – and it was the French revolutionaries who had the most striking effect on the clothes, manners and hairstyles of the time. The short hair and the introduction of trousers can be traced to the sartorial sobriety made fashionable by the middle class revolutionaries in Paris. An English observer of the time, Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, recalled the “era of Jacobinism” in 1793-4:

It was then that pantaloons, cropped hair and shoestrings, as well as the total abolition of buckles and ruffles, together with the disuse of hair powder, characterised the men; while the ladies having cut off those tresses which had done so much execution, exhibited heads rounded à la victime et à la guillotine, as if ready for the stroke of the axe. 4

Of course, during the Terror, extravagant clothes, make-up, and long hair on men or even women were dangerous marks of aristocratic fashion, and quickly disappeared off the streets of Paris. Conversely, for a while in the 1790’s in England, short hair for men was seen as a subversive symbol of revolutionary sympathies. Then it gradually won the day as a mere fashion, in the manner of long hair in the 1970’s. Within ten years Beau Brummel was setting the new fashion for trousers and an entirely black uniform for men – dark colours having begun to creep in for Englishmen over the previous decades, in contrast with the mid-18th century when gold and silver cloth, pink silk and diamond-hilted swords were all the rage. The sudden obsolescence of the old aristocratic look is what is astonishing. The sense of a sudden cleavage in the fashion and behaviour of generations is as marked in the writings of the period (Pushkin for example) as it was to be in the 1970’s. The demise of the old aristocratic manners, the hand-kissing, the kiss as greeting, rapidly followed the clothes. A sort of anti-aristocratic spirit seems to take hold of Europe, and above all England, after the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. As so often happens, the revolutionary ideas of the vanquished seem to have conquered the minds of the victors (as we can see with Marxism today.)

But, as we suggested, what lay behind this change of fashion was not merely revolutionary ideas, but the coming to power in England of the same middle class which had made the revolution in France. This was a trade and industry-based class which had risen with the industrial revolution. They were often of Nonconformist religion (that is, belonging to radical Protestant, non-Anglican denominations, such as Calvinists or Methodists.) They were the spiritual descendants of the anti-aristocratic, middle-class Puritans, the short-haired    Roundheads, who had made the English Revolution and Civil War in the 17th century. After the parliamentary Reform Bill of 1832 this class gained considerable political power as well, and they gradually infiltrated the aristocracy, by marriage and the buying of estates. This middle class carried out in a peaceful, gradual way the same social change that the French middle class had imposed by revolutionary violence and dictatorship. The gradual step-by-step change in England was made possible because Protestantism and parliamentary supremacy had already modified the old order, allowing more freedom of thought and social mobility. In France the suppression of Protestantism (which represented a degree of religious pluralism and dissent) along with the absence of parliamentary power had left no way of opposing absolutism peacefully. But the tastes of the rising middle classes in both countries were similar: anti-aristocratic, against extravagant display and sensuality, Puritanical, work-oriented, fascinated by science and technology, pragmatic and down-to-earth. In short, what is thought of today as the traditional English character (what was called “The Breed” in Edwardian times) is essentially the Puritan middle-class English character of the 19th century. The 18th century aristocrat, with his dandyish dress and exuberant lifestyle, his rakish sexuality and outrageous self-indulgence, was now seen, in a combination of democratic sentiment and Puritan zeal, as a parasite who had not worked for his wealth and had no right to these extravagant displays of it. His whole lifestyle was abolished with startling speed, along with his way of dressing. By the mid-19th century everybody was in black suits and short hair; there was not a half-hose, a wig, a lace cuff, or a colourful silk cloak to be seen, and the new sober fashion reigned triumphant from Lisbon to St Petersburg.

It may be noted (as a matter of curiosity) that about this time the fashion for both men and women shifted (for the first time in at least eight hundred years) from blond hair to black hair, and modish ladies began darkening their hair with a variety of oils and unguents, instead of lightening it.5 This could have had many causes: the romantic and Gothic-novel fascination with Italy, the brief reign of Napoleon’s mulatto empress, Josephine, and the fashion for classical Greek and Roman styles in Napoleonic France. But it also makes one think of the descriptions in the medieval chronicler Froissart, depicting the lower classes as not only smaller but darker than the aristocrats – who both in England and Normandy were of Norman, that is, Scandinavian, origin. Elsewhere in France the ruling class in his time were mostly descended from the Germanic Franks, and a good part of the common people were descended from darker-haired Gallo-Romans, or Latinized Celts. Even in Venice in the 15th century there was such a fashion for blond hair that women spent fortunes trying to achieve the fairness of the ancestral Germanic Lombard conquerors, to whom all the leading families traced their lineage. The sudden fall from grace of blondness after the French Revolution coincides with the demise of aristocratic fashions all over Europe. It could lead to interesting (if unfashionable) speculation about a shift in the actual blood line (or ethnic origin) of the dominant classes. The English, like the French, being a mix of successive invading European tribes, it is conceivable that the rise of the middle class was the rise of a non-Norman origin element, a bit darker than their betters. This is of course pure speculation, but the fierceness of class hostilities in Britain has always had a tinge of something curiously akin to racism.

The transformation of the English, and in their wake all Europeans, from a nation dominated by the extravagant and colourful fashions of the aristocracy, into a drab, black-suited middle-class nation might seem of no great importance. But if style is the man (as a French critic remarked in a more literary context) then this change of style represented a far deeper change. The colourful clothes and long hair of the aristocratic male up till the end of the eighteenth century showed a certain concept of masculinity which was perfectly compatible with display, refinement, vanity, sensuality, and a degree of sexual exhibitionism. The man’s legs were exposed in skin-tight stockings for the admiration of women – not, it is true, right up to the padded crotch as in Shakespeare’s day, but at least till the knee. Make-up was worn by men and long wigs supplemented at need a full-flowing head of hair (English judges’ wigs are simply 18th century hairstyles.) An early eighteenth-century fop is described as wearing:

A coat of shot silk, a pink satin waistcoat, breeches covered with silk net, white stockings with pink clocks, and pink satin shoes with large pearl buckles. His hair was dressed to a remarkable height and stuck full of pearl pins. 6

 This kind of display by men is no longer conceivable in our day except in homosexual circles, and even there only for drag queen parties. Even the long-hair revolt of the late 1960’s failed to break the taboo against heterosexual men wearing make-up, colours like pink or displaying their bodies (particularly their legs) in an overtly sensual manner. It is a peculiar paradox that only women are allowed to expose their legs today; while in the past women had to keep their legs covered, and men exposed theirs. The last hundred and fifty years have seen a concept of masculine dress more drab, sober and sexless than anything ever seen before, except perhaps in the dress of the poorest medieval peasants. Trousers were a peasant fashion, widely worn by the serfs of Eastern Europe and probably influenced by the Ottoman Turks. What is striking in 19th and 20th century fashion is the banning of any form of sensual display of the contours of men’s bodies. It is this which represents a repressive, Puritanical notion of masculinity which any previous age in Europe, certainly from the 14th to the 18th century, would have found astonishing. It reflects the new concept of masculinity as associated exclusively with strength and martial vigour, not with sensual or aesthetic display –  a male image reflecting at once the new militarism, the work ethic of industrialism, and later on the tough pioneering traditions of the New World. 

The utter refusal of men for the past century and a half to consider themselves or allow themselves to be considered as sexual objects by displaying their physical attractions (especially legs) was accompanied of course by a progressive transfer of this function onto women, who gradually began to dress like sex objects and nothing else. The extreme sexiness of women’s dress in our age (in the late 1960’s revealing their legs almost to their crotch like men in the 16th century), and the continuing drabness and repressiveness of men’s clothes, symbolizes the polarization of active and passive roles. It is one more sign of that distortion of masculinity, and by implication of femininity, which has gradually occurred over the past two hundred years. Tom Jones’ clothes resembled Sophia’s much more closely than James Bond’s resembled Pussy Galore’s. Apart from the fact that Tom’s legs were displayed in stockings, while Sophia’s were covered up (and her neck and shoulders were displayed) their clothes were probably similar in quality of cloth, colours, frilliness and general style. Tom wore colours that James Bond would not have been seen dead in. Just as the characters of men were much more like women’s in the eighteenth century, so were their clothes.

The masculinization of English male dress and behaviour in the 19th century was one aspect then of the rise to power of a puritanical, radically Protestant industrial middle class. For them ornamentation and sensual display were sinful, and kissing as a way of greeting was a licentious and depraved practice. These were the same shorthaired Roundhead elements who, in Taliban fashion, had closed the theatres in the seventeenth century, smashed statues of saints and stained glass in churches, banned dancing as wicked, and fined women for lewd dress. Now they were to start covering up carved piano legs to prevent young women from having wanton thoughts. But though we might laugh condescendingly at the excesses of Victorian prudery, it should be emphasized again to what extent we still share their concept of masculinity, male dress, and social behaviour. The Anglo-Saxons still do not kiss as a greeting, as we used to in the 18th century. We have still not returned to a world where a young man can wear pink stockings without being seen as gay. In fact the gay liberation movement has merely ghettoized and in a sense stigmatized any attempt by men to change this prevailing Puritan repressiveness. The very desire to change it is now simply dismissed as a sign of being gay, and is sidelined as a sexual sub-culture. Looking at young men’s casual summer-wear at the start of the new millennium – the baggy Bermuda shorts down to the mid-calf, the baggy T-shirts with sleeves down to the elbow, the fat, clumsy sports shoes – the effect is completely asexual. All evidence of the muscles of arm or leg carefully cultivated in the fitness centres is hidden from sight. The whole effect is one of infantilization – young men look like four year-olds dressed in their older brothers’ clothes. Is it the fear of appearing gay that imposes these drab, shapeless, sexless fashions? Is there a fear that a male emphasizing the sensual contours of his body will be thought to be trying to attract male eyes, not female eyes? Or is it a fear of provoking other males into violence by escalating male rivalry in the display of muscles? Yet women clearly appreciate the male form; one has only to see the following that soccer has gained among American women because they can see men’s legs and the shape of their backsides in their tight shorts (unlike in American football and baseball where Victorian-era  knickerbockers are worn.) Yet none of this display of male bodies, so appreciated by women, has been transferred from the sports field into men’s fashions. The only male display allowed in normal street clothes at the moment is a kind of minimalist hair display – relatively restrained hairstyles held carefully in place with hair gel. The hair has returned to Roundhead shortness, but a token form of display is allowed by showing that one has in fact used hair gel. That minor advertisement of male vanity is the only modern sign of freedom from the puritan straitjacket of the Victorians. It is even worse for formal clothes. Dark suits are still the only formal dress allowed for men. Recent attempts by the Germans at Berlin receptions to restore some colour to their formal dress in the shape of bright sashes or cumberbunds provoke only derision among British journalists. In short, all the Victorian inhibitions about allowing the slightest hint of effeminacy in men’s clothes, hairstyles or behaviour are still overpoweringly strong today, and still determine male fashions to an extraordinary degree. We are still wholly under the influence of the Victorian Puritan counter-revolution which banned sensuality and display from male dress as morally unacceptable, in a complete reversal of male fashions for the previous five hundred years.

The so-called sexual liberation that started in the late 1960’s has therefore been quite limited in scope. It has not liberated our attitudes to male fashion, and the burden of the nineteenth century puritanical concept of manhood still weighs heavily upon us. How that concept developed, spread and perpetuated itself is still something we have not fully understood. But in the success of all ideologies, there is usually a key institution that embodies and promotes it. In the case of the repressive, stiff-upper-lip Puritan-militarist ideology, that key institution is clearly the British public school.





            To the eternal confusion of the rest of the world, the oldest private schools in England came to be known as public schools because they were incorporated and governed by statutes. Developing out of the old monastic schools, they were founded by kings or merchant corporations in the Middle Ages, originally to educate the children of the poor. By the 16th century fee-paying pupils were being accepted by most of them for financial reasons (with the disappearance of the monasteries and the church’s wealth in the Reformation), and there was a gradual shift to boarding in the course of the 18th century. While some children of landowners continued to be educated by tutors at home or in the home of a neighbouring lord or squire (like Tom Jones), by the mid-eighteenth century most of the lower gentry were sending their sons to boarding schools. Dryden, Locke, Wren, Gibbon, and Bentham went to Westminster; Fielding and Gray went to Eton, where a generation later Shelley was bullied mercilessly to the point of being driven into hysterical rages. Sheridan and Byron went to Harrow. These institutions probably played a formative role in the character of Englishmen from the eighteenth century until the late twentieth. They may be partly responsible for the transformation of character we have been discussing.

            The salient characteristic of these schools was their violence. Educationally they were narrow and inefficient. Latin and Greek were virtually the only subjects taught until the mid-19th century, and the huge classes (sometimes over a hundred) meant a reliance on rote-learning and beatings as a way of instilling a minimum of knowledge. “Many a white and tender hand, which the fond mother had passionately kissed a thousand times, have I seen whipped until it was covered with blood,” recalled one old Etonian of the early 18th century, “perhaps for smiling, or for going a yard and a half out of the gate, or for writing an O for an A, or an A for an O.” 7 Scholars were often lodged all together in huge dormitories, several to a bed, without supervision, and left to their own nocturnal amusements. These amusements were largely getting drunk, sodomy, sadism, beatings, and the torture and rape of smaller boys. Since the boys ranged in age from six to twenty (prep schools only began to separate off the pre-pubescent boys in the late 19th century), opportunities for cruelty were considerable. Boys were occasionally killed. Long Chamber, the dormitory at Eton, became a byword for brutality. It was the scene not only of orgies of violence but was overrun with rats and excrement. Till 1784 it had no heating, and snow drifted in the broken windows and covered the beds. Anyone who survived it was treated in later life with the respect accorded a war veteran. A report in 1834 stated that “the inmates of a workhouse or gaol are better fed and lodged than the scholars of Eton.” 8 Given the conditions of those institutions at the time, this would put it in a class not far removed from a Nazi concentration camp. There was some reform of schools in the mid 19th century and an attempt to stamp out sodomy and drunkenness, but only by reinforcing the brutal regime of control. The practice of flogging remained at a level of brutality that was pathological. Some masters managed to flog a hundred pupils a day. Beatings were often on bare buttocks till they were a mess of blood and lacerated flesh. Blood routinely spattered the walls and floor. Floggings were sometimes administered with bundles of branches containing sharp buds to cut the flesh – not quite the cat o’ nine tails, but based on the same principle. Many boys were physically scarred for life. The prevalence of flogging made it almost a cult, and some boys grew so used to it that as men they became masochists, craving beatings as the only way to find sexual satisfaction. Continental prostitutes referred to flagellation as the English vice. A good number of English brothels specialised in it.

But flogging was not only carried out by masters. From the end of the 18th century it was also done by prefects, as enforcement of discipline was delegated to them. This was the legalisation of systematic, arbitrary sadism by the equivalent of concentration camp kapos, the chief prisoners given licence to beat weaker prisoners. Charles Lamb (of Tales from Shakespeare fame) wrote:  “The oppressions of these young brutes are heart-sickening to call to recollection. I have been called out of my bed and waked for the purpose, in the coldest winter nights – and this not once but night after night – in my shirt, to receive the discipline of the leather thong, with eleven other sufferers.”9 A Westminster boy recalled more briefly:  “I have been woken many times by the hot points of cigars burning holes in my face.”10 The system of “fagging” meant that younger boys had to act as personal servants of older boys, often waiting on them till late in the night, and beaten mercilessly for small failings, such as making a bed with a seam the wrong way. 11 The opportunities for the sexual abuse of fags by older boys were unlimited. The experience of the upper-class Englishmen who went to these schools was not unlike spending their childhood in a particularly brutal prison. 

The Duke of Wellington is famously believed to have said that the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. This apocryphal statement was often enlisted in later years as an argument for the moral benefits of team sports. But in fact school games at the time of Waterloo were merely a disorganized brawl with no official status. Rather the point being made (if in fact Wellington ever said this) was probably that the general harshness of public school life was good preparation for the conditions of war. The brutality, the pitilessness, the physical misery and discomfort, the endless bullying, violence and persecution that prevailed at public schools were excellent training for the military life. This was a world without women, where there were no shoulders for the small boys to cry on. The first lesson was never to show emotion or weakness. There was no one it was safe to show it to. They must get used to swallowing injuries, insults, beatings, degradation, humiliation, injustice, pain and betrayal without blenching, and without the comfort of a mother or an older sister to whom they could pour out their woes. James Fitzjames Stephens, a judge and historian of English law, wrote in 1840 that the violence of Eton “taught me for life that to be weak is to be wretched, that the state of nature is a state of war, and Vae Victis the great law of nature.” 12 This is the sense in which “the playing fields of Eton” were the training ground for Britain’s military successes – the psychological toughening of boys to endure to the end in a world without pity. 




The British public school, where boys were sent as young as six or seven, represents the most extreme and precocious process of weaning known to man. Not even the ancient Spartans separated boys from their mothers so young or so completely (since Spartan boys at their military academies usually remained in the same town as their family.) It argues a peculiar lack of maternal instinct in British upper and upper-middle class women that they accepted this separation with such docility. Is this at the root of that lack of sympathy and understanding for women among Englishmen of the last two centuries which so many observers have commented on? Betrayal, cold abandonment by his mother, from whom the child expects unconditional love, is perhaps the one sin a man never forgives. One thinks of lower-class Dickens’ bitter sense of emotional betrayal when he overheard his parents arguing and realized his mother was more in favour than his father of sending him to the bottle factory at the age of ten. The British public school tradition probably instilled that sense of betrayal into generations of upper-class males. Not that the men openly blamed their mothers. A latter-day public school-boy, the actor Stephen Fry, emphatically defends his mother from a charge of heartlessness, because the pain she felt at each separation was only too clear to him. 13 Rather it is the demonstration of the mother’s powerlessness within the system, the overruling of her maternal love by the harsh male laws of the outside world, that impressed itself on the English public schoolboy from an early age. The Englishman of the last two hundred years up to the late 20th century seemed to expect little of that warm affection and selfless devotion from women which men on the continent have always taken for granted. This is perhaps because he saw his mother as a helpless, ineffectual figure, unable or unwilling to stand up for him. The lack of spontaneous sensuality in the Englishman’s relationship to women is perhaps due to the lack of maternal love, a lack of instinctive trust of the female, and above all his perception of the powerlessness of maternal love to protect him from the world. Man’s sensuality and love of women is rooted in the memory of the warmth of his mother’s breast as a place of total security, total sensual satisfaction and emotional comfort. One thinks of Stendhal’s reminiscence of his sensual obsession with his mother at the age of six: “I loved to cover her with kisses, and I preferred her naked.” 14 This is a man for whom love between the sexes, in all its emotional refinements, became literally a religion, the path to salvation. Some of Stendhal’s most powerfully drawn love relationships are between young men and older women whose feelings have a strong maternal element. The young Rousseau’s relations with women were similar – he exploited their maternal tenderness towards him. Women played an enormous role in the lives of continental European boys throughout this period. Continental pornography is often turned towards incest between growing boys and young aunts or older sisters. We find this in Apollinaire’s erotic novellas, which centre on bath time for the adolescent boy, shared with aunt and sister, and ending up in sexual games. Sisters play a large role in the European male’s erotic and emotional imagination – haunting even such innocuous works as Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Mothers, sisters and aunts have not usually had this sensual role in the young Englishman’s imagination. The female family members seem almost marginal to the boys’ lives – since they were separated for most of the year. Upper class mothers are distant, like vaguely benevolent aunts. But even when mothers are physically and emotionally present, as in the lower-middle class world of Dickens, they are ineffectual, sickly and often loveless. David Copperfield’s mother, a pitiable, weeping jellyfish, helpless to protect her son from the thrashing of a bullying step-father, is a symbol of English motherhood and the ineffectualness of maternal love. In much Victorian literature mothers are absent. The typical Victorian hero or heroine is an orphan (and often an abused one, like Heathcliff or Jane Eyre.) Pip is brought up by a fearsome older sister. It is similar in America. In Mark Twain’s great novels of rough and tough boyhood, mothers are replaced by stern aunts who are repressive authority figures from whom the boy is always seeking to escape into his wilderness. In the twentieth century, major American fiction portrays women as cold, manipulative bitches, devoid of real love. As Camilla Paglia and others have pointed out, one reason for this negative image of women is the absence of the mother goddess Mary in Protestant America. You have only to walk into a medieval cathedral to see that the main icon of European Catholicism is a young mother and her baby. The central human relationship of continental European culture is that of mother and son, the tragedy of maternal love in a cruel world which makes the mother watch her son being tortured to death. In the Protestant Anglo-Saxon world the central relationship is that of man to God: austere, abstract and authoritarian – Robinson Crusoe on his island addressing his prayers to Providence. The Holy Family as a model for all human families, and the mother of Christ as a model of maternal love, are strikingly absent from the Anglo-Saxon mental world-picture. And this mirrors the very real marginalisation of the mother in English life after the rise of the public school. Unlike the Virgin Mary, she doesn’t watch her son being tortured, because she is hundreds of  miles away. Boarding school from the age of seven represents the most complete transfer of childcare away from the family and towards collective institutions that has ever been carried out since ancient Sparta. (The Israeli kibbutz system comes nowhere near it, as mothers  can spend time with their children every evening.) For anything remotely approaching the collectivist child-care of the British public school one has to turn to the fantasy projects of Plato’s Republic, or the early Soviet minister Alexandra Kollantai, who also advocated collectivist child-raising, separated from parents. One of the reasons Kollantai’s scheme was never put into general practice may have been that Russian mothers, notoriously possessive and protective, would never have stood for it.

Bertrand Russell, watching the way mothers took leave of their sons at railway stations to go to the First World War, concluded that parents do not love their children: they merely want an opportunity to be proud of them. If the mothers had felt real love, he implies, they would have tried to prevent their sons being taken from them (as on the continent they often did.) But the public school system had already inured Englishwomen to this violation of maternal instinct. If they have watched a seven-year old son leave for boarding school, it is not so hard to watch a nineteen-year old leave for war. Instead of the love that seeks to preserve life comes the peculiar muddle of sentimentality and patriotic drivel cited by Robert Graves in the famous letter to The Times of the “Little Mother”, self-pityingly glorying in her own sacrifice of her sons as a heroic contribution to the great cause. 15 In the one war which history has judged to have been utterly unnecessary and unjustifiable, Englishwomen joined enthusiastically in the pressuring of adolescent boys to go and get killed. Feminist organisations converted instantly into patriotic ones: the Pankhursts’ magazine was renamed Britannia. Many feminists recycled themselves as white feather brigades to taunt the young men who did not volunteer by handing them a symbol of cowardice. The civilian pressure to keep the war going embittered young soldiers like Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon home on leave. So false was the atmosphere of moralistic jingoism at home that they couldn’t wait to get back to the stoicism and realism of the trenches. The women and men went through the war separately, and the women had no real grasp of the shattering nature of the men’s experience. Though the war gave women new independence as they filled the factories and offices to replace the men, and it won them the vote, it did little to bring men and women together in sympathy or understanding. One has a sense in Graves and others that the war left a legacy of bitterness and mutual incomprehension between the sexes, and a vague sense of betrayal. Graves’ own doomed marriage to a bigoted feminist, absurdly and blindly convinced that women had suffered more than men in the war, was a good example. The root of the male sense of betrayal may well lie in the demonstration of the Englishwoman’s utter lack of protectiveness towards her sons, brothers and lovers as they were sent to slaughter. She manifested all the hardness of the ancient Spartan mother, who presented a shield to her adolescent son with the words: “Come back with it or on it.” The almost total submission of even radical women to the war-mongering propaganda of the establishment, their lack of any strong motherly instinct that the killing of hundreds of thousands of eighteen year-old boys must be wrong, has probably left an effect even to this day. 

The lack of a warm, loving relationship with their mothers (which the public school culture probably caused) and the consequent lack of any deep male emotions for women, seems to be reflected in the growing tepidness and ineptness of English writers on the subject of love after the eighteenth century. The last really great celebration both of love and of women in English literature is in Shakespeare. Both Chaucer and Shakespeare show us a society where women are at the emotional centre of things, and the female characters they create are magnificent. This is of course before the public school destroyed family life. From then on love begins to shift from the centre of interest. Dryden’s All for Love already feels like a rhetorical exercise, devoid of the sensual fascination Shakespeare shows for Cleopatra. Byron’s Don Juan is not quite serious – it is a cynical-sentimental backward look at the romantic love of youth. Byron, though he was sexually addicted to women, was slightly patronizing in his view of them: 


Man’s love is of man’s life a thing apart;

’Tis woman’s whole existence.  16


His perspective is that of a good-natured serial seducer and whoremaster, rather sorry for the  women whose hearts he has broken. But despite a life given over to seduction, he creates no great female characters. The women in his poems are mostly shallowly drawn, with few real human traits. There is in English romanticism no trace of that spiritual idolatry of women (and ability to draw their characters) which you find in Stendhal, or which is reflected in Goethe’s line: “Eternal Woman draws us ever higher.” It is doubtful if any Englishman of the last three centuries could ever have said that, any more than he could have come out with Aragon’s line: “Woman is the future of man.” There is a cult of the feminine character on the continent which is not found in England after Shakespeare.  

Among English novelists too, love loses its force at the end of the 18th century. The same is not true of the Scots. Walter Scott in his novels, like Burns in his poetry, portrays both love and women with passion as well as realism. Neither of them went to boarding school, and Scott married a French girl, daughter of a royalist refugee. Samuel Richardson, son of a joiner, who hardly went to any school at all let alone a public one, is one of the last English male novelists (along with Fielding) who seems capable of understanding the character of women and making love seem the central passion of existence. Though his flights of feminine sensibility (and lower-middle class morality) were too much for the Eton-educated Fielding, who mercilessly parodied him, Richardson was greatly admired on the continent. He deeply  influenced Rousseau and Goethe. Love was treated in the early 19th century by four women authors, Jane Austen and the three Brontë sisters, all daughters of clergymen and all lifelong virgins (Charlotte married after her last novel was written and died within months – one can only hope the two events were not related.) The Bronte sisters were also motherless from very early childhood, and mothers are largely absent from their novels. Their portrayal of love, while passionate, is unreal and fantasized, since none of them had ever experienced it physically. Their male characters especially seem to us unreal. Despite Jane Austen’s sophisticated analysis of relationships, one can’t help feeling that for her love and marriage (at their best) appear to be about a sort of mild friendship based on intellectual and moral respect, backed by a suitable unearned income. Women characters in male fiction likewise become increasingly vapid and fantasized, or else, at the other extreme, malicious and manipulative. Thackeray’s greatest female creation, Becky Sharp, is a sly, scheming vamp. Dickens’ Stella, object of Pip’s unrequited lifelong passion, is a kind of phantasm, unattainable not just for reasons of her initial class superiority, but because she represents a female sexuality that is inherently teasing, beyond reach, tormenting, essentially sadistic – since Miss Haversham has given her the mission of breaking Pip’s heart in revenge for her own jilting. The original ending of the book, where he meets Stella briefly in a passing carriage and then hears that she has married a man who beats her and has thus learned the suffering that she herself inflicted on him, is a psychologically necessary resolution to what is in effect a masochistic love story. The tormentor must be beaten in her turn, to ease the victim’s pain. Dickens’ relationship with women is one of heartbreak and unrequited love (perhaps reflecting his own unfulfilled love for his wife’s sister, who died young.) That remains the dominant tone of most English portrayals of love which followed – all the way to Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, where the pain fairly leaps off the page.

The feeling throughout the 19th century is of English novelists (both men and women) writing of the opposite sex as though it were an alien species. There is a chasm of mutual incomprehension, filled up by vapid fantasies and by resentments that are the product of wounded or stunted sensibilities. There is nothing comparable to the power or naturalness of Tolstoy’s portraits of Anna Karenina and Natasha. One cannot help relating all this to the rigid separation of boys and girls that boarding school education imposed in England. It is significant that the few English male novelists who dealt in any way deeply with love in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and D.H.Lawrence – did not go to boarding school. With Lawrence in particular, one senses that the strong Oedipal attachment to his mother – something impossible to maintain if one were sent to boarding school at the age of seven – was a major source of his inspiration and of his lifelong preoccupation with relations between the sexes. It is not too sweeping a judgement to conclude that among the public-school educated Britons up until the last forty years, the sexes were by and large ignorant of each other, lacking in mutual sympathy or trust, and inclined to idealize or despise each other to an extent not found in other European cultures. This typically produced the goddess or whore syndrome (woman as idealized phantasm, or vicious, disillusioning reality), or, for women, the Heathcliff or Linton syndrome – dark, romantic, dangerous stranger or pallid, conventional wimp. These deep-seated stereotypes, the fantasies of a centuries-long gender-separated upbringing, have left their traces even in the supposed sexual cornucopia of the present age. 

            This lack of sympathy between the sexes in England is reflected in English manners over the last three centuries, as commented on by foreigners. Chief among these was the peculiar upper class custom of the men dismissing the women after dinner to retire to another room while they got down to drinking and discussing men’s affairs: politics, business, hunting  and war. It was a subject of ironical commentary by baffled foreign visitors, such as César de Saussure in the 18th century. He concluded that the men “generally prefer drinking and gambling to female company.” He also thought Englishwomen much nicer than men, because they did not despise foreigners and often preferred them to their own countrymen. Another Frenchman, Joseph Fiévée, commented with indignation in 1802:


It is because they want to get down to drinking that Englishmen get the women to withdraw after dinner. Often at eleven o’clock at night they’re still sat around the same table while the women are yawning their heads off in some upstairs drawing-room. 17


The rudeness or indifference of Englishmen towards their women is what now struck the continental visitor, whereas two hundred years before it had been all the contrary. In 1575 another visitor, Emmanuel Van Meteren, had reported: 


Women are entirely in the power of their husbands …  yet they are not kept as strictly as Spain or elsewhere. Nor are they shut up, but they have free management of the house and housekeeping. They are well dressed, fond of taking it easy and commonly leave the care of household matters and drudgery to their servants. In all banquets and feasts they are shown the highest honour, they are placed at the upper end of the table where they are the first served. …That is why England is called the Hell of Horses, the Purgatory of Servants and the Paradise of Married Women.  18 


This is indeed a contrast. Observers seem to concur that Englishwomen in the earlier period (perhaps up until the Civil War, since we find the same comments in 1617 by a German traveller) were the centre of attention, and in the later period (perhaps after the victory of militant Protestantism in 1688) were gradually marginalized and less esteemed. It is in the 18th century that we start to find Englishwomen complaining about their treatment. Mary Astell in 1700 stigmatized marriage as slavery, and portrayed men as taking themselves for God. 19 Her friend Lady Mary Wortley Montagu complained that English marriage laws were far less fair to women in matters of property than the Roman law generally in force on the continent (hence Van Meteren’s remark about being “in the power of their husbands”.) 20 England, paradoxically, was at this time regarded by other European countries as a model of liberal, constitutional government, because of the 1688 revolution which had installed a constitutional monarchy and an all-powerful, if unrepresentative, parliament. The relative political freedom of England contrasted, as we shall see in a later section, with a legal position of women that was worse than on the continent.  Part of this may be related to the separation of the education of upper class boys from any female influence whatsoever. They scarcely got to know even their sisters. The smug, contemptuously sexist, over-masculinized culture which became so insufferable in the Victorian period already had its roots in the England of the 18th century. Later of course it spread its influence all over Europe, as the widely adopted Napoleonic Code imposed the same legal disadvantages on women as they suffered from in England.





            We have suggested the English public school system was above all violent and pitiless, and instilled a sense of life as a ruthless combat. It tended to brutalize the boys psychologically into a suppression of all emotion and a hiding of all weakness. We have also noted how it estranged the sexes from each other and made Englishmen ill at ease in expressing love for women, and seemingly more superficial in their love than the exuberant continentals. But there are other important influences of the English public school system. It gave boys a sense of tribal loyalty, and not just to the school but even to their particular house within the school – which translates in the real world into a kind of loyalty to gang or clique. There were young men who died in the trenches of the First World War with the name of their school house on their lips. This narrow loyalty certainly prepared them well for the regimental system, whereby the British army has developed group solidarity to a rare degree by the simple device of making the group that is the focus of loyalty very small. But above all the public school trained boys in a deep respect for a complex, subtle system of rank and hierarchy. It imbued a reverence for institutional hierarchies which overrode all other notions of social status or personal worth. This was vitally important training for institutions such as the army. One’s social rank in the outside world had little relevance to the position one occupied in the ranking of the school. Stories have circulated even in quite recent times of princes at public schools having their heads shoved down toilets on a regular basis. Whatever you were outside the institution did not protect you from the harsh rules and pecking order inside. The public schools evolved a peculiar hierarchy of distinctions and honours, often involving the right to particular variations in the school uniform, depending on one’s year or on one’s membership in the top sports teams. This was extraordinarily similar to the cult of regimental honours and the various ranks and distinctions in the armed forces. Here is Robert Graves’ description of some of the more Byzantine aspects of the dress code at his school, on the eve of the First World War. 


The social code of Charterhouse rested on a strict caste system; the caste marks or post-te’s, being slight distinctions in dress. A new boy had no privileges at all; a boy in his second term might wear a knitted tie instead of a plain one; a boy in his second year might wear coloured socks; the third year gave most of the main privileges – turned down collars, coloured handkerchiefs, a coat with a long roll, and so on; fourth year, a few more such as the right to get up raffles; but peculiar distinctions were reserved for the bloods. These included light grey flannel trousers, butterfly collars, jackets slit up the back, and the right of walking arm-in-arm.21 


He then recounts a sort of revolution, which he calls “the bravest deed ever done at Charterhouse”, when three sixth form scholars (who happened to be good boxers) usurped the privileges of the bloods (the members of the cricket and football first elevens) by walking arm-in-arm into Chapel one Sunday wearing the light-grey flannel trousers, slit jackets and butterfly collars reserved for the sporting heroes. The failure of the bloods to exact retribution for this act of caste rebellion led to a decline in their prestige from which they never recovered.

This petty war over dress makes comical reading today. But it accurately mirrors the obsession with dress privileges of the regimental system. Graves took this obsession quite seriously. He proudly related an incident involving the “flash”, the bunch of ribbons once used to tie the pigtails of soldiers (who had long hair till the early 19th century.) “The flash is stitched to the back of the collar, and only the Royal Welch are privileged to wear it.” This is the result of an incident in the 1830’s, when the regiment were reprimanded for not having cut off their pigtails in line with the new orders, which they had not in fact received in their overseas posting. Their incensed commanding officer rode at a gallop to London and obtained the right to wear the flash from King William IV in recognition of the regiment’s “exemplary service during the Napoleonic wars”. Graves recounts with evident pride that once in 1917 when an officer of his company went to be decorated with the Military Cross at Buckingham palace, King George as Colonel-in-Chief of the regiment took a personal interest in the flash. After ordering the man to turn around so he could look at it, he remarked. “You’re still wearing it, I see.” And then in a stage whisper: “Don’t let anyone take it from you.”  22

Again the obsession with the symbolism of trivialities of dress is difficult in this day and age to comprehend. It appears to be an infantilization of grown men, to make them obsessed with ribbons and baubles as the highest honours. Napoleon, instituting the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration, cynically remarked that men are ruled by means of baubles (the French word he used, hochet, in fact means a baby’s rattle.) But the point here is the extraordinary similarity of the world of the public school and the world of the regiment. They are worlds where life-and-death concepts of honour, pride, and caste superiority are attached to symbols of an almost comical silliness. One is reminded of Swift’s satire on the murderous dispute of the Big and Little-Endians over how to eat a boiled egg. But one can see how the entire public school culture prepared men for the army as a simple progression from one caste-based, symbol-ridden, ritual-obsessed, rigidly hierarchical institution to another. 




The relative absence of maternal or sisterly love in the experience of Anglo-Saxon boyhood is compensated for by a cult of friendship. In all the great books about life at English public schools, from Tom Brown’s Schooldays to Kipling’s Stalky and Co., the main positive value is friendship. Friendship and all the virtues that go to make it up – loyalty, generosity, forgiveness, tolerance of faults, self-sacrifice, courage, support in adversity – redeem all the evils, the suffering, the persecution, the bullying. It is hard to avoid concluding that friendship becomes a cult in Anglo-Saxon literature of the Masculine Century – from Victorian times to the Vietnam war – precisely because of the absence, or rather the tepidness, of love between the sexes or within the family. You find it already in Dickens, in poignant relationships like that between the orphan Pip and his brother-in-law, Joe (presented less as a family member than a true friend.) It is the dominant subject of Mark Twain, and figures prominently in the works of Melville and Jack London as they explore the masculine world of men fighting the elements. In the adventure and seafaring stories of Stephenson, Maryatt, Kipling and Conrad (also largely worlds without women), friendship plays a similar leading role. In novels like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, friendship is the main emotional relationship, the source of the courage of the heroes as well as the poignancy of the story. It is central to The Wind in the Willows and almost all children’s stories of the past hundred and fifty years. Enid Blyton based most of her stories on friends, from the Secret Seven and Famous Five to Noddy and Big-Ears. The situation of three or four friends is the foundation of much English writing in this period, to the same extent that the premise of boy meets girl is the basis of most continental writing. The isolation of boys from their families in the British public school, as well as situations such as life at sea, and the American theme of a special male destiny of revolt and combat with the wilderness, are the main contexts for this cult of friendship. It is in many ways a throwback to the early medieval period (The Niebelungenlied turns much on male friendship and betrayal, with women as cause of conflict) and beyond that to the classical society in which women were marginalized. The notion that men’s friendship is more reliable and constant than women’s love is a commonplace of classical literature, which finds an early expression in Hesiod (who recommends boys over women, and not just as friends.) It is partly eclipsed by the long period of the cult of love between the sexes beginning in the 12th century, but we still find echoes of it later – in Hamlet’s choice of Horatio as his special friend, after casting off the weak, manipulated Ophelia. Friendship emerges centre-stage in the Victorian age, and reaches its apotheosis in Ian Forster: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I would have the guts to betray my country.” As a famous critic of Forster pointed out, this is the result of the closet homosexual feeling encouraged by the public school system, and Forster is really idealizing not friendship but the memory of his first romantic crush on another schoolboy. An atmosphere of heavily emotional friendship informs much of the secret intelligence community of the 1930’s, with its famous homosexual traitors and double agents – all of it echoed more recently in the spy novels of John Le Carré. Male friendship was of course given a huge boost by the two world wars, where it seemed to be the only human element left in a world gone mad. The kind of card-playing masculine fellowship established during tedious wartime confinement in bunkers and ships had a long afterlife, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Its institutionalization in America in customs like the weekly men’s card night even provoked the fury and jealousy of the Women’s Liberation movement – and the need for male bonding was vigorously defended by the Lionel Tiger school of anthropology. Today the cult of same-sex friendship plays a role in comforting the convictions of the newly emerged homosexual sub-culture. Friendship becomes life’s chief value for gay philosophers like Michel Foucault. The gay sub-culture has sought to interpret many of the famous male friendships of the past as closet homosexual ones. It is almost a litmus test of political correctness for academics to accept that Shakespeare was the homosexual lover of his patron, the Earl of Southampton, and that Homer’s Achilles was the lover of Patroclus – even though the only solid evidence of sexual relationships in both cases is of heterosexual ones (a wife, mistress and daughter in one case, a captive girl concubine and son in the other.) There is an attempt by the gay culture of today to reduce all male friendship to homosexuality, but this reductionism distorts the variety and complexity of relationships in various cultures. Teenage boys in the villages of Crete in the 1970’s walked hand-in-hand in the streets, while denying indignantly that they were homosexual lovers. The cult of friendship has often been strongest in societies (such as the ancient German or the modern Australasian) which were violently intolerant of homosexuality. Friendship has a long history as an institutionalized custom quite distinct from homosexual relations (conscious or unconscious), just as friendship exists in some other species, where it generally has nothing whatever to do with sex.  





            Friendship is analysed by the famous ethologist and zoologist Konrad Lorenz as inherently dependent on a culture of aggression. Lorenz observed that friendships do not form in non-aggressive species, such as most large herbivores. For an antelope all the other antelopes in the herd are interchangeable: they have no special friends. Among geese, on the other hand, there are friendships – and geese are exceptionally aggressive creatures. They gang up on one another and fight continually, and their alliances and friendships are long-term. Geese that are friends perform a ceremonial greeting which Lorenz called “the triumph ceremony”. He analysed it as a symbolic aborted attack : one goose feints an attack on an imaginary enemy, and then together they celebrate their joint victory over this enemy. The friendship greeting is thus a mock attack, followed by shared expressions of triumph. 23

Now Lorenz does not go into the echoes of this behaviour among human beings, but it is clear that the mock attack as friendship greeting is a widespread human custom. Almost all gestures of friendship among men in the English-speaking world today are mock attacks. The slap on the back, the punch on the chest, the high five slap of the palm, even the strong handshake, especially the recently popular vertical handshake which mimics an arm-wrestling grip, are all aggressive gestures used as a sign of friendship. Among African-Americans (who seem to have originated such greetings as the high-five slap) it is becoming common to point a finger at the other, in the shape of an imaginary pistol – the greeting is a mock shooting. The idea behind these greetings seems to be that in demonstrating one’s capacity for aggression, one demonstrates the value of one’s friendship. It is then a cause for mutual celebration that this aggressive potential is not to be used against the other, but is there for the purposes of common defence. This mirrors exactly what takes place among geese and cranes, and for the same apparent purpose.

Most of these aggressive forms of friendship greeting are relatively recent, and particularly associated with Anglo-Saxon and Germanic cultures as they entered their militaristic phases over the past hundred and fifty years. All military salutes are mock threats of a slap, and are used playfully this way among schoolboys. The mock attack as greeting culminates in the Nazi salute, where the arm is extended like a sword, spear or bayonet, accompanied by a grim expression of hostility. The spread of these greetings in the last hundred years or so is a striking symbol of the masculinization and militarization of culture. Before that the commonest greeting in Europe, which still remains common in the South, was the kiss, a symbolic imitation of the caresses of lovers or parents. This was also the customary greeting in England until the end of the eighteenth century, when it abruptly disappeared, as we have seen. The disappearance of the kiss, its replacement by the more aggressive handshake, was part of that enormous change of style, from colourful cloaks and long hair to sober black suits and short hair, which marked the start of the nineteenth century, the beginning of the shift towards a militaristic, over-masculine age. Even though this new sartorial sobriety spread across Europe, the extreme anti-sensuality which banished even the kiss as greeting was confined largely to Britain and the Protestant north. It represents the triumph of Puritan middle-class culture, repressive of all emotional display and replacing sensuality by aggression – the same culture which had played a key role in founding the United States. The two societies (which Hawthorne had contrasted in The Scarlet Letter, set in the 17th century, when England still had a libertine aristocratic culture) align themselves closely in the 19th century, where the Anglo-Saxon world seems to form a unity, based on the shared values of aggressive masculinity, emotional and sexual repression and male friendship. 

This whole Victorian culture is still to an extraordinary degree what we instinctively think of as “modern” in the Anglo-Saxon world. We still have short hair, and dark suits are still the only formal dress allowed for men. We still have a horror of physical contact among men and cannot bring ourselves to kiss one another’s cheeks in greeting. Any move to do so would at once be regarded as “gay” – one of the many ways in which the new homosexual cult has in fact barred the way to any change in men’s behaviour by appropriating and branding various forms of behaviour as belonging to its own sub-culture. There are some signs that the kiss as greeting between men and women is making a tentative come-back among trendy younger people in  London – as a demonstration of their continental chic. The same thing could be observed among young “alternative” people in Berlin in the 1970’s – determined to bring back home the customs acquired on their Mediterranean holidays (not only was there much kissing of cheeks, but ciao tended to displace tschüss.) But it is being counteracted by the spread of the aggressive African-American palm slap among teenagers today all over the continent of Europe. It has been observed that the kiss as greeting is giving way to the palm slap even in France, among those young people who identify with the hip-hop music craze. This is more important than it might seem. A culture based on extreme aggression, a culture of gang violence, is making inroads into the last areas of Europe where the ancient, non-aggressive, affectionate greeting, the kiss, still reigns (even frequently between men, especially in the south.) A form of greeting which is a challenging expression of mock aggression is edging out the old expression of affection. It has been observed in studies of children in MacDonald nurseries world-wide that American children touch one another affectionately only half as many times as French children, and express aggression thirty times more often. Lack of kissing and cuddling in childhood is now recognized as one of the root causes of violent behaviour in later life. It is vitally important therefore that the kiss as greeting should survive in Europe and resist the violent trends of America, which are being insidiously exported under the banner of a rebellious ghetto “black culture”. These black American ghetto fashions do not reflect African values: they represent the trickling down into the black American underclass of the aggressive, puritan culture of the Anglo-Saxon pioneers. Whether these trends will be resisted in Europe for long remains to be seen. What is clear is that in the United States, the levels of violent street crime and the fashion for rap music glorifying the culture of gang violence, militate strongly in favour of the spread of over-masculine aggressive behaviour. The palm slap, the most aggressive of greetings, looks set to remain firmly in power there and to make progress world-wide against the kiss on the cheek. 




            Another aspect of the aggressive, over-masculinized culture that gradually rose to dominance in the course of the nineteenth century was a tendency towards the inarticulate, the taciturn, a cult of silence and the non-verbal. Along with the suppression of sensual display (the colourful clothes and long hair of the 18th century), the suppression of affectionate gestures (the kiss replaced by the handshake), went the suppression of emotional display and verbal expressiveness. Men became strong silent types – more taciturn, laconic, terse of utterance, less eloquent, articulate or verbal than any men before them. We have come to see this as so much a part of modernity that we do not even pause to question it or look for its origins. Yet like all things it has causes, roots, a history; it did not spring from nowhere. How did modern Western men (and above all English-speakers) become a tongue-tied race?

The disease is recent. The thing that strikes any modern reader of eighteenth and even nineteenth century English literature is the extraordinary verbosity of the characters. They do not merely talk; they make long speeches to one another. Their pronouncements are not merely lengthy; they are also extremely well-turned, elegant and rhetorical. Our first thought is to put this down to the style of writing of the time, which was perhaps less attuned to noting the exact way people spoke, and how it differed from written discourse. But the emergence in nineteenth century literature of talented mimics of class and regional accents and personal idiosyncrasies of speech, who also represented the speech of the educated classes as extremely well-formed, eloquent and rhetorical, removes any doubt that this was in fact the way people spoke. Over the past hundred years then we have seen a striking decline in the eloquence and loquacity of people – in the copiousness of discourse, its complex sentence structures, and its elegance of style. The twentieth century has seen the triumph of the inarticulate.

Since verbal expressiveness and talkativeness have been found by researchers to be above all feminine qualities, and inversely related to levels of male hormone, this decline of articulate speech can be seen as an important part of what we have called the masculinization of Western humanity over the past hundred or so years. Language is in fact acquired differently by men and women, using different parts of their brains. The language skills related to grammar, spelling and writing are all more specifically located in the left side of a woman’s brain. In a man they are spread in the front and back part of the brain. As with mathematical and spatial skills, it seems to be the sex that concentrates this ability in one area of the brain that has an advantage. Girls on average learn to talk earlier than boys and master a much bigger vocabulary and more complex sentences at an earlier age. Women generally achieve higher scores than men on verbal IQ tests, while men achieve better scores on spatial ones. Language school teachers have long noticed that the top classes are always full of girls. Girls seem both abler and more motivated to achieve the highest level of proficiency in a foreign language. Popular attitudes associate loquacity with femininity. We think instinctively of the very masculine man as being a “strong silent type”, and the feminine woman as being a chatterbox. A man who talks too much, especially when others aren’t really listening and he doesn’t use this skill to dominate, is thought of as rather effeminate and lightweight. A woman who talks too little, unless it is through shyness, seems rather masculine and dour. Whole peoples seem more masculine or feminine than others through their fondness or lack of fondness for conversation. Tight-lipped Nordic men seem somehow more masculine (at least in their own eyes) than chattering Italians. The degree of animation in talking is also an indicator of femininity. Women typically move their hands more, have a greater range of facial expressions as they speak, have a greater variety of tone and pitch of voice. A man who displays any of these traits is thought of as effeminate. Women in conversation seem to take far longer to tell a story than men and tell it with far more dramatic detail. Their talk is more emotional, more personal and confiding, and is used more subtly to express their relations with each other, making more use of irony, mimicry, sarcasm as well as emotion. The single biggest complaint of women about their husbands is: “He doesn’t talk to me.” Men are hardly ever heard to make this criticism of their wives.

Anyone trying to project a masculine image will simplify his language and not use too many long words. John Wayne (a bright schoolboy and avid reader) was notorious among interviewers for asking with a sneer: “What the hell does that mean?” when a word longer than two syllables was used. 24 Despising fancy talk and egghead words was part of his tough-guy image. George Bush junior based his presidential campaign on a country-boy image of down-home language and contempt for intellectual subtleties. His dyslexia and frequent mistakes in the use of words, far from making him ridiculous in the eyes of ordinary Americans, reinforced his rough-hewn, no-nonsense populist image. In the roughest, most masculine cultures (Texas, the Australian outback), a facility in using big words is considered not just bookish and pretentious, but above all sissy and faggish.  

            It seems then that the decline over the past century of eloquence and verbal expressiveness represents again a growing preponderance of masculine traits in the Western (and especially  the Anglo-Saxon) character. The question becomes: what are the mechanisms through which this new inarticulacy has come about? In the course of the 20th century we can identify  several social trends in this direction : the rise of working class culture as opposed to a better-spoken upper class culture (the cowboy, gangster, or chorus girl replace the sophisticated socialite as cinema hero in the 1950’s); the new influence of country and regional cultures as opposed to urban cultures (notably in the cult of the Western, with its glorification of the rural labourer); and in the Anglo-Saxon world, the increasing dominance of American culture as opposed to British culture, with its more refined, literary tastes and verbal sophistication. As America asserted its place in the world, it emancipated itself from the cultural influence of Britain, stopped trying to imitate British aristocratic culture, and asserted its own tough pioneering, cowboy traditions as a new cultural ideal. This was reflected in the change towards more American, less Anglicized, accents and speech patterns in the cinema in the 1950’s. British culture had, as we have seen, also undergone a transformation of the male image throughout the 19th century as the empire expanded. The time spent by men at sea or in the army or on colonial postings in a rough man’s world, and the stiff upper lip culture of the public school, all contributed to a more taciturn, inarticulate way of speaking. But by far the most important element in the toughening of men’s image and speech in the 20th century was the influence of war. The trenches were a place where eloquence suddenly became misplaced and a tough laconic style of speech took over. British officers began talking more like their men. There was at least a partial breakdown in the huge class gap in ways of speaking, as swearing became universal and non-saying became the new code. The world wars, which made the ordinary soldier a hero, played a crucial role in the democratization of culture and the rise in influence of working class speech. The laconic style of Hemingway in his war books became hugely influential throughout the English-speaking world. Finally we have the fashionableness of women imitating men’s behaviour, which the war partly brought about. We notice after 1918 women adopting more laconic speech, along with short hair, sun tans, cigarettes and greater sexual freedom. This masculinization was also part of the women’s emancipation movement – a rejection of the feminine stereotype derived from the old aristocratic culture, and a sense that a masculine style was the only way to get respect. In the novels of Hemingway (as well as Chandler, Hammet and others) we see women speaking in the same laconic, tough-guy way as men, and they do the same in films.





            When we talk of the rise of working class culture, what we mean is its increasing influence on mainstream literature, theatre, film and fashion, and therefore on the way people of other classes spoke and behaved. Nineteenth century American writers such as Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane and Jack London draw many of their characters from the poorly educated labouring class (frontiersmen, trappers, sailors, farm-boys, vagabonds, cowboys, gold-diggers.) Starting with the early Indian stories of Cooper, the Western gradually develops into a major literary genre after the Civil War, and in the twentieth century becomes a major cinema genre. The Western hero is typically a working class hero, and through this film genre the speech and behaviour of the American rural labourer, the cowboy, came to have a major influence (in its fictionalized form) on American culture as a whole. The values of courage, physical strength, fighting ability, pugnacity, endurance, as well as honesty and loyalty to friends – the typical values of any labouring class – are consecrated as the values of American manhood. The understated, laconic speech of this uneducated cowboy hero thus becomes a model of masculine speech in general. The same is true with the rise of the gangster movie in the 1930’s and the film noir in the 1950’s, where the laconic, slangy insults and put-downs of street hoodlums became a fashionable way of talking. The war film, more often about ordinary soldiers than officers, adds to the range of working class heroes. It is interesting to compare the relatively polished, British-sounding accent favoured in most American films of the 1930’s with the far rougher, more pronounced American accent beginning in movies of the 1940’s and 1950’s. And in this latter period we also see the emergence of actors who play working class roles well, because they were in fact working class: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, John Wayne. Films stop being mostly about high society millionaires taking midnight dips in their swimming pools and begin dealing with less well-bred people – low-life detectives, waitresses, barroom dancers, petty criminals, soldiers, gangsters, pioneers and cowboys. And their language changes accordingly. In the American literature of the period there is a similar interest in “low-life” characters, speaking the language of the mean streets, and many of the famous detective films are based on novels by popular writers like Dashiel Hammet, Raymond Chandler or Mickey Spillane, who took delight in hard-bitten, colourful street language. In novels about the countryside there is a similar concentration on the lives of ordinary Americans, and Faulkner and Steinbeck make the speech rhythms of the rural working class something familiar to the whole world. This emergence of the working class as a subject of literary and cinematic treatment, and their speech as a new element in literature, was not confined to America. The same thing happened in Britain at about the same time.  




After a brief appearance in the subplots of Elizabethan comedy, the working classes made a triumphant re-entry into literature in the mid-nineteenth century with Dickens. His cockney characters, like Sam Weller, became instant favourites. Even more significant is the figure of Joe in Great Expectations, because Joe’s heavy, droll, muddled, incoherent way of speaking, and his long meditative silences, become a symbol of the true virtues of honesty, fidelity, and goodness of heart, which the hero, with his social and class aspirations, has foolishly turned his back on, under the influence of his fatal attraction to the snobbish little minx next door. Pip’s ascent in society, due to the money mysteriously left him by the convict he once saved, is symbolized by the increasing refinement of his language and manners. These are hilariously mocked by the vulgar young thug, Trab’s boy, who attacks him for his airs and graces when he goes back home. Along with his upper class speech, Pip adopts an attitude of snobbery towards his own origins, which he finally comes to recognize as insufferable, as he understands the rare loyalty and decency of Joe. Here we have a striking literary alignment of inarticulate, laconic speech with honest virtue, while fancy speech is associated with falsehood and pretension. This pattern is to have a long and rich history over the next century and a half.  Dickens had already worked the vein thoroughly in Hard Times. The girl from the circus, Sissy, when asked by the teacher Gradgrind to define a horse, is struck speechless. She is quite incapable of defining a horse in words, even though her father trains horses and she works with them every day. Bitzer, the boy who turns out to be a minor villain, can rattle off the verbal definition of a horse without any real knowledge of them at all.


“Quadruped. Gramnivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth and twelve incisors. Sheds coat in the spring…..”etc.

“Now, girl number twenty,” said Mr Gradgrind, “you know what a horse is.” 25


Sissy’s muteness before the idiocy of the question becomes a comment on the futility and superficiality of book-learning, as opposed to the real experiences of life. This becomes another aspect of the cult of the inarticulate: a lack of words shows not merely greater honesty, but closer contact with real experience. The major villain of this novel is of course the smooth, suavely voluble young aristocrat who uses his gift of the gab to try to seduce an honest girl. On the side of the angels are the honest worker, Stephen, with his excruciating local dialect and incoherent repetitive speech (“It’s aw a muddle”) and the lower-class circus characters with their quaint cockney slang and hearts of gold. With the alignment of evil with the aristocracy and the factory owners, and good with the honest working classes, we have a pattern of class morality that will be a recurrent theme in literature well into the 20th century. But for our purposes it is important to note how the good characters are laconic and tongue-tied while the bad are well-spoken and voluble. There is perhaps in this a hint of the old Puritan distrust of language as the instrument of the serpent, the subtlest beast of the field, who conned our mother Eve with fancy words. The English Puritans of the 17th century closed the theatres as the instruments of Satan. And the working class movements of the nineteenth century, as well as the rising entrepreneurial class of Non-conformist Protestant religion, are direct descendants of the Puritans of the 17th century, and heavily imbued with their attitudes. Fancy speech is as much distrusted as fancy dress in the peculiar class war of the age.  

A new dimension is added by DH Lawrence. Here the working class, in the person of Lady Chatterley’s gamekeeper, becomes the repository not merely of honesty and earthy reality, but also of deep sexual wisdom and potency. The decadent, effete, over-sophisticated and impotent aristocracy can only be redeemed by a torrid sexual encounter with the inarticulate working class, expressing itself in guttural provincial dialect, generously laced with four-letter words. Redemption for the aristocratic lady (married frustratingly but also symbolically to a man crippled in the war) consists (as we saw earlier) of being sodomized in the mud by a foul-mouthed gamekeeper. She must also adopt his poverty of language and taciturnity for the therapy to work. Lawrence’s preference for anal intercourse may well be a personal idiosyncrasy, but in the dog position normally adopted for this purpose it is arguably the sexual act which involves the least communication between the parties. They do not even make eye contact during proceedings, let alone talk. Lawrence throughout his work shows an ambivalence towards words, which can never get as close to emotion as gesture and act. In Women in Love the lovers Birkin and Ursula argue themselves to exhaustion before abandoning the verbal game in a sort of despair and proceeding, without any intermediate show of emotion, to the physical act. Male friendship in the book is expressed by wrestling naked rather than the usual verbal banter. Words are a deception, a veil over reality, and for Lawrence the deepest experiences are always wordless. It is no accident that his work ends with the progressive reduction of the vocabulary of the protagonists, as Lady Chatterley and the gamekeeper fashion a sort of private baby-talk out of his dialect and pet words for their sexual organs. No adult language is really needed any longer, since only the sexual act itself is an adequate expression for the new, holy, primitive bond that unites them.

As the century progresses we have the rise of working class authors by the shoal, and the establishment of working class language in both Britain and America as the dominant literary dialect. There are differences. America’s popular language was first famously exploited for literary purposes by Mark Twain, and it was the language of rural schoolboys and vagabonds. In twentieth century American fiction, the popular language is more heavily influenced by the slang of the criminal underclass, and becomes the hard-boiled style of writers like Dashiel Hammet and Damon Runyon between the wars. In Britain there is a current of rural dialect exploited in Hardy and others to provide local colour, but urban working class language emerges later as part of a new politically-tinged class consciousness. The working class way of talking comes to the fore as part of the social and intellectual movement of non-upper class writers after the Second World War, including playwrights such as Pinter, Arden, Osborne and Wesker. This working class speech is not only seen as politically progressive but also as more real, earthy, closer to the hard reality of life as it is lived. The strong sense that low-life experiences are more real than high-life ones, that the rich live in a sheltered cocoon while the poor face gritty reality, runs deep through twentieth century attitudes. Jack Kerouac’s street-language celebration of a drug-centred subterranean youth culture has spawned offspring right into the nineties, notably in Britain, where the generation of Ecstasy and cocaine have simply borrowed his old clothes. But the new writers have given up Kerouac’s attempt (notably in The Subterraneans) to invent a new poetic language, a style of riffs and jazz rhythms that owes much to Céline. Instead they merely reduce their characters’ vocabulary to a few hundred words, many of them polyvalent swear-words, without any particular striving for inventiveness. Here is an opening two lines from Irving Welsh:


There’s us fucking sitting out in the car-park, in the back of the van. No cunt wants our fucking gear; it’s all been a waste of bleeding time.  26


Without making any judgement about the literary merits of this, one is struck by the narrowing of the range of language. And this kind of writing reinforces the central tenet of the cult of the inarticulate: that the working class, marginal, lumpenproletariat or criminal class are really there, in the centre, living; the fancy bourgeois verbalizers are only watching life from the sidelines. To get inside late 20th century experience as it really is you have to get rid of the verbal veil – reduce your vocabulary to three hundred words, many of them with four letters. Here we see the crossroads of inarticulateness with all the other masculine preoccupations – violence, aggression, toughness, drug-addiction and sexual promiscuity – that have given the last half-century its peculiar flavour. It is one of the paradoxes that we get the extreme form of this cult of the masculine and the inarticulate in literature when the 20th century is at an end, and this entire cult has become not much more than a pose. In Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe hilariously shows the lawyers of New York City, graduates of famous universities, sitting around with knees splayed like football jocks, confining their talk to four-letter words, slang and the grammatical errors of illiterate, black street dialect – all in the cause of gritty machismo. One wonders if this ever happened in any other age –  if Cicero and his friends from the law courts slouched about rapping in the slang of the gladiators. It is highly doubtful. This is a peculiar and unique twentieth century phenomenon, and it is confined largely to the Anglo-Saxon world, not merely because of the tough pioneer cult of the Americans, but partly because of the peculiarities of the English language. 





There is a dimension of the cult of inarticulateness, of taciturnity, of distrust of verbal expressiveness, that is specifically Anglo-Saxon. It has always surprised me how little attention has been given to the peculiar relationship that English-speakers have with their language because of its hybrid nature. English developed after the Norman invasion as a kind of merger between the French of the Norman conquerors, the new landowners, and the Germanic dialect spoken by the Saxons (as the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Danes and assimilated Celtic remnants who made up the mass of peasantry tended to be called from then on.) This linguistic fusion did not happen by design or in any planned way. In fact nobody knows exactly how it happened. We know that the Normans in England kept speaking French for over two hundred years as their native language, but their geographic isolation from the continent made their French seem more and more bizarre to continental ears. They imposed French on England as the language of government and the law courts, which it remained till the mid-fourteenth century. But the Normans were a small minority, and after the loss of Normandy to the French king in 1204 would have begun to feel more of an English identity. Presumably the need for the two peoples of England to communicate would have led to efforts on both sides to learn the other language. Somehow during this process a merging of languages took place, and Old English got Frenchified into Middle English. It may have happened in two ways. We may surmise that as the French-speaking Normans began in the 12th and 13th centuries to learn to speak what had been Old English, they transferred into it masses of words from their native French, supplying the gaps in their vocabulary and transforming English grammar and sentence structures in line with their own language. Or, we may equally speculate that the better-off and more upwardly mobile among the Saxons found themselves obliged to learn French, the language of law and government in England for three hundred years, and from their bilingualism they introduced into their native Anglo-Saxon a mass of French words – much as educated Algerians today pepper their Arabic with French words, or educated Indians sprinkle their Hindi with English expressions. Whether it was the bilingualism of the Normans or of the Saxons that was the main agent of change it is perhaps no longer possible to discover. But the bilingualism of one or the other or of both is the only explanation for the profound transformation of the English language between the 11th and 14th centuries, from a purely Germanic language to one that had (as it still has today) a roughly equal number of words of French and Germanic origin, and a sentence structure similar to French. Only with these changes did English become a sophisticated enough language to express complex abstract ideas as easily as French or Latin, something essential for it to begin displacing these rivals as the speech of the educated class in England.

This process took nearly three hundred years. It was probably not till about 1300 that  the Norman ruling class overwhelmingly adopted English as their everyday speech. A decree of parliament in 1332 urges that “lords, barons, knights and honest men of good towns should exercise care and diligence to teach their children the French language,” making clear that French had ceased to be their mother tongue. 27 Even from the mid 13th century we find treatises for teaching French (as a foreign language), and a little later monastery rules insisting that French and not English should be spoken by the monks. 28 When it came to writing literary works Chaucer in the latter half of the fourteenth century could still have chosen French, which remained the language of the court (because Richard II, like many Plantagenet kings, was raised in France) and, during his childhood, of the law. Only in 1362 were proceedings in courts of law finally switched to English, in recognition that this was now the majority language even of the upper class. The Hundred Years War with France (which really lasted 250 years) began (in its first phase) in the 12th century reign of Henry II (who was born in France, the Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou, and never learned to speak English) as a war between two French-speaking aristocratic classes both with roots and family estates in France. It ended up 200 years later as a war between Frenchmen and Englishmen, as the new language spread to the ruling class in England and gradually transformed them into a nation apart. (It was Joan of Arc’s brilliant discovery that the English were foreigners, and not French at all; she must have heard English Norman knights jabbering their new language.) The adoption of a single tongue finally unified England as a nation, and French began to be stigmatized as a foreign language, which Shakespeare would soon take pleasure in belittling: “The chopping French we do not understand.” 29 And as the Norman ruling elite adopted English, they were at the same time being gradually expelled from the lands they held on the French mainland, till the Channel was finally established as the boundary between the two nations. The Hundred Years War may be described not so much as an English attempt to conquer France, but as a war of expulsion from France of the French conquerors of England, and the ending of their territorial rights in France. Such an expulsion was made inevitable by feudal law. The Plantagenet kings of England kept trying to tie their ancestral French possessions to the English crown instead of the French one – since they refused to do homage to the French king – which meant in effect annexing parts of France to England. The French refusal to accept the fairly solid claim of Edward III to the throne of France, preferring a Frenchman of less direct line, was a sign that they no longer regarded the Normans of England as part of the wider French-speaking world (as they did the Burgundians, the Occitans and the Provencals.) The rupture was consummated by war.  

But the period of nearly three hundred years during which Early Middle English was spoken by the native Anglo-Saxons and French by the Norman ruling class, and the radical degree to which French influenced the native language, have both left their mark on the way the different elements of the language are perceived. It is often forgotten that the Norman occupation was, in the early days, one of the cruellest and most brutal in European history. We may surmise that the innovations introduced into English, either by the French-speaking Normans or by the class of upwardly mobile (“collaborationist”) Saxons – the transfer of thousands of French words into the old English language – encountered a certain resistance on the part of the mass of resentful and oppressed Saxon natives. The latter may well have avoided using these new words and stigmatized them as “foreign”. As the Normans and the class of collaborationist Saxons (an inevitable accompaniment of any foreign occupation) began speaking between them a form of English laced with French words, it would have been natural for the mass of native Saxons – subjugated, dispossessed and embittered – to despise and reject these new words as foreign gobbledegook. Any Saxon peasant who used the new French borrowings may well have been seen not merely as pretentious, but as a traitor, identifying himself with the hated occupiers. It is perhaps to this experience of linguistic conquest and resistance that we can trace the peculiar attitudes which English speakers have to their language even to this day. The French (or Latin) elements in the English language are still instinctively regarded as pretentious and snobbish by a good part of the working class. “Posh” or upper-class language is essentially vocabulary of French origin. Popular speech is dominated by the Anglo-Saxon element. A child learns first of all the Germanic words of English. The basic verbs: come, go, see, hear, run, laugh, make, do, and the basic nouns: milk, butter, bread, mouse, cat, cow, land, man, wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, house, home are all Germanic, and easily comprehensible to a modern German, who at once relates them to kommen, gehen, sehen, hoeren, Milch, Butter, Brot, Maus, etc. A children’s story is told largely in Germanic words (and most of our children’s tales, thanks to Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, have a distinctly Nordic or Germanic feel about them.) But when an English-speaking child gets to ten or eleven, he begins to learn an abstract vocabulary, most of which comes from French. The entire sentence you are focusing your attention on at the moment contains an exclusively French (ultimately Latin) vocabulary, except for the articles, pronouns, conjunctions, and prepositions, and a solitary auxiliary verb. You will notice that all the Germanic words in that sentence have just one short syllable, and several of the French words have four syllables and as many as twelve letters (almost half the alphabet). Many people of low education never achieve a comfortable mastery of the French element of our language. In self-defence, they continue to despise it as the posh language of a “foreign” ruling class.

It is noticeable that the British upper classes still use far more words of French origin in their vocabulary than the lower classes do. Any yokel wanting to talk in a “posh” or “educated” way will start using longer, French-origin words, and the tendency to get them wrong is mocked as early as Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing in the figure of Dogberry. This incompetence in using the long Latinate words will be mocked later in the figure of Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals, and even in the person of Baldrick in the TV series Blackadder. It becomes therefore almost a mark of lower class allegiance, a kind of tribal loyalty, to refuse big words, to confine oneself to the familiar Germanic words learned in childhood – those that are instinctively felt to be the “simple” words of the language, because they are short and are familiar to those with even the most basic education. To use big words is to be a show-off, pretending to higher education – as when people (especially Americans) say “utilize” instead of “use”, or “terminate” instead of “end”. This kind of pretentiousness may even be resented as a kind of betrayal of one’s class – especially when a working-class person has left home to go to college and comes back talking differently. It may even be seen as a badge of allegiance to the upper class enemy. And given the cultural bias whereby the ruling class were considered softly brought-up sissies, unable to stand the hard life of the labourer, there is an association (among men) of big words with effeminacy. This gut instinct about the language appears to be felt in all the nations which speak English, particularly in Australia, New Zealand and rural North America. It goes some way towards explaining the cult of inarticulateness (and anti-intellectualism) among modern Anglo-Saxons – the association of the inarticulate with manliness and toughness. If tough guys don’t dance, they don’t use big words either. As we have seen, John Wayne, that macho icon, used to sneer at big words as the mark of eggheads and sissies. It takes an effort of imagination (or a great familiarity with other cultures) to realize that speakers of other languages do not have these attitudes. They do not divide their language into tough, plain, virile short words and sissy, egghead or stuck-up long ones. A Frenchman or a German or an Italian uses long words or short words without distinction. He has no sense of using different elements in the language, with different class associations, because there are no different elements. Only English is a hybrid language, carrying into the twenty-first century the mutual resentments of Saxon and Norman of nearly a thousand years ago.

It is partly because of this anchoring of class hatreds in language that the English class system remains so incredibly tenacious. And it is this that gives a sort of class basis, one might almost say a basis of tribal loyalty, to the cult of inarticulateness and in a broader sense the whole cult of anti-intellectual, brutish masculinity among the English-speaking working classes. It is a form of self-inflicted cultural and intellectual privation, and the latest to suffer from it are the American black underclass with their rejection of sissy “white” education. It is one of history’s incredible ironies that young Chicago ghetto blacks – clinging defiantly to their impoverished one-syllable language against any attempt to educate them – are still out there batting for the Saxons of the twelfth century against their stuck-up, plummy-voiced, long-word-spouting, faggish, foreign-sounding Norman rulers.      




There is therefore a peculiar linguistic-class dimension to the gradual rise of inarticulateness in the literature of the masculine century. The working classes of the Anglo-Saxon world are verbally inept, taciturn, monosyllabic and brutishly ignorant with a defiant pride unknown to the speakers of other languages. A French worker aspires to speak like the middle classes. A French mechanic will be highly articulate in explaining what is wrong with your car, and he will elucidate the technical terms for you with the same quiet professional condescension as a doctor. There is no reverse snobbery on the continent of Europe, no perverse pride in a lack of education. There is among English-speakers. This gives a peculiar linguistic edge to the transition to a democratic, working-class dominated society in the twentieth-century English-speaking world. As the age grew more democratic with the victory of the mass conscripted armies of the two world wars, and the glorification of the ordinary soldier hero – with the accompanying rise of worker-based political parties – the shift of literature to working class heroes and working-class language was inevitable. But in terms of culture this meant the new assertion of crudeness and roughness of speech and a reverse class snobbery, expressed in a contempt for book-learning and in openly anti-intellectual attitudes. A person of low educational achievement was no longer apologetic about it, but defiantly asserted his ignorance and rudeness as the new dominant forces in society: the “yob” was born. The assertion of brute ignorance in the name of democratic values was stronger or weaker in different parts of the English-speaking world. In Australia it was perhaps strongest because of the influence of the 19th century gold rushes, which overnight made ignorant labourers and ex-convicts into rich men, who saw themselves as the equals of anyone. More recently the spread of assertive crassness depended on how “progressive” education systems were – that is, how much they pandered to working class ignorance and self-brutalization, instead of trying to overcome it. But one of its consequences was the gradual disappearance over the last half century of the sophisticated language – the eloquence and crafted wit – of an aristocratic verbal culture that had its origins in the classical rhetoric of Greece and Rome.  

We have seen how at the turn of the century Oscar Wilde’s obsession with being a gentleman gave way to Hemingway’s obsession with being a man. Hemingway’s style owes nothing to the classics. Oscar Wilde’s is almost impossible to imagine without Horace, Martial, Juvenal, Bacon, La Rochefoucauld, Congreve and the whole line of practitioners of the epigram in the background. To be a gentleman is to speak as heir to a long tradition of highly ritualized utterance. To be a man (a “real man”) is to speak as an animal would speak.  The destruction of the upper class tradition of speech in the democratic century is an essential part of that masculinisation of language we have referred to as the growth of inarticulateness. The taciturn replaces the loquacious; silence replaces the word. The long cadenced speeches of Jane Austen’s or George Eliot’s characters give way to the monosyllabic, tipsy exchanges of Hemingway’s Brett, to the pithy wisecracks of Hammett’s Sam Spade, and finally to the “fucking-fucked-up-fucker” dialect of Irving Welch’s housing estate hooligans. In drama the pregnant pause replaces wit. Pinter and Beckett replace Wilde and Shaw. The pauses in Pinter’s work take up twice as much time as the actual dialogue. Not that the characters can be assumed to be thinking between lines; they are mostly morons who have not yet reached the threshold of thinking. When they do talk, it is in clichés, platitudes, advertising slogans. Beckett’s last dramatic work consists of four minutes of silence. This comes close to the kind of inanity we find in the visual arts towards the end of the twentieth century : the blank canvases, the vacuous installations, the empty room with the lights going on and off, the crumpled sheet of paper, the chewing gum, the pickled fish. Or in trendy “serious” music, the silent orchestra staring at the audience. What they all have in common is a flaunting of their own inability to communicate anything, and their complete lack of interest in doing so. Non-communication becomes an end in itself, as if this were some profound insight to be reflected on – not just once, but over and over again. Silence becomes one of the key elements and concepts not only of twentieth century art, but of theatre, music, cinema. The cult of silence represents the complete triumph of masculine inarticulateness over feminine expressiveness; of masculine autism over the feminine passion to communicate.  





            All of these cultural changes in the English-speaking world over the past two centuries were occurring within the context of two major historical developments: the rise of America as a separate society with its own specific culture, and the expansion of the British empire and its influence on the imagination of all English-speakers. The imagination of Englishmen as well as Americans became increasingly obsessed with that long undeclared war on large parts of the globe which the Anglo-Saxon peoples in particular waged throughout the 18th and 19th centuries as they colonized other continents, plundered their wealth or ransacked the oceans for their riches. The colonial and imperialist experience was largely a masculine experience. Sailors in ships (whether Conrad’s trading ships or Melville’s whalers), Kipling’s soldiers or engineers on colonial postings, Cooper’s frontier Indian-fighters, or Jack London’s gold prospectors and trappers, lived their lives mostly separated from women. They were locked in a struggle to survive against the forces of nature, or in conflict with other men in a world without law. This inevitably widened the psychological chasm between men and women. It marginalized women and feminine qualities, shifted the character of men in a one-sidedly masculine direction, and substituted male friendship for the man-woman relationship as the main human bond.

            The settlement of America exposed the settlers to continual dangers and hardships of a kind that in Europe were associated only with periods of war, plague or famine. Conditions of survival in the colonies were grim: of a hundred colonists who settled Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607 only thirty-two survived the first winter.  The privations of hunger and disease were not followed immediately by war with the Amerindians, but when war came it was ferocious. The Amerindian habit of torturing captives to death, while not indulged in systematically, was frequent enough to cause terror in their enemies and a spirit of no quarter on their side also. In their war with the Pequots in 1637 the settlers did not hesitate to set fire to a village, even though it killed hundreds of women and children as well as warriors. But their own fears of annihilation were not groundless. King Philip’s War in 1675-76 killed more of the total white population proportionately than any war Americans have fought since. Over half of New England’s 90 towns were attacked by the Indians, 17 razed to the ground, and 25 pillaged. One in ten combatants died. Sneak attacks on sleeping villages became current. Heads and body parts were displayed on poles by both sides. The need for Indian allies led to an acceptance of the native practice of scalping, as bounties were paid to Indian allies for each enemy they could prove they had killed. Now these cruelties were not out of proportion with the general horrors of war at that time. Displays of the heads of rebels were common in Europe in the 17th century. The fall of Magdeburg in the Thirty Years War led to the massacre, torture and mass burning of civilians on an altogether larger scale than any massacre in American history. What was different was that in Europe this kind of horror was somewhat rare, in that war was not a constant fact of life. The Thirty Years War was an exceptional calamity. Although it killed off millions of Germans through massacre, famine and disease, as towns and crops were burned, in other cities in neighbouring countries life went on as normal. Elsewhere in Europe these huge losses were treated as a far-off cataclysm. For the English colonists in America, living side by side with Indian tribes, war was a constant low-intensity threat which they had to be ready for at any time. In the ninety years between King Philips’ War in 1675 and the end of the French and Indian War in 1763, the colonists were at war with the French or the Indians or both (since the French fought largely through their Indian allies) for thirty-nine years. The longest period of peace was nineteen years. Every colonist had to have a firearm and powder at home ready to use at any time. Moreover, this threat remained a fact of American life until the end of the 19th century, with a growing ferocity in popular attitudes towards the Indians, fed by a constant diet of atrocity stories. The worst massacres of Indians occurred in Colorado and California in the mid 19th century, carried out by maverick settlers, not troops. There were rarely pitched battles between armies alone, and tit for tat civilian massacres by both sides continued intermittently till 1890, by which time disease had so reduced Indian numbers that all will to fight collapsed. By contrast, after 1650 nobody in England was ever killed in his own home by enemy armed forces until the Blitz of 1940. Throughout most of that period, American men grew up with an instinctive sense that their role as males was to be ready to fight and kill to defend home and family against sudden sneak attack. This led to a very different attitude to violence. 30

In the early, difficult days of settlement, dogged by hunger and disease, many American hunters, fur trappers and traders lived similar backwoods lives to the Indians. It was inevitable that some would even join tribes – it provided them with wives and safety in numbers, and may have been useful to the Indians in providing them with interpreters for their dealings with the whites. American school history books tend to concentrate on the Puritan settlers of New England as the founders of America, since they left the most documents and became politically dominant in the nation. But there were large numbers of settlers who flocked to places like Virginia without having any religious motivations. What drove them was a desire for quick wealth, plunder or adventure. These tough, often wild frontier adventurers, renegades both to law and their own civilization, sometimes joining Indian tribes, remained a permanent element in the settler population. Even after there arose towns and cities on the Eastern seaboard with a more elaborate and civilized pattern of living on a European model, the ranks of the desperadoes were swelled by immigration. The anarchic movement of settlers westwards prolonged the way of life of the half-savage hunters, trappers, scouts, and Indian-fighters, and ensured that these remained among the quintessential Americans, despite the veneer of civilization being laid in their rear. The westward moving settlers built makeshift, lawless frontier towns and struggled to wrest a living from a hostile land. The discovery of gold led half the desperate ruffians of the planet to join in gold-rushes to California, South Dakota, Montana, and Idaho, where, after Indian resistance had been crushed by the army, they set up primitive shanty-towns rife with violence. An American army officer wrote: “There never was a viler sort of men in the world than is congregated around these mines.” 31 The pattern of American life outside the largest Eastern cities continued for a couple of centuries to be more dangerous, lawless and violent than anything Western Europe had seen since the early Middle Ages – apart from times of war. And the characters it forged, the men of the backwoods, the mining towns, the fur-trade, those who fought in the Indian wars or made the long cattle drives, were men essentially different from the men of eighteenth or nineteenth century Europe. They were mostly men not used to civilized society or the company of respectable women, men who were hard, aggressive, quarrelsome, who went about armed, and did not recoil from violence. In short many of them were closer to the rough Vikings who settled Greenland with Eric the Red than they were to the city-dwelling contemporaries of Mozart, Coleridge, or Tennyson. 

Of course there were also educated men in early America, and their writers engaged in literary and philosophical writing of a similar sort to that going on in Europe. But the common man in America was a different breed from that of Europe, a harder, tougher, more violent breed, more willing to take the law into his own hands, because he often lived beyond its reach. And this character of the American common man became in the literature of the nineteenth century, as American writers asserted their independence of European models, a figure that even the educated American admired. The glorification of the rough, tough, ignorant, uncultivated American hero, which begins with Fenimore Cooper’s backwoodsmen and Indian fighters, moves through Melville’s whalers, Crane’s Civil War soldiers, on to the gold-rush adventurers of Jack London, and finally to the cowboys of Zane Grey, is a development whereby a new model of man, radically different from his European contemporary, is gradually imposed as the archetype of masculinity upon the Western world.

Leslie Fiedler first drew attention to the absence of love in the American novel, the substitution of man’s relationship with nature and death for man’s relationship with woman, the latter being the chief theme of most European literature from the 12th century onward. He speaks memorably of American man’s obsession with violence and his embarrassment before love. He cites Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumpo, the eternal bachelor, wedded to the dark goddess, the wilderness. He remarks how the young heroes of Mark Twain or of Melville were innocent of all sexual knowledge but on intimate terms with death. These are very different heroes from those in continental European novels at the time, concerned mostly with falling in love. But there is a tendency in Fiedler to look at this purely in terms of literary movements, to see the American novel merely as a disturbed, adolescent local branch of Western romanticism, the cult of innocent nature and the noble savage. He sees American society as a neo-classical enterprise of rationalism, with its Enlightenment constitution and imitation Roman institutions, which gave birth paradoxically to the romantic saga of the ever-expanding frontier. 32 But he does not seem to see the element that is neither classical nor romantic – neither an imitation of past civilization, nor a romantic cult of nature – but a very real return to an era of savagery. For the underlying reality of the conditions of survival of pioneer America, with its ferocious Indian wars, its vast areas of lawlessness, are a throwback to the culture of the so-called Dark Ages, one which had not yet emerged into civilization from the savage anarchy of the great volkswanderung, the Germanic tribal migrations of the 5th and 6th centuries, where force was the only law. American society imitated in its Eastern towns (and among its educated class) certain of the outward forms of European civilization, but it contained in its Western heartland a profound atavism, a reprimitivization of man almost as extreme as that which separates Clovis from Cicero.




The return to a kind of primitive natural man, struggling with the wilderness as Ahab struggles with the white whale, means a loss of most of the qualities which we have come to think of as civilized. And many of those qualities we would also think of as feminine. It is because of this return to a violent and savage state of nature, where man’s brutal struggle to survive precludes all sympathy for the feminine virtues, where an entirely masculine ethos rules, in which strength, courage, aggressiveness, endurance, killer instinct are the only virtues, and grace, wit, elegance, sensitivity, and compassion have no place, that women have found America such a difficult world in which to find a satisfactory role. This was a land where women fitted in merely as marginal adjuncts for reproductive purposes, where they had to choose forever between conforming to a male ethos that distorted their nature, or keeping that nature and remaining marginalized and patronized, if not despised. It is highly likely that the discontents of women which gave rise to the feminist movement of the late twentieth century (long after political and legal equality had been achieved) had a lot more to do with American culture and its traditional marginalization of women than they did with modern civilization in general.    

Relations between the sexes in 19th and early 20th century America never seem entirely satisfactory. This is partly due to the Puritan heritage. Hawthorne’s great novel, The Scarlet Letter, shows the fate of the American woman in early Puritan New England who dared aspire to sexual fulfilment in an illicit relationship of the kind many upper class women in Europe took for granted. Because of this no-go area, the American woman over the next two centuries has a much more limited choice of roles. She is either a perpetual naive child in her femininity, an eternally immature flirt, never seriously sexual, like Henry James’ Daisy Miller, or she abandons femininity and becomes like Annie Cordy, circus sharp-shooter, out-riding and out-shooting the men. Either she creates for herself a feminine world in works like Little Women which seems curiously infantile by comparison with the world of Anna Karenina, or else she belongs to a masculine pioneer world in which she has been hardened and toughened till little of woman remains in her. In neither role does she seem entirely fulfilled. One of the paradoxes of hard and brutal conditions is that suffering and hard work harden women, and then men resent that hardening. Men never forgive the disappearance of the soft maternal affections that these hard circumstances (and their own hard characters) have destroyed. Here is how Faulkner describes (through her husband’s eyes) Mrs Armstid in Light in August. Her husband has just brought home to shelter for the night a pregnant girl who is on foot far from home seeking her runaway fiancé.


She is still there the grey woman with a cold, harsh, irascible face, who bore five children in six years and raised them to man- and womanhood…….. And now he knows that she is watching him, the grey woman not plump and not thin, manhard, workhard, in a serviceable grey garment worn savage and brusque, her hands on her hips, her face like those of generals who have been defeated in battle.

“You men,” she says.

“What do you want to do about it? Turn her out? Let her sleep in the barn maybe?” 

“You men,” she says. “You durn men.”  33


In this simple exchange lies the infinite distrust and bitterness between the sexes in America. There is the wife’s cold suspicion of her husband’s generous motives in bringing home the girl, her harsh contempt for the girl for being such a naive, trusting fool and getting pregnant, her bitter resentment of all men for the trouble the girl has got into. But beyond it, unspoken, is a resentment of the life she leads, the poverty, the hard labour, and it is the man she blames for this too, as if her hard life is the result of a swindle, a confidence trick the man has pulled on her. And the man’s sexual urges are somehow at the back of this dirty swindle. She has had to bear and raise the children of his lust – a lust probably not accompanied by much in the way of tenderness. Her entire life has been a defeat, and she seems to see it as a defeat at the hands of men. And her resentment is implacable, shown in her cold refusal to give the affection, sensuality and love which alone could redeem their harsh existence. Her refusal of any attempt at prettiness or seduction (“the serviceable grey garment worn savage and brusque”) is almost a form of revenge. There is in this woman something not so much broken as worn down and whittled away by time, hard work, disappointment, a harsh environment, suffering, lack of tenderness, lack of romance – her identity as a woman. And it has left in its place only hardness and bitterness. The chasm between the sexes in this portrait is absolute, not because they are too different but because they have become the same, and the instincts of both crave the difference, and cannot relate to each other without it.      

            We have suggested that the violence and hardship of the pioneer experience made  Americans (and to some extent other colonial peoples such as Canadians and Australians) a different breed from Englishmen or other Europeans of the time. But the English began to catch up with this change as the nineteenth century advanced. The experience of the expansion of the empire into exotic places influenced the imagination of Englishmen too and gradually the way of life of many of them. From the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, the Englishman (and particularly the English boy) lived an imaginative life that was rooted in the Yukon, the Australian outback, the Khyber Pass, the Oriental seaports, or the jungles of Africa far more than it was in the towns and countryside of England. The boys’ stories of the time are full of the lure of the exotic, and a whole crowd of British authors, led by Stephenson, Kipling, Maryatt and Conrad, recount with fascination the experience of the colonies, of the sea, of the great trading ports of the new colonial globalization. These are books about empire, and the Englishman begins to see himself as at the heart of a global empire rather than as a citizen of a European nation. And like their American counterparts, these authors write mainly about men and men’s undertakings. You can read hundreds of pages of their novels without coming upon a significant woman character or a romantic love plot. Compare that with the novels being written on the continent at the same time, by Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Tolstoy, and the central part occupied by women and love in their stories. You can see the degree to which the Anglo-Saxon mental world picture diverges from European continental civilization in the course of the 19th century. But it contrasts also with what English culture had been in a previous age – the love-obsessed, woman-centred world of Shakespeare’s comedies – a society where the height of social aspiration was to join a royal court whose tone was set by feminine intrigue. The combination in the Victorian age of a public school upbringing separated from women and girls, and the prospect of a career of action and adventure in the colonies – whether in the navy, the merchant navy, the army, the colonial civil service, or as a colonist trying his hand at farming, mining or trading – meant that many Englishmen’s lives were now lived almost entirely in male company and according to male rules. Women hardly impinged upon this world at all. When we finally begin to see women introduced into it, the dismal failure of most male attempts at relationships with them – which we find recounted in Orwell’s Burmese Days, or some of the novels of Conrad, or later on the stories of Maugham – only testifies to the chasm between the  male world and the female sensibility in that age. Well into the 20th century, woman remains an alien in this colonial world of soldiers, sailors, policemen, engineers or administrators. She is always portrayed as having just got off the boat from England, and being utterly out of place in what amounts to an alien culture, even if it is that of her expatriate countrymen. She is unable to understand its rules or its spirit, and invariably disturbs its harmony, usually by a display of incomprehensible female emotions. The great colonial adventure was a world of masculine values, and its success reinforced those values a thousand-fold in Anglo-Saxon culture. Masculinity became in the 19th century not merely a quality or set of qualities: it became the very essence of human worth. “Manliness” became the chief virtue, extolled by moralists and novelists alike. The purpose of morality, of education, was to inculcate manliness. One can see that in this society women would not have a very easy time asserting the value of their own characters, or making any recognized contribution to the world except by becoming clones of men. The very definition of “virtue” had gone back to its Roman origins in the word “vir” , a man. 





As we move through the nineteenth century this new cult of manliness reaches the proportions almost of an obsession. The word “manly” itself is one of the most hackneyed, worked-to-death adjectives in all writing throughout the entire century. A few examples must suffice. Early in the century Byron is praised by a friend for being “candid and manly” in calling off a duel with his friend Tom Moore. Dickens describes Martin Chuzzlewit’s temper as “free and manly”; he is particularly fond of the adjective. Trollope has a woman character describe his hero as “manly and handsome”, and the author himself describes him as having a mouth “in which was ever to be found that expression of manliness which of all characteristics is the one which women love the best.” 34 MacCaulay praised the English yeomanry of a previous age as “an eminently manly and truehearted race.” Thackeray, speaking of Robert Fleury’s paintings,  admires “the manliness of the artist”. Even literary style is praised as manly by Victorians, whether it is that of Julius Caesar or Machiavelli. Woodrow Wilson’s father praised him for being manly: it was one of the standard compliments men paid their sons, and seems to have represented an educational ideal. The definition of manliness exercised many minds. Some sought to distinguish it from mere aggressiveness. Others associated it with self-control, as in Thackeray’s description of the hero of Pendennis: “He had the passions to feel and the manliness and generosity to overcome them.” 35 “Manly honour” was defined by one writer as the refusal to take advantage of the love of a pure girl. Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby, was seen as the incarnation of “manly piety”. One of his most famous pupils, Thomas Hughes, author of the best-selling Tom Brown’s Schooldays, praised his old headmaster for having taught his boys to strive “against whatever was mean and unmanly and unrighteous”. 36 This apparently included drinking. The effort to moralize the notion of manliness, to make it include every desirable virtue, or else to recommend various virtues by associating them with manliness, runs through all the moral exhortations of the age. The trend culminates in an attempt to repackage Christianity as a “manly” religion. Twenty years after his success with Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Hughes, by now a leading moral pundit on both sides of the Atlantic, published The Manliness of Christ.     

Hughes had acquired an enormous popular and moral following with his bestseller based on his days at Rugby public school. The book is a document of the values of the time (1857, two years before Darwin’s opus.) His hero Tom Brown’s manliness is defined first and foremost as pugnacity. The reader is assured of his possession of this trait in the opening pages. “The Browns are a fighting family. One may question their wisdom, or wit, or beauty. But about their fight there can be no question.” 37 Tom is introduced to Rugby School in the midst of a strenuously contested football match, which is lovingly depicted as a brawl. (Rugby rebelled against the sissy new rules of football known as the Cambridge Rules laid down in 1848 by the universities, and continued with its more vigorous and combative version of the sport which has carried the school’s name ever since.) Tom, already a tough young urchin in his own neighbourhood, is soon initiated into the physical rigours of school life, and a succession of graphically described fist-fights fills the book, culminating in his epic thrashing of the most objectionable school bully. This saga became a cult book in its age, not only in Britain but in America. Hughes became the spokesman of a manly current of opinion favouring tough, martial training for boys, which the age enthusiastically embraced. Hughes’ own work with the London Working Men’s College, which he helped to found in order to reclaim the wayward, underprivileged youth of the city for Christianity, led him to see that Christ himself had an image problem. As traditionally depicted, the Saviour was quite simply not manly enough. This led Hughes to rewrite the New Testament story expunging all traces of effeminate weakness and sissy pacifism from its message. In The Manliness of Christ he aimed to show “manliness as the perfection of human character” and Christ as the perfect exemplar of this masculine vigour. 38 His Christ becomes a warrior manfully wrestling with hydra-headed evils: the arrogance of priests, the temptations of the devil, and betrayal by friends. Thus rebranded, he was clearly a more congenial role model for the tough slum kids and street hoodlums of Hughes’ secular flock.  

Hughes’ friend Charles Kingsley became an even more extreme spokesman for what came to be known as “muscular Christianity”. Kingsley’s invective against the effeminacy of High Church Anglican and Roman Catholic clerics is an interesting throw-back to the Reformers’ original revolt against the degenerate sensuality of Renaissance Rome in the 16th century. Just as Luther’s and Calvin’s rebellion was partly directed against the sensual vices and love of pleasure, luxury and ceremony carried over into the church by admirers of the rediscovered classical culture, so Kingsley voices the new Victorian Puritanism, revolting against a church too long under the influence of a decadent aristocratic class given over to pleasure and display in the same way as their Renaissance forefathers. “Effeminate” became the worst insult of the age just as “manly” was the highest compliment.

Much of this rhetoric of manliness seems to have developed because of a perceived trend in the age in the opposite direction. The shift from an aristocratic to a middle-class culture, symbolized in the shift from stockinged legs and colourful cloaks to drab suits, was seen by many of the pundits of the time as a shift from rule by a military caste to rule by tradesmen. While from our point of view, looking at images of manhood, the long-haired, powdered, silk-wearing 18th century aristocrat looks decidedly more effeminate than his sober, dark-suited, shorthaired successor, what the Victorians saw in this fop was a man wearing a sword and prepared to use it. Now this traditional wearing of arms by aristocrats ceased in Victorian Britain. Duelling, that deadly defence of aristocratic honour, came under moral and legal attack and by the mid-nineteenth century had disappeared. Despite, or perhaps because of, the English abandonment of “the right to bear arms”, the streets actually became safer with the introduction of Robert Peel’s policemen or Bobbies to defend against muggers and footpads. Now this new safety in the streets worried the advocates of manliness like Kingsley. He wondered “whether the policeman is not demoralizing us” and whether the “protection of body and goods” would not “reduce the educated and comfortable classes into that lap-dog condition in which not conscience, but comfort, doth make cowards of us all.”  He feared that the lives of the majority would become “mean and petty, effeminate and dull”.39 There was, in short, not enough crime and violence to stimulate manly virtues. The age was going to the dogs and breeding up sissies because it was too safe.

This debate extended into contemporary efforts to reform the law and make punishments less cruel. After successfully banning torture, the slave trade and then slavery itself throughout the empire, the humanitarian lobby mounted a major campaign against public executions. The subject aroused violent passions, as the issue of the death penalty still does in America. When Sir Henry Taylor published a book, Crime and its Punishment, which took a hard line, Kinglsey wrote to him expressing his support, but predicted gloomily that his cause would be noisily opposed due to the “effeminacy of the middle class, which never having in its life felt bodily pain (unless it has the tooth-ache) looks on such pain as the worst of evils.” He went on with some criticism of Taylor’s arguments.


My experience of the shop-keeping class (from which juries are taken) will hardly coincide with yours. You seem to think them a hardier and less dainty class than ours. I find that even in the prime of youth they shrink from (and are often unable to bear, from physical neglect or training) fatigue, danger, pain, which would be considered as sport by an average public schoolboy. 40


Here we have the crux of the culture war of the time: the upper class products of the public school system of brutal hardening of boys feared the debilitating influence of a new shop-keeping class of wimps who hadn’t been through the same tough mill. The new humanitar-ianism, the softening of punishments, the abolition one by one of such invigorating practices as torture, slavery, branding, mutilation and flogging, spelt a weakening of the race. This attitude, that the advance of civilization has an effeminizing and weakening effect on man’s primitive vigour, is widespread in the age. It informs a good deal of what came to be called Social Darwinism. This attitude was given classic formulation by Theodore Roosevelt in a speech at the University of Berlin in 1910:


One of  the prime dangers of civilization has always been its tendency to cause the loss of virile fighting virtues, of the fighting edge. When men get too comfortable and lead too

luxurious lives, there is always danger that the softness eats like an acid into their manliness of fibre. 41 

For an American ex-president to solemnly warn German youth of the danger of losing their “virile fighting virtues” four years before the Great War is one of the superb ironies of history.

Roosevelt is an extreme, one might say a pathological case, of the cult of masculinity. A sickly asthmatic weakling needing thick glasses to see, he reacted to weakness with a ferocious determination to live and strengthen himself. An incident of bullying in his youth provoked him to learn boxing, which, along with hunting, became his favourite pastime. “The strenuous life” was his motto: he became a fanatical devotee of every form of toughening up. He entered politics partly because he was warned how tough and brutal it was. His career in manliness reached its apogee in his participation in the war against Spain. As assistant secretary of the Navy he was a loud advocate of war, and he was disgusted at the government’s reluctance to declare war in 1898 after the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbour. He left Washington to raise a cavalry regiment known as the Rough Riders, and when war was declared, he took them to Cuba. There they enjoyed a triumphant campaign, achieving glory in their storming of San Juan Hill, during which Roosevelt boasted of killing a Spaniard with his own hands. The popularity of these heroics made him a shoo-in for governor of New York, and Vice-President in 1900. He succeeded McKinley the following year on the latter’s  assassination. This was an American president who owed his electoral success almost entirely to his macho posturing, and he was not the last to do so.

America was of course a society prone to macho excesses because of its colonial history. The cult of male honour, in which the aristocratic duelling code of Europe was freely adapted to the habits of violence of a frontier society, was especially strong in the southern states before the Civil War – and may have contributed to its outbreak. The militarist code of this society may be illustrated by the statement of Sam Houston’s mother, when he joined the army to fight against the British in the war of 1812. As she handed him a musket, she warned him: “Never disgrace it; for remember, I had rather all my sons should fill one honourable grave than that one of them should turn his back to save his life.” 42 This Spartan sentiment reflected something of a cult of classical martial attitudes at the time, notably in the south, where Christian names like Virgil and Homer were popular. As the civil war was heating up in 1861, one Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (perhaps the culminating point of the classical names fashion), a secessionist politician, provided the following curious justification: “The fight had to come, we are men not women The quarrel had lasted long enough. We hate each other – the fight had to come. Even Homer’s heroes, after they had stormed and scolded enough, fought like brave men, long and well.” Having invoked these classical precedents, he then recalled a scene on the senate floor five years before when a southern politician had beaten unconscious a northern senator, Sumner, for insulting his uncle. If, he said, “the athlete Sumner had stood on his manhood and training and struck back when Preston Brooks assailed him, Preston Brooks’ blow need not have been the opening skirmish of the war. Sumner’s country took up the fight because he did not.” 43 This is a curious reduction of the civil war to an extension of a feud of honour between two politicians. But it is symptomatic of the ethos of the times that this fist-fight could even be evoked as relevant. It is almost as if it could all have been settled by a duel between principals if the code of manly honour had operated as it should have.  

The American civil war was in many ways the first modern war, both because of the enormous numbers mobilized (3 million men, or a tenth of the population, of whom 600,000 died, mostly of disease – more than the total of American deaths in all the wars since then put together) and because of the importance of railways and logistics in winning what became an unexpectedly long war. It led to a popular revulsion from war for a generation – which, as we have seen, was largely over by the time of the jingoism of the Spanish war at the turn of the century. But in retrospect the war came to be seen by some public figures as a heroic demonstration that the ideals of chivalry were not dead in the age of bourgeois comfort. Oliver Wendell Holmes, addressing veterans on Memorial Day in 1884, praised their martial virtues as a throw-back to past glory:


High breeding, romantic chivalry – we who have seen these men can never believe that the power of money or the enervation of pleasure has put an end to them…. New England is not dead yet. She is still the mother of a race of conquerors – stern men. 44


Here we see war extolled as the reassuring proof of the moral health of a society. There is again the obsessive fear, expressed by Roosevelt, of the loss of “virile fibre” in the comfort of a prosperous age. This was an obsession equally felt in Europe, particularly in nations that expected a military showdown with their neighbours in the near future, such as France and Germany. This obsession with physical and moral preparedness for war lay behind the rising cult of sport.





Sport was seen quite explicitly as a sort of military training, just as Baden-Powell’s scout movement was an attempt to prepare youth for the kind of guerrilla tactics, living off the land, seen in the Boer War (and which the Boers had been so much better at.) In 1879, a few years after the humiliating defeat of France by Germany, the president of the recently founded French Alpine Club expressed the hope that it would become a school of physical energy and moral vigour, to make young Frenchmen “more virile, more apt to bear military life, more prepared to face a long conflict without discouragement.” 45 Physical exercise was seen as inherently linked to patriotic education. In Germany, the development of gymnastics as a mass sport by Frederick Jahn was bathed in an atmosphere of nationalistic fervour (it had been started in Berlin during the Napoleonic occupation as part of the resistance.) The first festival of gymnasts from all over Germany was hailed by newspapers as a “moral victory” for the German nation. In England the process by which the various popular sports such as football and boxing were brought under uniform rules at this time launched a lively debate as to how much brutality should be allowed in them. The banning of kicking in the shins in football was considered a particularly wimpish reform. “If you do away with it,” declared one enthusiast, “you will do away with all the courage and pluck of the game, and I will be bound to bring over a load of Frenchmen who could beat you with a week’s practice.” 46 One of the reasons for the breaking away of the Rugby code and its initial mass popularity was because it allowed such manly acts of violence. Everywhere the cult of sport was closely linked to development of the martial virtues.

            Readers familiar with Mein Kampf will recall the echoes of this in Hitler’s long disquisition on education. He is another proponent of vigorous sports in boyhood, and for the same reasons as the Victorians. Not only does sport develop martial virtues, but it stops boys thinking about sex and developing a precocious sexuality. Hitler does not go on about masturbation as such; but it lies beneath the surface just as it underlies the late Victorian public school ethos of cold baths and long daily runs. The peculiar combination of the Puritan cult of manliness, militarism, and a concern for health and a proper hygiene of life which animates the Victorian enthusiasm for sport is faithfully reproduced in the pages of Mein Kampf.   

            Sport was initially encouraged for factory workers in England as a way of channelling their energies into something less dangerous than political agitation. If they were given footballs to kick, it was thought, they would be less likely to kick policemen. French factory owners thought the same in encouraging their workers’ interest in rugby: they would put less energy into union politics. But sport did not always lead to the harmless channelling of aggressions which it was intended to. From the start it aroused crowd passions and hostilities that sometimes turned violent. In 1913, a rugby match in Paris between France and Scotland led the French crowd to invade the pitch after the game to try to attack the English referee, accused (improbably) of favouring Scotland.47 The sort of nationalist passion aroused by sport was deliberately encouraged and incited as the military competition between nations grew. Famous sportsmen became publicists for national bellicosity. The great cyclist Henri Degrange, originator of the Tour de France and editor of a popular sports magazine L’Auto, exhorted his readers like a coach on the outbreak of war in 1914. “Mes p’tits gars français! Listen to me! … The Prussians are a bunch of bastards! …. This is the big match that you have to play and you must use every trick that you’ve learned in sport. When your bayonet is at their heart and they beg for mercy, don’t give in. Run them through!” 48 This might strike us as a curious lesson to have learned from sport, especially a sport like cycling. But the passage illustrates extraordinarily clearly the close link between the spirit of sport and martial ardour during the period of militarist hysteria. 

            The decades before the Great War saw the development of a popular enthusiasm for manly sports as a preparation for war that seemed to call for the cataclysm to occur which eventually did. Roosevelt’s conviction that “a nation that has trained itself to a cancer of unwarlike and isolated ease, is bound in the end to go down before other nations that have not lost the manly and adventurous virtues” is echoed everywhere. 49 The Spanish political philosopher Juan Donoso-Cortes had expressed the same idea in the middle of the 19th century: 


When a nation shows a civilized horror of war, it receives directly the punishment of its mistake. God changes its sex, despoils it of its common mark of virility, changes it into a feminine nation, and sends conquerors to ravish it of its honour.  50


The Prussian strategist General Von Moltke thought war was divinely ordained: “Perpetual peace is a dream – and not even a beautiful dream – and war is an integral part of God’s ordering of the universe.” 51 The Swiss historian Jakob Burckhardt saw war as essential to psychological health: “Lasting peace permits the rise of a mass of precarious, fear-ridden, distressful lives which….. degrade the nation’s blood. War restores real ability to honour.” 52 The Irish revolutionary poet Patrick Pearse saw bloodshed as not only healthy but holy: “Bloodshed is a cleansing and a sanctifying thing, and the nation which regards it as a final horror has lost its manhood.” He later hailed the First World War as providing a wonderful renewal of Western manhood. 53

Filippo Marinetti’s  “Futurist Manifesto”of 1909, the foundation of modern art, shows how deeply these feelings underlay the new artistic movement that was to give us abstractionism, the glorification of the machine, and the contempt for all ideas of feminine prettiness and love of nature. 


We are out to glorify war:

The only health-giver of the world!

Militarism! Patriotism!

The Destructive Arm of the Anarchist!

Ideas that kill!

Contempt for women! 54


The association of this militarist urge for violence with the revolutionary anarchist urge is significant: the same impulse of destruction runs through both. And underlying it is a contempt for women as embodying a set of soft, sentimental, pacifist values which are despised as weakness. It has sometimes been argued that the fear of the rising women’s movements may have been a major cause of this belligerent spirit. But the quotations from Donoso-Cortes and Von Moltke predate any such movements, which became militant only late in the century. The cult of war in the period does not seem to have been caused by the women’s movements, though it may have been reinforced by them as the century advanced. In individual cases men’s fear of increasing female independence and strength of character may have played a role in a certain misogyny, shown for example in a writer like Strindberg. But the constant theme of the advocates of war at that time is the contempt for the new lifestyle of peace, security, comfort and prosperity of the new bourgeois order, which meant that a man never had to strike a blow in anger from cradle to grave. There was a curious fear that men in such an era of peace and comfort were no longer capable of war – as if they had lost the primitive vigour necessary. They had lost an essential part of their identity and vitality as men. War was a return to something healthy, natural, liberating and almost holy. Mussolini summed up this new, philosophical and aesthetic conception of war as a force for regeneration, for enabling man to surpass himself: 


War alone keys up the energies of man to their greatest pitch and sets the mark of nobility on those nations which have the bravery to face it. 55 


It is clear that fascism and Nazism derive directly from this cult of war, which built up to fever pitch at the turn of the century. The philosophical glorification of war in the fascist movement was not a new departure. For fifty years politicians, writers and journalists had in fact been pushing war as an ideal, as the very basis of life. This was not mere vulgar demagoguery. The most respected thinkers of the age expressed the same thing, in their elaborate intellectual theories, both of life and of human history. It is inconceivable that popular enthusiasm for war and aggression would have reached anything like the levels it did if it had not been sanctioned and glorified by the leading philosophers of the age. The intellectual food provided for all educated minds as they grew up at the end of the 19th century was heavily larded with blood-red doctrines of war and conflict. Popular jingoism excited by some remote colonial skirmish between the great powers readily referred for support to the reigning philosophies of force and struggle. These intellectual justifications for aggression are crucial to everything that came after. The most important are the ideologies of Darwinism and Marxism. It is to an examination of these two major systems of thought, the chief intellectual underpinning of the cult of war and violence in the hundred years that followed them, that we must now turn.

















There can be no greater contrast between the generally accepted view of man, life and nature at the height of the eighteenth century and that prevalent at the end of the nineteenth. Let us remind ourselves of the dominant eighteenth century view, in Pope’s celebrated formulation in the Essay on Man of 1734: 


Above, how high, progressive life may go!

Around how wide! How deep extend below!

Vast chain of Being! which from God began,

Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,

Beast, bird, fish, insect, what no eye can see

No glass can reach, from Infinite to thee..…

All are but parts of one stupendous whole,

Whose body nature is, and God the soul.


Look round our world: behold the chain of Love

Combining all below and all above.  1


Within a hundred and thirty years, these lines had come to sound naive and sentimental in the extreme. A natural world of harmony, where each creature had its place, related to others by attraction and interdependence, had been replaced by a world of perpetual struggle, the savage war for existence of each against all. Nature as a wise, benevolent and nurturing mother had been replaced by a savage process of extermination of the unfit (“Nature red in tooth and claw”), a process which some did not hesitate to recommend should be applied equally to human beings. A stable, optimistic view of man’s history as a gradual progression of knowledge and prosperity had been replaced by a vision of ceaseless conflict, both of classes and of nations. The only encouraging perspective was, for the conservative, the gradual extension by war and conquest of the dominion of the most civilized races over all the others. For the radical, the only source of hope was the imminence of a cataclysmic revolution and the extermination of the ruling class. In this change of mood the key ideas that became dominant in the thinking of the late nineteenth century were those that would be acted out physically in the catastrophic twentieth century: struggle, aggression, conflict, revolution, extermination, total war.

Why these ideas became so influential in the nineteenth century is at first sight puzzling. The change in society was by no means all in the direction of more brutal values. Over the same period, between the mid-eighteenth and late nineteenth centuries, there was a humanitarian movement in England and France which put an end to slavery, torture and gruesomely cruel public executions, three of the horrors that had been practised by almost every nation on earth since time immemorial. Under the lead of these two European powers these practices fell into disrepute as “uncivilized” and were soon abolished in many other parts of the world where they had some influence. The new Enlightenment rationalism, as well as the great movement of sensibility and sentimentality, which began in the eighteenth century, continued to have its effect in a reforming movement to improve (however gradually) the conditions of the mentally ill, the sick, the war wounded, prisoners, the destitute, working children, working women, and finally all workers. But this movement of humanitarian concern was increasingly swimming against a new ideological tide that carried a harsher and more brutal message. It was perhaps the great social and political events themselves that led to a new climate of conflict and violence, and a deepening conviction that these phenomena lay at the heart of human history and of all life.

The industrial revolution had uprooted populations from the countryside and crowded them into insalubrious urban slums, and into “dark satanic mills” where they worked in appalling conditions. On the continent the French revolution unleashed a storm of violence and bloody excesses which finally disgusted many of its early supporters. The mass executions and the atrocious civil war in the Vendée were followed by the gargantuan violence of the Napoleonic wars, which featured larger armies and bloodier battles than had ever been seen before – and which conscripted whole populations for slaughter for the first time in history. The peace, which was also the restoration of the old order, brought little but social agitation by the wretched, cruelly exploited factory workers. Great mass movements like Chartism, with huge demonstrations demanding democratic political reforms, evoked the spectre of revolutionary anarchy all over again. The development of railways and other technological changes appeared to be driving humanity into an uncertain future at speeds never seen before. All of these upheavals rendered the old, static view of the world obsolete. There was a general sense of confusion amid undirected change, expressed on the continent in a series of further attempts at revolution, culminating in that of 1848. What exactly society was or should be moving towards became a subject of violent and acrimonious debate. Social prophets like Carlyle, who claimed to be able to see where things were going, attracted a devoted following as moral pilots amid the tempest of the age, but he himself cultivated a polemical and vituperative style that added to the climate of extremism. Thus the eruption of conflict and turmoil in society itself was perhaps the main reason that conflict and struggle became the central themes of nineteenth century thought. The rise of the concepts of violence and conflict as a total vision of existence reached its apogee in the works of Karl Marx and Charles Darwin. Both of them formulated theories that placed violence at the very centre of life – theories that were then used to justify the most horrific, insane orgies of killing of the twentieth century.




While Marx influenced 20th century history more than any other human being, Darwin probably influenced the 20th century’s view of the world more than anyone else. His legacy is more fiercely defended by his disciples today than that of any thinker since the first challenges to the authority of Aristotle. His influence has not only pervaded the fields of biology, zoology and palaeontology, but has also been felt in such domains as anthropology, sociology, history, politics, economics and philosophy. His theory of evolution became the paramount ideological influence of the end of the nineteenth century. The dominant English philosopher of the age, Herbert Spencer, made it central to his whole world view – though much of his work pre-dated Darwin’s opus, since Darwin was merely giving a scientific shape and solidity to a vision of life common to the age. Captains of industry and apostles of free market competition like Andrew Carnegie and Rockefeller saw Spencer and Darwin as their ideological justification. Nietzsche, arguably the greatest philosopher of the century, filled his work with Darwinian images of struggle and elimination of the weak, and at a deeper level redefined morality itself as merely a social survival mechanism. Novelists like Zola and Jack London explored both biological determinism and the theme of the struggle for survival. German nationalists enlisted Darwinism in the elaboration of a new ideology of national struggle for a place in the sun. Hitler’s entire theory of lebensraum and the right of the stronger races to expand their territory by force was based on Darwinism, as was his belief in man’s duty to imitate nature’s ruthless elimination of inferior specimens. Marx was a fervent admirer of Darwin and sent him a copy of Das Kapital. So widely was Darwin’s influence felt that for more than half a century after he wrote, Darwinism may be said to have been the ideology of the age.

Curiously, this widespread intellectual embrace of Darwinism as an ideology was not accompanied at first by general acceptance in Darwin’s own scientific field of the mechanism of natural selection, which was his main contribution to evolutionary theory. Many biologists remained sceptical of his theory because it could not explain a certain number of difficulties, such as how new species could actually be formed from the micro-variations within species. The degree of  variability and the extent of modification possible through selective breeding always hit a natural barrier, beyond which the species became sterile or reverted to type. But in the twentieth century new theories of genetic mutation saved the day, and in the thirties and forties a new updated version of Darwinism was produced in America: the Synthetic Evolutionary Theory, usually referred to as neo-Darwinism. Since then this theory has  dominated the life sciences and enjoyed all the status of established fact. In addition a new biological determinism based on the natural instincts of aggression and territoriality found in our ape ancestors, and the inherent egotism made necessary by the struggle to survive, put the notion of natural selection back at the centre of studies of human behaviour. Today such diverse debates as those over gender roles, the origin of an ethical sense, the function of selfishness, or the economic ideology of the globalized free market, are all conducted in the shadow of Darwin.    

Darwin’s influence on human thought (beyond his influence on evolutionary theory as a specialist domain) was twofold. The first was philosophical. In giving scientific weight and respectability to the subversive hypothesis of man’s descent from the ape, he broke down the frontier that had hitherto been thought to exist between human and animal. This was a crippling blow to established religion, to the notion of divine revelation, to Christianity as a world-view and the Church as a dominant social institution. It precipitated not only the decline of revealed religion, seen increasingly as unscientific, but also the decline of belief in a humanity-centred universe, already under attack since Copernicus. Man was not a separate creation made in God’s image. He did not have a divine origin, nor did he have a divinely inspired (or revealed) spiritual sense of what is right. But if religion was no longer to be the basis for human morality and man’s sense of his purpose in life, then what was?

Darwinism therefore very quickly developed a second influence: on ethics.  Increasingly, animal behaviour came to be seen as a template for what was natural and normal conduct in man. The Church had of course feared precisely this result: belief in man’s essentially animal nature would lead to a general bestialization of man and the collapse of all morality – which was why the Church resisted the theory of evolution for so long. Modern academics tend to ridicule these fears as obscurantist, anti-scientific thinking. Evocation of the conflict of the Victorian church with Darwinism tends towards the comic, as in the story of the bishop’s wife who remarked, hearing of man’s descent from the ape: “Let us pray it is not true, and if it is, let us hope it does not become generally known.” But the collapse of morality feared by the Church (and by Darwin’s old Cambridge Proctor, Sedgwick) did in fact happen – in the adoption of Darwinian ethics by the Nazis.2 Everything that the Church had feared from the dethronement of a divinely revealed moral law and the substitution of the jungle law of the strongest did in fact come true in places like Auschwitz. We have not sufficiently recognized (it is a subject of some embarrassment to academics) the extent to which Hitler was essentially a Darwinist – minus the restraining scruples of a Victorian gentleman of liberal background who had trained to be a vicar. The ethics of Hitler are what Darwinism logically leads to, unless counteracted by a humanistic moral code, which is essentially a hangover from the Christian world-view that Darwin did so much to destroy.

The ethical influence of Darwinism lies of course in the glorification of struggle, competition and violence as necessary principles of life. Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the mechanism he proposed for evolution, requires a ferocious state of war in nature for the selection of the “fittest” to operate. To resume his theory briefly: nature acts like a stock-breeder, selecting those minor variations among individuals which will give them an advantage in the struggle for life, and eliminating those that don’t have these superior characteristics, since they will either die or breed less. From the changes accumulated by this constant selection of the fittest, species evolve. But in order for the unfit to be eliminated, there must be an extremely brutal struggle, with very high casualties, so that quite tiny differences among individuals will decide between survival and death. Now if this state of ferocious competition is the necessary condition for evolution, then it must be considered something good rather than bad. His theory gave comfort first of all to ruthless free-market capitalism, with its philosophy of “the weak to the wall.” The link between the two is the so-called Social Darwinist philosophy of Herbert Spencer, which saw an element of cruelty and heartlessness towards the poor and weak as ordained by the stern laws of evolutionary necessity. The children of the poor and shiftless, argued Spencer, should be left to die to rid the species of a failed line.3 Capitalist free-marketeers, deploring the state’s intervention to defend the weak and poor from the exploitation and starvation they so richly deserved, rejoiced in this vindication of heartlessness by science and philosophy. But it was a small step from here to believing that not only ruthless economic competition but also war is a beneficial and necessary process. War after all eliminates the weaker individuals and strengthens the race, and also leads the stronger races to prevail over and exterminate the weaker, thus strengthening the whole species. This was the step the Nazis took, but it was wholly within the logic of Darwinism. Darwin looked with favour on the expansion of the British race throughout the world in his time, displacing backward peoples, as part of the process by which “the stronger” were “always extirpating the weaker.” At the end of his life he speculated on the probable future extermination of many inferior and backward races as a necessary part of human progress. 4 His thinking is in no way contrary to the spirit of Nazism. It forms an important part of the upsurge of aggression and martial spirit that was to lead to the imperialism of the last decades of the nineteenth century as well as the European rivalries that were to bring on the Great War.

It is in the four decades following the publication of The Origin of Species that Europe manifested its most expansionist and aggressive drive. It is not unreasonable to see Darwinian thinking as partly responsible for the change in attitude towards colonial expansion that took place during these years. In 1840 Britain had acquired New Zealand with great reluctance, and only to forestall the French. Colonies were thought to be largely a burden, unless they were seen as rich in some tangible way, as India was with its precious stones. Securing trading privileges by force (as in China) was one thing. Ruling over more peoples was quite another. Whitehall deliberately hung back from any African adventures. Africa, with its Arab-run slave trade (now that the Europeans had given it up) and the desperate anarchy of its tribal wars, was a can of worms the British government didn’t wish to open, despite the humanitarian pleadings of the missionary lobby. By the 1880’s this had changed, and the colonial grab for Africa was on. In between came a wave of Malthusian enthusiasm for sending the paupers and failures of England out to the new colonies, where they would be transformed into more vigorous specimens. Darwin shared this enthusiasm. Although he had seen during his voyage on the Beagle the destructive effects of colonialism on the natives, he believed colonial warfare was necessary to “make the destroyers vary” and adapt to the new terrain. 5 But there was also a new notion of the  responsibility of Europeans as a kind of vanguard of human progress to take charge of the development of more backward peoples by ruling over them – what Kipling called “the white man’s burden.” Darwinism, by bolstering both the justifications for aggression and the notions of racial evolution, seems to have played a large part in the change of attitudes to imperialism, and the new consensus on the destiny of advanced peoples to rule over less evolved ones.

Now Hitler (to anticipate on our argument a little) simply adapted the notions of advanced and backward races to the European scene of his youth. He grew up in the melting-pot of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where ethnic Germans like himself were being squeezed out of their rightful, dominant position by “inferior” Slavs and Jews. The restoration of German supremacy over these peoples was to him the restoration of the natural rule of the stronger and more advanced over the weaker but more numerous. His notion of the racial competition for living-space is pure Darwinism. The glorification of war as a purifying struggle which will eliminate the unfit on all sides is also pure Darwinism. Hitler drew the crude ethical conclusions from Darwin: if the survival of the stronger is natural law, and there is no divine law, then the strong have the right and even the duty to eliminate the weak. It is part of man’s duty towards the human species to ensure that the strongest and most intelligent races prevail. In order to optimize human evolutionary progress, the struggle to survive must lead strong, intelligent races to drive out or exterminate the backward, inferior races and propagate in their place. Hitlerism is Darwinism applied literally and crudely, shorn of the humane scruples of a Victorian liberal. As with the application of Marx’s theory by Lenin, it is a good example of the violence of thought of the nineteenth century being translated into the violence of action of the twentieth.

A related current of ethical thinking that emerges from Darwinism and leads directly to Nazism is eugenics, the attempt to breed a better race. Eugenicists (including Darwin’s son) saw themselves as merely applying Darwinian theory in practice. Why not try to breed a better race, and eliminate the unfit, as Darwin suggested in The Descent of Man, where he deplored the effects of modern medicine and welfare provisions in saving the maladapted. 6  But Darwin himself was always hesitant about the means to employ. He tended to favour voluntary action. He felt that “both sexes ought to refrain from marriage if they are in any marked degree inferior in body or mind,” though he considered this hope Utopian. 7 Yet sometimes he seems more impatient with voluntary means, as when he remarks tartly that “excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.” 8 We often see Darwin struggling to square the totalitarian implications of his theory with his own liberal instincts. The Nazis were unencumbered with these problems of liberal conscience. Himmler’s attempt to breed a super-race in the Lebensborn project is a direct descendant of the neo-Darwinist eugenicists, and would probably have earned their applause. Only his criteria of selection of ideal breeding couples might have led to some debate.

Now modern scientists, especially those apparently unfamiliar with all of Darwin’s writings, like to claim that all this is merely a misapplication of Darwin’s scientific theories to human societies by ignorant non-scientists. But this neat separation cannot be made. The application of these ideas to man is central to Darwinism. It is the very core of Darwin’s thought and is made very explicit in works like The Descent of Man. Darwin is an ideologist as much as a scientific thinker. The academic categories that today tend to separate the natural scientist from the social thinker did not exist in the nineteenth century. It is essential to understand that for Darwin in particular the separation of human society and the animal world was quite unthinkable. The theory that applied to one must apply to the other, because both obey the same laws. It seems an obvious point to labour, but it is one that Darwin’s modern disciples don’t appear to grasp, or prefer to hide their eyes from. This is after all a thinker whose central revolutionary idea (in the eyes of his age) was that man is only another animal.




Darwin put together his ideas during a period of intellectual, political and ideological strife of rare intensity and passion. Never has a scientific theory been put forward in circumstances which drew it more inevitably into the maelstrom of a fierce ideological debate. For in the context of the times views of nature and the universe were intimately linked with views both of God and of society. The various currents of political and religious thought aligned themselves with philosophies of nature as if the latter were merely extensions of competing ideologies. The conventional, orthodox view of nature – the lineal descendant of Alexander Pope’s Chain of Being or Chain of Love – was the comfortable sentimental vision of the Reverend W. Paley. His great work, Natural Theology, was a sort of defence of the present world order, not merely of nature, but of society also. Darwin’s biographers describe this vision in lyrical terms: 


Here was a beautiful evocation of life abounding with goodness and joy: “it is a happy world, teeming with delighted existence,” Paley enthused. “In a spring noon or a summer evening whichever side I turn my eyes, myriads of happy beings crowd upon my view.” Life was a summer’s teatime on the vicarage lawn, with swarming bees and cheerful beetles testifying to God’s kindness. It was good, life was happy, because all beings were adapted to their surroundings. Animals, including humans, are complex mechanisms from the divine workshop, and exquisitely fitted to their places in the world. They are so obviously designed, there has to be a Designer.  9


In other words Paley’s complacent view of nature as a pretty scene of harmony and perfectly adapted happiness was part of his argument for the design of the universe to prove the existence of a bountiful God. This whole orthodox world-view was already under attack in the early nineteenth century. The currents of social reform and revolution coalescing around the Chartist movement of the 1830’s, which were violently discontented with the present world order, saw Paley as the ideological enemy. They were implicitly or explicitly atheistic because they could not believe that a benevolent God could create so much human and animal misery. George Holyoake, a political agitator whose two-year old daughter died of malnutrition while he was in prison, wrote a bitter atheistic pamphlet entitled Paley Refuted in His Own Words. The working class printer William Chilton and his colleagues on the revolutionary penny paper The Oracle of Reason ridiculed Paley’s “happy nature” as a pernicious way of justifying the status quo. Chilton’s own Nature had satanic overtones: it was positive proof of God’s non-existence. If God had existed he would have planned “less suffering and more enjoyment, less hypocrisy and more sincerity, fewer rapes, frauds, pious and impious butcheries.” 10 The denial of God and of a benevolent nature was a means of denying the goodness and rightness of the present social order  – the two were inseparable. And the authorities recognized the link when they tried and imprisoned a succession of Oracle editors for blasphemy, which was a useful substitute for a political charge of sedition.

More worryingly for Darwin, Chilton had put forward a sort of revolutionary version of Lamarck’s early theory of evolution. Chilton posited a universal adaptive, progressive force that was pushing nature and society toward a higher, brighter and more co-operative future out of the present darkness and misery. The radical movements were thus adopting not only materialistic atheism but also evolutionary thought as a new ideological weapon against the old order. Darwin, who had already formulated the essence of his theory by the 1840’s, hung back from publishing it largely because he feared being lumped in with this new revolutionary atheism. He was afraid that the socialist camp would exploit his work  – linking man and the apes and exposing nature’s brutal methods  – to their own advantage against the class and social order to which Darwin owed allegiance. Darwin feared that he himself, a man who had trained for the Church, would be cast out by the establishment as a traitor for providing grist to the revolutionary mill. Darwin had already seen the vindictive treatment meted out to his atheistic, evolutionist tutor at Edinburgh University, Robert Grant – exclusion from the Royal Society and general academic blackballing. The whiff of brimstone around these views is the main reason that Darwin agonized so long about publishing. He waited till the social agitation around Chartism had died down, and these ideas had made more headway in respectable scientific circles. Then he felt forced to publish his theory to avoid being beaten to it by others, notably Wallace. It is in this light that we can understand  Karl Marx’s admiration for Darwin (though the story of Marx’s offer to dedicate Capital to him is an error resulting from a confusion over authorship of a letter.) Darwin’s portrayal of the violence and murderous ruthlessness of nature was indeed seen by the socialist camp as ammunition against the established social order and its complacent view of the universe. But the revolutionaries’ support embarrassed Darwin, because he did not at all share their views.  

In fact Darwin’s social views were largely shaped by a more moderate current of reformist thought in which his own family had for a long time been immersed. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a freethinking poet and physician of the old Enlightenment school, an atheist who worshipped at the shrine of reason and put forward his own version of the evolution of all life forms:


Nursed by warm sun-beams in primeval caves

Organic Life began beneath the waves.  11


He was a philanthropist, a supporter of the French revolution, opponent of slavery, and enthusiastic womanizer, who sired several bastards and brought them all up together with the children of his broad-minded second wife, the illegitimate daughter of an earl. Darwin’s other grandfather, the pottery magnate Josiah Wedgewood, was a Unitarian. These were radical reforming Christians who had stripped Christianity of its mysticism  – the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the immortal soul – and saw it in material terms as a moral code teaching the way to live and reach happiness in this world. God’s benevolence was expressed through natural laws, and science was the only true knowledge. Darwin’s father Robert was another free-thinking doctor, even though the steady rise in the family fortunes made him conceal his opinions and pay lip-service to the established Church, source of all social privilege. Charles Darwin was destined for a medical career himself, and spent two years studying medicine at Edinburgh University. Here he came under the influence, as we have seen, of the Lamarckian evolutionist and atheistic radical, Robert Grant. However, Darwin’s aversion to blood and the horrors of surgery without anaesthetic led to a change of career plan and his father sent him to Cambridge to study theology. Despite his own religious scepticism, Robert Darwin viewed the Church as a convenient outlet for idle sons. He saw an appointment to a country vicarage as just the sort of sinecure that would allow Charles to do all the botanizing and insect-collecting he felt inclined to. The offer to join the Beagle on a voyage round the world (to provide its depressive captain with intelligent conversation) intervened at just the right moment and gave Darwin’s botanical obsessions an unexpected boost. What he observed on the Galapagos islands in particular provided concrete evidence, he thought, for the “transmutationist” (or evolutionist) view, which had been wildly theorized about for years in hotbeds of radical thought like Edinburgh University. The variant species of finches on each island seemed to him convincing proof of a common ancestor, and an evolutionary divergence based on the differing needs imposed by different environments. 

In short, Darwin grew up in a class and an intellectual milieu that was socially liberal, freethinking on religion, and inclined towards evolutionary explanations of life, which reflected its own upward mobility. His achievement was to give these evolutionary ideas a respectability and a scientific weight that they had previously lacked. But it was also important to cleanse these ideas of their socially subversive stigma, their revolutionary associations, and anchor them firmly in middle-class thinking. Only in this way could they replace the established orthodoxy and form a new stable world-picture, instead of being suppressed as they had been until then for political and moral reasons. Darwin’s originality lay in providing a precise mechanism (natural selection) and copiously detailed evidence (as it was thought to be) for an evolutionary idea that was not in itself new. It was an idea central to the ideology of the rising middle classes, which badly needed to have their world-view established as legitimate and dominant.

            The association of political liberalism with evolutionist thinking about the universe was quite explicit in the various Unitarian writers that the young divinity student became familiar with. One of the leading Unitarian divines, Dr Southwood Smith, put forward a vision of Nature as striving upwards towards ever-higher organisms, and drew the explicit inference for society and class mobility: “All reasonable beings, however inferior the condition in which they commence their existence, are destined to rise higher and higher in endless progression, and to contribute to their own advancement.” 12 This milieu of middle-class reformers was eager to see more freedom, more individualism, the breaking down of class barriers and intellectual and religious censorship, the ending of the Established Church, freedom of science as well as economic freedom, and a mobile society in which every man could fulfil his own individual potential. It is no surprise that the vision of nature that prevailed in this milieu exactly mirrored the vision of society they sought to bring about. But Darwin added a new dimension: the mechanism he put forward for evolution was the constant struggle for existence which had been posited by Malthus in his theories on population. It is this savage struggle for existence which acted as the selective force, eliminating the unfit and preserving the fit, thus bringing about the constant small modifications in the species which was the process of evolution. The somewhat idealistic and benign picture of evolution painted by the liberal Unitarian divines was thus given a far more ruthless and brutal aspect by Darwin, who took full account of the cruelty of the process. It was the combination of hitherto benign evolutionary thinking and the cult of ruthless struggle which gave Darwinism its peculiar character.

            One of the ways in which Darwin’s view of nature differs from Chilton’s atheistic,  revolutionary view is that it lacks the sense of  horror and moral protest against the universe’s cruelty. For the revolutionaries protested equally against society’s cruelty and nature’s. They were atheists out of indignant revulsion from the world God had supposedly made. A callous  universe was seen as underpinning a wicked social order. Now Darwin’s view is neither Paley’s complacency nor Chilton’s revolt, but something in between. What distinguishes Darwinism from Chiltonism is its calm acceptance of nature’s most brutal processes, and its scientific conviction that this all serves the higher purposes of the universe. And what distinguishes it from Paley is that a theological and sentimental optimism which hides its eyes from the cruelties of the universe is replaced by a stern scientific optimism, which takes those cruelties in its stride – as though the sufferings of sentient beings were of no great importance in the context of the great evolutionary process.

It is clear then that we have in the middle of the nineteenth century three views of nature, corresponding to the three social classes and ideologies in conflict: a view of nature as benevolent and good (Paley and the old establishment of church and landed gentry); a view of nature as brutal and therefore evil (Chilton and the revolutionary workers); and a view of nature as brutal but fundamentally good (Darwin and the rising capitalist class.) This scheme might seem a little too neat, but it explains the alignment of the old established order with conventional Christianity, the revolutionary workers with pessimistic atheism, and the Darwinian capitalists with a quasi-agnostic (one might almost say radical Unitarian) view of the universe as good and progressive, but using ruthless means to attain its evolutionary ends. One can see how the Darwinian view, which was also that of Herbert Spencer, appealed so deeply to Andrew Carnegie and other captains of industry in the United States. It was a way of defending ruthlessness – of seeing ruthlessness as at the very heart of nature, but seeing it as good. Hitherto nature’s ruthlessness had either been denied, as it was by Paley, or it had been denounced as a moral indictment of the whole universe and a proof there was no God – as it was by Chilton. What was perhaps most shocking about Darwinism for many contemporaries was this defence and even glorification of the ruthlessness of the universe. In a sense, it was a novel way of solving the problem of evil: what looks evil isn’t evil, it is good.  But whereas Paley, like the eighteenth century deists and like Alexander Pope, were led to downplay the cruelty of the universe, to deny its intensity and extent, Darwin believed in facing all the brutality and violence squarely, almost revelling in it, but with a confident if harsh faith that it is all serving the basically benign goals of nature.

As Darwin reflected on the fate of his own ten children, of whom two had died very young and his beloved Annie at the age of nine, he reassured himself by noting that the survivors were the more “vigorous & healthy & can most enjoy life.” 13 One can see this as courageous or as callous, or as pathetically self-deceiving, depending on one’s viewpoint. One might almost see the moral perspective of Darwinism as a sort of stoic acceptance of the harshness of existence without complaint but without complacency. He is at pains to destroy any illusions any followers of Paley might still cling to. The true visage of the parsonage garden, seen through Darwinian and Malthusian eyes, was a battlefield. He conceded that “One may well doubt this” when viewing “the contented face of a bright landscape or a tropical forest glowing with life,”  


…& at such periods most of the inhabitants are probably living with no great danger hanging over them & often with a super-abundance of food. Nevertheless the doctrine that all nature is at war is most true. The struggle very often falls on the egg & seed, or on the seedling, larva and young; but fall it must sometime in the life of each individual, or more commonly at intervals on successive generations & then with extreme severity. 14


There is almost a determination here to dash hopes and illusions. One senses here a mission to demonstrate that the truth of the universe is cruel and harsh and is not for faint hearts or sentimental softies.  As Darwin’s Christian faith melts away before such tragedies as Annie’s death, it is replaced by a sterner worship of a far harsher God, not unlike the one Hitler repeatedly refers to as “the harsh goddess Nature.”  It has a strong part of disillusionment that God is not the nice being one had been brought up to think, but it contains also a masochistic determination neither to dwell in a state of pointless denial of the facts nor to persist in an attitude of pointless protest against what cannot be changed. This is the perspective of a man who has been hurt and is determined that others shall not be allowed to hide their faces from the cause of this hurt. It is what the nineteenth century invented instead of a sense of tragedy:  a rubbing of noses in unpleasant facts and a scoffing at those who can’t take them. It is not far from the ethos of the public school bully, gleefully thrashing a new boy to show him what the system is really like.  

There was a good deal of determination in the circle around Darwin, notably in Thomas Huxley, to smash an establishment world-view which they considered both obscurantist and hiding from unpleasant facts. The year before The Origin of Species was published, Huxley made an attack on the reigning establishment anatomist, Richard Owen, for his argument that man constituted a special sub-class, separate from the apes. The discovery of the gorilla in Africa had excited the British popular imagination. Owen had been asked by worried divines to provide some refutation of dangerous speculations (notably by Chilton) that man was descended from this newly discovered primate. Owen obliged, and claimed that various organs of man’s brain made him utterly unique, and further apart from the gorilla than the latter was from a platypus. Huxley in a lecture in March 1858 savaged this view and argued on the contrary that the baboon, gorilla and man stood in a steady evolutionary line, equally far apart. The idea of man’s descent from the ape was thus already a subject of open and violent debate before Darwin’s opus was published. It was to Darwin that the Young Turks looked to provide a thorough-going scientific defence of the concept (and above all of the underlying notion of the “transmutation of species”) which would convince the serious scientific establishment. This was a scientific battle which formed part and parcel of a wider ideological battle. The issue was not so much the presentation of an original idea, as its presentation in such a methodical, scientific way that its dismissal would no longer be possible. As often in science, the issue was not the truth of an idea, but its acceptability. 

But Darwin’s work was widely seen not merely as giving crucial support to Huxley’s subversive, anti-religious view of the descent of man from the ape. It was seen just as importantly as giving support to the Malthusian vision of the struggle to survive in a world of limited resources, the vision of ruthless competition as the law of life  – what is now often referred to as Social Darwinism.  The social aspect of evolutionary theory –  the “survival of the fittest” as applied to human beings – had been developed shortly before Darwin published The Origin of Species, by a thinker moving in the same ideological currents, Herbert Spencer. Spencer’s ideas had made such a splash that Darwin was at first seen as merely following in his wake with more scientific evidence. It is worth looking at how their arguments intermesh.




            Spencer’s first book, Social Statics, appeared in 1850, nine years before The Origin of Species. It announced the principles that would later be known as Social Darwinism.  “Pervading all nature we may see at work a stern discipline, which is a little cruel that it may be very kind.” Spencer declared that the “state of universal warfare maintained throughout the lower creation, to the great perplexity of many worthy people, is at bottom the most merciful provision which the circumstances admit of.” What was at work was a “purifying process” which eliminated “the sickly, the malformed, and the least fleet or powerful”, ending their existence before it became a burden and making room for a younger generation. This process operated among human beings as well. 15

            He admitted that it was hard for us to see an incompetent artisan starve, a sickly labourer sink into misery, widows and orphans struggling to live. But he was adamant that this was necessary. “When regarded not separately but in connection with the interests of universal humanity, these harsh fatalities are seen to be full of beneficence – the same beneficence which brings to early graves the children of diseased parents, and singles out the intemperate and the debilitated as the victims of an epidemic.” People who recoiled from these harsh facts were, in his phrase, “spurious philanthropists”. 16

            Spencer summed up his doctrine in the phrase he coined in 1862, “the survival of the fittest”. Darwin had by then published The Origin of Species, which was widely seen as confirming Spencer’s views scientifically. But it was Spencer who was considered the major thinker of the age. Some contemporaries did not hesitate to call him the greatest philosopher of all time. Darwin warmly admired him. Spencer went on to develop his arguments to justify all the harshest aspects of laissez-faire economic doctrine. Any intervention by the state to regulate foreign trade or banking, to improve public housing, education or sanitary conditions would be self-defeating. Any attempt by the state to help the poor would inevitably lead to more misery. In opposing state education he argued that the poor should “get culture for their children as best they may, just as they are left to get food and clothing for them,” for in this way the “children of the superior will be advantaged: the thrifty parents, the energetic, and those with a high sense of responsibility.” 17 It is easy to see why Spencer became the darling of the great American capitalists like Andrew Carnegie, who promoted Spencer’s visit to the United States. There were limits, however, even to Spencer’s stomach for cruelty. He was so horrified by the conditions he saw in one of Carnegie’s factories that he said they would justify suicide. Towards the end of his life he became worried by the extremes of callousness and aggressiveness which he himself had unleashed. In a late essay called “Re-Barbarization” he deplored the re-emergence of militarism and the imperialistic impulse which he saw in the Boer War and colonial conquests. Spencer’s qualms of conscience even pushed him to plead for women’s rights and to attack mindless patriotism. But it was too late. He had expressed a powerful current in the thinking of the age: an opposition to humanitarian meddling in the great laws of nature, which were seen as pitiless to the individual for the greater good of the species. Whatever second thoughts he had at the end of his life, he was a major source of the cult of ruthless struggle that came to dominate the world. 18

What Spencer’s social and ethical system represents is a re-alignment of man’s moral behaviour to make it conform with the ruthlessness now perceived to characterize the universe. One cannot emphasize too much how radical this ethical shift is. To this new way of thinking, pity for the weak, perhaps the most important moral principle underlying both the Christian ethic and the Medieval aristocratic ethic of chivalry, becomes a debilitating, cowardly vice, sabotaging Nature’s stern programme of elimination of the unfit. Darwin himself in The Descent of Man specifically agrees with Spencer, and restates his arguments even more emphatically. In this book Darwin attacks  “civilized men” for counteracting natural selection: 


We civilized men …. do our utmost to check the process of elimination; we build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick; we institute poor laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of everyone to the last moment….Thus the weak members of civilized society propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of men…. Excepting in the case of man himself, hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed. 19


He concludes his book. “There should be open competition for all men, and the most able should not be prevented by laws and customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring.” 20 Darwin, in short, was himself an unapologetic Social Darwinist. He maintained these views to the end of his life. Talking to William Graham in 1881, he predicted, looking to the near future, that “an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.” 21

These views are remarkably similar to Hitler’s. Mein Kampf is filled with passages that would not have been out of place in The Descent of Man. One quote will suffice here:


It is a half-measure to let incurably sick people steadily contaminate the remaining healthy ones.…..The demand that defective people be prevented from propagating equally defective offspring is a demand of the clearest reason and if systematically executed represents the most humane act of mankind. 22


The extermination of invalids and the mentally defective was Hitler’ first act of mass murder in October 1939, when the outbreak of war had finally allowed him to take the gloves off. 

There is a tendency among modern day disciples of Darwin to present these unsavoury views as totally irrelevant to his scientific theories. They see them as a regrettable intellectual eccentricity, reflecting the views of the age he lived in, rather like Sir Isaac Newton’s lifelong experiments in communicating with spirits. In fact these views are central to Darwin’s entire theory, because they formed the inspiration for it. It is Malthus and his views on human population expansion and the inevitable starvation it would entail which gave Darwin his crucial insight into nature’s method of selection. His own family circle were intensely interested in the debate over the new Poor Law of 1834. Malthus was the chief inspiration of the Whig Party activists who wanted to make it harder for the poor to breed (notably by separating couples in the workhouse, a sort of prison for the destitute.) Among these Whig militants was Darwin’s close friend (and his brother’s fiancée), the literary lioness Harriet Martineau, who constantly preached Malthus at every dinner table. Darwin dutifully sat down and read the sixth edition of Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population in 1838, two years after returning from his Beagle voyage. He at once saw how Malthus’ theory might solve his own problem of finding the mechanism of evolution. Here is how he later looked back on it:


In October (1838) that is fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work.  23


Malthus calculated that, with the brakes off, humanity would double in numbers in a mere twenty-five years, rapidly outstripping available food resources. What prevented it from doing so was disease, wars, famine, and a savage struggle for resources, and this struggle would intensify as the population rose, leading to more and more violent and premature deaths. Darwin began to perceive that an identical savage struggle must occur throughout nature. He had previously thought that most species had only enough offspring to keep the population stable. Now he was convinced that wild populations too bred beyond their means, just as man did. Like the poor in London’s slums or the armies of scavengers on London’s rubbish heaps, they had to scrimp and fight and struggle. But what Darwin suddenly saw is that this reduction of numbers by the state of catastrophe Malthus foresaw would not be random. Those better adapted to survival would live while the others died out. This selection by premature death could be the mechanism by which species changed over time, adapted to new conditions, and eventually evolved into other species. In short, it was in contemplating Malthus’ theories about mankind that Darwin arrived at his theory of natural selection: death would play the role of the stock-breeder in selecting and breeding with only the best individuals. The application of his theory to human societies is not therefore an irrelevant and unjustified extension of Darwinism; it is the very core and origin of the theory. Darwin saw no distinction between animal and human society in this regard. Malthus, he thought, had depicted “the warring of the species” throughout nature better than anyone else. To quote Darwin’s biographers:


In society and nature, paupers and brutes were both struggling, the best alone surviving….. The population pressure became “a force like a hundred thousand wedges” rammed between members of a species, “forcing gaps by thrusting out weaker ones.” The best adapted varieties survive to breed, expanding at the expense of the rest, changing the whole species slowly. The same “grand crush of population” that shook men from their indolence kept life at its peak of perfection. 24  


Here at last was the mechanism for selection that Darwin had sought. He had long had an intuition that evolution must proceed much like the artificial breeding of dogs or horses or pigeons. Since all individuals, even from the same litter, vary slightly, a breeder can select  certain features which he wants to promote, and by breeding only the individuals that have those features he gradually reinforces them and transforms the breed. The problem was to decide what took the place of the breeder in the state of nature: who or what did the selecting?  Now Darwin had his answer. Malthusian population pressures, the ruthless struggle for survival with its high mortality rate, was the selective force. This solved the tricky problem of how in nature the non-selected were prevented from re-crossing themselves with the selected. The answer was  – they died out. The competitive edge given by tiny variations was so decisive that only those with this tiny variation survived (or, in the intense competition, they outbred the others and left more offspring until they eventually took over the species.) Here was a vision of nature which fitted in thoroughly with the whole ethos of the age: it made the crucial link between evolution and ruthless competition.


Darwin’s biological initiative matched advanced Whig social thinking. At last he had a mechanism that was compatible with the competitive free-trading ideals of the ultra-Whigs.... An open struggle with no hand-outs to the losers was the Whig way, and no poor law commissioner could have bettered Darwin’s view.  25


Moreover, this was a view which did not decry the cruel and ruthless processes of nature (as had the radical worker movements of the Chiltons and Holyoakes), but celebrated and even revelled in them.


He had broken with the radical hooligans who loathed Malthus. Like the Whig grandees – safe, immune, their own world characterized by noblesse oblige  – Darwin was living on a family fortune and thrusting a bitter competition on a starving world for its own good. From now on he could appeal to a better class of audience – to the rising industrialists, free-traders, and Dissenting professionals. 26  


The social and human dimension of Darwin’s theory was therefore the key to it from the beginning. This was a social theory applied to nature, not a scientific theory applied afterwards (illegitimately or irrelevantly, some modern followers would say) to society.  Darwin was a Malthusian Whig, a believer in ruthless and untrammelled competition as the best way towards prosperity, who had the brilliant inspiration of applying this idea to nature. And in so doing, he made his entire scientific theory part and parcel of a general hardening of social attitudes towards the poor and the weak, a cultivation of stern harshness and necessary cruelty, which was to develop through the most ruthless brands of capitalism and colonialism to reach its culmination in the ideologies of fascism and Nazism.

Nazism and fascism are merely a practical application of Darwinism to politics and foreign policy, to about the same degree that Leninism is a practical application of Marxism.  Nazism simply takes Darwin literally, unrestrained by any lingering tradition of Christian or humanist morality of the kind that made Darwin (grandson of a radical anti-slavery campaigner) an opponent of slavery. Hitler saw life as a ruthless competition between races. Following this logic, one’s own race, if it is to survive, must combat and subjugate the others, and eliminate its own weaker specimens in order to strengthen itself for the struggle. War becomes, in this perspective, the ultimate fulfilment of our natural urge to survive at others’ expense. War is the ultimate affirmation of the Darwinian vision of life, and Hitler took the oft-repeated Darwinian image literally.

            Now to see Nazism as a development of Darwinism is not to suggest that Darwin, if he had been born a little later and in Germany, would have joined Hitler’s Nazi party. Ideas give birth to other ideas in a chain that the original thinker cannot control and is not morally responsible for. But it is necessary to see where Darwin leads in order to understand his fundamental importance to twentieth century thought. Historians have had a tendency to see Hitler’s ideology as an inexplicable aberration, or to look for its origins in the specific anti-Semitic and militarist traditions of Germany. But Nazism belongs to one of the most powerful currents of Western thought that the last two centuries have produced. Darwinism filtered down in popularized form to pervade the world-view of an age, and Hitler, growing up in pre-First World War Austria-Hungary, would have been thoroughly familiar with it. The German evolutionist Haeckel, one of Darwin’s most enthusiastic admirers, who came to visit him in England, had combined Darwinism with German nationalism and racism into a highly popular ideology in the Germanic world. It was a heady mix for a young man with no qualifications struggling for survival in a decadent empire where the pure Germans like himself were losing out to the hybridised, inferior Slavs and Jews, who now made up four-fifths of the population. Here was an ideology which explained his own personal situation. And here was the direction which his own survival struggle must take: a mission to awaken the German people to the need to assert themselves if they were not to perish under the mass of inferior racial types. Hitler is a disciple of Darwin: Darwinism underlies his entire philosophy. There is scarcely a general reflection on the human condition in Mein Kampf which is not totally Darwinian in its perspective. This is the world-view that drove Hitler to make a cult of war and racial aggression. Hitler’s ideology may be called Darwinism-Hitlerism, with the same precision that we use the term Marxism-Leninism. But to convince the sceptical of this idea, it is necessary to take a closer look at a book which is ritually denounced but seldom actually read, Mein Kampf.





Consider this passage from Mein Kampf. Hitler is examining the German over-population problem, due to the reduced borders of the Versailles settlement and the lack of resources to feed itself, and is considering what to do about it. He evokes the Malthusian spectre of mass starvation (Darwin’s own starting point) and proposes four possible solutions to prevent it.


      Following the French example, the increase in births could be artificially restricted, thus meeting the problem of overpopulation.

      Nature herself in times of great poverty or bad climatic conditions as well as poor harvest, intervenes to restrict the increase of population of certain countries and races; this, to be sure, by a method as wise as it is ruthless. She diminishes not the power of procreation as such, but the conservation of the procreated, by exposing them to hard trials and deprivations with the result that all those who are less strong and less healthy are forced back into the womb of the eternal unknown. Those whom she permits to survive the inclemency of existence are a thousandfold tested, hardened, and well adapted to procreate in turn, in order that the process of thoroughgoing selection may begin again from the beginning. By thus brutally proceeding against the individual and immediately calling him back to herself as soon as he shows himself unequal to the storm of life, she keeps the race and species strong, raises them to the highest accomplishments.

      At the same time the diminution of number strengthens the individual and thus in the last analysis fortifies the species.

      It is different however when man undertakes the limitation of his number. He is not carved of the same wood, he is “humane”. He knows better than the cruel queen of wisdom. He limits not the conservation of the individual, but procreation itself. This seems to him, who always sees himself and never the race, more human and more justified than the opposite way. Unfortunately, however, the consequences are the reverse.

     While Nature, by making procreation free, yet submitting survival to a hard trial, chooses from an excess number of individuals the best as worthy of living, thus preserving them alone and in them conserving their species, man limits procreation, but is hysterically concerned that once a being is born it should be preserved at any price. The correction of the divine will seems to him as wise as it is humane, and he takes delight at once again having got the better of Nature, and even having proved her inadequacy. The number, to be sure, has been limited, but at the same time the quality of the individual has diminished; this, however, is something the dear little ape of the Almighty does not want to see or hear about. 

     For as soon as procreation as such is limited and the number of births diminished, the natural struggle for existence which leaves only the strongest and healthiest alive is obviously replaced by the obvious desire to “save” even the weakest and most sickly at any price, and this plants the seeds of a future generation which must inevitably grow more and more deplorable the longer this mockery of Nature and her will continues.  

     And the end will be that some day this people will be deprived of its existence on this earth, for man can defy the eternal laws of the will to preservation for a certain time, but sooner or later vengeance comes. A stronger race will drive out the weak, for the vital urge in its ultimate form will, time and again, burst all the absurd fetters of the so-called humanity of individuals in order to replace it by the humanity of Nature which destroys the weak to give his place to the strong. 27


     I have used this very lengthy quote to show Hitler’s perfect mastery of Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest and the process of natural selection. It is, indeed, absolutely  central to the murderous callousness of Hitler’s thinking. Given the frequency of Darwinian arguments of this kind in Hitler it is not too much to see his entire political theory as essentially Darwinism applied to ethics and international politics. And as we have seen, Darwin was in no way reluctant to see his theory so applied. He applied it both to individuals, lamenting as Hitler did the sentimental tendency to keep alive the unfit; and he applied it to races, foreseeing with approval the elimination of inferior races. Hitler has the same double strand of thought. We have seen how he deplored the preservation of weak individuals. In Mein Kampf he recommends the sterilisation of the mentally retarded, something he was to carry out quite soon after taking power, eventually going on to kill them. And of course he also applies this principle to races. The Germans, says Hitler, are a strong and superior race; confined in a reduced territory by their defeat, they need living space; so they must expand into a weaker race’s territory and, like any other animal species, drive out or wipe out the weaker inhabitants. In the process, the hardship and violence of their great struggle will be a useful way of strengthening their race by culling the weakest individuals among them. This is how he expounds this Darwinist theme: 


Nature knows no political boundaries. First she puts living creatures on this globe and watches the free play of forces. She then confers the master’s right on her favourite child, the strongest in courage and industry……

     When a people limits itself to internal colonization (by which he means more intensive production in a limited territory) because other races are clinging to greater and greater surfaces of the earth, it will be forced to have recourse to self-limitation at a time when the other peoples are still continuing to increase….. Since in general, unfortunately, the best nations, or even more correctly the only truly cultured races, the standard-bearers of all human progress, all too frequently resolve in their pacifistic blindness to renounce new acquisitions of soil and content themselves with “internal” colonization, while the inferior races know how to secure immense living areas in this world for themselves – this would lead to the following result:

     The culturally superior but less ruthless races would in consequence of their limited soil have to limit their increase at a time when the culturally inferior but more brutal-natured peoples, in consequence of their greater living areas, would still be in a position to increase without limit. In other words, some day the world will come into the possession of the culturally inferior but more active men. 28


These brutal but inferior peoples, he goes on, will govern the world either through democratic means and weight of numbers, or by force, and the superior peoples will be outnumbered and eliminated.


No one can doubt that this world will one day be exposed to the severest struggles for the existence of mankind. In the end, only the urge for self-preservation can conquer. Beneath it so-called humanism, the expression of a mixture of stupidity, cowardice and know-it-all conceit, will melt like snow in the March sun. Mankind has grown great in eternal struggle, and only in eternal peace does it perish. 29   


Hitler’s expansionistic policy to obtain lebensraum (living-space) by force from inferior peoples is Darwinian in its entire conception. Such a passage makes it perfectly clear that Darwin supplied the practical politician Hitler with his theory, just as Marx supplied the practical politician Lenin with his theory. Neither theoretician may have entirely approved the barbarous methods used to put his theory into practice, or the extremes it led to. But neither can claim he was against any of it on principle. Marx believed in a dictatorship of the proletariat and the elimination of the bourgeois class, which Lenin carried into action. Darwin quite explicitly applied his theories of ruthless competition to the races of humanity, and advocated the elimination of “lower races” and the prevention of defective individuals from breeding. Hitler’s initial programme of sterilisation, then extermination of invalids, the incurably ill and the insane was simply putting Darwin’s recommendations into practice, even if the methods were somewhat harsher than Darwin might have wanted. Whether Darwin would have approved the persecution and extermination of the Jews is an entirely separate question. The young Darwin was strongly opposed to slavery and scandalized by the treatment of black slaves he witnessed in Brazil, but he was also convinced of the inherent inferiority of “savage” races such as the Indians of Tierra del Fuego. In old age Darwin complacently accepted the dying out of “backward” races in Tasmania and elsewhere and believed that hundreds of backward races would one day perish, as part of the natural scheme of things. Once you have a belief in higher and lower races, different opinions may obviously arise as to which races are the lower ones. But on the principle of eliminating lower races, Darwin appears to have had few qualms.  

Hitler’s plan to exterminate the Jews was part of a wider programme to exterminate millions of Russians and Ukrainians by starvation, and settle Germans in their place. “There’s only one duty,” he declared to his ministers in the midst of the invasion of Russia, “to Germanize this country by the immigration of Germans and to look upon the natives as Redskins.” He envisaged “a hundred and thirty million people in the Reich, ninety in the Ukraine” and looked forward to the day when, along with their allies, they would be “400 millions, as compared to 130 million Americans.” 30 He imagined in detail the way of life of the master race of colonists. “The German colonists ought to live on handsome spacious farms. The German services will be lodged in marvellous buildings, the governors in palaces…. Around the city to a depth of thirty to forty kilometres, we shall have a belt of handsome villages connected by the best roads. What exists beyond that will be another world, in which we mean to let the Russians live as they like. It is merely necessary that we should rule them.” The inferior race would be kept as ignorant serfs in a permanently backward state. “Let them know just enough to understand our highway signs, so they won’t get themselves run over by our vehicles. For them the word ‘liberty’ means the right to wash on feast days.” 31 He saw this displacement of a backward race by a more advanced and intelligent one as natural law, the survival of the fittest, making for the further progress and strengthening of the human race. For him humane, compassionate values were the suicidal, pacifist weakness which advanced peoples were prone to, and which would allow other, less advanced races to ultimately dominate the earth. Hitler is haunted by a powerful Darwinian sense that the Germans must conquer or be conquered. There is no third possibility. Life is war. It is merely a question of taking the initiative to impose one’s victory or allowing the gradual victory of others, through the sheer weight of numbers and the breeding power of inferior peoples. The massive bloodshed which his policy of war involves, far from being an argument against it, is a positive advantage in Darwinian terms, because it will eliminate the weaker individuals from all the races engaged in the struggle, including his own. Seen in terms of Christian or humanist morality (which believes in every individual’s absolute worth) the carnage of war is bad. Seen in Darwinian-Hitlerian terms it is wholly good since it intensifies selection of the best and speeds up evolution. War is like an extreme Malthusian crisis, the ideal condition for rapid evolution. Hitler’s cult of war is therefore a logical extension of  Darwinism.

Now this does not mean, as we have already said, that Darwin would have approved of Hitler’s programme. Darwin remained forever divided in his mind as to how much inhumanity and callousness was acceptable. His biographers ironize over the contradictions between his harsh beliefs and his mild behaviour. “The sickly and degenerate deserve to be scythed down, he believed, even as he sent subscriptions to the Downe charities ….. and worried about his sons’ in-bred ailments.” 32 Darwin did not have the ruthless consistency of Hitler, it is clear. It is less clear whether or not Marx had the ruthlessness of Lenin and Stalin. But the relationship of theory to practice is there in both cases, in roughly equal degrees. Darwinism-Hitlerism, along with Marxism-Leninism, illustrates how the nineteenth century’s violence of thought, however rhetorically it may have been meant, was translated into the twentieth century’s all-too-literal violence of action. Darwin’s theory becomes, in Hitler’s hands, a Frankenstein’s monster.

Darwin’s modern apologists would deny that he had any part of responsibility in this. Even in his own time his disciples finally tried to defend him against association with the worst excesses of the Social Darwinists, by denying that he intended “natural morality” to apply to human beings. This is what Thomas Huxley argued after a lifetime of stoutly defending Darwin’s evolutionary theory and then becoming alarmed by the brutal extremes that Social Darwinism was being carried to. Huxley argued just before he died that man’s morality was opposed to nature’s, which was not a morality at all, since the fittest were not necessarily the best. “Let us understand, once for all, that the ethical progress of society depends not on imitating the cosmic process, still less in running away from it, but in combating it.” 33 However, in this change of heart (which mirrors Spencer’s), he was opposing Darwin himself, by then already dead ten years. On what grounds can we argue that man is an exception to nature’s rules and must live by a different morality? It is precisely Darwin who destroyed the firewall between man and nature  – who proved that man is merely another animal, subject to the same laws. What then is to prevent man applying the same Darwinian principles to his own behaviour, especially in the lawless realm of relations between nations? What other source of morality is there but nature? Divine revelation? But Huxley himself had spent his life ridiculing the notion of revelation: his sworn enemy was the Church. So where was the higher morality (which Huxley still emotionally believed in) to come from?

Darwin in his notebooks had himself toyed with the notion that all morality can be derived from the rules of the troop, in pack species like wild dogs, which obey a certain social discipline. 34 Hitler was to extend the same idea into a conviction that it was the most disciplined peoples, where the individual was most inclined to sacrifice himself for the good of the nation, that were the strongest and fittest. Morality was therefore to Hitler merely behaviour which strengthened the nation, where the individual subjected himself to the collective will – obedience to the pack, or to its leader. 35 This is a concept of morality as mere conformity to the group which breaks completely with the humanist tradition, derived from the Christian gospel of brotherly love, and also the notion of the individual’s moral conscience, which is in touch with a higher law than society’s (a notion that goes back to the Greeks as well as to the Hebrews.) While Darwin had some guilty hesitations about putting forward his suggestion of a radically new non-Christian morality, based on the survival of the fittest and the rules of the pack, Hitler was encumbered with no such scruples about consigning the old morality to the dustbin. 

The fact is that Darwin undermined permanently and fatally the compassionate ethical code based on the Christian gospels: love thy neighbour, and do good to those that harm you. He did this not only by undermining belief in revealed Christianity through his demolition of the biblical creation story. He also undermined the arguments of liberal humanists for trying to preserve the Christian ethic of compassion and love of one’s neighbour as a socially useful moral code, even after Christianity’s decline as a faith. How could one any longer defend the Christian virtues as socially useful if they were now exposed as nation-weakening vices, crippling us in the struggle for survival? Did they not conflict with what science was now telling us was the code needed for the fittest to prevail and the race to evolve? If Christianity and all divinely-revealed ethical systems are to fall in an atheistic age, then what is left but to apply Darwinism to human relations? If religion is dead, what is left but science? And the science of survival and the improvement of species is Darwinism. Why not then apply Darwinism to man, and adapt our moral attitudes accordingly? Why not jettison the absurd compassion and pity for the sufferings of the weak, the “hysterical desire to save every living being”, when these no longer correspond to a scientific viewpoint and their religious basis has disappeared? Why not shuck off the ethical, humanist clothes of Christianity, now that it is discredited as a religion? In short, if humanism, derived from the gospel of universal love, has no scientific basis and no religious basis, then what does it rest on? How does it continue to stand up? It is a mere superstition, waiting for a forceful mind to demolish it.

By Hitler’s day that forceful mind had already come along, hard on the heels of Darwin, and he became (some would argue by misunderstanding and ignorance) one of Hitler’s heroes. His name was Friedrich Nietzsche. He forms an essential link in the ideological chain between Darwin and Hitler, through his devastating critique of Christianity as a source of moral values that could outlast “the death of God”.





            Darwin destroyed the notion that man is biologically different from the rest of nature. Man is not a separate creation, placed on this earth by God for inscrutable divine purposes. He is part and parcel of the natural, animal world, a descendant of the apes, and obeying the same biological laws. But there is still the question of man’s soul, his spiritual dimension. The Church may have been discredited by Darwin because of the absurdly unscientific creation myth of The Book of Genesis, but man’s belief in a spiritual reality stretched well beyond the Christian religion. It lay at the heart also of the classical civilization, which had again come to dominate Western thought after its rediscovery in the Renaissance. One of the earliest Greek poets, Hesiod, in the 8th century BC proclaimed the distinction between man’s morality and that of animals by invoking the law of Zeus:  


            The son of Kronos made this law for men:

            That animals and fish and winged birds

            Should eat each other, for they have no law,

            But mankind has the law of right from him,

Which is the better way. 36

The Greeks were thus from the earliest age keen to distinguish man’s moral sense from the realm of nature’s brutal struggles. They generally saw the human moral faculty as of divine origin. Various Greek philosophers refined this notion of the divine provenance of moral law. Plato believed in a realm of spirit transcending the material world of nature. The material world, for Plato, was a pale shadow of the spiritual one. Man’s body might be a purely natural phenomenon, a product of this world, but his soul was of divine origin, belonging to a higher plane. The morality that guided man’s actions must also derive from this spiritual plane. This is the idea that Thomas Huxley was hinting at when he tried to distance Darwinism from the Social Darwinists by insisting that man’s morality consisted in combating nature’s, because it  came from a different source. It is this belief in a spiritual plane, source of a higher morality, which still stood in the way of applying Darwinian natural laws vigorously to human relations. And it is this spiritual plane that Nietzsche set out to destroy.

Nietzsche attacked front on the fundamental dualism of Platonic philosophy, according to which man’s spiritual life has another origin from his biological one. Nietzsche preached with all the rhetorical power of an old testament prophet against Plato’s siren song whispering in man’s ear: “you are of another origin, you are from another world, a spiritual plane, and you must conquer the base urges of the body and try to attain that spiritual plane.” His own message was the opposite: “I entreat you, my brothers, remain true to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of super-terrestrial hopes.” 37 “Once the soul looked contemptuously upon the body” but “the enlightened man says: I am body entirely, and nothing besides; and soul is only a word for something in the body.” 38 And since man’s nature is purely physical, his morality must necessarily be the product of his biological existence. Nietzsche pulled the rug from under the feet of Huxley’s belated traditionalist argument that man’s morality did not come from nature but a higher plane. What higher plane? asked Nietzsche bluntly. While Darwin proved that man is not physically separate from the animals, that he is not the product of some divine spark, Nietzsche sought to prove something similar about man’s thinking and his ethical sense. This is not the product of a divine spark either, but merely of man’s physical survival needs. Nietzsche is responsible for a major shift in the very conception of morality. It is no longer to be seen as a revealed truth of divine origin as the Christians saw it, or as a truth coming from a spiritual, intellectual plane that man’s mind has access to, as Plato saw it, or as a sort of mathematical truth or logical law of the mind as Kant tried to see it. No, says Nietzsche: man makes morality, it comes from his own needs. Morality is merely a social construct, designed to suit the purposes of a particular society. For Nietzsche, you do not ask whether an ethical principle is true but whether it is necessary or useful, and what sort of society it is useful for. “God is dead” is simply the announcement that modern man no longer needs the concept of the divine to be the origin of his ethical code. He has finally understood that God is also a construct, and that man himself invents the ethical code that he needs and the God to go with it. Having reduced human morality to the invention of a code corresponding to the needs of a certain kind of society, Nietzsche has effectively demolished the last intellectual defence against accepting Social Darwinism, and by extension Hitlerism. If man is no longer an exception to nature, if there is no longer a spiritual world that sets man apart, no planet heaven, then there is no barrier to the crude application of Darwinian morality, the survival of the fittest, to man himself – and the competition between individuals, nations, and races. For why should man be exempt from universal natural laws and processes?

But Nietzsche went further than this. He not only destroyed the metaphysical basis of a system of spiritual values opposed to the natural world, and insisted that man simply invents morality. He also placed various moral codes in a kind of hierarchy from best to worst, reflecting the societies that gave birth to them. And he placed Christian morality – love and compassion  – at the very bottom of the scale as the contemptible code of a slave society. Now this was new in Western history. There had been critics of Christianity before Nietzsche – those who had argued that the Christian religion was based on myths or that the gospels  were largely fictive accounts of a legendary teacher. Some had ridiculed the gospel story, as in Voltaire’s parody about the virgin made pregnant by the dove. But most agnostic thinkers, from Voltaire to Matthew Arnold or John Stuart Mill, had still treasured the moral message of those gospels: love thy neighbour, do good to those who harm you. Christian morality survived Christianity in the form of humanism and the liberal, humane ethical code. Now Nietzsche attacked head-on this last respected remnant of Christianity, the humane moral code, by arguing that it was the product of a slave society. Harsh, warrior-like ethical systems are, according to Nietzsche, the product of aristocracies, and raise human beings to the highest level of nobility, strength and talent by their rigorous discipline. Creeds of universal compassion, on the other hand, are the invention of the downtrodden and oppressed, who want to alleviate their own sufferings. They are inherently despicable because they blunt that discriminatory urge by which the best are selected, trained and perfected in harsher systems, and instead level everybody downwards. They therefore lead to spiritual and artistic decline.  Now no one had ever before attacked Christian morality, the gospel of love, the vague belief that human beings should be kind to one another, in such a direct and brutal fashion. That attack again was an essential step towards the Nazi enthronement of the cruel goddess Nature, whose ruthless ways are to be imitated by man.

Now it is unclear whether Nietzsche understood that his thinking had opened the way to the crude application of Darwinism to human behaviour – that is to say, Hitlerism. His   sister, who hijacked his legacy after his madness and death, saw Hitler as the embodiment of Nietzsche’s ideal. His modern admirers, of course, hotly deny any Nazi tendencies in their idol. They have struggled for decades to get Nietzsche out from under the Nazi embrace, and have striven to prove that he would have found Hitler’s regime intolerable. They like to point to his cult of liberty, his admiration for the Jews, his love of the South, his cult of the solitary artist as the superman, his hatred of the mob and of mob rule, his refined sensibility, his final rejection of Wagner’s anti-Semitism and Teutonic nationalism. None of this is to be denied. There is a great deal that separates a complex and subtle thinker like Nietzsche from Nazism, and would probably have made him abhor it. But his supporters miss the point. The problem is not what Nietzsche believed but what he made possible. Nietzsche’s denial of a spiritual realm of moral absolutes, of a transcendental plane from which values contrary to nature’s may be acquired, his belief in the purely pragmatic, survival value of moral codes, and his systematic attack on the Christian-humanist code of love and compassion as the creed of slaves, all opened the ideological door to the Social Darwinists and ultimately to Hitler. The Nazis may have been wrong in claiming Nietszche as one of theirs. They were not wrong in seeing his thought as an essential step on the road that enabled them to apply cruel Darwinian laws to human beings. For that road leads to the temple of “the harsh goddess Nature”, worshipped as the only deity, and it is Nietzsche who did more than anyone else to destroy all other divinities but her.

Nietzsche remains one of the greatest and most stimulating thinkers of recent centuries. But it is pointless and dishonest to deny his role in the march towards Nazi ethics.  Just as Marx might (and it is a big might) have been horrified to see the Stalinist gulags that came out of his work, Nietzsche and Darwin would certainly have been horrified by Auschwitz. But paternity cannot be denied merely because the child becomes a monster. And Nazism is the child of Darwin and Nieztsche, as certainly as Stalinism is of Marx.

Now the morality of Nazism, that might makes right, that the weak should be eliminated, which is deeply repugnant to most of us, is extremely difficult to refute without refuting either Darwin or Nietzsche. If both Darwin and Nietzsche are right, then Hitler is right. To refute Hitler, we have to take one of two approaches: either prove that Darwin is wrong in positing a ruthless struggle to survive as the basic “morality” of nature. Or else prove that Nietzsche is wrong in denying a spiritual plane from which man can derive a morality very different from nature’s cruel laws. In other words we must refute Darwin’s vision of nature, or refute Nietzsche’s contention that there is no escape from it, no alternative morality. Now many people, particularly in America, would dispute Nietzsche’s claims outright: they believe that God is very much alive and from the perspective of religious faith they have no problem devising a higher morality for man. However, relatively few scientists and intellectuals in the West share this religious faith, and most would go along with Nietzsche’s claim that morality is a social construct. With Darwin, there is even less room for manoeuvre. His position is virtually unassailed among establishment scientists and thinkers in Britain and America, and above all in the school curriculum to which every child is subjected – the only nineteenth century system-builder to have survived the scepticism of the twentieth. The most vocal critics of Darwin are “Creationists”, many of them Fundamentalist Christians who deny evolution as such and cling to a literal reading of the bible. Such people are not taken seriously by most scientists. We are left therefore wondering how scientific Darwinists live with a world-view which basically justifies Hitler’s policies of war, the military expansion of the strongest races, and the killing of the handicapped. On what grounds do they criticize Hitler’s Darwinian morality? Do they deny Nietzsche’s demolition of the spiritual plane from which we can derive different values? Or do they accept there is only this material, biological life and the values derived from it – which are Darwinian values? Or are they simply not thinking things through, blithely living with an inherited morality derived from Christianity, while not believing its basis, and not seeing its inconsistency with their scientific world-view?

The acceptance of Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection poses far more problems to the basis of our morality than we have so far realized. The very lack of understanding of where Darwin and Nietzsche lead us on the ethical front suggests that our morality is in fact a matter of cultural habit and not at all related to the scientific world-view we hold. The only evidence to the contrary, some might suggest, is that those who hold to Darwinism as a militant faith are inclined to a ruthlessness and aggressiveness in their intellectual struggle to destroy or silence their adversaries, which testifies to their practical application of Darwinian morality in their lives.    

Darwin’s theory provoked criticism from the very beginning on ethical grounds as much as scientific ones. Darwin’s friend and co-originator of the theory of natural selection, Alfred Russell Wallace, gradually drifted apart from him because he came to see “the survival of the fittest” as both a false picture of what happens in nature and a morally pernicious concept. Wallace was a socialist, opposed to the justifications which natural selection provided for brutal competition to eliminate the weak. He was also a believer in man’s spiritual nature and its importance in his evolution. He spent much time living with the Dyak tribes of Borneo and formed a profound respect for the intelligence of so-called primitive man (unlike Darwin’s contempt for the Tierra del Fuego natives.) Wallace believed such peoples were intelligent far beyond the level necessary for their physical survival, and he posited an excess of intelligence and a spiritual and moral dimension as the key to man’s evolution. He opposed the racism implicit in Darwinism, the concepts of superior and inferior, whether of races, classes or individuals. For him, the belief that “some have a better right to existence than others” was immoral. 39 The fact that unlike the prosperous Darwin, Wallace was chronically penniless and unemployed may have influenced his views. He was, in many ways, one of life’s brilliant failures, a noble loser, the sort of individual in fact destined to be eliminated by natural selection – and sensitive to the injustice of this brutal process. Just as he himself personally failed in his career, so also his more humane and egalitarian version of evolution failed to prevail and was eliminated. It was steam-rolled over by the Darwinian cult of ruthless violence which led on inexorably to Hitlerism.

Many prominent scientists, over the years, have challenged Darwinism on scientific grounds rather than ethical ones. Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer, confessed that he never believed in Darwinism. Pierre Grassé, the President of the French academy of sciences and the reigning expert in his field of biology, claimed thirty yeas ago that Darwinism was a mere pseudo-science which does not explain the mechanics of evolution. “Today our duty is to destroy the myth of evolution considered as a simple, understood and explained phenomenon which keeps rapidly unfolding before us. Biologists must be encouraged to think about the weaknesses and extrapolations that theoreticians put forward and lay down as established truths.” 40 He accepts the general hypothesis of evolution but considers its principles and workings to be so far unexplained. The problem for him is not only the precise adaptations of organisms which seem beyond the blunt instrument of natural selection to arrive at, but also the fundamental one of the origin of life, which nobody can account for. “Any living thing possesses an enormous amount of ‘intelligence’ …. Today this intelligence is called ‘information’, but it is still the same thing. This intelligence is the sine qua non of life. If absent, no living being is imaginable. Where does it come from? This is a problem which concerns both biologists and philosophers, and at present science seems incapable of solving it.” 41

Now to the modern Darwinists this sort of scepticism, which a normal person might consider to be in the purest scientific tradition of agnosticism (an admission of ignorance), is a dangerous mysticism which opens the door to irrational world-views. They believe that they have solved the problem of life (or laid down the definitive lines that such a solution must follow.) Any doubt that they have done so they regard as a form of treason against science, an open invitation to Creationists, bible-thumpers, New Age gurus and sundry peddlers of the irrational to rush in and occupy the space that science has cautiously withdrawn from. The Darwinist professors who hold the major biology chairs in Britain and America are quite militantly defensive, apparently convinced that the flying saucers are on their way and will land the moment they display an ounce of healthy self-doubt. They respond to every criticism of natural selection with a charge of “Creationism!”, do everything to prevent their scientific opponents gaining a hearing, and have contributed to an atmosphere of intellectual hatred, intolerance, abuse, dishonesty and bad faith which is worse today than at any time since Darwin put forward his theory. Instead of taking a normal scientific interest in experiments such as those of biologist Ted Steele in Australia, which suggest that there are elements of Lamarckism in the behaviour of retrogenes and immune systems, their only concern is to fanatically attack such experiments as treasonous breaches in the defensive wall of a theory that must be preserved as an absolute, a whole, a total explanation of life. 42 No modification can be allowed. Lamarck is the devil, the defeated, he must not be allowed back in. It is the fanatical behaviour of these scientists that leads one to treat their beliefs not as science but as ideology, and as therefore falling within the scope of a history of ideas.

Our main concern in this book is with Darwinism as a popular world-view which has had an enormous influence on our society – through the Social Darwinism of cut-throat capitalism, colonialism and Nazism. The notion of natural selection and the survival of the fittest as the single universal principle by which all life evolved is a poisonous world-view which has done immeasurable harm. I believe that even today this world-view remains at the back of every person’s mind at the moment of doing something thoroughly vicious, selfish and ruthless – the fleeting reflection that after all life is a struggle in which the weak go to the wall and I am only obeying jungle law in putting number one first. In short, we live in a world of kill or be killed. Every aggressive act is only an act of self-defence. Every murder, every treachery, every cruelty is an act of self-preservation. This philosophy is an in-built justification for every form of evil, whether in business, politics or personal relationships. It is the popular Darwinian image of the world which shapes the criminal mind, the fascist mind, and the ruthless capitalist mind. The survival of the fittest is a doctrine of evil, indistinguish-able from the right of the strongest – the essence of fascist ideology. Many of the worst horrors of the twentieth century can be ascribed to this doctrine directly, and most others indirectly. And it survives as our dominant world-view simply because the scientists who occupy the chairs at leading Anglo-Saxon universities are terrified that if this vicious doctrine is not taught in schools then religion and other irrational explanations of life may gain ground. In fact this theory has itself become a breeding ground for a fantastic upsurge in superstition and pseudo-science – notably the field of so-called evolutionary psychology, which pretends that every human trait from dishonesty to freckles to bad breath has been selected for its survival value. Its adepts construct game theory structures which demonstrate the evolutionary advantages of infidelity or lying and pretend to explain these traits biologically without reference to any human systems of thought, morality or custom, or any knowledge of history or other cultures except the grossest comic strip versions of them. Darwinism is not only the greatest source of evil and viciousness in human behaviour, but also the greatest source of irrationality, ignorance and superstition in academic thinking today.

Of course there would be no point in denouncing as evil the popular Darwinian picture of the world, if the scientists had produced convincing evidence that it is, unfortunately, true. But in fact they have done nothing of the kind. This is what leads me to examine the theory of Darwinism as such: not just as a pernicious popular ideology but as a scientific explanation of the way nature works. It is the relation between the two that is of interest. To what extent is the popular Darwinian world-view actually borne out by the scientific version of Darwinism that prevails today in the universities? We will see in fact that even Darwin’s most prominent disciples have so modified and diluted his theories that the popular image of the “survival of the fittest” is an obsolete world-view which, when pushed, no evolutionist today dares to defend. What is unacceptable is that the academics have fudged and refined their interpretations of Darwinism until they have denuded the theory of all its original meaning – but they still pretend to believe in it, thus perpetuating the popular ideology which has had such a corrupting effect on human morality. And what is most disturbing is that the scientists who have diluted Darwinism beyond recognition as an explanation of the mechanics of evolution, appear to be fiercely attached themselves to the popular emotional world-picture of ruthlessness and savage struggle that it gave rise to – even though they have given up any belief in the technical details of that world-picture. In short, the defence of Darwinism today is essentially the defence of an ideological and moral belief about the universe. Underneath that ideology, the biological theory that sustains it has already been refined out of existence. 

Now it may be objected that a non-scientist has no right to launch himself recklessly into arcane arguments in a field in which he is not qualified. If the rules of specialization had been respected by the other side, this might be a valid point. But the Darwinian evolutionists  for the last fifty years have been throwing so much rubbish over the fence into the field of philosophy and ideas about the meaning of life, that a historian of ideas is perfectly entitled to look over the scientific fence to see where all this rubbish is coming from. And what he sees there is not a pretty sight. The Darwinist camp is extremely messy, in disarray, and full of the muddiest thinking imaginable. 











            The theory of evolution itself, that all forms of life on earth evolved from one form, or at the least, that complex forms evolved from simple forms, is generally agreed to be the most probable scientific hypothesis until proved wrong, given the structural similarities of many different life forms. The idea of the evolution of species had been around for half a century before Darwin, ever since the Frenchman Jean Baptiste Lamarck published his Zoological Philosophy in 1809. While Lamarck’s theory was also implicitly subversive of the biblical creation story, it did not break radically with traditional ideas about the harmony of nature, or about the moral principles that should guide human behaviour. His theory of evolution was based on a mechanism of direct adaptation to the environment. Confronted with a new situation, animals adapt their behaviour, and if this adaptation is radical enough to develop muscles or organs in a new way, or to lead to reduction through disuse of other muscles or organs, then over generations these physical adaptations will be inherited and hence progressively developed. Prime examples are the atrophying of wings in birds that no longer need to fly away from predators in island habitats. The accumulation of inherited small changes leads to radical long-term change or macro-evolution, the transformation of one species into another.

This was the standard version of evolution in Darwin’s day – a view anathemized by the church and the establishment, but held by radical thinkers like his old tutor at Edinburgh University, Robert Grant. Lamarckism was never entirely abandoned by Darwin himself, even when he put forward his alternative theory of natural selection. Lamarckism seems even to have remained the view preferred by many evolutionists after Darwin (perhaps even including his great ally, Thomas Huxley, who remained sceptical of natural selection to the end.) It was only in the 1940’s when the new Synthetic Evolutionary Theory combined Darwin’s idea of natural selection with a new theory of mutations that Darwinism was finally enthroned as the orthodox version of evolution, and Lamarck was banished to the outer darkness of exploded fallacy. Now it is important to see that when Darwin published The Origin of Species it was the idea of evolution as such, not his theory of natural selection, which aroused the most heated controversy and the fiercest church opposition, because of its challenge to the bible and to the idea of mankind’s uniqueness. His new forceful restatement of a fifty-year old idea, complete with detailed examples and a new mechanism for how it operated, meant that this challenge to the separate creation of mankind could no longer be dismissed as mere speculation. If evolution was demonstrably right, and all scientists were compelled to accept it, then the bible was wrong. His own specific contribution, natural selection, aroused a different sort of controversy. There was the concern of many (such as his old Cambridge Proctor Sedgewick from his divinity student days) that it encouraged an immoral ruthlessness of behaviour; and there were the objections of other evolutionists that it had too many  problems as a theory. Darwin had to contend with both sorts of opposition: church and conservative opposition to evolution as such; and both moral and scientific opposition to the mechanism of natural selection.

One of the paradoxes is that most of the people who eagerly espoused evolution after Darwin’s book came out, and saw him as a hero for having demolished biblical creationism, were still sceptical of his theory of natural selection. As one Darwinist puts it :


After his death many biologists found it easy to accept evolution and impossible to accept Darwin’s chief explanation for it. Evolution yes, selection no. William Bateson, the founder of modern genetics, wrote an elegy for Darwinism in 1913, calling it “So inapplicable to the facts that we can only marvel … at the want of penetration displayed by the advocates of such a proposition.”  In 1924, another leading biologist recounts that “Darwin’s theory of the origin of species was long ago abandoned.” 43


In fact most people still leaned towards Lamarck’s picture of evolution. Darwin, it is not too much to say, probably converted more people to Lamarckism than to his own theory. Virtually all the well-known thinkers who enthusiastically welcomed Darwin, men like Herbert Spencer, Samuel Butler, and later Bernard Shaw, were more or less Lamarckians – and some of them directly attacked natural selection. Darwin himself published a book developing Lamarck’s theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics, because he saw it as a major cause of the variation which natural selection must act upon. In short, true Darwinism was a hybrid of Lamarck and natural selection. But once the new narrow version of his thinking, the Synthetic Evolutionary Theory, or neo-Darwinism, was developed in the 1940’s, the Lamarckian element in Darwinism was excluded and expurgated. The book where Darwin elaborates his Lamarckian ideas (The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, published in 1868) is now treated as a regrettable error and is seldom talked about by neo-Darwinists. A thinker who was relatively open-minded and willing to consider a number of alternatives to his own ideas has, many might argue, been hijacked by a narrow, dogmatic, ideologically-driven sect that has colonized the academic world.  

Darwin’s key idea of natural selection – the selection by the rigours of life of those  random variations among individuals that give some advantage – introduced a new, brutal vision of nature because of the high number of casualties required to make it work. The old view of harmonious and balanced nature was replaced by a vision of unending ruthless warfare. For the differential death rates to play their selective role there had to be ferocious amounts of premature death. Darwin’s theory of natural selection, we have just seen, was deeply influenced by Malthus, the prophet of the population explosion. It was Malthus’s predictions of future catastrophe, as the human population outran its food supply and was plunged into a brutal competition for dwindling resources, which gave Darwin his idea. He began speculating as to which individuals would survive in this catastrophic state of savage competition. How would nature choose the survivors? He came to the conclusion that such a catastrophe would probably be good for the human species: it would lead to the elimination of the weak and the selection of the stronger individuals. His idea of natural selection was born. But what constitutes the weak and what constitutes the strong? Clearly the degree of adaptation to the new environmental conditions. Under the new conditions, those individuals who possess some feature which gives them a marginal advantage in the struggle for survival will be selected by nature. That is, they will survive and outbreed those who don’t have this quality, till their descendants gradually take over the species. Darwin realized that he had here in this catastrophe scenario a general explanation as to how species evolve, how they change over many thousands of generations, and how they diverge under differing conditions and form new species. 44  

            One of the huge disadvantages of Darwin’s theory comes from its genesis. It was a theory of survival in catastrophic conditions of generalized vicious warfare for scarce resources. In order to make this into a general theory of how nature always operates, he had to convince us that nature is always in this state of generalized vicious warfare. He also had to prove that this vicious state of warfare would in some way be selective – that it would not be the blind destruction of mass bombing but the careful targeting of the weak and maladapted.   Those are the only conditions under which natural selection will in fact operate – if life or death, or reproduction or childlessness, depends on having a certain characteristic. At the very least he has to prove a very significant differential in numbers of surviving offspring between the fit and the unfit, the adapted and the maladapted. Now the great problem is that all that research has ever shown is that the death rate varies enormously from one species to another, and that sometimes it is very high. But it is much more problematic to prove that the individuals culled and those that survive are in any way selected on genetic merit. The sea-slug lays six hundred thousand eggs, most of which are fortunately destroyed or they would soon overrun the world. Is it reasonable to believe this mass destruction is a qualitative selection rather than something purely quantitative? Given the scale of extermination required, you might as well believe that Hiroshima was a qualitative selection, and that the fittest survived. What characteristics in the sea-slug eggs are being selected? Similarly, the vast majority of birds that die before breeding (like humans in the past) die in infancy. The highest death rates among altricial birds (those that stay in the nest after being hatched) are suffered while in the egg, in the nest, and just after they leave the nest. It is quite hard to see where the qualities of the individual bird would come into play here to make a difference to their fate. Falling through a wobbly wall in the nest or being found by a large weasel are not things that Johnny nestling can do much about with his own individual brilliance. If we conclude that premature death is just a massive lottery, a purely quantitative reduction in species numbers, and that not much genetic variation is being selected here, then the whole principle of natural selection as the motor of evolution falls to the ground.

It is this problem which makes variation so important. How much variation is there between individuals? We need large amounts of it to make natural selection work. This pushed Darwin to explore the ways in which genetic variation can develop, and one of the ways he accepted was Lamarck’s theory of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Different behaviour and habits create physical variations, and these can then be selected. But this might tempt unkindly sceptical souls today to ask the mischievous question: if you accept the variations caused by behaviour (and transmitted to offspring), then why do you need natural selection at all? Lamarck’s variation is quite likely to apply to an entire group when subject to different conditions (a new island, for example, where birds have new food and must develop a different beak.) This will not be individual variation so much as collective variation. In short, not the material of natural selection, but the beginnings of a collective evolution, as Lamarck envisaged, where all the individuals on the island tend to develop the new, better-adapted beak. Darwin himself accepted this possibility in the case of horses on the Falklands. 45 But of course, as we have noted, Darwin’s disciples no longer accept Lamarck, having fallen in love with a theory of mutations instead. These provide the potential for much more sensational variations, even though mutations tend unfortunately to be overwhelmingly degenerative.    

            Darwin begins his book The Origin of Species by inviting us to look at how stock-breeders create new strains and races of animal. All animals of the same species vary slightly from one another. Breeders choose those with a shade more of the specific characteristic they want, breed those individuals, then select those among their offspring which show more of the desired feature, and in this way keep developing it over generations. Like this they can come up with a dog with tiny legs and a huge body, or one with a pug face, or long ears, or furry tail, or whatever takes the perverse fancy of idle dog-lovers. Of course the breeder stops the other animals from cross-breeding with the chosen ones, and thus preserves the desired traits from being drowned in the melting-pot. Now for nature to evolve new species, it must, Darwin guessed, do something similar. But what plays the role of selection in nature? How are the individuals with particular characteristics chosen (and on what principle?) And how does nature stop the mass of ordinary individuals from breeding again with the variant few and drowning out the modifications (which Darwin, writing in the days before genetics, assumed would happen very quickly)? Darwin came up with the answer: death is the selector. Death plays the role of the breeder. The chosen individuals are those that survive the rigours of life thanks to their special new features, and the others die out – if not at once, then by having fewer and fewer offspring, because they compete less well than the variant individuals in the fierce struggle to survive. Here is where we see the importance of Darwin’s Malthusian vision of nature as constantly breeding far too many individuals, who must compete in a ferocious struggle for limited resources. Without this Malthusian vision, the selector death will not carve deeply enough into the mass to shape the species. Death plays the role of removing all those who do not have the desired features so that the favoured few become the bearers of genetic modifications into the future. Death is therefore the shaping force of evolution. Death sculpts the species over time as a sculptor sculpts a form by removing and discarding the material to be rejected. Death is the artist of life. Death is the creator of species.

This is the curiously necrophiliac cult which reigns supreme in our scientific world. The trouble with death is that nobody seems to have bothered to study how it operates. And death has a particular problem as a selective force. The problem briefly is that the bigger the scale on which death operates, the less likely it is to be genetically selective. If death is a maniac on a balcony with a Kalashnikov, he may well be selecting passers-by according to whether he likes the look of them. If he is a bomber-pilot carpet-bombing a city, he is very unlikely to be selective at all. When hounds are chasing down a fox, the fox’s individual cunning may have an effect on his survival. When a fish is gorging on six hundred thousand sea-slug eggs, or sea-birds are attacking scores of turtle hatchlings as they race down a beach to the water, death becomes a lottery, and only the predator’s full stomach will save any of the prey, not their own individual merits. In short, where death appears selective, it is insufficiently large-scale to have much genetic impact on a species; and where it is large-scale, it is insufficiently selective to be subtracting any particular characteristics from a gene pool. Would you like to hazard a guess as to which genetic characteristics were eliminated from the population by the atom bomb on Hiroshima? Or which qualities of the local fauna were eliminated by the eruption of Mount Saint Helen?

            This problem of proving his assumption that death eliminates unfit individuals appeared very soon after Darwin put forward his theory. His colleague, Wallace, co-originator of the notion of natural selection, had doubts about it very quickly. He told Darwin bluntly that his theory of the survival of the fittest was wrong. Among humans, said Wallace, war does not kill the weakest but the bravest, those who lead the attack and take the most risks. 46 A few decades later Wilfred Owen and other First World War poets would repeat what he said with the authority of bitter experience. What Wallace said of war among humans he meant more generally of the vicious war among and within species. What allows us to say that those who survive are the “fittest”? Who says it is the inferior that are killed?

 Most people are content to see the survival of the fittest as a sort of truism. But it is either a meaningless tautology in which the fit are defined as the survivors (we will come to that later) or it is a meaningful statement about which individuals survive, in which case it must be proved. Does premature death act in the genetically selective way that will alter the genetic destiny of a species by making it fitter and more adapted to its environment, or does it act at random?  It is important to be clear about what is being debated here. Darwin did not see natural selection as simply eliminating the small percentage of deformed, sickly or handicapped individuals. It was not merely the killing off of the runts of the litter. He saw it as eliminating large numbers of “normal”, “healthy” or “average” individuals which are inferior in certain qualities that would make them better-adapted – leaving alive those that have more of those qualities. That is the only way natural selection can function as an instrument of the evolution of a species, not merely as a means of maintaining a species in good health. The two things are utterly different and should not be confused. Darwin does not say “the unhealthy die young.” That is a truism. He says that among the healthy those which have certain specific inheritable characteristics will survive the rigours of life and those without those qualities will be eliminated. Is this true? Is premature death genetically selective?

One would have thought that a principle so crucial to Darwinism would have been tested by extensive research – into rates of predation, techniques of hunting, survival rates of each species, numbers of birds actually leaving the nest as a percentage of number of eggs laid, how and in what numbers they are killed, whether or not the individual qualities of the prey can lead to different outcomes, what qualities seem to matter, to what extent predators select their prey and on what criteria, etc. This would appear to be the crucial evidence-gathering necessary to establish whether or not premature death is genetically selective, whether what looks like the random lottery of predation can be correlated to any characteristics of the prey. Little of this research seems to have been done, because the thing is just assumed. Evolution has clearly happened; this is the mechanism; therefore this is what has caused it. And because this crude version of Darwinism (we will come to the more subtle version in a moment) has imprinted itself on every mind as the way things operate in nature, it is difficult to awaken enough scepticism as to whether this really is how the world works. I will therefore spend the next few pages rather laboriously attempting to outline (to the best of my amateur abilities) how premature death in fact functions among birds and mammals, in order to raise in the reader’s mind the simple question: is it genetically selective? 




Apart from old age, we can list six different causes of death of an individual animal in nature: killing by rivals, accident, starvation, cold (or other inclement weather), predation, and disease. We can dismiss old age because if an animal lives till old age, it has clearly already fulfilled whatever reproductive role it was going to have, and its demise will make no difference to the future of the species. We are concerned here with causes of premature death, which will stop an individual from transmitting its genes to the future and thereby influence the evolution of the species. We will treat separately the notion of different rates of reproduction, when we come to look at sexual selection as a subsidiary selective method, which Darwin turned to in a later book. Looking at our six causes of premature death, the question is: do any of them act in the way Darwin supposed, in selecting the most adapted for survival? Are these causes of death random or are they so biased towards eliminating or favouring certain characteristics that they will have a marked effect on the gene pool of the species? And if so, what effect?

Let us look first at killing by rivals. This apparently promising Darwinian concept – the combat to the death among competing males – is in fact rather rare in most species. Most fights between males competing for females are not fatal, as the loser simply runs away (and  often finds another female.) But to look at male rivalry in more detail, we have to distinguish the four different patterns of mating among higher animals and birds. Briefly, there are harem species, monogamous species, promiscuous species, and lek or arena species. In harem species, such as lions or many species of deer, where the male possesses a herd of females, the possessor of the harem generally sees off the challenger very quickly. Robert Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz have shown how the male in possession of a territory and a herd of females (the two go together) has a huge advantage in aggressive drive over the challenger, and usually succeeds in putting him to flight. 47 The challenger, of course, has rather less at stake and does not usually go on fighting till he is killed or seriously injured. He abandons the combat as soon as he gets the feel of who is stronger. Only when the lord of the herd becomes old and tired is he likely to be beaten, and given his persistence in fighting for his herd he may well sustain injuries that will lead to his death. But the death of a deposed leader of a herd will not eliminate his genes from the gene pool. He has already done a vast amount of breeding if he has lasted even two seasons, and all the younger members of the herd will be his offspring. His young daughters will be tupped by his successor, not killed. The individual most likely to be killed by rivals therefore, the weakened old king, will die leaving his genetic heritage intact. No elimination of his genes will occur through killing him. (The change of harem lord is periodically necessary, one might imagine, to stop him mating endlessly with his daughters, grand-daughters and great granddaughters, which would lead to the degeneration of the herd.) 

But even supposing that a challenger is occasionally killed, or dies of infected wounds after the fight, what genetic effect would this be likely to have on the species in that locality? At first sight it might seem that death would occur to the weaker males and that this would lead to a gradual increase in strength or fighting ability in the species, or the further development of the armaments of the males – antlers, tusks, horns, etc. But this may not be the case. The challenger most likely to die in combat with the lord of a harem is a strong male whose pugnacity prevents him from realizing that his opponent has the edge, and that it is time to run away. Thus it is not the male at the bottom of the fighting ladder that is most likely to be killed (he runs away very quickly), but one near the top. It is one that is endowed with more aggressiveness than sense, who has perhaps challenged a harem lord prematurely before being quite strong enough to win but is determined to fight to the bitter end. So the individual most likely to be killed will be a relatively strong and aggressive male. It is by no means clear what genetic effect his loss would have on the gene pool. The idea that the deaths of losers must lead to an increase in fighting ability, size, armaments and aggressiveness, does not follow at all if the losers killed are among the biggest and most aggressive. If you eliminate the genes of the number two or number three male in size and aggressiveness, are you increasing those characteristics in the gene pool, or decreasing them? Very probably the genetic effect will be zero. The heroic loser is survived by at least one stronger and many weaker males. Even this rare event of the death of a challenger will thus not have any effect on a gene pool whatsoever.

Now if in species where a male monopolizes a whole herd of females there are seldom mortal combats between rivals, it is even rarer in monogamous species. All animals and birds have an instinct to flee when beaten; man is almost the only animal that makes a virtue of standing his ground against a stronger rival and being killed (and even then only in certain cultures.) Once pairing has taken place, the happy husband is generally defending not only a female but a territory, and the superior aggressive drive of the householder defending wife and hearth and animated by righteous indignation will always see off the intruder. As we saw already, the latter is not sufficiently motivated to press the attack, because he has too little at stake to risk his life. He simply moves off to find another territory and female. In monogamous species there are generally enough females to go round, since there are roughly equal numbers of both sexes, so there is little point in getting killed for a date. It has been found that at least eighty per cent of male robins (a very aggressive bird) successfully find a territory and a mate. 48 This suggests a very low level of elimination at mating time. We  don’t know what happens to the twenty per cent of solitaries of both sexes. They may act as a pool of replacements, like football reserves, since one of the striking things noted by Darwin about bird couples is how rapidly mates that are killed by hunters get replaced. The widow or widower often remarries the next day, suggesting that even the small percentage of unmarried individuals are only so temporarily. In short among monogamous species very few killings by rivals occur, certainly not enough to have any significant genetic effect on the evolution of the species.

As for species where the males gather in leks (arenas) or stamping-grounds and joust for the prize of servicing all the females of the tribe, these combats are largely ritualized and seldom lead to fatal injuries. They are more like arm-wrestling tournaments than gladiatorial combats. Often, as with the sage-grouse, they resemble dances to display the species-specific features which will lead rivals to acknowledge the superiority of the top guns and allow them to take possession of the more central territories in the arena. The winners of lek-tournaments, whether among the sage-grouse or the African kob, are not usually exhausted champions scarred and maimed from multiple fierce battles. If they were they would hardly have the energy to service the scores of females who then arrive on their doorstep and put out to them as the reward of victory. We will come to the sexual selection involved here later – our concern at the moment is death by combat with rivals. It very rarely happens. What surprises many observers of the Ugandan kob (a species of antelope) during their arena contest is the degree of civility and harmony among the competing males, and the passivity of the losers as the females flock to the winning few. Once they have had their joust and established their respective places on the stamping-ground, the males tend to ignore one another, rather like Olympic athletes who sit peacefully side by side between races. Females which cross their territory are not even molested unless they stop and put out to the owner. In short the whole tournament is conducted in a far more gentlemanly and civilized way than one might expect from a description of the principle behind it. There are seldom any corpses left on the jousting field. And the winning places seem to rotate from year to year as new individuals reach their peak of strength and beauty and take over as that season’s stud, rather like Wimbledon tennis champions who reign for a year or two and then go off form. Again, the temporary nature of the champion’s reign is essential to avoid too much inbreeding with his own daughters and grand-daughters in subsequent years. 

In the fourth type of species found among mammals, promiscuous species, such as chimpanzees, where several males mate with several females in a tribe, the killing of rivals is virtually unknown. The males exist in a social hierarchy or pecking order of strength, and disputes are quickly resolved by the submission of the weaker animal, whose gestures of placation are magnanimously accepted by his superior. In fact in all tribal animals (and promiscuous animals are usually tribal), there is a strong inhibition against using their killing skills on members of their own tribe. Why would this inhibition exist if killing rivals were an important means of genetic selection and hence of evolution? In species where males stay within the tribe, instead of being driven out at maturity by the top dog (as in harem species), there must be reasons for not driving them out (they contribute to collective defence or hunting.) These reasons for their usefulness also inhibit the top male from killing them.  

In short, we may seriously doubt whether killing by rivals has any effect whatever on the gene pool in any species. It occurs too rarely, and, where it does, it mainly happens to ageing harem lords who have done all their breeding. More rarely, a very tough and persistent challenger may be killed, but in this case it is quite difficult to see how any genetic inferiority is being eliminated.

Turning to the second cause of premature death, accidents  – such as birds falling out of nests or animals putting their foot in a rabbit hole and going lame, thereby making themselves vulnerable to predators – these appear to be purely chance occurrences and therefore utterly devoid of any genetic significance. Would anyone seriously maintain that car or train accidents happen only to genetically inferior humans? Or that horse-riding or climbing accidents are genetically selective? How can these be differentiated from the accident that happens to an antelope putting its foot in a well-concealed rabbit hole? Or the bird falling out of a nest? Does anyone seriously believe that a baby dropped on its head by a careless au pair is being eliminated for its genetic unfitness? So why believe this of a baby bird falling out of a nest? Accidents, especially to the very young, are random, and to moralize them is mere superstition.

Yet the belief that accidental death is genetically selective – that it is based on the inherent qualities (hyperactivity, poor balance, inattention) of the individual  – is one of the reflexes of the neo-Darwinist mindset. Every single characteristic that exists is the result of natural selection, according to this scheme of things, and accidents are part of that selective process.  But let us see how this world-view works in practice. One of my two pet kittens once fell off a balcony. The one that fell was the adventurous one. So, the neo-Darwinist would argue, too much adventurousness is not good – nature punished this temerity as genetically ill-adapted. As a matter of fact the kitten escaped with a bleeding nose. He only fell two floors. So clearly he was not an unfit kitten: he survived. But wait – does this mean that if the flat had been on the tenth floor and he had fallen ten floors and died, his death would have proved he was genetically unfit? So whether my kitten was fit or unfit to survive depended entirely on whether his acrobatic exploring was carried out on a second floor balcony or a tenth floor balcony. So the actual distance fallen would have in some way transformed the genes of the kitten from superior to inferior genes. As he passed the fifth floor on his way down his genes instantly deteriorated, as his survival chances diminished. If on the other hand I had yelled out to someone to catch him on the way down, or if a neighbour below had put up his sun umbrella to break the kitten’s fall, the kitten’s genes would have been instantly transformed back to superior genes, as a bright and promiscuous future stretched before him. 

Does this absurd scenario demonstrate that the inherent characteristics of a living being cannot depend on some event which happens to it later in time? The inheritable genetic traits of an individual, and whether or not they are favourable ones, cannot be dependent on whether or not it is struck down by accidental death.

And yet this is the absurd idea that underlies any belief that accidents have some genetically selective function, that accidents cull the unfit, and that their occurrence is proof the animal had inferior genes. If a hyena attacks and devours a lame antelope, the neo-Darwinist sagely points to the genetic cleansing effect, the elimination of inferior genes. And if you point out that lameness is the result of an accident, not a genetic condition, he will at once begin arguing that accidents themselves are the result of a genetic condition. This idea is essentially a belief in the occult. The further you go into Darwinism, the more you realize it is a mode of thought that is closely akin to a magical, superstitious, religious world-view. It is a modern form of belief in pre-destination: that things were meant to happen that way by some hidden divine plan. Natural selection is the modern equivalent of Calvin’s divine election. Premature death by accident is God’s judgement on the non-elect, the very proof that this individual was not chosen. It is the habit of primitive minds to believe that nothing occurs by chance, that everything was caused by God or demon. Everything happens for a purpose. If a boy on a bike is killed by a drunk driver, the primitive religious mind will see this as a divine sign that the boy would have come to no good.  Such people would probably claim that those killed at Hiroshima or Auschwitz or in the Twin Towers must have had something wrong with them – or in Darwinian terms, must have been genetically inferior. Only the unfit could be culled in this spectacular way: their elimination is proof of their unfitness. Now however repugnant this world-view may be, it is in fact the logical extension of  Darwinism. Nothing happens by accident. Everything is genetically pre-ordained. Every quality is the result of selection over time, because the survival of each individual is the result of natural selection. There is no room for accidents in this world. The fatal accident is a selection, and is therefore genetically significant. It is astonishing that this primitive religious outlook has made a come-back under the guise of scientific Darwinism. It is a means by which impoverished minds cheer themselves up in the face of life’s tragedies – in the way that Darwin himself found consolation, after his beloved daughter Annie’s death from illness, by reflecting that it had made the other children physically stronger and more apt to survive. This belief is pure superstition. 

Let us turn to starvation. Superficially, this is more promising for the Darwinists, as hunger taxes the physical resistance of the individual, and therefore might logically lead to the survival of the stronger. In fact this is one of the few areas where some research has actually been done into survival rates, which has given what at first look like positive results for the notion of natural selection. Darwin’s famous finches on the Galapagos islands have been studied by Rosemary and Peter Grant for over twenty years and their mortality rates from starvation in severe drought years have been recorded. These islands are useful for Darwinists because climatic variations are so extreme that large numbers of birds die prematurely every few years and the shores are littered with their corpses. It is therefore possible to compare corpses and survivors and see if death shows any selective pattern. In 1977 when 85 per cent of the finch species fortis on the island Daphne were killed by drought, the Grant team found that the survivors were six per cent bigger than the average of this species on the island before the drought. Now this evidence was presented (by Jonathan Weiner in his study of their research) as though the chief factor was the bigger beaks of the survivors: half a millimetre increase in beak size was touted as meaning the difference between life and death, because of the need for a strong beak to crack the big tough seeds which were the only available food in drought conditions. This might look at first sight as if a selection for a specific structural variation had been observed here – bigger beaks relative to body size. But it turns out that overall weight and wingspan were also bigger in the survivors, so this was not a selection of a structural variation but of a mere size variation. The bigger birds survived. 49 But it was also mainly the males that survived: 150 out of 600 males but only “a pitiful remnant” of the females, which are smaller (apparently about 25 birds, since the sex ratio was afterwards one to six.) And it was the older birds which survived – the younger birds born in the previous two seasons all died. So most of the survivors were the oldest, most mature male birds – which would also, coincidentally, be bigger than the average bird, and have bigger beaks. Now this would tend to blur the results somewhat. Is this a selection of a structural variation (beak size or shape – he claimed the survivors had deeper beaks) or merely of a size variation, or a selection of the oldest males, with perhaps more experience in finding seeds in tough times, and better able to defend their food patch – since they are also the biggest? This fudging of the characters selected is important: any selection which is for age or sex rather than for size or structural variation is not selecting inheritable genetic characteristics. You cannot have a species which goes on having an overwhelming majority of mature males for several generations. Moreover, since the mature survivors are likely to be the parents of the immature losers, the elimination of the young is not a modification of the gene pool – they will simply be replaced by more of the same by their own parents who have survived. But the massacre of females operated by the drought meant that the tiny handful of females left (only one sixth of the number of the males, so presumably only 25) mated with only the very biggest males. This made their offspring also bigger with slightly deeper beaks, “4 or 5 per cent deeper than the beak of their ancestors before the drought.” 50 It is largely through this extreme sex-ratio distortion, making the surviving handful of females choose the biggest one sixth among surviving males, that the growth in size among offspring was achieved. This does seem to be a faithful reproduction in nature of the selective breeding process that a dog-breeder or sheep-breeder might use to enlarge his animals – and it required a massacre of 96 per cent of the females and three quarters of the males to achieve it. This would seem a somewhat exceptional circumstance in nature, and it poses a bit of a problem. In order to get a 4 per cent change in beak size, we need to kill 96 per cent of the females (and condemn 96 per cent of the males to either death or celibacy.) But how often does nature imitate to this drastic degree the actions of a stock-breeder?  

But there is a twist to the tale. In early 1983, five and a half years after the drought which apparently selected for big, mature male birds, there were torrential rains on the island which led to luxuriant vegetation and a huge upsurge in breeding among all the species of finches. They bred so profusely that when the rains and vegetation diminished the next year, the “finches had overshot the carrying capacity of their desert islands” and began to die like flies of a new famine. But this time the selection was curiously for smaller birds and for females. 51 This time, Weiner claimed, there were fewer large seeds and more smaller seeds and the larger birds could not get enough to feed their bigger appetites. So the survivors and their offspring shrank in body size again to where they had been before the drought. Now this is triumphantly proclaimed by Weiner to be an example of “oscillation” natural selection – a species is modified in one direction by natural selection and then is modified back again. This is trumpeted as an irrefutable proof that Darwin was right, and natural selection of specific characteristics with a survival advantage has been proven to occur. But let us look at this argument more closely.

Imagine a Caribbean village of a hundred people which is wiped out by a tornado so that only fifteen people survive (the proportion of survivors of the finch fortis in the 1977 drought.) It would be very unlikely that the fifteen survivors would have exactly the same average profile for age, height, weight and sex as the original one hundred. The elimination of 85 per cent would certainly have modified the survivors in some direction, just by the laws of chance. Perhaps they would be on average slightly older, taller, heavier, and include a higher proportion of males than the original one hundred. Then imagine after long years the village has just recovered to a hundred inhabitants again and it is suddenly hit by another tornado. Again only fifteen people survive. But this time what are their characteristics? If once again it is the older, taller, heavier males that survive, one might start to think that tornadoes select for these characteristics. In short we might be witnessing some real evolution by natural selection here (though of course it won’t be able to be sustained since we cannot have a permanent bias in the population towards older males – age and sex-ratio distortions, which are typically caused by disasters among humans, are not sustainable.) But if after the second tornado the fifteen survivors prove to be younger, shorter, lighter and have more females among them, then surely we will conclude that the alleged selection is merely the result of chance. Chance cannot be expected to make a perfectly representative selection that will mirror exactly the profile of the original population. Any drastic selection always shows a bias in favour of some characteristics – but this bias will be counteracted by a different bias the next time. By analogy, when you make a random selection of eight cards from a pack, you will almost never get two cards of each suit, reflecting the real composition of the pack. You may get five red cards and no spades at all. And when you reshuffle the pack and try again you may get six black cards and no hearts. Each time there will be bias towards one suit, which will be counteracted next time by a different bias. Every random selection shows random bias. The more drastic the selection the greater the random bias. But the randomness is only apparent when you add all the successive selections together.

Now one could argue that this is what has been observed on the Galapagos islands by the Grants and their team. The first famine of 1977 selected for older, bigger, mostly male birds. The second famine of 1984 selected for smaller birds, and mostly females. Over the longer time period no evolution occurred. Weiner, bizarrely, regarded the first event as marking the “progress” of the species (as if big must be beautiful) and the second as a “regression” back to the starting point. One could argue, on the contrary, that the selection was random each time. An accidental bias in the characteristics of survivors one time was countered by the opposite bias the next time. But even if we can co-relate the selection of big males one time and small females the next time to particular causes – the size or type of seeds available in the famine conditions – this does not subtract from the overall randomness of the events. In any famine some foods will remain more available than others and will favour the specialists in those foods. But if this availability itself is a random or chance event, and switches from one food to another with successive famines, then the entire event and the selection made will be, from a longer perspective, random. It will not lead to any evolution by natural selection unless the availability of only one particular food, which selects for a particular kind of bird, becomes repeated and constant. All we can say is that varying environmental catastrophes will select temporarily for big or small birds, males or females, young or old, specialists in big seeds or in small. But so long as these circumstances vary unpredictably with each disaster, there can be no sustained natural selection leading to a directional evolution.

Survival in conditions of famine may well be more a question of luck in stumbling on a food source at the right time, rather than physical characteristics. It may also depend on changing behaviour patterns, and learning to find new sources of food. Animals do this all the time. Grisly bears learn to raid camping grounds in national parks and go through rubbish bins, sparrows to haunt restaurants or balconies, crows in some places to drop shellfish in the path of trucks at traffic lights and wait for them to be split open. The kea, a New Zealand mountain parrot which was once vegetarian, learned first to eat meat off drying sheepskins on farms, and then to attack live sheep by burrowing into their liver. Dolphins have learned to hunt fish in quite different ways in different regions of the world. Altered behaviour is probably the best single defence against famine, and often it is the result of a chance discovery, which is quickly imitated by others of the species. Some British blue tits by chance learned recently to peck through milk bottle tops to drink the milk, and the behaviour spread like wildfire through all the blue tits in the country. 52 The fact that altered behaviour is the most immediate reaction to changed circumstances is what led Lamarck to give primacy to behaviour in evolution: changed behaviour, if it places different stresses on the organism, will then lead over time to changed physical structure. But we will come back to that later.

The attempt to correlate survival to individual genetic characteristics on the Galapagos islands has in fact failed, despite the many interesting observations made. The failure is demonstrated by the details of the evidence gathered. The Grants point to one male bird which has fathered several families, but none of his dozen offspring have managed to raise young in their turn. He is a father of a dozen but not a grandfather. They refer to him (jokingly, but in a manner typical of Darwinists) as a loser. 54 But the very fact that this bird has been very successful in transmitting his genes, but that the inheritors of those “successful genes” have not been successful in their turn, surely shows there is no such thing as successful genes. It is not that this bird is a loser with a loser’s genes, but that survival is a lottery and there are no genes of success. The genetic characteristics which allegedly allowed this bird to survive have not allowed his progeny to survive. There can be no more damning demonstration of the fallacy of this entire ideology.

What we have said of starvation, and of the large element of chance in surviving this danger, also applies in varying degrees to other causes of death – cold, heat, storms, floods and bush fires. But with cold there is perhaps some selection for body size and shape, for thicker fur, better feathers or whatever. Certain species of bird in North America, imported from Europe, have grown larger in northern latitudes than southern, presumably as a defence against cold – since in larger, rounder bodies, surface area (and therefore exposure to air) is less in relation to body mass. Whether this greater body size has developed collectively, through different behaviour in colder climates (more vigorous movement, more compulsive eating, longer summer days for hunting), as Lamarck might suggest, or through natural selection (the higher death rate of the smaller) is another matter – but we should give selection the benefit of the doubt. Once again, in exceptionally cold conditions for which the species is not prepared, mortality will be so high that migration, modified behaviour and luck in finding warmer places will probably make more of a difference to survival than the tiny physical variations between individuals of the same breed. But we shall give half a point to cold, as there does appear to be some natural selection for body size.  

            Let us turn now to predation. This is the cause of death that Darwinian evolutionists point to most often as a clear demonstration of genetic selection and the survival of the fittest. There is an almost universal and unquestioned belief that predators pick on the weakest specimens of a herd, and it is automatically assumed this weakness is genetic weakness.

Here is Toronto University’s McGowan in the Raptor and the Lamb, describing a lioness charging into a herd of zebra.


The big cat selects her quarry..…. It was not the closest one but it failed to follow the choreography of the herd quite as closely as the others.  55


After a luridly gory description of the kill, he comes back to this point, and drives home the moral. 


The zebra that was killed by the lioness was the one that failed to keep together with the rest of the herd. The zebra’s behaviour may have been attributed to a number of factors, ranging from its running ability to its spatial awareness. If the behaviour had genetic components, the zebra’s unfavourable genes would have been removed, by natural selection, from the gene pool, which is the sum total of genes in that breeding population.  56


Here we have a clear expression that this lioness is selecting a slightly bizarre and awkwardly running zebra, with suspect genes, for the sake of biological cleansing, and rendering the gene pool of this herd a lot healthier and better adapted.   

            The first point to make is: why would a lioness do this? Why pick a genetically inferior specimen? Does the meat taste better? Are they easier to kill? There must be some advantage in this for the lioness: otherwise we are led to suppose some kind of cross species altruism, combined with far-sighted ecological concerns for the future of the prey species. Why would a lioness want to contribute to the general increase in speed and strength of the zebras? Surely her interest would be the opposite: stop the strongest specimens reproducing so that the future zebras don’t grow too fast and strong for her and her cubs. If we are to lend the lioness some preternatural selective ability, surely it would be a selective ability in her interest, not the zebra’s?

Logically, what would a lioness’s choice, as she charges into a herd of zebras, be based on? Clearly, one thing only: ease of conquest. The individual that predators choose will be based on their own convenience, not the evolutionary health of the prey species. In the case described, the lioness may have regarded this zebra, which she had panicked into separating slightly from the others, as easier to bring down without danger from the hooves of the rest of the herd. Why see anything more occult in her choice than that? It is a standard hunting practice to rush at a herd and try to separate one animal from the rest, and go for that one. And panic dispersal is purely random: no individual can know which way the others will run, away from it or with it. To read genetic qualities into this is superstition. It is like reading significance into the fall of pick-up sticks. If the observer were able to predict beforehand which zebra the lioness would go for, he might be on to something. To rationalize it after the event is too easy. But let us look at hunting more closely, to see whether its mechanism can have any genetically selective effect. How does hunting work?

            Large mammal predators are divided into cursor and ambush predators. Their techniques of hunting differ. Lions are ambush predators because they have good acceleration but they tire quickly and cannot run as fast as most of their prey over any distance. Cursors such as wild dogs or hyenas or wolves, on the other hand, are tireless runners. They stalk a herd, separate off an individual target animal and may have to chase it over a long distance to tire it out, or surround it in numbers and bring it down. Cursor predators are often much smaller than their prey and being mostly canids (members of the dog family) lack the opposable paws and sharp retractable claws of felids (cats) to spring on a victim’s back and wrestle it down. (Cheetahs, felids with canid-like claws, behave like something between a cursor and an ambush predator – they are short-distance cursors.) These differences lead felids and canids, or ambush and cursor predators, to make different choices of individual prey, even when they are both hunting the same species.  

            Such studies of patterns of predation that have been done provide no evidence for the notion of genetic selection, and considerable evidence against it. Research by George Schaller in The Serengeti Lion (which McGowan himself quotes) reveals interesting patterns among African predators.  “Lions kill zebras and wildebeests of all ages, whereas cheetahs and leopards …. and wild dogs concentrate on young individuals…..And while lions and cheetahs primarily kill healthy animals, hyenas tend to focus on sick ones.”  It is instructive to correlate this with success rates in hunting.  “The hunting successes of the lion, averaged for all hunts both day and night, varied from 14 per cent for reedbuck to 32 per cent for wildebeest .…. Hunting dogs and cheetahs did considerably better, with average successes of all prey hunted of 70 per cent.” 57

 What can we deduce from all this? Firstly, it is significant that the cursor predators,  which also tended to concentrate on the young, had a much higher success rate. This would be logical in that cursor predators, such as Cape hunting dogs, stalk a herd, choose their individual prey, separate it off, and keep on chasing till they tire it out. Since they have as much stamina as their prey, there is little chance of the prey escaping. Lions, on the other hand, must succeed in bringing a prey down with their first charge, and if they fail they give up, because they can’t keep up with their prey over a long distance. Their rate of success is therefore lower, but they probably make many more tries. It is interesting also that lions kill healthy animals of all ages. Of course, unlike dogs and cheetahs which are much smaller than zebra and wildebeest and will therefore prefer calves, lions are able to kill even the largest individuals (not just because they are strong, but because they can jump on their backs and hold on with their felid claws.) But there is perhaps another reason for the lion’s eclecticism in the matter of age.

Lions are most successful when they rely on collective ambush, in which two or three “killer” lionesses conceal themselves in long grass or behind bushes or hillocks, while other members of the pride encircle the herd of prey and drive it in panic towards the ambush. Now the killer lionesses in this kind of ambush can exercise very little selection. As soon as the herd arrives in stampede upon their hiding-place, they leap frantically on the nearest. They must naturally try to get one of the leading animals by surprise, because the others following behind will see the danger and veer away. Thus the killer lionesses are often tackling the fastest animals at the front of the herd. This explains why their prey are generally healthy individuals: the sick ones would be too slow to be at the front. And it explains their hit and miss record of success, since they are often trying to stop very fit animals going at speed. Moreover, the wide range of ages of their prey suggests a total lack of selection being exercised: they go blindly for the nearest individual, young or old. Death is a lottery. No genetic selection can reasonably be expected to result from this kind of random, opportunistic predation.

            Now let us look at cursor predators, which are mainly canids. Wild dogs (such as Cape hunting dogs) focus almost entirely on calves, which are easier for them to bring down. Firstly the calf is a less vigorous runner and can be more easily caught. Secondly it is not as heavy or steady on its feet and can be dragged down by seizing one of its legs, which is important since canids cannot spring onto its back and bite its neck as felids can. Thirdly, it is less able to defend itself with hooves or horns than an adult wildebeest or zebra, which could do damage to a small hunting dog. For all these reasons, canids tend to pick calves, which they try to separate by panicking and dispersing the herd.

It is different for hyenas, which pick on sick or lame adults. This is perhaps because hyenas, though they lack the sharp retractable claws of a felid and the springing power to jump on a healthy adult zebra, are extremely aggressive and very strong. They have jaws with exceptional gripping power, strong enough to crush bones, so that once they manage to fasten them around the leg of a slow-moving animal, they can probably drag it down however big it is. The problem with a fast-moving healthy animal is getting their jaws round the leg, or being able to get their teeth into its belly or udders which they like to rip as a way of disabling their victim. Their crude hunting methods require a slow-moving prey. On the other hand, a calf might not provide enough meat for a band of hungry hyenas, which are voracious feeders and travel in big packs. The killing of a small prey might lead to considerable civil strife as they all tried to get a piece. All of this would dictate old, sick adults as their favourite prey.  

            Now in none of these cases  – the random selection of the nearest stampeding beast by an ambushing lioness, the killing of wildebeest calves by wild dogs or cheetahs, or the killing of old sick adults by hyenas – is there the slightest evidence of any genetic selection that will improve the gene pool of the herd. Not one of these techniques of predation leads in any way to the “survival of the fittest”. In the lion’s case it is random and the ambushing lioness may well be killing the fittest specimen, the one leading the stampede. And once a lioness gets its claws and teeth into the neck of a wildebeest or antelope, the qualities of the individual animal count for little in that unequal contest. How close the lioness has got to it, the lottery of proximity, is all that determines outcome. In the wild dog’s case, the selection of a calf is not the selection of a genetically weaker or inferior specimen but merely of a circumstantially weaker one. Being young is not a sign of genetic inferiority. The calf might have the best genes in the herd and still be singled out for attack because of its youth. As for the hyena, killing old and sick animals is not going to affect the gene pool since these animals are not going to breed any more anyhow. They are genetic deadwood, whether they have already reproduced or not, and their elimination will make no genetic difference to the herd. In none of the typical cases of predation by major predators whose killing habits have been carefully observed can we detect the slightest pattern that resembles Darwinian natural selection – the elimination of healthy but inferior specimens, which would otherwise breed and pass on inferior genes.

The popular myth that predators kill the weak and thereby strengthen the species is based on a confusion between genetic weakness and circumstantial weakness. A three-day-old calf is weak, but this is not a genetic weakness or inferiority. It may have the best genes in the herd and still be chosen for the predator’s dinner because it can be pulled down more easily by a wild dog. The same applies to an old sick animal. It may have the finest genes in the herd, and may once have been the fittest and most prolific female. It may have numerous offspring in this herd. Old age has now made it weak, slow and vulnerable to disease, but its killing will again have no effect on the genes of the herd, since it has already done all its breeding. The notion that in killing the “weak” – the very young or the very old and sick – a  predator is improving the genes of the herd by removing inferior animals that would otherwise breed, is a popular superstition, raised to the level of scientific theory. Even in the tiny percentage of cases of animals born deformed, defective or sickly, the predator is not removing genes from the pool, since these sickly runts would not breed anyway. Natural selection is not the removal of runts or congenital defectives. By definition it must be the elimination of healthy animals capable of breeding, but whose inferior genes would not contribute to the adaptive improvement of the species. That is the only way it can work as a mechanism for evolution. And that is a kind of natural selection that no pattern of predation that has ever been observed can possibly lead to.

            When one considers the effect of predation upon birds, there is a similar lack of any evidence that any genetic selection is taking place. A good number of baby birds are killed in the nest, when a weasel or hawk manages to get to it. No individual qualities in the prey are going to give them the slightest chance against that sort of visitor. Among most bird species, the greatest losses are in the egg stage, or among the very young nestlings, whose helplessness makes them vulnerable. This weakness and vulnerability scarcely varies between individuals of the same age (any more than when they were eggs.) One would hardly argue that a weasel that ate three eggs and left one was eliminating the inferior eggs. If it eats three baby birds and leaves one, this is the same randomness. It stops when it has had enough – not because it has come upon a nestling with a formidable right hook. Even among adult birds preyed on by other birds, death is generally a lottery. McGowan describes the way a colony of Eleanora’s falcons on an island off the coast of Crete ambush at dawn the autumn migration of birds from Europe to Africa. “They spread out on a broad front, keeping about 100-200 yards apart … The broad net strung across the sky is a formidable barrier to migrants that have to overfly the island.” 58 The falcons attack as soon as the swarms of migrant birds come into view.  Though only 11% of individual strikes are successful, some falcons kill as many as a dozen birds and take each one back to their nests before returning to the fray. McGowan compares the scene to the Battle of Britain. Since the prey don’t fight back, it is perhaps more apt to compare it to a row of machine-guns firing into wave after wave of charging troops. One would hardly dare suggest that the machine-gun culls the genetically inferior soldiers – those who are less good at running or dodging bullets. The testimony of most war veterans is that in this kind of attack it is pure chance who the bullets kill. What evidence is there that any more than chance is involved in the culling carried out by these falcons?

            But the more fanatical proponents of the Darwinian theory of natural selection may actually be mad enough to believe that soldiers killed by machine guns, or by a shell landing in a trench, are being culled on genetic grounds. If they believe it of migrant birds or zebra, why not believe it of men? Darwin apparently believed it – Wallace took issue with him on it.   And Darwin’s disciple Hitler certainly believed it. He was convinced that war killed off the weakest  – those “unequal to the storm of life.” His own wounding in the First World War by gas did not seem to shake this belief. If army medical care had been less good, Hitler might have died. Does this mean that he would have had inferior genes? Did the quality of his genes then depend on the quality of Wehrmacht medical care? The patent irrationality of this belief did not faze him. The idea that war kills off the weak and selects the strong for survival was such a fundamental part of Hitler’s worldview that doubting it was not an option. This is not too dissimilar to the faith of many modern Darwinists. Natural selection is the basis of their world view. Predation must be genetically selective, killing off the inferior genes. To doubt it is like doubting the earth is round. No amount of evidence from individual cases will convince them of the contrary. This is a universal principle and no demonstration of its limitations can cast doubt on it.

Of course there may be some neo-Darwinists who accept that predation by lions or birds of prey is genetically selective, but refuse to believe that the machine gun or the bomb are genetically selective. It would be interesting to hear them justify the distinction. Hitler and Darwin in applying the same theory to animals and people are at least consistent. Once this superstitious principle is accepted it must surely be universal. If predators somehow seek out inferior genes, why not human predators? Why would nature grant this preternatural selective capacity to a falcon or a lion and not to a machine-gunner or a bomber pilot? Darwinian natural selection logically implies Hitler’s conclusions: the guns and bombs of war kill off the weaker individuals and strengthen the species, and war is therefore good for mankind.

            I do not wish to imply by these parallels that all Darwinists have a fascist cast of mind. On the contrary, the problem is that many Darwinists want to believe in genetic selection of prey precisely because it is the only way the ferocious ways of nature can be made to seem vaguely benign. If you believe that the prey being torn to pieces are inferior individuals, and that this gruesome process is improving the gene pool and furthering evolution, then you have a sort of justification of the harsh ways of nature. If you believe that the baby turtles racing down the beach after hatching are being culled by sea-birds in function of their individual genetic qualities, rather like an 11+ exam, then you have a sense that the universe, even if severe, is fair. If, on the other hand, you believe that predation is a purely random, purely quantitative decimation of the prey species without any genetic selection whatever, and without any evolutionary purpose being served by it, then nature looks extremely cruel and wasteful. The desire to moralize the universe is the fundamental impulse behind Darwinism. And in moralizing the universe, Darwinism falsifies it. We have not the slightest scrap of evidence for asserting that the universe is moral, or that its overall plan is for adaptive improvement, or that species are in fact improving, or that there is any general progress towards anything whatsoever. One of the more amusing ironies of the hilarious debate between Darwinists and Christian Creationists is that both sides are descendants of different currents of Protestant fundamentalism. Both are devoted to proving that the power controlling the universe is harsh but just. They simply see that power slightly differently.

            Predation, we must conclude, is not sufficiently selective to have any genetic effect on a species, any more than the Blitz improved the breed of Londoners by killing off those too slow or stupid to make it to the shelters. But are there any characteristics of prey that might possibly be selected by predation? What about camouflage? Surely those animals less well camouflaged will be caught more easily than those better camouflaged? The huge problem here of course is that camouflage usually varies little within a species, or at least within a variety of a species. Where we see big differences in camouflage we are probably already looking at different varieties, if not different species. This still begs the question of how they became different varieties or species, and whether the minute variations of individuals were in any way selected in this process. The classic example of alleged Darwinian evolution taught in every British school is the peppered moth, which spends a good part of its time clinging to trees. In Manchester in the nineteenth century the darkening of trees by pollution led to a decline in the numbers of light-winged moths and a rise in the numbers of dark-winged moths. As the trees darkened, the dark-winged moths were better camouflaged, were seen less by birds and survived in larger numbers, while the light-winged moths were eaten. This is clearly the effect of predation and effective camouflage on the relative survival rates of different moths. But is this an example of Darwinian evolution by natural selection, as it is triumphantly proclaimed to be? The crux of the matter is whether the dark-winged moth can be shown to have been a more recent mutation from the light-winged one or not. Was it a new variety that developed in response to the darkening of the trees? Or was it simply a different pre-existent variety, which was favoured by the change in environment? This latter case would not be one of evolution. 59 It is simply a case of one variety doing better than another in changed conditions. To say one evolved into the other is a very different assertion. If mosquitoes are favoured by a hot climate and fleas by a cold one, then a drop in temperature may lead mosquitoes to die out in that region and fleas to proliferate. But we can hardly say that the mosquitoes have evolved into fleas. All the evidence suggests the darker peppered moths were a pre-existing variety predating the industrial revolution. Weiner, recounting the story of the moths as another irrefutable proof of natural selection, makes this damning admission without realizing its significance:


Before the industrial revolution the black form was under strong negative selection pressures and the mutation stayed rare, except in forests with mostly black barked trees. Factories reversed the selection pressure because the rare moths looked like soot themselves. The case of the peppered moth gave evolutionists their first inkling of the speed of Darwin’s process.  60 


Translated from the jargon, this means the black moths, which could only flourish where there were black trees, suddenly expanded in numbers when the number of black trees grew. The white moths that needed white trees to hide grew fewer when white trees became rare. That this should have astonished anyone is in itself astonishing. To have this described as “Darwin’s process” is even more astonishing. Where is the evolution? Where is the modification of a species? Where is the natural selection of particular individuals? Since this black mutation predated industrial soot, the question still remains: how did it arise? If the Darwinists had proved that natural selection caused this variant form to arise – that individuals were culled in a selective manner that favoured particular gradations of colour within the same variety so that the colour gradually shifted, causing a genetic change – they would have scored a point. But they have not shown that. This is not a species with a range of colours, of which darker and darker shades were gradually selected during industrialization. It is two distinct pre-existing varieties, one black, one white, of which one was favoured and the other disadvantaged by a particular change in their habitat (a process now being reversed as the trees lighten again and the white variety makes a comeback.) This is not evolution. It is simply a population shift, such as occurs all the time in nature as conditions change. The human population of Tasmania was once black. Whites arrived, wiped out the blacks by massacre and infectious diseases, and replaced them. Could we say that the blacks of Tasmania have evolved into whites? It is doubtful if even the Darwinists would claim this. Neither of these varieties of human has evolved in any way over this period. Their relative numbers have simply changed. And the same applies to the two varieties of peppered moth.  

            When we get to the last cause of premature death among animals – disease – we are finally on to something that is probably genetically selective. It is the only one we will give a full point to, in addition to the half point given to cold. Disease kills those individuals with less resistance to it, and leaves alive those with more resistance. Catching the disease and surviving it may also increase immunity. Death by disease is therefore clearly a field for the   operation of natural selection, which will make a population (or its survivors) more resistant to that disease. This seems to be how Europeans built up resistance to the influenza, measles and other viruses, which then killed off Amerindians and Polynesians in droves when Europeans went near them. So let us grant the Darwinists one point here. The only drawback to the idea of selection by disease is that a disease cannot select for any quality except resistance to that disease. It cannot select for narrow beaks or wide antlers or long necks or trunks or retractable claws. This is a fatal limitation if one wishes to find here the mechanism for all evolution. Only if you could prove some association between resistance to a disease and some structural modification would you be able to make the case for disease-selection being a factor in the evolution of the elephant’s trunk.

            All together we have come up with a poor score for natural selection: one point for disease and half a point for cold out of the six causes of premature death. But the problem is that even this poor score – the fact that disease selects for resistance to disease, and cold may select for a larger body size – is probably enough to reinforce the Darwinists in their basic world view. “You see, natural selection does occur!” they will cry triumphantly, pointing to kinds of selection that cannot possibly be responsible for any structural evolution in animals whatsoever. But to its followers, natural selection is not a scientific theory, to be proved or disproved: it is an ideology, even a faith. It is the basis of an entire world-view. Evidence may be found for it, but never against it. Once a single crude example of it has been shown to occur, its proponents imagine they have demonstrated its universal operation and its myriad detailed effects. They think that once they have shown that a parrot can repeat “pretty Polly” then they have proved it is only a matter of time before it learns to recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” or the Gettysburg Address. The chief problem with natural selection is not that no example of it can be found, but that its proven effects are by their nature so limited and crude that it cannot be the main motor of a process as precise and sophisticated as evolution. So far in all the causes of premature death we have found selection for disease-resistance and size. Is that really enough to explain how the elephant got its trunk, or the cat its retractable claws?




            Now these drawbacks to the functioning of natural selection by means of premature death are probably what led Darwin to focus in his later work on another method of selection: sexual selection. Animals leave different numbers of offspring. Surely this difference will lead to the selection of certain characteristics over time. This forms the theme of his later book The Descent of  Man.

Now the idea of invoking sexual selection was on the surface a promising one. For it had the potential to get around one of the most damaging objections to the theory of natural selection. Evolution, Darwin believed, is a slow accumulation of tiny modifications over many generations, and such small variations are not going to be enough in just one generation to make the difference between life and death. If we take a giraffe, a difference in neck-length of a centimetre in one individual, if repeated for a hundred and fifty generations will add a metre and a half to the neck, and give the giraffe vital access to the high leaves no other animal can reach. But this first centimetre will hardly be enough to give this individual a decisive advantage in one lifetime, so that others die out and he survives. So how does the process of evolution towards long necks get launched, how does this individual get “selected” for his advantage, when the first centimetre will make no difference to survival chances? One might have expected Darwin to argue that these tiny structural differences might make a difference in rates of reproduction. The females might possess a preternatural flair for guessing which male is going to be better adapted a couple of hundred generations down the line, and make sure he leaves a numerous progeny. Just as a centimetre difference in a man’s nose might make him look more handsome to a woman, so a centimetre extra on a giraffe’s neck might make it more desirable to a female giraffe. In actual fact Darwin doesn’t go down this path. He doesn’t invoke the selective prescience of the female as a way of solving one of the basic problems of his theory. He merely contents himself with laboriously detailing the ways in which females of various species seem to choose males, and how this choice itself must have affected their evolution. While this is at times fascinating it leads nowhere. This is because all he can show is that sexual selection operates in the evolution of armaments and useless ornaments – long tails, bright colours, ruffs, whistles, etc. It is not capable of selecting for anything else, or setting in motion any major structural change. It explains, in short, why the male elephant has long tusks, or is bigger than the female, but it takes us no further in understanding how the elephant got its trunk. Sexual selection of the good fighters among males can develop nothing but size and armaments. Sexual selection of those males who win display contests can lead to nothing but an evolution of beautiful and spectacular ornaments. Where does the rest of evolution – all the functional parts of animals, which are essential in food-gathering, and which have undergone the most extraordinary variation – come from?

            The basic principle of sexual selection seems simple: females choose mates they fancy. Darwin argues that the elaborate ornamental displays of the males of certain species, especially birds – their colourful ruffs, crests and tails, their courting rituals, songs and dances  – all constitute an attempt to influence female choice in mates. This choice must therefore be real, and must have influenced the evolution of these same display features in the male.  He argues convincingly that in species where the sexes differ most, and where the male has gone to the greatest trouble to evolve attractive or impressive features, there is acute competition between the males for mates because the species is not monogamous, but a harem or arena species. A harem species, one will recall, is one where a single male has a herd of females, which he must fight other males to keep, and an arena species is one where all the males gather in the breeding season and joust for top dog positions at the centre of the stamping ground, the winners being rewarded by being able to service all the females. In most monogamous species, there is little development of ornaments in the male, and the sexes resemble each other much more.  It is clearly therefore because of the differential breeding rates in harem and arena species – the fact that one lucky male mates with a multitude of females and other males miss out – that these remarkable ornamental features of the male have developed in these species. The male with the longest tail or the brightest crest is the one that gets to mate with all the females, and this extreme characteristic therefore keeps getting developed in the species. And these ornaments have not developed in monogamous species because in the latter there are no such differential breeding rates. It is a convincing argument, and few people can put down The Descent of Man without being convinced that sexual selection has operated in the development of these striking male ornaments in the species concerned. The only problem is Darwin has not demonstrated it operates in any other species, or for any other features. The failure to develop such striking display features in the vast majority of species (which are not harem or arena species) suggests that huge differences in breeding rates do not occur in most species and that sexual selection therefore has very little effect on their evolution. 

Moreover, in the course of this argument, Darwin demonstrates convincingly that the sole features that interest the choosy female are purely ornamental. These features are not related to food gathering, predator evasion, protection or feeding of the young, or any other useful skill or characteristic. They are simply attention-getting devices serving to win mates. The utter uselessness of the features is the main point Darwin emphasizes – as against his colleague Wallace, who thought that these ornaments must be merely the outward signs of health, vigour or some other useful quality. Darwin argues on the contrary that the very uselessness of the ornamental features proves how important attracting a mate is in these species. Breeding is the goal of life, and the creature evolves in a competitive effort to fulfil this goal. The very arbitrariness of the female’s taste is proof of its absolute value. Once this taste exists it becomes self-justifying and self-perpetuating. The female will be attracted to those features that she knows other, future females will be attracted to – thus favouring her own genetic survival, by ensuring that her male offspring will do well in future breeding contests. So the qualities she selects have no advantage whatsoever except that she is attracted to them. They include such useless things as crests, ruffs, bright colours, long tails, silly dances and whistles, which can have no practical purpose, and may even make the male more conspicuous and an easier target for predators. It has even been found that species such as the Irish elk, developing larger and larger antlers in order to win herds of females from rivals, actually died out because of this, since their huge antlers made them incapable of running away from predators in forests. It is clear that the very long tails of peacocks and other male birds in arena species are similarly a huge disadvantage for predator evasion. So much for fitness. So much for “adaptive improvement”. Darwin’s entire demonstration of the operation of sexual selection only serves to prove that it operates at full force mainly in a number of harem or arena species which have become in fact beautiful freaks, evolutionary eccentricities or genetic dead ends, which may well be expected to become extinct the moment anything happens to upset the balance of their habitat. Apart from these cases of useless ornament, he fails to show how sexual selection can have any effect on the species, except for the simple, crude result (in the case of actual fighting between them) of making the males bigger and better armed.  

            His problem, in short, is that this kind of sexual selection for ornaments operates at its most intense in arena species, but these do not make up even one per cent of the mammal and bird species. What about monogamous species and promiscuous species? With these two kinds, both of which often show no great difference between the male and the female in size or ornaments, there seems little evidence that sexual selection has operated on their evolution, and little scope for it to do so. Among promiscuous species there can be no effective sexual monopoly. Chimpanzees live in tribes which have a certain pecking order, and the pecking order of the males seems in theory to determine who gets first shot at whichever female is in heat. But lower-level chimpanzees often gang up on the top male to trick him out of the female and enjoy her behind his back, so to speak. Moreover, the females in heat may accept several males one after another, and it is something of a lottery whose sperm is going to come out on top. It has been argued that this inability to monopolize females leads the males of promiscuous species to develop bigger testicles and shoot more sperm in a desperate attempt to get their seed in the pole position inside the uterus. This would be unnecessary unless there was a strong probability that several lots of sperm would be in there together, jostling at the starting blocks. Because of the usefulness of the other males in hunting and defence, the alpha male in fact tolerates their sexual competition, in what appears to be an instinct to promote the group’s genetic survival, rather than his own. The same has been observed among multi-male lion groups, which co-operate in their ownership of the females of a territory, rather than bitterly competing for them. Among such promiscuous tribal species there is, in effect, collective fatherhood, and anything less selective it is hard to imagine. 61

In the case of monogamous species, who dominate the bird kingdom (around 99 per cent of species are seasonally monogamous, and some mate for life), and are well represented among animals, it is even harder to prove sexual selection. This is because, while choice is undoubtedly exercised in pairing, it is not usually “selection” in the Darwinian sense: that is, it is not a selection as to who will breed; it is a choice of who will breed with whom. A rejected suitor of one becomes the successful suitor of the next, as among humans. Since the sexes are of roughly equal number, the vast majority of individuals end up pairing, whether they are at the top of the ladder of attractiveness or near the bottom – just as they do among people. If sexual selection were to have an effect on the evolution of monogamous species, one would have to prove either of two things: that there is a huge difference in the numbers of offspring of different couples (not merely at the extremes but in the bulk of cases), or that a large number of individuals fail to mate at all. Now neither of these has been proven. It is only in environmental catastrophes that a huge proportion of a monogamous species fails to mate, because of the wiping out of most of one sex, as happened during the drought on Daphne in the Galapagos in 1977 described already. But catastrophes of this sort are rare. Under normal circumstances, the vast majority of individuals reaching adulthood in monogamous bird species (around 80% in the case of robins) generally find a territory and a mate. Though there is lots of squabbling among them until pairs are formed, almost everyone eventually finds a shoe to fit his foot – whether big, small, fat, thin, pretty or ugly, just as among humans. What happens to the twenty per cent of solitaries is not clear; they may even simply act as a pool of reserves, replacing the casualties that fall to predators.  It was noted by Darwin, as we have mentioned, that widows and widowers in bird couples remarry very quickly and often the next day: a hunter no sooner shoots one of a couple, than the survivor finds a new mate. This would suggest that the solitary twenty per cent are like reserve players, or like wallflowers at a dance. Unimpressed by the remaining singles available, they wait for a widow or widower, who are perhaps hotter numbers. Or they may simply be victims of a dearth of decent territories; like the homeless, they wait for an apartment to fall half vacant, and rush in to share it. Until figures are collected for the percentage of adult birds of monogamous species which never mate, we are justified in assuming it is very small.

Now there is, of course, some difference in breeding success among bird couples. But differences may be circumstantial, and successive seasons might see very different results for the same individuals. It is also by no means certain that the breeding success of one bird or couple will be repeated by its offspring. As we saw above, in one of the few long-term research projects where biologists have got to know individual birds in a breeding population, that of the Grants on the Galapagos islands, they mention birds which have had several successful families, but have no grandchildren. Their own success was not repeated by the next generation. This would bear out the notion that breeding is something of a lottery with no discernible patterns of the long-term success of particular genes. It is also significant that most bird species tend to have an optimum clutch size, or number of eggs laid, which the majority of them keep to. Going above it to lay a lot more eggs and raise a lot more offspring leads to a negative trade-off in the quality of feeding provided and the size of the offspring when they leave the nest. It has been found that a higher clutch size than the optimum will lead to more of the young birds dying both before and just after they leave the nest – being smaller, they may have less vigour in finding food. 62 This suggests that real competition among birds to raise lots more offspring than their neighbour is rather limited. Most of them  raise a similar number. And chance, in the form of a cat or a hawk taking an interest in their tree, will probably have more of an effect on outcome than any variations in vigour among different couples. Darwin himself was well aware of these difficulties with his theory of sexual selection. He tells us with rather disarming honesty:


I have not attempted to conceal that, excepting when the males are more numerous than the females, or when polygamy prevails, it is doubtful how the more attractive males succeed in leaving a larger number of offspring to inherit their superiority in ornaments or other charms than the less attractive males; but I have shown that this would probably follow from the females – especially the more vigorous females which would be the first to breed, preferring not only the more attractive but at the same time the more vigorous and victorious males.  63


Let us study this sentence closely. Having admitted that it is by no means clear how the allegedly more vigorous or attractive males could manage to leave more offspring than the rest in monogamous species, he then relapses into what the unkind might call popular superstition, folklore and anthropomorphism. He claims that he has “shown” that “this would probably follow” from what he considers the natural preference of females for the “more vigorous and victorious males”. Apart from this anthropomorphic analogy, he doesn’t offer us much to go on here. It is in fact a disarming appeal to us to accept what he has not proved. It is an example of what one critic of Darwin has described as a technique of admitting a weakness of his theory only to turn this very candour into a convincing argument for it – as though his very honesty were the proof of his irreproachable scientific method. It is a mere trick of rhetoric. And that is really what the whole theory of sexual selection rests on, once one leaves aside the small number of arena and harem species where differential breeding obviously occurs – and where its effect seems confined to ornaments and armaments. There is no more evidence that superior specimens have more offspring among monogamous birds than among monogamous humans. But even in saying that we have suddenly touched a subject where the neo-Darwinists, one might say, have had a field day. 





The difficulty in showing that sexual selection operates in any but the very few species (harem and arena species) where sexual monopoly of many females by one male is obvious, has not stopped the Darwinists. They assume as an axiom a principle that they have not proved, by a simple appeal to common sense – as if it couldn’t be otherwise. In fact, underneath the discussion of sexual selection among animals and birds lies an unquestioned assumption that it happens among humans. Again there is systematic confusion between the notions of sexual choice and sexual selection. Because human beings (or their parents) choose their marriage partners and some partners are clearly seen as more desirable than others, it is taken for granted that the more desirable partners have more offspring (which is what sexual selection means.) But is it true that Miss Universe and Mr Universe have more children than the rest of us? Do the most attractive Hollywood film stars have more children than their gardeners and plumbers, just because more people desire them? Are rich men or powerful rulers always more prolific than the poor and downtrodden? Are Bill Gates and George Bush fathers of a dozen children apiece? That is what sexual selection means. But have the Darwinists produced the slightest scrap of evidence for it?

Darwin, to his credit, does try to examine how the sexual and marital habits of various societies of the remote past may have given rise to sexual selection (which is more than his modern followers have done.) He cites the anthropological research of his own age, notably that of Morgan, on the “communal marriage” believed to have been practised in early tribal societies. But this communal marriage did not allow sexual monopoly at all, as women were common property. Then when monogamy developed, it is hard to see how differential breeding occurred, given the strength of human jealousy and the almost universal prohibition of adultery. Anecdotal evidence is cited of a certain number of “savage” societies where the stronger men simpler took the pretty wives of weaker ones by force. No attempt is made to show how widespread this kind of lawlessness and tyranny may have been, and Darwin accepts that this sort of behaviour may have characterized “savage” societies only in their present degenerate state. In fact, whenever Darwin examines the question closely he finds objections to the notion of sexual selection, and lists what he calls the “checks to its operation”, including widespread infanticide and child betrothals. But his analytical, sceptical  intelligence is forever being overridden by an ideological conviction that he keeps coming back to and repeating as a kind of mantra to convince himself: 


The strongest and most vigorous men …. would succeed in rearing a greater average number of offspring than the weaker and poorer members of the same tribes. There can also be no doubt that such men would generally be able to select the more attractive women. 65


And he goes on to say that “after the lapse of many generations” this would “modify the character of the tribe.” He believes the sexual selection operates in both directions:


For the women would generally choose not merely the handsomest men … but those who were at the same time best able to defend and support them. Such well-endowed pairs would commonly rear a larger number of offspring than the less favoured. The same result would obviously follow in a still more marked manner if there were selection on both sides; that is, if the more attractive, and at the same time more powerful men were to prefer, and were preferred by, the more attractive women. 66


But it is still not clear how this choice of more attractive females by the stronger males would lead to these females being more prolific than others. Why would the prettiest females have more children than the plainer ones in a monogamous society? He has already admitted that in primitive societies it is the women who tend to do the work in the fields and hence put food on the table, so family size is not proportionate to the male’s ability as provider. But why then should it be proportionate to the female’s attractiveness? Are attractive women more fertile than their plainer sisters? There is an element of sexual fantasy here. But above all the belief is driven by his ideological convictions, which are powerfully restated at the end of the book:


Man, like every other animal, has no doubt advanced to his present high condition through a struggle for existence consequent on his rapid multiplication; and if he is to advance still higher, it is to be feared that he must remain subject to a severe struggle. 67 


This sounds eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s statement quoted above: “Mankind has grown great in eternal struggle, and only in eternal peace does he perish.” However, Darwin draws only a eugenicist not a militarist conclusion:


....There should be open competition for all men; and the most able should not be prevented by laws or customs from succeeding best and rearing the largest number of offspring.  68


“Should not be prevented by laws or customs” – as the mollycoddling, bleeding heart welfare state was already beginning to do, or so he feared. This is the world-view which underlies all Darwin’s attempts to discover sexual selection in the remote past – the need to reverse the present calamitous tendency of the poor to breed more than the rich, by asserting that it goes against nature. Sexual selection of the best and strongest must have taken place throughout the past: this is the axiomatic view that justifies restoring it by a robustly competitive system in the present. And this is the conviction his modern followers share. It has driven them to invent an extraordinary fantasy world as they explore the manifold workings of a process of sexual selection whose historical reality they have not made the slightest attempt to demonstrate. An entire discipline, evolutionary psychology, has been built up upon these fantasies.

With a blithe disregard for the known marital habits and sexual behaviour of previous ages, the evolutionary psychologists have constructed a fantasy picture of the past where an extreme Darwinian sexual jungle allowed the strongest and most attractive to vastly outbreed all the others and hence confer upon future generations the qualities most desired by all. They are convinced that such characteristics as courage, lying, pacifism, sensitivity, brutality, tidiness, untidiness, musical tastes, promiscuity, fidelity, infidelity, a fondness for gardening, a willingness to perform cunnilingus or to help with the dishes, are all to be ascribed to sexual selection. No other explanation is possible. Since every characteristic must be genetic, then whatever characteristics exist must have been sexually selected – it is axiomatic, no evidence is needed for it. One is tempted to ask these people: if all good qualities have emerged as a result of sexual selection of particular genes, then what about bad qualities? Have smelly feet, bad breath, snoring, potato noses, bad complexions, crooked teeth, obesity, stupidity, round shoulders, a tendency to steal, to beat the wife, to belch, to pick one’s nose – have all these characteristics also been sexually selected? Did people really select these qualities in their mates because they were attracted by them – thus filling the gene pool with them? And if not, if these ugly characteristics were not sexually selected, then on what grounds can we make this claim for the attractive ones?  If the gene for ears that stick out was not sexually selected, but blundered through as part of the aimless lottery of genetic recombination, then why should it be any different for curly hair or white teeth?

The evolutionary psychologists create an absurd game theory on the basis of what the rational choices in a mate would be at any time and what features this would have selected for. They then argue how the selection of these features would then lead to the selection of other features, or how women’s choices would affect men’s behaviour and then this behaviour affect women’s choices, and so on in an endless game. But their ignorance of the historical conditions of marriage in past ages reduces the whole procedure to nonsense. The fact is that human pairing and reproduction is one of the least rational, least consistent and least predictable phenomena that have ever existed. In most sexual selection scenarios, female choice of male partners is taken for granted. Yet from the beginning of history until the modern age, few girls were ever allowed to choose their mate themselves: their parents chose for them. And the basis of parents’ choice was usually economic position, not personally pleasing qualities. Given these criteria of partner choice, if sexual selection had had the enormous influence ascribed to it, then we would have evolved into a species consisting entirely of rich male landowners and beautiful women, since these have been the most sought after mates in all ages. That we are in fact a species with many more ugly, stupid, and poor individuals than beautiful, intelligent and rich ones suggests that sexual selection has done a singularly mediocre job. The fact is that sexual desirability has seldom decided who would reproduce or how much; it has only decided who would reproduce with whom. The ugliest man might well have been turned down by all the pretty girls (or their parents) and may have seen himself as a sexual failure. This has never stopped him finally marrying a girl as ugly as himself and fathering ten children. There is among the evolutionary biologists a systematic confusion between the notion of sexual attractiveness – who is the most desirable partner – and sexual selection – who leaves the most offspring.

The whole perspective of the neo-Darwinists, the evolutionary psychologists, game theorists, and sundry other pop-science cranks is not much more than a popular superstition. Its starting point seems self-evident: all the men want to screw the prettiest girl at the dance. But the real question is: do they all screw her? And does she have more children than anyone else? The simple answer is no. The prettiest girl at the dance (if she lives in a society that allows her any freedom in the matter) will make her choice among the men and have her children with him, and that will be that. She has no tendency whatever to reproduce more than anyone else. (If anything, her beauty may give her higher status and more power in the relationship, which may lead her to limit her pregnancies more than another.) Nor, contrary to popular myth, does the handsomest or strongest man at the dance have a tendency to father more offspring. He might well be able to choose the prettiest girl – but he does have to make a choice, and one choice only. This is because we have not generally lived in a state of anarchy where the strongest took whatever and however many he wanted. In the overwhelming majority of societies that have ever been, the invention of weapons and the power of clans very soon placed a limit on the tyranny of individual strength to take what it wanted. In most societies we have records of, the father and brothers of the first girl a man got pregnant would have been round to see him the next day  with the local equivalent of the proverbial shotgun – and his philandering days would have been strictly limited from then on. Most philandering in history has in any case been confined to a class of prostitutes, who did everything to avoid pregnancy. A man who goes through thousands of prostitutes is quite likely to breed less than a respectable father of six who has never looked sideways at another woman. Lord Byron, for all his female conquests, probably left behind fewer children than his coachman.

But the neo-Darwinists are still ludicrously under the spell of that old romantic myth of Rousseau’s (and before him Hobbes), the state of nature. They seem seriously to believe that we spent long periods living in a state of anarchy, without rules, where the strongest men took as many women as they wanted and filled the world with their offspring. Yet nobody has ever discovered any society living like this, or any evidence that any primitive tribe lived like it in the past. In general the more primitive the society, the stricter the rules governing breeding. The evolutionary psychologists point to a few tyrants of Africa or Arabia who had hundreds of wives and conclude that this was the universal practice of past ages. Their comic-strip view of history is an indictment of modern university education, which has left them crassly ignorant of every domain except their own. Here is a highly popular evolutionary psychologist, Matt Ridley, on the subject: “In medieval Europe, or ancient Rome, powerful men took all the beauties into their harems, leaving a general shortage of women for other men, so an ugly woman stood a better chance of finding some man desperate enough to marry her.” 70 This is the comic book view of history which scientists from Oxford now hang their scientific theories upon. It is the level of knowledge found on toilet walls. Ridley’s picture of Rome is that of a semi-literate maker of porn movies. There were no “harems” in ancient Rome. In fact the laws of Augustus fined citizens who did not marry, and no Roman was allowed to have both a wife and a concubine. The only “beauties” who might have been accumulated by powerful men were foreign slaves, and the purchase of these would not have limited the choice in partners of anybody else, since Rome’s wars gave an inexhaustible supply of them. Where did these Roman “harems” monopolizing all the beautiful women come from except from Ridley’s overactive imagination? The entire worldview of this pop-science is schoolboy fantasy.

The reality is that the vast majority of human beings that lived before the industrial age were born into a highly possessive and protective family, living near related families in a closely-knit clan system, and were married according to the wishes of their parents. Sexual repression and strict monogamy have been overwhelmingly the norm of human history. As a general rule, the more primitive the society, the more rigid its rules in the domain of breeding tended to be – the famous rules of the much reviled patriarchy, where females were protected from predatory seducers by father, brother or husband. And when they were not patriarchal, societies were matrilineal and matrilocal – the husband came to live with his wife’s family, under their thumb. There is simply no evidence there has ever been a widespread “state of nature” or anarchy in human breeding for any sustained period. Apart from a small minority of prostitutes (who did everything to avoid pregnancy), women have been cloistered, veiled and chaperoned, and forbidden to look sideways at another man, for most of human history. Rapes, seductions, adulteries, and other acts dishonouring families have been avenged by entire clans and even nations, in murderous fashion. It is hard to see in these circumstances how a great deal of rampant sexual anarchy could have gone on, or how the genes of the most powerful and attractive few could have flooded the world. 

Of course there have been some promiscuous individuals, and in societies where tyrannical rule existed, a few such men were able to give free rein to their impulses. Absolute monarchs sometimes chose freely among their women subjects and had a string of mistresses. However, in Europe these women were seldom kept exclusively for the king’s use (being frequently married or promiscuous themselves.) The fondness of monarchs for a succession of other men’s wives or ladies of easy virtue hardly constitutes the sort of sexual monopoly which would have influenced the gene pool or limited other men’s range of choice. Perhaps in some African or Asian countries where rulers kept harems of several thousand women, they may have had enough children to have a local influence on the gene pool – though it would have been diluted by the millions of ordinary peasants who have lived dull monogamous lives since the dawn of history. In fact the prolific tendencies of tyrants were often neutralized by their own more sanguinary practices. The Ottoman Turkish Sultans had large harems, but the custom was for all the heir’s brothers and half-brothers to be murdered the day he acceded to the throne. Nor would large harems have caused gender imbalance as Ridley imagines: the abduction of the prettiest girl in each village for the Sultan’s harem would only have balanced the abduction of every fifth son for his army.

In the case of European kings, the number of children of those who commanded the favours of a cohort of mistresses is, where we have the evidence, surprisingly small. Since royal bastards usually had a claim to wealth and advancement, they had every reason to declare themselves, or be declared by their mothers. Yet the number of such declared bastards, even of prodigious womanizers like Louis XIV or Charles II of England, is rather modest. Louis XIV acknowledged thirteen illegitimate children (in addition to his six legitimate ones), Louis XV (called the Well-Loved) fathered fifteen, Charles II of England acknowledged fourteen, Maximilian I of Austria nine, William IV of England eleven. The all-category champion in England was Henry I, who had twenty-three illegitimate children, and two legitimate. Now these numbers might seem large, but (with the possible exception of Henry’s score) many peasant families in the Middle Ages would have equalled them. Families of ten were commonplace in the countryside well into the twentieth century all over Europe, just as they are among the poor of Africa and the Arab world today. Nor were the chances of survival of royal offspring all that much better than anyone else’s – of Louis XIV’s six legitimate children, entitled to every care and attention, only one made it to adulthood. Someone has gone to the trouble of calculating that in all some one hundred and fifty royal bastards were born to English kings over the past thousand years. This tiny number would have had a negligible effect on the genes of the nation. Considering their limitless opportunities, the breeding of Europe’s monarchs has been remarkably restrained. It is clear that their interest was in sex, not reproduction, and smart mistresses apparently found ways of avoiding pregnancy in order to keep their figure and the royal favour. 

Excessive royal breeding has not therefore been a major factor in history; it has rather been the opposite. Henry I, that champion breeder, lost his only legitimate son when the White Ship went down in 1120. Charles II, for all his womanizing, left no heir either. In fact one of the major problems of kings in history has been their inability to breed at all. Henry VIII went through six wives and changed his country’s religion in a futile attempt to produce a son. We can certainly not conclude on this evidence that the randiness of royalty had any significant genetic effect upon the species. Nor was this sort of thing widespread further down the scale. It has recently been demonstrated that the famous ius primae noctis or sexual rights of the lord over his peasants’ daughters at marriage was a popular myth. There is no evidence it was ever exercised; it lived chiefly in folktales about tyrants. It appears to have been a fictitious “ancient right” invented to justify a marriage tax in lieu of it.71 Among the aristocratic class a certain libertinism was often the rule, but it had as its object sex, not breeding, and the class of courtesans and ladies of fashion became expert at preventing or terminating pregnancies. Yet if among kings and aristocrats we cannot find any substantial evidence of the proliferation of the genes of an attractive or powerful few because they left far more offspring than others, then where else can we find evidence that such sexual selection took place at all?

The truth is that this so-called scientific theory rests on the flimsy basis of popular superstition and gross ignorance. Darwin’s reflections on this subject are on the same level of Victorian pseudo-science as phrenology or racism. They are based on a Victorian fear of the rising numbers of the proletariat, who were breeding at twice the rate of the upper class. The British working class in the late nineteenth century had on average nearly twice as many children as the professional and upper classes – 5.11 as opposed to 2.8 children per female. 72 This was a great worry throughout the nineteenth century to the Malthusian Whigs – the milieu of Darwin’s family – and was one of the reasons for the Poor Law, separating couples in the workhouse so that they couldn’t breed more paupers. It was an article of faith among the Social Darwinists and eugenicists that this trend was a reversal of the universal pattern of the past – that in the good old days the superior people had bred far more (and we should recreate the conditions where this would happen again.) The more prolific breeding of superior individuals was a creed, an ideology, which Darwin sought to promote by proclaiming it a principle of nature. In fact there is no evidence that it was true at any stage in human history. The class of aristocrats in most ages had fewer children than the peasants, largely because their women had more access to whatever means of contraception were available at the time, and had more power (relatively) to stand up for the right not to be permanently pregnant. Under the Roman empire it was a source of constant worry to rulers like Augustus that the aristocrats bred so much less than the common people. It has been estimated that by the third century AD the vast majority of Romans were descended from foreign slaves. 73 This pattern seems to have been common in other ages too. As one great historian put it, “it remains a good rough working rule that fecundity varies inversely with income.” 74 The proliferation of the poorest appears to be one of the constants of history, as we can see from the relative birth-rates of Africa and Europe today. In Europe, too, oppressed and impoverished minorities, such as (till recently) the Kosovars and the Romanian gypsies, seem to have been remarkably prolific.

Darwinists such as Dawkins and Ridley, who make sweeping statements about the most powerful men in all ages having more offspring than the average, are retailing an urban myth refuted by all the facts of history. The four most powerful conquerors Europe has ever seen, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon and Hitler, produced a total of seven (mostly illegitimate) children among the lot of them (and only two of the seven had children in their turn who survived to adulthood.) Breeding appears to have been rather low on their list of priorities, even though they all married and had mistresses. Nor were great artists, poets, writers, scientists or other outstanding individuals usually blessed with numerous offspring. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Durer, Bacon, Newton, Washington, Beethoven, Chopin, Stendhal, Nietzsche, and Shaw are just a few we could cite from an interminable list of childless great men (most of them not homosexuals.) The phenomenon was commented on in various ages. Francis Bacon proclaimed: “the best works, and of greatest merit for the public, have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men.” 75 Darwin himself admitted this embarrassing fact and tried to explain it by suggesting that these geniuses are in some sense monsters, and have a monster’s tendency to sterility, but that superior “normal” men are prolific. 76 But neither Darwin nor any of his followers ever cited a single statistic to prove it. American presidents are probably good examples of powerful, popular and highly successful men, unlikely to be tainted by the abnormality of genius. Yet the first eight American presidents had an average of 2.75 children, well below the average of the time. Three of them were childless. There were then two presidents (both utterly forgotten for their total mediocrity) who produced twenty-five children between them, followed by another 8 presidents who again had an average of 3 children each. What pattern can be discerned here except a total absence of pattern?  All the evidence indicates that there has been no general tendency in recorded history for attractive individuals by any standards whatever (power, wealth, talent or beauty) to breed more than the average. And we have no grounds for assuming that in pre-historic societies which we know nothing of things were any different. 

To say that sexual selection has operated significantly on human evolution is, on the level on which it is asserted – that the powerful, talented or attractive few have always had more children than the average – demonstrably false. The only thing we can assert about human breeding is that it varies in quantity from one individual to another, and that those who breed more breed more. Anything further would require research into large families in all cultures to see if any characteristics correlate to prolific breeding, and are furthered by it. This has never been done. But this does not stop the neo-Darwinists. They will without hesitation redefine their statement as a tautology. They will say: the superior and the fittest breed more, and then redefine the fittest and the superior as those who breed more. An illiterate peasant with ten mentally retarded children will be defined as “fitter” (more prolific and therefore, by implication, superior) than a millionaire genius with two genius children. The peasant’s wretched genes will be defined as the genes of success. And the neo-Darwinists will imbue this success with the same emotional overtones as the success of an extraordinary specimen. As a method, the neo-Darwinists like to reduce their formulations to tautologies that are logically irrefutable, while maintaining the emotive implications of statements of fact that can easily be refuted. Thus the notion “We have all been selected!” imbues the mere existence of an individual with a kind of cosmic approbation, a label of superiority, irrespective of his real qualities. Mere existence confers the status of a thoroughbred racehorse, the end product of long and careful breeding. That we are here is proof of a superb genetic achievement. We are the winners of an enormous competition that has been going on for aeons. Our genes must be the best because they have been selected – and the poor losers (Leonardo, Michelangelo, Newton, Washington, Beethoven, Stendhal, Nietzsche, Chopin, etc.) proved their worthless-ness by dying out and leaving no offspring.

When Alexander Pope in his Essay On Man wrote his famous line “Whatever is, is right!” he was not making any verifiable assertion about the universe. He was merely expressing an emotional attitude towards it, an attitude of acceptance and somewhat complacent approval. And when the Darwinist foot-soldiers today chatter excitedly that every human quality, from laziness to obesity to freckles, is the result of sexual selection, that in fact “Everything that exists has been selected”, again they are not saying anything verifiable about the world. They are merely expressing an emotional attitude towards it, an attitude of even more nauseating self-satisfaction than that of Pope. All they are doing is patting themselves on the back for being alive, and expressing admiration for their own wonderful genetic make-up, which the whole of nature has been straining to produce for untold millennia. Professor Richard Dawkins spends pages of his book River out of Eden in dithyrambic ecstasy over the wonderful reproductive success that our presence on earth demonstrates. We can all, he says, “make the following proud claim:  Not a single one of our ancestors died in infancy….. Not a single one of our ancestors was felled by an enemy, or by a virus, or by a misjudged footstep on a cliff edge, before bringing at least one child into the world.” We are, in short, the products of reproductive champions. He concludes in raptures of self-satisfaction that


since all organisms inherit all their genes from their ancestors, rather than from their ancestors’ unsuccessful contemporaries, all organisms tend to possess successful genes….We all, without a single exception, inherit our genes from an unbroken line of successful ancestors. The world becomes full of organisms that have what it takes to become ancestors. That, in a sentence, is Darwinism.  77


Leaving aside the odd paradox that one quarter of these reproductive champions in Britain will die childless, what he understands by Darwinism appears to be nothing but smug, preening self-satisfaction at the fact that he is alive, as if this alone were proof of his superlative qualities.  “After a thousand successive generations, the genes that have made it through are likely to be the good ones.” 78 In short, our mere existence is proof of the superiority of our genes. It is curious to find a leading Oxford scientist priding himself so fulsomely on his mere existence, a quality he shares with every dung fly, maggot and pubic louse on the planet.

One might as well imagine a cockroach exhorting its offspring: “Remember, children, we are the product of natural and sexual selection, we are the end result of an immense genetic process, a tremendous struggle for survival over millions of years, which has selected every hair on our legs, every wart on our bodies, choosing only the finest genes and the most adapted characteristics. And we embody them! Not one of our ancestors failed to reproduce. We are descended from life’s winners, from champion breeders! We carry the genes of success! Be proud to be a cockroach!”  This is increasingly what the belief in natural selection has become: an attitude of self-satisfaction and self-approval, a smug faith that however ugly, stupid or mediocre one may be, one is nonetheless the embodiment of the finest and most exclusively selected genetic traits. “We have all been selected!” the Darwinists cry, like a bunch of Calvinists at a church meeting to celebrate their own predestined salvation. Apart from an attitude of smug self-congratulation at being alive while others are dead, the belief says nothing at all about the real world.





As we have already noted, the neo-Darwinists have now retreated from their forward positions into the fortress of tautology. It is a fake retreat, like that of the Greeks at Troy. Tautology is a bastion from which they periodically sally forth to try to strike a blow for real (“old”) Darwinist attitudes by stealth. But let us look at how they arrived at this odd retreat. It makes a fascinating study in intellectual dishonesty and bad faith. 

The severe difficulties of Darwin’s theory led over the years to a whole series of ad hoc modifications by his followers. One should point out in advance that anyone familiar with the works of Karl Popper on the philosophy of science will recognize the ad hoc modification as a warning sign. Popper argued that proponents of genuine scientific theories actively seek their refutation: they try to create what he called crucial experiments which will make or break the theory. A crucial experiment usually consists of a prediction that in a given situation, if the theory is true, a certain result will follow. If the result does not follow we must abandon the theory. If the result follows, we can consider the theory corroborated for now, but never definitively proved. On the other hand, the advocates of pseudo-scientific theories, said Popper, never seek crucial experiments and they never seek to refute their theory. They seize on all positive results as proof and reject all negative ones as errors of measurement. When forced to face devastating criticisms, they react by adjusting the theory, tacking on ad hoc modifications, redefining the basic terms, shifting the goal posts, and so on. He saw this process at work in Marxism, positivism, historicism, and concluded that these theories were being held as faiths, not science. 79 This is precisely what we see at work in the history of the Darwinists, and their fantastic displays of bad faith and cheating have been exhaustively catalogued by Richard Milton in his book Shattering the Myths of Darwinism.  80  

One of the most damaging criticisms of Darwinism had been voiced in Darwin’s own lifetime by his ally and great defender, Thomas Huxley. Huxley put his finger on the gap between the micro-evolution within species (breeding a dog with shorter legs or longer ears), and the macro-evolution of one species into another. It is the latter which natural selection has to explain and demonstrate if it is to be a theory of how all life forms evolved. Huxley doubted that any process of selection of small random variations could arrive at a new species. 81 He told Darwin that his theory would only be proven when breeders managed to produce varieties that crossed the species barrier and became new species (that is, able to breed fertile young with each other, and unable to cross-breed fertile young with other species, according to the definition usually accepted by neo-Darwinists.) Now it was well-known that breeders had never managed to do this. Neither Dutch tulip-growers in the seventeenth century, nor pigeon-breeders nor dog-breeders had ever got there, and in the twentieth century it became clear why they could not. A wall exists beyond which a species cannot be transformed by selective breeding, because the offspring cease to be fertile, or if fertile revert to previous types. This wall is encountered well short of a species difference. Even Darwin’s own classification of the thirteen species of finches on the Galapagos islands, all derived from a parent species, has been called into question by the awkward fact that these “species” sometimes cross-breed fertile young with each other, and ten per cent of those on Daphne Major are now fertile and prolific hybrids. 82 Some biologists have thus argued that they are only varieties, like different races of dog, which breed true, but which are all one species. 83 This controversy only highlights the central problem: how does a variety get to be different enough to be defined as a separate species? How does the process of divergence by natural selection get over the species barrier? This remained the chief difficulty of Darwin’s theory, and caused it to fall out of favour among evolutionists for half a century. 

Help for the Darwinists arrived with progress in genetics, the rediscovery of the work of Mendel on genes, and above all the development of the notion of mutations. Mendel’s theory of dominant genes helped to explain how a new characteristic would remain in the gene pool and not be drowned out at once by cross-breeding. Inheritance does not blend the characteristics of both parents, reducing variation, but keeps them as distinct genes. The work on mutations by De Vries and others showed how the species barrier might just feasibly be jumped by sudden leaps, more radical than the gradual accumulation of minute changes that Darwin had envisaged. The Darwinists at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in 1941 decided to incorporate these modifications into a new version of Darwin’s theory, which would rescue it from the slough of despond into which it had fallen. Now Darwin had posited the natural selection of both random and adaptive variations, as he had never broken completely with Lamarck. The new version confined the theory to the selection of purely random variations, and above all random mutations. It rejected the elements of Lamarckism that Darwin had accepted in some cases, such as the atrophying of wings in flightless birds, or the effect of the use or disuse of limbs. Darwin had demonstrated the Lamarckian hypothesis by showing that domestic ducks had developed heavier leg bones and lighter wing bones than their wild duck ancestors, because of more walking and less flying. He thus accepted the notion that acquired characteristics, caused by a change in habits, could be transmitted to offspring. But by now the established theory in genetics was that the genes governing heredity were totally separate from the cells of the body itself: the body cells might be modifiable by the organism’s own actions or by the environment, but the genes were not. This was the principle enunciated at the turn of the century by the German August Weismann – the notion of a firewall between the somatic (body) cells and the germ cells. This was thought to spell the death of Lamarck’s theory of direct environmental modification of organisms and the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In fact Weismann “proved” this firewall by some of the most ludicrously naive experiments ever carried out: by cutting the tails off rats and then showing that the mutilations were not inherited. 84 This was hardly a revolutionary discovery ; the practice of circumcision had demonstrated it for thousands of years. A mutilation is not an acquired characteristic, the way heavier leg-bones in the domestic duck (through more walking) is an acquired characteristic. The animal must make an effort to “acquire” a characteristic, and it is the effort (particularly during growth in adolescence) that might possibly switch on dormant genes so that the offspring develop this characteristic more readily. Darwin’s study of domestic ducks demonstrated that Lamarck was right. His modern followers, in an astonishing assertion of dogmatism over empirical evidence, ignored his research and purged his theory of these elements. 

The so-called Modern Synthetic Theory of Evolution was thus a narrowing down of Darwinism to exclude all Lamarckian elements, to emphasize even more the randomness of variations, and to lean heavily on the theory of mutations to jump the famous species barrier. What it still required of course was a process of natural or sexual selection of these variations by the fierce competition to survive.        

But this neo-Darwinian theory also ran into trouble over the nature of mutations. Watson and Crick, after plotting the structure of DNA, soon identified mutations with the random errors in DNA replication. The problem was that researchers found that these errors result in the deletion of information, not the addition of it. They are, in short, degenerative. Grassé compared mutations to typing mistakes; it is unlikely that one will by chance produce a brilliant new sentence. Furthermore, mutations are extremely rare – estimates by neo-Darwinists vary from one in ten thousand (Monod) to one in one million births (Julian Huxley). 85 Relying on random mutations (most of them degenerative and only a tiny handful useful) as the mechanism of evolution stretches out the time-scale required to even more unimaginable aeons. George Gaylord Simpson, one of the church fathers of the theory, estimated the time needed for the evolution of the horse as 65 million years. 86 This would put its origins back to the time of the dinosaurs. This enormous time-span has not deterred most neo-Darwinists, though it appears to exclude rapid evolution completely. This makes it hard to see how evolution can ever be an adaptation to a new environment in any sense; the process is simply too slow. It is like reacting to a sudden cold spell by beginning to knit a sweater that will be ready for your descendant in a thousand generations. If the sweater is really necessary, then how will the next nine hundred and ninety-nine generations survive without it? And how will a series of mutations (selected by natural selection) have any linear, adaptive direction, since conditions will keep changing in contrary and extreme ways over such very long periods?

Some neo-Darwinists, worried by this, have opted for a theory of clusters of mutations occurring together, so that a number of features of an animal mutate simultaneously, thus speeding up the process by making major jumps. These sudden big mutations (or “saltations”) help answer another perennial criticism of the theory: the absence of intermediate forms in the fossil record. 87 If species developed gradually from other species, surely we would see evidence of some in-between forms, if not today, then at least among the tens of thousands of fossil remains. Unfortunately we don’t. Arguing that the major changes took place over a very short period, by sudden big jumps, would answer this objection. The intermediate forms were around for too short a time to have left traces. One of the most prominent neo-Darwinists, Harvard’s Stephen Jay Gould, advanced this theory under the name of “punctuated equilibrium”: long periods of unchanging stability in species, punctuated by short periods of rapid and radical mutation, which have unfortunately left no evidence behind. 88 (One wag unkindly quipped: “Evolution is either so slow it’s invisible or so fast it’s invisible.”) But why these periods of rapid change should occur if they were not in response to environmental influences is not made clear. Even these major mutations have to be random, with nature afterwards making its selection through the time-honoured means of the survival of the fittest. If major clusters of mutations are random and not adaptive, then presumably they are quite aimless and erratic. Logically, then, the fossil record ought to be full of monsters, aimless and fanciful mutations that were not selected (two-headed horses, cats with hoofs, mice with tusks, and so on.) But it isn’t. We don’t find heaps of rejected rough drafts in Nature’s rubbish bin. Nature almost always gets it right the first time. That is what makes the idea of lots of random, radical mutations as the raw material for natural selection such a difficult theory to swallow.

            But the final modification to the theory made by the so-called neo-Darwinists was the most significant. The many problems with the notion of the “survival of the fittest” – the difficulty of demonstrating that it is the fittest which survive, and on what grounds they can be considered the fittest –  led the neo-Darwinists to redefine “the survival of the fittest” as a tautology: the fittest are those that survive, fitness is the quality of genetic survival. This was the modification introduced by George Gaylord Simpson in the 1950’s and since generally adopted as a solution to the central problem of the theory. Here is how one prominent neo-Darwinist professor of biology, C.H. Waddington, states the case: 


Natural selection, which was at first considered as though it were a hypothesis that was in need of experimental or observational confirmation, turns out on closer inspection to be a tautology, a statement of an inevitable although previously unrecognized relation. It states that the fittest individuals in a population (defined as those which leave the most offspring) will leave the most offspring. Once the statement is made its truth is apparent. 89


One’s first reaction is to see this as a hoax. As science, this is about on the same level as Duchamp’s urinal or Manzoni’s cans of shit in the world of art. It should be borne in mind  that Waddington is not a critic of neo-Darwinism who is being funny here. This is one of its leading spokesmen, biology professor at a major university (that of Robert Grant), being deadly serious. He goes on with the inimitable pious platitudes of the academic apparatchik:


This fact in no way reduces the magnitude of Darwin’s achievement; only after it was clearly formulated could biologists realize the enormous power of the principle as a weapon of explanation. 90


The critic of Darwinism Richard Milton comments on this passage with what seems like admirable restraint: 


Many will be surprised to find a professor of biology describing a tautology as an achievement of any sort. Waddington failed to recognize the damaging nature of his admission…. 


Milton goes on to ironize over how indeed this tautology has been used as a “weapon of explanation” – to explain everything and its opposite. He concludes that natural selection makes no predictions, but is used to explain every outcome. It “is not a mechanism:  it is a rationalization after the fact.” 91

            But Waddington is no eccentric; he is being perfectly orthodox, and is repeating the party line word for word as handed down by the ruling commissars of neo-Darwinism. Here is Gaylord Simpson, one of the church fathers of the theory, saying the same thing: 


Natural selection favours fitness only if you define fitness as leaving more descendants. In fact geneticists do define it that way, which may be confusing to others. To a geneticist, fitness has nothing to do with health, strength, good looks or anything but effectiveness in breeding. 92


But the revisionism of the neo-Darwinists goes further. Darwin’s central vision of the violent Malthusian struggle involved in natural selection goes out the window too. There is now a politically correct, “kinder, gentler” struggle for survival. Here is Gaylord Simpson again: 


Struggle is sometimes involved, but it usually is not, and when it is, it may even work against rather than toward natural selection. Advantage in differential reproduction is usually a peaceful process in which the concept of struggle is really irrelevant. It more often involves such things as better integration into the ecological situation, maintenance of a balance of nature, more efficient utilization of available food, better care of the young….  93


This could be an election manifesto aimed at the middle-class, Green, female vote. This is Darwin expurgated for the sensitive reader. Peaceful competition has replaced war. There are probably weekly community meetings between prey and predator species to discuss quotas, and weekend outings together to clean up the environment. Admittedly this was published in 1967, but did Simpson need the hippie vote that badly?

Richard Milton comments on the whole thing: 


To summarize, the modern position of the synthetic theory is: the struggle for existence plays no part in evolution. The direction of evolution is determined solely by the characteristics of those animals and plants that are successful breeders. We are unable to say anything about why a particular characteristic might favour, or prejudice, the survival of any particular animal or plant.

       Thus “the survival of the fittest” or “natural selection” or “differential reproduction” sheds no light on the mechanics of evolution and is only another way of saying that some animals survive and prosper while others die out – an observation of limited value.  94


Now this is in no way an exaggeration or a caricature. This is a fair summary of what is now the official view of the neo-Darwinist establishment, imposed on every single biology student, and dutifully parroted by every evolutionist. Here is another example from our old friend, the observer of predators, Professor of Zoology at Toronto University, Christopher McGowan. He is also singing from the same hymn-sheet about “fitness”: 

An animal
’s capacity to produce offspring is described as fitness. This evolutionary term should not be confused with the usual meaning of the term. In evolutionary terms an animal that produces the most offspring is the fittest, regardless of its physical condition. 95

Now it is curious that having reduced
“the survival of the fittest” to a tautology (“the survival of those that survive”) the neo-Darwinists still insist on using the word “fitness”. Since they have redefined fitness to mean “capacity to produce offspring”, and admitted that this is a gross distortion of “the usual meaning of the term” (that is to say, Darwin’s meaning: strength, health, speed, agility), why don’t they drop the term and call it prolificness? Reproductive success? Breeding ability? In part, as we shall see below, it is because they refuse to let go of the emotional associations of the old term, and they want to pretend they still believe in Darwin’s theory when in reality they have refined it out of existence. They want to disguise the fact that they have dropped Darwinism, rather like the British Labour Party trying to disguise for so long that it had dropped Marxism. They want to pretend they still have an explanatory mechanism for evolution when they no longer do.

But even if we look closely at the term “capacity to produce offspring”, its meaning is not entirely clear. Is it the theoretical ability to have offspring (potency, fertility), or the actual having of offspring? Imagine a magnificent stag, which has just won possession of a herd of females by an epic fight, about to mount his first doe, when he is fatally attacked by a hungry mountain lion. This supremely fit specimen has suddenly died without producing offspring. In short, he has become unfit—according to the new definition of fitness as “capacity to produce offspring”. The question is: was he always unfit? Or did he suddenly become unfit at the moment of being killed? Was he fit one moment and unfit the next? Or can we never say an animal was fit before it produced offspring? Is fitness a quality you gain retroactively, after you’ve done some sterling breeding (a bit like an OBE?) If it is the latter, is it dependent on the offspring surviving, and breeding in their turn? (Apparently it is: the Grants in their Galapagos research project mock a finch that has had several families but no grandchildren as a “loser”.) But this means that fitness is a quality that comes and goes with the vicissitudes of one’s descendants. If a man has six children and they are all killed in a plane crash after he is too old to have more, he apparently becomes “unfit” at the moment of their death. But what if one son had got in a quickie with a ground hostess before boarding the plane and made her  pregnant, does his father become fit again? But if the baby boy she gives birth to turns out to be gay, does the old man go back to being unfit? (What if the grandson has a change of heart in later life and fathers triplets? Does the old man, now on his deathbed and feeling rather confused about his status, become fit once again?) Is a man who donates sperm to a sperm bank to be defined as fit according to the number of female customers who use his sperm? Does he therefore get “fitter” as time goes by and more women get pregnant thanks to him—and unfit if someone throws his sperm out by mistake? And what about future generations? If you produce four children, and they have twenty children, and forty grandchildren, but all of them die in an earthquake except one who enters a convent, do you go back to being unfit again? And what if she’s raped by a mad priest and has a playboy son who fathers a whole football team? Does it make you fit again? How many generations down the line do you have to follow the progress of your offspring and check out their sexual orientation before you can be really sure you’re fit? Can any animal ever be defined as fit, since we don’t know the ultimate fate of its descendants ten generations on? According to this view, not a single animal that ever lived on the island of Krakatoa before the late 19th century can be described as fit, because all their descendants perished in the volcanic eruption of 1883. In fact all species that have died out thereby proved they were unfit. All sabre-tooth tigers were unfit. So were all mammoths, all dodos, all moas, and all other extinct animals and birds. The dying out of all their descendants made all of them unfit. If the Siberian tiger or the giant panda die out tomorrow, this will prove these species were unfit too. So why should we try to save them? Since the planet is not eternal and all species will one day perish, they are all unfit. In short, this notion of fitness as reproductive success leads to a series of absurdities. It is trying to turn an event—the having of descendants—into an inherent genetic quality: fitness. Yet this event by its nature can never be complete or definitive. After how many generations of descendants do we grant fitness? Two? Ten? A hundred? A million? When is reproductive success an acquired fact?

        Darwin would turn in his grave. He makes absolutely clear that he does not regard fitness as being synonymous with reproductive success, because he laments, along with all the Malthusian Whigs, that the poor, feckless, unfit humans are having too many offspring, thanks to mollycoddling welfare laws, and should be stopped from doing so. The whole Darwinian-Spencerian obsession with creating the conditions of society where the unfit and inferior will actually die off and the fit will actually leave more children becomes meaningless if this copout tautology is accepted. In this new definition, all that is being said is that those who leave more offspring leave more offspring. There is no correlation of this reproductive success with any other characteristic. So no characteristics are being selected by this reproductive success. There is thus no natural selection, and no mechanism of evolution.

            But McGowan himself does not in fact believe his own tautological definition of fitness. Let us read once again his description of an attack on a herd of zebra by a lioness:

The big cat selects her quarry..…. It was not the closest one but it failed to follow the choreography of the herd quite as closely as the others.  96

And once again, the conventional Darwinist moral just afterwards: 

The zebra that was killed by the lioness was the one that failed to keep together with the rest of the herd. The zebra
’s behaviour may have been attributed to a number of factors, ranging from its running ability to its spatial awareness. If the behaviour had genetic components, the zebra’s unfavourable genes would have been removed, by natural selection, from the gene pool, which is the sum total of genes in that breeding population.  97

Here we are back with the familiar Darwinist notion of fitness or unfitness. We have the removal of “unfavourable genes”, apparently related to running ability. We are not merely discussing “capacity to produce offspring”. The zebra targeted was an awkward runner, revealing some arcane genetic weakness, which the lioness, blessed not only with preternatural perspicacity but also with a deep altruistic concern for the future welfare of the zebra species, decided to cull, in order to rid the world of this inferior, pigeon-toed rubbish. Whatever happened to McGowan’s definition of fitness as merely the “capacity to produce offspring”? How do we know this zebra had an inferior “capacity to produce offspring”? Obviously now he is dead he is somewhat limited in that domain, but before his death what allowed us to predict this dire reproductive deficiency? Above all how did the lioness know?

The question is: has McGowan abandoned the new Party-line tautological definition of fitness as the animal that produces the most offspring, or hasn’t he? Has he gone back to the original one (Darwin’s one) implying strength, speed, beauty, vigour, and anything else that might make it a superior specimen? McGowan seems to want “unfitness” to mean “genetic inferiority”, allowing him to morally justify the predator’s culling of an unfit zebra as a healthy purging of the species, a removal of “unfavourable genes”. But when pushed to define his terms, he realizes this is no longer the Party line so he falls back on the newly agreed definition of fitness – the “capacity to produce offspring”. But this only multiplies the problems. Is this “capacity to produce offspring” an inherent characteristic or the result of external events? Is the zebra’s unfitness, i.e. its “incapacity to produce offspring”, a characteristic inherent in it, which the lioness detected beforehand by some occult means? (How? If lionesses have some preternatural flair for detecting erectile disfunction in zebras, then this is surely a marketable skill.) Or is the zebra’s unfitness simply the result of the lioness killing him (the dead don’t breed)? Since the first is unlikely, it appears the zebra has been defined as unfit because he was killed. A dead (and childless) zebra is an unfit zebra. This is a bit like a Mafia gangster killing someone and then saying: “He was no good. Look, there’s the proof, he’s dead!” The fact that he was killed becomes the justification for it. The lioness was removing an unfit specimen – but it was her act of doing so that made him unfit. Everyone that gets killed deserves it. We confer the quality of unfitness on an animal by killing it. If it hadn’t been unfit, it wouldn’t have been killed.

Now this is a somewhat peculiar line of logic, yet it follows irresistibly from the neo-Darwinist definition of fitness as genetic survival (leaving descendants) and unfitness as genetic death. Death proves an animal was unfit. You go up in a helicopter and wipe out a herd of deer with a machine-gun and you can justify yourself: “They were all unfit. The proof is, they’re dead. Therefore they deserved to die. I was right to kill them.” In fact the killer is always right because death is always just. The Darwinists have no room for regrets, no room for tragedy, no room for error, no room for crime. Everything happened as it should have. Whenever death happens to any animal, it deserved it. Death proves it was unfit to live.

But let’s look further. If the lioness had pounced on an even more awkward-running, spatially-challenged specimen, letting our zebra off the hook (and potentially able to get in a quickie with a neighbouring female), would this make him fit again? Apparently. So the zebra’s fitness depends on the lioness’s action, not his own. You are fit if the predator leaves you alive and able to get your leg over. You are unfit if you are dead before you had the chance. The predator’s judgement distinguishes the fit from the unfit. The predator’s judgement confers fitness. Natural selection is the selection of those the predator ignored, because by chance he or she saw a tastier dinner or an easier target running beside them. We can’t actually say anything about the qualities of those selected. We don’t know what in fact is being selected except the fact of being selected. Since the only quality we can ascribe to the “fit” is the accident of survival, the only quality being selected is an accident. One can see from this muddle the swamp of self-contradictions, absurdities, and confusion of definitions in which neo-Darwinists habitually flounder around, and from the midst of which they issue their vague and glib generalizations which have laid bare all the hidden mechanisms of nature.

This latest act of legerdemain by the neo-Darwinists in fact empties their theory of all meaning as a mechanism of evolution. The tautological definition of fitness as the animal that has the most offspring, irrespective of its physical condition or genetic make-up, makes it impossible to talk of natural selection any longer. What characteristics are being selected? If we deny fitness any meaning but reproductive success, then we deny that reproductive success will favour any particular characteristic. If reproductive success cannot be co-related with any characteristic except itself, then it is random. But if it is random then it cannot be a means of selecting favourable genes and furthering evolution. The neo-Darwinists are therefore denying that any natural selection is taking place. But how can this sacred principle then be the mechanism of evolution? Their entire theory of evolution through natural selection falls to the ground. This is what the neo-Darwinists have now done: emptied Darwinism of any meaning as a way of explaining how evolution works.

What this amounts to is shifting the notion of randomness from the variation to its selection. Darwin believed the variations in the species were mostly random, but the selection of those variations was rigorously meaningful: it was the variations which gave a survival advantage (fitness) that were selected. This is still the official definition of natural selection that people like Dawkins subscribe to: the non-random selection of random variation. But now that genetic survival is the only definition of fitness, randomness has shifted to the process of selection itself. If selection or survival cannot be co-related with any quality except itself, then it is random. Natural selection has now become the random selection of random variation, and as such it has ceased to be a mechanism for any evolution at all.

Neo-Darwinists do not seem to understand that they have emptied their theory of meaning, because they lack honesty and consistency. In practice, they continue a kind of double talk. Like McGowan in the passages quoted, they vary their definition of fitness according to the context. When pushed to define fitness, they fall back cautiously on the tautological definition – the animal that has the most offspring – because they can’t prove the selection of any particular characteristics whatsoever. But when watching the lion kill a zebra, they lapse unconsciously into their old belief that there is some genetic inferiority being eliminated here. They then talk of  selection of the “fittest” in the everyday sense of the word fittest: healthiest, strongest, fastest. In short, they pretend to believe in a new, tautological definition of fitness, but continue to believe in their hearts in an old crude definition. The new definition cannot be refuted but says nothing. The old crude definition says something, but what it says can be refuted. Only by dodging from one to the other do they keep up a semblance of credibility.

Here is another rather more subtle example of this fudging, from Oxford’s high priest of Darwinism, Richard Dawkins:

Some bodies are better at surviving and reproducing than others. Good bodies i.e. bodies that are good at surviving and reproducing will tend to contribute more genes to the gene pools of the future than bodies that are bad at surviving and reproducing; genes that tend to make good bodies will come to predominate in gene pools. Natural selection is the differential survival and differential reproductive success of bodies….… Evolution, under the influence of natural selection, leads to adaptive improvement. 98

Here again we see the subtle shift from a purely tautological definition of “good bodies” (as those that actually survive and reproduce most) to an assertion that they are somehow inherently “good” – and an assertion without evidence that the selection of these “good bodies” will lead to “adaptive improvement”. This is again a form of casuistry, but of a more sophisticated kind than McGowan’s – the sleight of hand is cleverer. You have to look carefully to see that the expression “good at surviving” is a brilliant blurring of the tautological definition (the fittest are defined as those that survive) and an implicit assertion that these survivors possess inherently “good” qualities. Being “good at surviving” becomes in itself a proof of superiority.

The key to this sleight of hand is that the term “good at surviving” cleverly creates a quality “good at…” out of an event : “they survived.” There is in fact no quality involved here – merely an accidental circumstance, survival. Or at least that is the point he is required to prove – that survival is correlated with particular genetic qualities and is not a matter of chance. But by using the term “good at surviving” he conceals the fact that he has not established that any characteristic is correlated with this survival. He creates a purely fictive characteristic “being good at surviving” with the strong implication that it is a sign of possessing superior genes. Since the selection of these genes that are “good at surviving” will lead to “adaptive improvement” of the species, these genes must be superior. In turning the fact of survival into an inherent quality, he has invented “genes of survival” known to no geneticist. We are back with the tautologies of Calvin and predestination. The successful are  the elect of God. How do we know they are the elect of God? Because they are successful.  This is ascribing a sort of determinism after the fact to a chance event. It happened because it had to happen. Animals survive which are good at surviving. How do we know they’re good at surviving? Because they survived. Genes are selected which are good at being selected. Lottery numbers come up which are good at coming up. Those numbers had to come up, because they possessed a quality which made them come up – the quality of being good at coming up. “Why does opium cause sleep? – Because it possesses a soporific power.” Molière satirized the pretentious tautological explanations of scientific charlatans three centuries ago. An Oxford professor who uses terms in this way is either aiming to deceive by creating a careful logical fudge, or is simply ignorant of the rules of logic. Either way he stands discredited on a point crucial to the whole scientific theory he defends. 

But this clever formulation, the pseudo-quality of being “good at surviving”, reveals itself as not merely devoid of real meaning but as carrying along with it a certain number of emotional and moral implications, most of which are unsavoury. This appears to be the whole point of this sort of logical fudge: to use a tautology to convey an emotional attitude that was associated with the old, non-tautological statement. First of all, it is a covert form of determinism: an assertion that something had to happen merely because it did happen. The implication is that the fact of survival depended on some mysterious inner qualities (being “good at surviving”.) Survival is therefore a proof not only of a superior ability to survive, but of superiority as such. In short, survival has an intrinsic merit attached to it; the survivor always merited his survival. I am right because I survived. You’re wrong because you’re dead. This is indistinguishable from Hitler’s principle that “might makes right”. The killers are right and the corpses are wrong. A Nazi is better than a Jew because one is alive and the other is dead. The second implication is that those who did not survive or reproduce were not good at it, and therefore the species is better off without them. The weak to the wall and good riddance. Leonardo Da Vinci may well have been the greatest genius of all time, but since he had no children, his genes were clearly not “good at surviving”, and therefore the human gene pool was well rid of them. The same applies to Michelangelo, Beethoven, Chopin, etc. Though in fact there is a high degree of heritability in musical and artistic talent, we should have no regrets that these men never had offspring, as they clearly had inferior genes, lacking that crucial quality, being “good at surviving.” This comes close to the principle of Voltaire’s Candide:  “Everything happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” It shows the underpinning of this world-view by the shadow of a religious or superstitious belief in a universe where everything is governed by some benign, positive principle: those who survived deserved to, and those who died out deserved to die. Therefore, we should not only cast aside regret for the failure of the great to reproduce (since they were clearly not “good at surviving”) but we should not regret premature deaths either. Darwin consoled himself for the death of his favourite daughter Annie at 9 because the survivors were “more vigorous & healthy & can most enjoy life”. 99 How he arrived at this curious conclusion is not clear, but arrive at it he must, since we live in a world where everything happens for the best. Nature is benign and has our long-term interest at heart, however difficult it is to see it. To lament the mass death of people at Auschwitz or Hiroshima or the World Trade Centre is foolish, since these people clearly lacked the right survival genes – they were quite simply “not good at surviving.” Nature knows best. No matter what dreadful things happen in the world, says the neo-Darwinist, no matter what the apparent injustices and harsh losses, we must have faith. It is all leading to the adaptive improvement of the species, because the right individuals are always surviving and reproducing, and those that get killed clearly deserved no better.  

This is how Victorian intellectuals dealt with the death of God, by transferring His benign governing, judging, selecting role to Nature and the principle underlying the universe. Underneath the superficial militant atheism of men like Professor Dawkins lies a world-view that is profoundly religious and profoundly Protestant in its harsh, relentlessly complacent optimism. Voltaire would have devoted an entire chapter of Candide to Professor Dawkins and his religion of complacency. This is merely an illustration of how the intellectual pride of narrow scientific minds, which lack any serious grasp of philosophy or even a firm grasp of logic, leads them to run blindly into the same old mental errors of the past, under the illusion that they are inventing the new, and that the trendy modern terms into which they have transposed their thinking will conceal the ancient fallacies that lie beneath.

What the chop-logic of the neo-Darwinists conceals is still a blind faith in the morality of the universe, a view which moralizes the brutally destructive processes of Nature, as being for the long-term good of all. It is Herbert Spencer rewritten in the scientific jargon of the day. Now when one examines the carefully crafted pieces of logical fudging of men like Dawkins it leads inevitably to the suspicion of deliberate deception, of sheer intellectual dishonesty. But this is probably unfair. It is unjustly imputing to them a cunning intelligence that it is doubtful that they possess. These academics are not cynical Machiavellis so much as Jesuits using a tortuous mental process to defend what is in fact a deep, quasi-religious conviction. They may even be desperately papering over a sort of crisis of faith as they glimpse the yawning chasm in the middle of their theory. What they cannot do is let go of it because they have nothing else emotionally to sustain them.

The neo-Darwinist theory of natural selection only survives today by various forms of games with words – by chop logic and fudged definitions. The word “fitness” is now the most muddled concept in the history of either philosophy or biology. Half the neo-Darwinists, those we might call the theologians, the church fathers like Gaylord Simpson, use “fitness” to mean “having the most offspring” or “reproductive success irrespective of the qualities of the individual.” Meanwhile, the fundamentalists (often zealots experimenting in the field) still have a passionate belief in “fitness” in the old sense (Darwin’s sense) of strength, size, vigour, adapted body features,  etc. Grant and Weiner claimed that the degree of fitness of finches on Daphne island could be measured with a pair of calipers; they quantified fitness as half a millimetre of a finch’s beak. Fitness here could only mean the qualities making for survival during the drought, not merely reproductive success, since five-sixths of these big-beaked survivors which they considered the “fittest” then failed to reproduce because there weren’t enough females left.100 The evolutionary psychologists adhere to a fundamentalist definition of fitness also. Some of them have tried to prove that women have always chosen “short-term mates” (as if this concept generally existed before 1960) on the grounds of their “genetic fitness” rather than their wealth. Fitness here can hardly mean reproductive success since they have not yet done any breeding.101 Here again we have the old religion, where “fitness” means strength, good looks and sexual vigour – the promise of reproductive success, rather than that success itself. In short, between the neo-Darwinist theologians and the fundamentalists there is so much difference on the subject of fitness as to make them proponents of quite different ideologies, arbitrarily united under the same name. Between the two extremes stand the confused middle church weathervanes, like McGowan, who dodge between the two definitions of fitness, the theologian’s tautology and the fundamentalist’s literalism, depending on the context. Finally there are the Jesuit missionaries like Dawkins, brandishing the tautology of the theologians, but by clever tricks of logic trying to give it the emotive overtones of the fundamentalists. In short, Darwinism has become as riddled with logical inconsistencies as the religious theories of Paley and others which it replaced in the nineteenth century. And it is the consciousness that their position is crumbling that makes the neo-Darwinists so ferocious and fanatical in the defence of their faith.

The comparison with religious orthodoxy is an apt one. Neo-Darwinism today is an orthodoxy on the defensive, and it employs all the tools of repression of its opponents which the Victorian establishment employed against evolutionists. It is safely ensconced in the leading universities of Britain and America, and anyone who questions the orthodoxy is damned as a “creationist” or a “closet creationist” in much the same way as Robert Grant and other forerunners of Darwin were damned as atheist revolutionaries. Richard Milton recounts in his book Shattering the Myths of Darwinism that the above-mentioned Richard Dawkins of Oxford used his influence to stop the Times Higher Educational Supplement from publishing an article of Milton’s critical of Darwinism, by falsely accusing him of being a creationist. 102 Milton also recounts the vilification unleashed by American academics against a television programme he worked on, which, for once, was allowed to call Darwinism into question by strictly scientific arguments. The abuse he received was on a level of obscene insult that you would expect from street-thugs rather than scholars.103 Darwin himself was deterred from publishing for nearly twenty years by his terror of exactly this kind of intellectual thuggery from the academic establishment. To imagine that academics have developed more tolerance of adversaries since Darwin’s time is naive. Neo-Darwinism is a faith defended with all the fury and viciousness of men who see their sacrosanct world-view threatened. It is not, according to Popper’s definition, a scientific theory at all. It is, as the great French zoologist Pierre Grassé pointed out three decades ago, the reigning pseudo-science of our time, an exact mirror image of the superstition defended with such lofty sarcasm by Bishop Wilberforce a century and a half ago.   

It is all the more remarkable that neo-Darwinism has become the latest fossilized  superstition by which the scientific establishment, true to its long tradition of dogmatic error, resists and tries to suppress new research (such as that of micro-biologists like Ted Steele), in that its proponents are convinced they are manning the last defences of scientific thought – against the onslaught of creationists, Christian fundamentalists, New Age gurus, and sundry representatives of the irrational. It is a demonstration that there is no greater tendency towards blind intolerance and totalitarian methods than among those who believe they are defending enlightenment. A study of the intolerance of modern Darwinist academics should give us a new understanding of the Churchmen in Galileo’s time or of Bishop Wilberforce himself. They were perhaps also well-meaning men defending what they saw as knowledge against the onslaught of the irrational. But there is something else in the vicious spirit that animates the Darwinists. It is tempting to surmise that people who believe that life is a ruthless struggle where the weak go to the wall and survival is the only proof of worth, are naturally inclined to use fascist methods in the defence of what is at root a fascist idea.

The more philosophically inclined Darwinists like the late Stephen Jay Gould like to imagine that they are sober realists facing the bleak truth of existence and resisting the temptation of sentimental and comforting religious beliefs. But in fact their own view is essentially an emotive, quasi-religious belief. It is an attempt to moralize and rationalize the brutalities of Nature as serving a higher purpose – that of evolution. The belief in the survival of the fittest is an enormous moralization of nature – an attempt to justify the ways of God to man, or the ways of Nature to her creatures, by making Nature’s cruelty the key to adaptive improvement. This is what gives their view a sort of axiomatic status in their minds: it is their moral vision of the way things are. The emotional conviction that the weak and unfit are eliminated for a higher purpose and that this harsh law is how the world works is essential to their acceptance of life. They have in their minds a graphic image of a spindly-legged calf being torn apart by wild dogs and they must believe this is part of a process of improving the species or they wouldn’t be able to stand it. If they did not feel there was some purpose, even some justice in nature’s cruelties, they could not face them – or perhaps, in some cases, they could not morally justify their own sadistic pleasure in this spectacle. And if you point out that a wildebeest calf is not in fact a genetically inferior specimen, but has been picked on because its tender youth makes it an easy target, and that its death will have no improving  effect whatever on the gene pool, they are full of rage that you have destroyed their rationalization – and therefore their emotional consolation – for nature’s cruelty. They will reject your view because they need to believe that nature is just in its cruelty, that this cruelty is necessary for the adaptive improvement of species. The stern law of necessity makes this scene palatable: remove necessity and it becomes intolerable. Natural selection is what they have instead of God to make emotional and moral sense of a cruel universe, and they will no more give it up than a believer in a religious faith.





Natural selection is of course a direct descendant of the Calvinist idea of election, or salvation by being chosen by God, irrespective of your own apparent deserts. One might call natural selection “election by the harsh goddess Nature”, to use Hitler’s favourite expression, which neatly combines Calvin and Darwin. Both are ways of justifying by some inscrutable pattern of justice a state of affairs which seems on the surface cruel, arbitrary and unjust – and which in reality is cruel, arbitrary and unjust. Just as John Milton set out in Paradise Lost to “justify the ways of God to man”, Darwin (like Herbert Spencer) set out to justify the ways of Nature to all her creatures. Nature, said Spencer, is a little cruel in order to be very kind. Letting the bad workman or the improvident sparrow starve is good for the species. Darwin, as we saw, even tried to convince himself that Nature was acting benignly in killing off some of his own children, the products of an unhealthy first-cousin marriage, because this ensured that the survivors were “more vigorous & healthy and & can most enjoy life”. This whole impulse is a fundamentalist Protestant one. It rejects the old Catholic sense of tragedy, that life is a vale of tears, and desperately tries to prove that not only salvation in the next life, but survival and prosperity in this one, is an entirely fair selective process, a harsh but just contest, in which strength and vigour are rewarded. In fact the main transformation operated by radical Protestantism is the shifting of salvation from the next world into this one through the notion of a providential influence on events in this life. The outcome of our lives on earth must therefore reflect God’s justice. The virtuous and industrious prosper, the idle and lazy starve. That is God’s plan. It is just and good. The most godly social system is the one that makes sure this happens. Life is a competitive struggle and we should make it even more competitive. It is easy to see what a justification this provides for the laissez-faire capitalist ideology of unrestricted, ruthless competition. 

But it is equally important to see that the culmination of this Protestant-capitalist ideology of divine election, or the harsh goddess Nature’s selection of the fittest, is Hitler’s Third Reich (Joachim’s Third Kingdom), in which the elect – the fittest and strongest  – will rule for a thousand years, after the final battle of Armageddon to eliminate the corrupt and degenerate – the hydra-headed beast (Jewry) – from the face of the earth. A new order where gentlemen in black uniforms will stand at the head of queues of naked men and women and with a nod of the head judge them fit or unfit, saved or damned. Auschwitz is a striking image of the ultimate destination of Darwinism:  a selection process where those “good at surviving” are allowed to continue their slave labour, and those “not good at surviving” are destined for the fire. But Auschwitz is not so much a Darwinian hell as a Darwinian heaven – the place where real selection on the basis of survival capacities can take place unhindered by those humanist scruples that interfere with the stern processes of nature in societies still living in the ethical afterglow of defunct Christianity. Auschwitz is, in short, an ideal condition from the Darwinist’s point of view – one of those ongoing Malthusian catastrophes of intense competition where quite small variations among individuals (the thickness of an emaciated thigh, or a greater ability at collaboration, treachery, informing, cruelty or prostitution) will spell the difference between life and death.

The conflict between Darwinism and American Christian Fundamentalist Creationism  is therefore paradoxically a conflict between two currents of Protestantism. Creationism reflects a traditional, simple-minded faith that every word of the bible is literally true. Darwinism is a continuation of the Unitarian tradition of Darwin’s family milieu – the progressive demystification of religion until it transfers the function of God to Nature. But it is a particular Calvinist version of God that is being transferred to Nature. This is the God of predestination, of salvation of the elect by divine grace. This faith presents all the features of  harsh selection, arbitrariness and even tautology basic to Darwinism. Salvation is not open to all; the vast majority of mankind are damned. Nor does man choose salvation; his corrupt will is incapable of any virtuous act. It is God Who chooses His elect by an arbitrary act of grace. And the elect of God chosen from all eternity are the only ones saved. But there is a peculiar corollary of this which many believers recognized. Once chosen by God the elect cannot reject salvation. Even their sins and vices do not compromise their salvation, because it does not depend on them but on God. God saves by an arbitrary act of grace, and the works and conduct of the saved make no difference. But what then of the man who acts virtuously but has not been chosen? Is his damnation not an indictment of God’s justice? Not at all, because virtue without God’s grace is an illusion. God’s act of arbitrary grace decides on the elect, whether seemingly virtuous or not, and those whom He has not chosen may strive vainly in the paths of virtue without ever arriving at salvation.

We can compare this whole viewpoint with that of the neo-Darwinists Simpson, Waddington and McGowan: fitness is reproductive success, irrespective of the physical qualities of the animal. Fitness does not depend on inherent characteristics; it is a state conferred by an external event – survival (i.e. the lion finding your neighbour more appetizing.) If an animal survived and reproduced, it was selected, and was therefore superior in fitness, whatever its individual qualities. And if an individual is saved, it is because he has been chosen by God, not anything to do with his own moral conduct. It should be clear by now how closely Darwinism (especially in its modern tautological form) shadows the doctrines of Calvin – salvation not by one’s own efforts or virtues but by divine grace. The tautological definition of the elect of God – those that are saved – mirrors the tautological definition of the fittest – those that survive. The apparent injustices are referred to an inscrutable divine will – predestination or the genes of success. All that has happened in the move from Calvin to Darwin is that the selecting God has become an impersonal Nature. Otherwise the world-view is essentially the same. 

Now it is interesting that many of Darwin’s contemporaries, while accepting what they saw as his proof of the evolution of species, rejected his theory of natural selection. Most of his contemporaries still preferred Lamarckism. Lamarck’s view, if you remember, is that  evolution occurs when the animal, facing new conditions, changes its behaviour, strives to adapt, its new exertions modify it physically, and its offspring inherit these modifications. Why would so many Victorians prefer this picture? Because Lamarckism mirrors the other major current of Protestantism: salvation not by grace or faith alone but by good works, keeping the commandments and charity (the doctrine in fact defended by the Council of Trent in 1545 against Luther’s view that grace alone saves man.) It is this version that prevailed in Victorian England, especially among High Church Anglicans and Wesleyans, who had followed the Dutch Arminian doctrines of the early 17th century. According to this theory, God does not select His chosen ones in advance by predestination or an arbitrary act of grace. Men by their own free will choose salvation both by having faith and striving to lead good lives. If you try hard enough you can be saved. In the same way, if the animal tries hard enough it can adapt. Fitness is not genetically pre-determined: we can alter our fitness by striving. That is the essence of Lamarckism as it is of the Anglican and Wesleyan brands of Protestantism. Salvation is open to all by striving, man still has free will. The animal becomes fit through its own efforts. It grows a longer neck by stretching upwards. Its genes are altered by its own behaviour, not by some arbitrary, accidental mutation. And man is saved by his own good works, not by predestined grace. Anglican and Wesleyan currents of Protestantism reject the Calvinist elect and make salvation democratic and open to everyone to choose. And Lamarck makes adaptation open to every animal. There is no selection of a privileged few genetic variations. The animal’s own efforts will save it. It is Lamarckism that was closer to the majority religious beliefs of Darwin’s England, and it is not surprising that Lamarckism stubbornly persisted as the preferred evolutionary theory, being espoused by Samuel Butler, Bernard Shaw and even Herbert Spencer. One can see how Lamarck’s theory appealed more to the upwardly mobile liberal middle classes of Darwin’s time: they liked to believe in an equal chance for all, and hard work, not the privilege of birth, as the path to success.

Calvinism is perhaps the beginning of the modern totalitarian impulse, in that it posits the existence of an elite chosen by God, on a basis known only to Him, and (by implication)  predestined to salvation no matter what their actions or behaviour. The decoupling of salvation from the moral behaviour of the individual is a major step in the violation of a natural sense of human justice. If God has chosen His favourites in advance, irrespective of their moral conduct, then justice has to be redefined as something inscrutable, something we cannot judge of by ourselves (only God or the Party can judge.) What characterizes Calvinism and Social Darwinism as moral systems is their determination to impose a concept of justice that violates our natural sense of justice. Calvinism is revolutionary for its violation of natural human sentiments – and this is the characteristic of all revolutionary ideologies, whether of the Marxist-Leninist or Darwinist-Hitlerist branch. When someone tries to persuade us that another human being dying of hunger in the gutter, or being carted off to a gulag or bombed under a pile of rubble, is not to be pitied, because his fate demonstrates that God (or Nature, or History) did not favour him with His grace, and therefore nor should we, then we are in the presence of a revolutionary violation of natural human morality. Cruel inhumanity is being represented to us as a higher good, a necessary harshness in the accomplishment of history’s great plan. We have emerged from a century where entire peoples and classes of people were exterminated by dictators as part of a programme to redesign human society according to some ideological blueprint. There is always a sophisticated ideological reason, an invocation of the laws of Nature or of History, to show why normal human morality and compassion for suffering should not apply in these cases. These revolutionary ideologies always attempt to persuade us that what is obviously unjust is really just, by some higher reasoning – that what seems cruel is really moral on another level. This is the key opening argument of Herbert Spencer’s Social Darwinist opus: nature is a little cruel in order to be very kind. By letting the bad workman and his family starve, or the lazy sparrow and her family starve, we are serving the higher purposes of the universe. These purposes are an inscrutable mystery (like the decisions of the Communist Party to purge certain comrades) but you must have faith that progress is thereby being served, that these harsh and cruel sacrifices are a necessary means to some greater goal.  It is clear that this Darwinist attitude to cruel suffering as a means to an end imbues not only the capitalist and Nazi ideologies but also the Marxist-Leninist one (making it easy for so many modern academics to be both Darwinists and Marxists.) It is essential to see how Calvinism transcended the fading of Christianity and imposed itself on the post-Christian world-view – above all in the belief in the movement of mankind towards millennial salvation under the direction of an elite arbitrarily chosen and acting according to inscrutable principles. The moral ideology of various strains of Protestantism pervades the entire world-view of the 20th century. Darwin himself was hopelessly muddled on an emotional level by his attempt to reconcile his Christian faith in God’s providence with the harsh facts of existence, including such tragedies as his favourite daughter’s death. He ends up paradoxically rejecting Christian belief but replacing it with a peculiar belief that Nature in its harshness and cruelty is working for the best. But why should it be working for the best? That is the unexplained premise of the Darwinist viewpoint. It is a hangover from Christian optimism about the universe, but without God. And this kind of optimism is even uglier and more irrational without God than with Him. 

Classical and Renaissance man’s attitude to Nature was far more ambiguous and contradictory than the Darwinists’. Most often he found in Nature a pattern of behaviour that was balanced, harmonious and just, illustrating his own moral precepts, in which case he could find:


….tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones and good in everything. 104


This view gave rise to the genre of fables, whether of Aesop or La Fontaine, where animal behaviour seemed to provide us with moral lessons for our own lives. Human beings enjoyed seeing in the animal world the mirror of their own moral and mental qualities: the industry of the ant, the slyness of the fox, the rapacity of the crow. Nature also seemed to have a force of self-regeneration and balance which man looked on as a model. Molière saw Nature as a guiding principle in a society whose luxury, vices and mental perversions were distorting man. The romantics saw Nature as a spiritual force having a therapeutic effect upon the soul newly oppressed by a harsh industrial environment. But whenever classical man saw Nature’s brutal and cruel side, he stepped back and distanced himself from it, and invoked his own allegiance to a higher law, as Hesiod does in the passage we have already quoted:    


The Son of Chronos gave this law for men:

That animals and fish and winged birds

Should eat each other, for they have no law.

But mankind has the law of Right from him,

Which is the better way. 105 


Classical and Renaissance men saw in Nature what they wanted to, using it to reinforce their own social and humane instincts when it agreed with them, and invoking a higher, divine law when it did not. The divine law they invoked always prescribed the kind, just, and co-operative behaviour needed for a happy and prosperous society. Classical writers did not see the world as necessarily a good or happy place, but they saw man as having a duty to obey a divinely inspired moral law in his own life. Most classical philosophers from Aristotle to Cicero thought this moral law was universal, that it took precedence over the laws of states, and that all human beings had access to it through philosophy. They would never have dreamed of recommending humans to imitate the predatory behaviour of animals, however common it might be in practice. Plautus’s remark “Man is a wolf to man” was a condemnation of this behaviour, not an endorsement. The Social Darwinists’ belief that the pattern of Nature is a merciless dog-eat-dog struggle where the strongest prevail, and their belief that man, as merely another animal, is subject to the same struggle and must follow its rules, was the most damaging attack on human morality ever made, and it led straight to Auschwitz. And Darwin is the prime culprit in this revolutionary attack on man’s moral and humane sense. This is not to say that Darwin personally was an evil man or sought to undermine traditional moral behaviour. But his ideology opened the gates not only to the Social Darwinists, with their jungle capitalism, but also to Hitler – and many of his modern followers have a distinctly Hitlerian cast of mind. They believe, with Darwin and Spencer, that the most ruthless competition, letting the weak go to the wall, is the best way of regulating human affairs, because it is what happens in Nature. And while this ideology remains a major, popular influence on our civilization, with all the prestige of an allegedly scientific description of the universe, our societies will continue to fail in their goal of promoting human happiness.  




            What then is the future of Darwinism? Is it on the point of collapse? Are we likely to get an official repudiation of Darwinism, an admission of error from the scientific establishment over the next decades? Probably not. The cult of sheer intellectual dishonesty and bad faith that now pervades the universities in every field will ensure that Darwinism is never formally repudiated, but is merely shifted gradually to the margins, referred to less and less, and finally ignored by a new generation, without its fanatical, totalitarian disciples ever being denounced as wrong. We will shift from Darwinism being unquestionable dogma to Darwinism being an unmentionable embarrassment, without transition or debate. We have only to look at what has happened to other cases of error or fraud in recent academic history to see the bad faith that awaits us on the subject of Darwin. Karl Marx’s theories have now been discredited, both morally and politically, in almost every country where they were put into practice, and shown to have been responsible for over a hundred million deaths. But not a single Marxist professor has lost his job in a Western university for peddling an evil, mad ideology to his students. They still continue doing it. Even more spectacularly, Alfred Kinsey’s famous reports on sexuality which revolutionized the sexual climate in the United States and the Western world in the post-war period, and became the bible of progressive sociologists for fifty years, were revealed a decade ago to be a gigantic fraud. 106 Kinsey was a liar and a cheat who took his “samples” of a “cross-section” of the American population from the particular social areas which would support his pre-ordained conclusions. One quarter of his sample of males were convicted prisoners, half of whom were serving sentences for homosexual acts, at the time a crime. When one eighth of your sample are convicted homosexuals, and one quarter are in prison, cut off from women, it is not surprising that you come up with the “statistical finding” that ten per cent of American males are homosexual, and thirty-seven per cent have had homosexual experiences (more serious recent studies have shown the first figure is 300 per cent wrong, and the second figure 600 per cent wrong.) Among females, he also picked and chose the groups that would give him the results he wanted – evidence of high rates of sexual promiscuity. He thought that black college women would be promising material and sent out surveys to a large number of them. When their responses in fact showed unusually conservative sexual behaviour, he cut this group out of his results. Yet despite the devastating exposure of Kinsey’s methods, there has been no huge scandal, no earthquake in academia to find out how this fraud was possible, and how it passed for so long undetected. Among his disciples, ensconced in their departmental chairs and continuing to revere this charlatan, no heads have rolled. So little attention has been given the revelations about him that Kinsey has just been made the subject of a Hollywood film glorifying his scientific achievements. Social scientists continue to quote Kinsey as an authority. His methods may have been flawed, they say, but his results were still a fair reflection of the reality. He supported the set of ideological and moral beliefs that they subscribe to (the creed of sexual liberation and the normality of homosexuality) so he was still basically right, a courageous rebel against the stifling conservatism of the time. In short, Kinsey is an icon of the sexual liberationist and gay left and is therefore untouchable. Evidence not only of his fraudulent methods, but of his complicity in the paedophile abuse of hundreds of children during his “research” into child orgasm, are dismissed as the product of ideological hatred, “homophobia” or religious fanaticism. Since the attacks on him come largely from academics with religious convictions, they are rejected in advance as biased. They must in no way be allowed to detract from Kinsey’s iconic status.

            Darwin occupies an even higher position in the natural sciences and on the right wing of economic theory than Kinsey does in the social sciences and on the left. We can therefore expect no dethronement of this idol either. It is in fact almost impossible in Britain to publish anything even remotely critical of Darwin. Though his theories are the underpinning of right-wing capitalist ideology, he has iconic status also on the left for his supposed demolition of Christian beliefs – which are now seen in academia as a sinister form of right-wing populism. British and American academics are now the guardians of a rigid materialistic orthodoxy, whose authority must never be challenged, in case it encourages “irrational” world-views. The fact that Darwin is being attacked by the Christian fundamentalist right makes his theory – the foundation stone of both right-wing capitalism and Nazism – appear to be some sort of bastion of “rational” scientific thought for the academic left as well. For academics to admit that the chief idol of their pantheon was wrong in his basic theory would cast unacceptable doubt upon the infallible status of academic “science”. Academia is no longer a space for open enquiry. It is a fortress of committed resistance to what it fears is the rising tide of an irrational “spiritual” backlash. Academics see the threat of Christian fundamentalism as a new barbarian invasion, and any tactic to fight it is justified. In this new intellectual war-zone there in no concept of truth or integrity left. Any concession could give a fatal advantage to the enemy. The academic establishment has quite simply lost its capacity for indignation at fraud, systematic lying, and the totalitarian suppression of the truth. All that counts is to win the culture war against the ideological enemy.

We can expect then no public announcement of Darwin’s fall from grace, but simply a gradual half-embarrassed turning of academic backs upon him, a neglect, a gradual forgetting, so that he and his fanatical disciples fall out of favour without ever being refuted or denounced. As with Marx, he will retain his status as a great pioneer, despite the catastrophic and murderous errors into which he misled the world. But there is no doubt that Darwin’s actual theory (like Marx’s) will one day be discreetly shelved. When this happens, what will be put in its place?







A new theory will probably put together a number of factors into a composite rather than a simple view of evolution. Natural selection and sexual selection will be retained for those areas where it has been convincingly demonstrated as a motor of evolution: the development of ornaments among males of arena species and of size and armaments among the males of harem species – in both of which differential breeding undoubtedly takes place. Among most other species, only resistance to disease and the development of larger and rounder body shapes against cold will be ascribed to natural selection. For the rest of evolution, other mechanisms will be invoked by which new varieties may arise. Even the arch-Darwinist Dawkins, in discussing the causes of the divergence of new varieties and species tells us that “nobody doubts that the most important ingredient is accidental geographical separation.” 107 This bypasses any Darwinian notion of natural selection of random mutations completely. The reduction of a gene pool through isolation on an island or across a mountain range is enough to form quite different permutations and combinations of genes in the descendants than would have occurred if the group had remained in breeding contact with a much wider group. Such a limitation of gene pools is probably in itself a major cause of new varieties arising. And there are other ways in which this genetic isolation is reinforced.

Hostility between different colonies may also play a major role in the genetic isolation of groups. Ants and rats systematically attack and kill any member of their species that does not belong to their colony but makes the mistake of wandering into it. This hostility among tribes and colonies of the same species makes breeding between them impossible and in effect separates each group genetically, laying the basis for a long-term evolution into different varieties and eventually perhaps into different species. We are beginning to understand the extent to which colonies of birds are also genetically isolated from each other by refusal to cross-breed, but more research needs to be done here. Do we know whether year after year all the migrating birds that return to a particular place to nest are the same individuals or their lineal descendants? Do they also refuse to breed with outsiders, or refuse to let them into the colony, and can they tell who belongs to the colony, as rats and ants can, because of tiny genetic differences? There is of course strong resistance to cross breeding between species (Weiner speaks of “sexual repulsion”), but it also exists between varieties of the same species, or they could not remain distinct. We know that a similar form of hostility to, or reluctance to breed with, those outside the tribal group is found among humans. It is called racism or tribalism. The great variety of tribes each with distinct physical features on the African continent, often living in close proximity, would not have been possible unless strict rules of tribal exclusiveness had prevented cross-breeding. This urge to prevent tribal cross-breeding lies at the root of the caste system in India (where the invaders sought to keep themselves racially distinct from the people they conquered) as well as of various forms of racism and tribalism among other nations. It appears that in many species, including man, once races and tribes develop a different physical appearance (that is, become distinct “varieties” of the species, whose children inherit their particular features) each race seems to feel an urge to preserve its distinctness and refuses to breed with the others. Races of different appearance may not be actively hostile to each other but they will prefer not to inter-marry. The crucial question to test racist attitudes to other peoples has always been: would you like your daughter to marry one? Most people on the planet, of all racial origins, would probably still, in the case of very different races, reply no. The instinct to preserve racial gene pools and transmit their own distinctive features to grandchildren is still stronger than the current ideology of multi-racialism, product of muddled, post-colonial Western guilt. Perhaps we will one day see what we might call “reproductive racism” – the reluctance to breed with other races – as merely part of the evolutionary process whereby different varieties of human beings seek to preserve their genetic isolation from one another, in exactly the same way varieties of birds do. Beliefs about the inferiority or wickedness of other races, nations, tribes or castes may simply be rationalizations of a deeper urge towards gene pool separation. Language divergence itself may have had a function in separating tribes, since preventing communication would hinder cross-breeding and preserve separate identity. Language and culture (distinct dances, music, clothes, stories, songs, art, religion) may all have functioned as divergence mechanisms, isolating the racial gene pool, in the way that the development of some ornament, mating song or mating dance will genetically isolate a bird variety, and push it towards sub-speciation. In short, we may see all the cultural identity mechanisms of each tribe and race as part of a process of gene pool isolation, leading each group to develop a more and more distinctive physical appearance.

The long-term direction of this (before we shrunk our planet by travel, colonization and migration) may have been toward sub-speciation, the development of races among humans which would have no desire and finally no capacity to cross-breed. Darwin thought this would probably have taken place with Africans over the next ten thousand years, if whites had not settled that continent. 108 It is notable that repugnance to cross-breed seems to come much earlier in the process of divergence than any biological inability to cross-breed fertile young. Many similar but distinct species (lions and tigers, buffalo and cattle, even horses and donkeys) can sometimes be made to breed fertile young (mules are infertile but hinnies are not always), which suggests that for them the main barrier to hybridization is an instinct against it, not a biological impossibility. When the instinctive barrier to hybridization breaks down, there may be particular environmental causes. The Grants found a high degree (ten per cent) of hybridization between different species of finch on Daphne in the Galapagos after the population boom and bust of 1983. 109 This may possibly be explained by the overcrowding of the boom period. The Grants observed that sometimes young birds learn the song of the species next door, instead of their father’s song. This “misimprinting” makes them fight with wrong-species males singing “their” song and sometimes to mate with wrong species females.110 This would perhaps be more likely to occur in conditions of overcrowding, where parental “cultures” are more difficult to transmit to offspring – and where even feeding habits may blur as species poach one another’s food sources, thus confusing the young about their real “culture”. Hybridization is known to occur more readily among domesticated species, perhaps because “cultural” differences (of lifestyle and feeding habits) no longer play their separating role. In other words a blurring of “cultural” differences may remove the sexual repulsion between different species or varieties which prevents hybridization – a repulsion which is a key expression of the universal drive towards species divergence. 

There is further evidence for an instinctive drive towards divergence in the behaviour of lek or arena species. Darwin was at a loss to explain the taste of the females of these species for male decorative features such as long tails or extravagant ruffs or colourful crests. What makes the females consider a particular trait beautiful and worth breeding with? He ended up with a circular explanation, that they will be attracted to the features they know other females will be attracted to, thus guaranteeing the future reproductive success of their descendants. This is highly unsatisfactory, because it suggests these characteristics are chosen at random by the females, and this does not explain why they all make the same choice. It would seem more logical to suggest that the characteristics of those males in lek species which win the display contest and get to breed with all the females are always the characteristics which are most typical and distinctive in that species. If a species has a bright red ruff, then the male with the reddest ruff will win the day. If it has a remarkably long tail, the longest tail will win the day. There seems to be a collective instinct in lek species to allow the most typical “pure” specimen of the species to breed the most and influence its future, thereby reinforcing its divergence from other species. Even among monogamous finches, Weiner thought females judging a suitor looked intently at his beak. This would make sense if the beak was the feature that most differentiated the species.111 We could posit then an instinct towards gene-group divergence as one of the driving forces of evolution. Whenever a variety develops distinctive characteristics, they will see these characteristics as sexually attractive and will mate in ways that accentuate them. This could explain why in both lek species and harem species the distinctive characteristics (wide antlers, long tails) will keep being developed long after they have ceased to be of any practical use and have become in fact maladapted for survival. The dying out of the Irish elk because its antlers got too large to run in forests is a case in point. Why keep developing a feature which actually endangers survival? The answer could be: because of the instinct to make the species yet more divergent from others – to reinforce its specificity. This would answer the question: on what grounds do the females judge certain characteristics of the males to be desirable or beautiful (red ruffs, long tails, etc.) What is the basis of their attraction, and why do they all make the same choices? Darwinists themselves have tended to split between those who saw these choices of ornament as purely aesthetic, and those who thought the ornaments were selected as signs of good health. But what if the ornament is considered beautiful because it is species-specific, and the attraction of the female is towards whatever feature makes the species most distinct from others? This would parallel the sense of beauty among human beings. People tend to consider beautiful the traits that are most specific to their particular race. Among white people a very white skin was traditionally valued; among Africans, the blackest skin was traditionally preferred (as Darwin himself points out.) Among the Nordics, tall stature, blond hair and blue eyes were considered beautiful; among the Greeks, curved noses; among certain South East Asian peoples, slenderness and delicacy of feature. Does this not suggest there is a universal attraction towards – and an instinct to promote – those characteristics of one’s own variety or race that make it distinctive – in other words, an urge to make it diverge further?

It seems clear then that once a variety or species exists, its innate tendency is to make itself more and more distinct from others by developing its most specific features. But how does the initial process, the formation of a new variety, get going? How does the initial gene-pool isolation, which is at the root of species divergence, arise?

Sometimes this gene pool isolation may be accidental. In one case in a laboratory at Rockefeller University, New York, a number of fruit flies of the variety Llanos-A were kept for five years in isolation. This was enough to make their descendants incapable of breeding fertile hybrids with other strains of fruit fly – which had been perfectly compatible with them five years before. Five years of genetic isolation and inbreeding had pushed the flies towards sub-speciation – an inability to breed fertile young outside their group.112  But in most cases in nature, the gene pool isolation takes place through geographic separation of some kind. This geographic separation may be total and in a sense involuntary, as when birds migrate to another island and settle there, and lose all contact with their parent group. But sometimes a number of individuals voluntarily isolate themselves genetically from others of their species, by moving away and forming their own gene pool. What mechanism makes them do this? How do we get the impulse of separatism within a species? One answer is: because within a species there is a tendency to form different “cultures”. Cultural separatism leads to racial separatism. 

Within a species different lifestyles and methods of food gathering often develop, as individuals spread out to fill all the available feeding niches in an environment. Some birds may feed on one kind of seed, some on another, some on insects, some on fruit, all involving different techniques and habits. This happens regularly within populations of the same species, because it is simply easier to find food if not everybody is going for the same kind. These different feeding habits become literally “cultures” in that the young imitate their parents and learn how to gather food from watching them.113 Among birds the “culture” includes not only learning their parents’ food gathering techniques, but their mating songs – of which there are often two within the same species. (Scientists have also discovered that among certain fish the electrical mating signals divide into two sorts, with some males responding to only one signal by the females, and other males the other signal.) Now the formation of these different “cultures” or lifestyles within a species will naturally push the species towards division into subgroups – provided the environment allows some measure of geographic separation. Sometimes it doesn’t allow this, and these cases are highly instructive. 

Let us take the example of the Cocos Island, a tiny island north of the Galapagos group. On this island, all the finches are of one species, physically identical even in beak shape. But different lifestyles have developed among them. Here is how Jonathan Weiner describes them:

Some eat bugs, others crustaceans, still others nectar, fruit, seeds. There are specialists that eat mostly on the ground, others in bushes, others in tall trees. Normally to  assemble a list of birds with such a wide range of specialities one would have to collect not only many species, but many genera, or even many families, groups of genera. Yet the finches of Cocos Island are a single species.
    These finches cannot diverge and ramify on Cocos the way their siblings have in the Galapagos archipelago. On Cocos island they can
’t get away from one another. The place is too small, and the nearest land is too far away..…There is no chance for geographic isolation.  Insects and snails can radiate in such a place, because for them even a tiny island is big enough for them to present, in effect, an archipelago of isolated habitats, but birds do not radiate on single isolated islands.  114

It is strange to see a writer get so near to a key idea and fail to grasp its full significance. Weiner’s Darwinist mindset prevents him from shifting this crucial observation to centre stage in his thinking. The origin of new species is not random mutations or minute variations selected by the ruthless struggle for survival. The origin of new species is the formation of separate “cultures” (feeding habits and lifestyles) within a species, in a geographic situation that permits the “cultural group” to isolate itself genetically and then adapt itself physically to its distinct lifestyle – something they cannot do on Cocos Island.  

            Weiner comments on the fact that, although the finches on Cocos Island have a wide range of different, specialized food-gathering habits, they are not very efficient at these tasks. In fact they are rather clumsy and bad at them. Why? Because they have not been able to adapt themselves physically, notably in beak shape, to their own specific lifestyle needs. They have not developed specialized tools for the job, because they are still in the same breeding pool as other finches with other specialized “trades” – so they can’t agree, for example, on which way their beak should be modified. One might want a longer, thinner beak for his food gathering lifestyle, but another wants a shorter, deeper beak for his particular trade. Since they all interbreed, they have all kept the same beak and continue with the same non-specialized tool, doing each job rather badly. If they had the geographic space the various cultures would separate into different gene pools, breed only with those following the same lifestyle or trade, and develop the tools (notably the beak shape) to enable them to do their particular job better. This is what finches appear to have done on the Galapagos islands. And this seems to explain the evolution of new varieties and even new species (whichever the Galapogos finches finally turn out to be.)

The crucial bone of contention, of course, is whether in this process of specialization of their tools, the main path has been natural selection – the higher breeding success of the few individuals accidentally endowed with a slightly more specialized beak – or Lamarckism – the constant effort of a cultural group to use their beak in a particular way, switching on a gene to push the beak in a particular direction in future generations to make this task easier. I would go for Lamarck.

            The reason is the speed of the process. Physical adaptation happens a lot faster than has been thought. In 1967 a hundred finches from the US Government Bird Reservation on Laysan Island in the Pacific were transported to other finch-free islands (Pearl and Hermes Reef) a few hundred miles away as a reserve pool of birds because the Laysan finches were endangered. Only twenty years later it was found that the descendants of these hundred finches had already developed various different beak shapes, corresponding to different food-gathering habits.115 Now this would seem to be far too short a period to allow the chance mutations, followed by selection of the favourable ones, required by the neo-Darwinist theory, which normally posits hundreds of thousands or even millions of years for such changes (a change of one per cent in the length of an organ over a million years is defined as one “darwin”, a suggested unit of evolution – so the Darwinists are normally expecting excruciatingly slow change.) 116 Yet the birds from Laysan changed their beaks in twenty years, or some half-dozen generations. Researchers have excluded bill wear through use and “founder effects” through having eccentric founding couples on different islands. This leaves either natural selection of an extraordinarily rapid sort, or the direct effect of different food gathering habits on the beak itself. The adaptation does seem rather faster than can be explained by any process of chance mutations or the repeated selection of tiny random variations. One researcher cites as a precedent Grant’s evidence already discussed of a beak evolution among the survivors of the drought on Daphne in the Galapagos. We have already commented on the dubiousness of the larger beak size claims when the survivors were mostly older males – which by definition have the largest beaks (and also the muscle to defend their food patch better in tough times.) No larger average beak size was preserved in the population over the long term, even after a catastrophic elimination of 96 per cent of the population.  An updated form of Lamarck, theorizing the possibility that genes can be switched on as a result of stresses and pressures within the lifetime of the individual, making offspring better able to cope with those stresses, is perhaps a better explanation. If you have striven all your life to develop longer legs or bigger lungs, your descendants may be born with a tendency to develop them. We know that the Aymara Indians of the Bolivian Andes have bigger lungs, and that this is at least partly genetic – despite being a characteristic which all those who grow up in the Andean highlands develop to some extent. In other words it is an environmentally acquired characteristic which some races now have to an unusual degree and transmit genetically. We also know that European migrants to America in the last century grew taller in just two generations – something Darwin comments on. Something as fast as this was at work on the Laysan finches.

 It is this question of adaptive change and the Lamarckian hypothesis of the direct influence of the behaviour of the animal on its own physical structure which is still the subject of bitter dispute in evolutionary theory, despite the Darwinists’ claims to have “discredited” Lamarck.  Many famous biologists, including the great French zoologist Pierre-Paul Grassé, refuse to accept Darwin’s natural selection as capable of causing the extraordinarily sophisticated adaptations we see in all living things. As we have argued, natural selection can explain some things very well: the evolution of size, armaments, or disease-resistance (and the subcategory, sexual selection, can explain the evolution of ornaments in non-monogamous species with differential breeding.) But what of a beak which has adapted itself perfectly to the task of opening one particular type of pine-cone, like the various species of crossbill, whose bills, as the name suggests, actually cross over at the ends to make them into fine little wrenches? The problem with natural selection as a mechanism of change is that it requires huge rates of death in order to change a beak, by selecting the tiny handful of most adapted ones. As the Grants saw on the Galapagos, to change a finch’s beak four per cent in depth even temporarily, 96 per cent of the females of a species had to die prematurely of starvation, 75 per cent of the males also had to die, and five sixths of the survivors had to remain without reproducing. But death rates like this cannot be responsible for the adaptations of a beak to specialized niche-feeding (such as one type of pine-cone) because specialized niche-feeding must be voluntary. Surely the species would change its feeding habits and abandon that niche rather than suffer such a high death rate from starvation. Nature cannot bludgeon creatures into ultra-specialization by inflicting mass death on those that fail at it. They can only be enticed into it by the success it brings. Large amounts of failure would induce the species to return to different ways of feeding. The problem with very specialized niche-feeding (such as crossbill finches tearing open a single kind of pine-cone) is that only the successful will persist in this niche. There is no obligation in a luxuriant forest to feed on only one type of pine cone. There are lots of other birds eating other things. Niche-feeding can only be driven by success, not failure. Yet natural selection is driven by huge rates of failure. The most adapted beaks can only be selected and developed by mass death of the less adapted. But any repeated selection drastic enough to change the beak would long before then push the species to look for other food instead. Niche-feeding, in short, appears to be chosen by success, and the more successful it is, the less selection there will be. How then does the adapted feature (e.g. the crossbill finch’s beak) keep evolving and becoming more specialized, if this feeding habit is highly successful, and mass death is not culling the less adapted beaks and promoting the more adapted ones? In short, the only mechanism Darwinism proposes for shaping a beak for a niche-feeding habit (such as a particular type of pine-cone) is a rate of starvation (from being unable to open the pine-cones) that would discourage the species from pursuing this niche-feeding habit, and push it back towards more varied feeding. Natural selection is a self-sabotaging method which cannot lead to voluntary specialization in feeding habits – and yet specialization is the very path that most evolution of new species has evidently taken.

        This is the crucial weakness of Darwin's theory of natural selection. Natural selection is a mechanism whereby evolution is driven by mass death of the less adapted.  But the problem is most evolution is towards specialization in food gathering habits, and developing the physical tools most adapted to that specialization. This specialization cannot be driven by mass death, because mass death woud lead the species to abandon that specialization. Specialization can only be driven by success. Only success can drive a species to specialize further and further in a particular food gathering habit. Failure, a 96 per cent death rate, would lead them to abandon that food and try another one. Persistent failure and mass death is at the heart of natural selection; only persistent success can drive specialization, which is the path of most evolution of species.

The alternative evolutionary theory, that of Lamarck, would explain the crossbill finch’s beak like this. The use of the beak in a particular way places stress upon it, which would be relieved if it changed physically in a certain direction. This stress influences which of the slightly varying copies of the bird’s DNA is transmitted to offspring, and the descendants gradually, over time, come into the world with a beak that facilitates more and more the uses to which it is habitually put, thereby relieving the stress upon it. Now Lamarck of course, did not know about DNA and would not have explained it quite like this. But he argued that environment and behaviour act directly on organisms, and the changes they make can be transmitted to offspring. He cited in particular the use or disuse of limbs having an effect on their size. Darwin himself believed Lamarck’s theory in these cases (such as the disuse of wings in flightless birds, or the stronger leg-bones of domestic ducks compared with wild ducks), but twentieth-century neo-Darwinists reject Lamarck with the most vehement contempt. They insist on the absolute imperviousness of the genetic code carried by an organism to any influence by its behaviour, its own physical development, or its environment. But the principle announced a century ago by Weismann that the genetic code that governs procreation cannot be influenced by any change in the body cells because the two are separated by a firewall is under attack from much new research. Many experiments have proved that this firewall does not operate. For a start it is known that it does not operate in plants, which readily transmit to offspring the modifications made to them. Ted Steele, an Australian micro-biologist, has demonstrated a method by which acquired characteristics can be inherited by animals: viruses are able to replicate mutations in body cells and transfer them to sexual cells, where they become inheritable, a process known as “reverse transcription”. His “Somatic Selection Theory”, suggesting the Weismann barrier can be penetrated, provoked controversy in the scientific world, with major thinkers such as Sir Karl Popper and Nobel prize-winner Sir Peter Medawar hailing it, and anti-Lamarck fanatics like Dawkins trying desperately to discredit it. 117 Steele’s experiments built on the work of Medawar, who proved that tolerance of foreign tissue by the immune system can be acquired if alien tissue is injected into newborn mice. They would later accept a skin-graft from the same tissue without their immune system rejecting it. This acquired tolerance was shown by Reg Gorczynski to be inheritable in the case of some descendants of the mice but not all – an experiment that remains controversial. 118 C.H.Waddington, one of the few neo-Darwinists open to Lamarck’s ideas, made the important suggestion that environmental influences (stress, psychological states, the individual’s own life experience) might possibly affect which of the slightly varying copies of DNA sequences are selected for transmission to offspring. An athletic woman, with physical qualities acquired by intense training, may well transmit athletic genes to her children because her activity has somehow influenced which copy of the DNA sequences she transmits.119 There is now a movement among the more independent-minded researchers to discover ways in which acquired characteristics can be inherited, simply because it corresponds to a common sense view of the world. Steele points out that the callouses on the knees of African warthogs and the chests of ostriches, caused by rubbing the ground where they rest on these body parts, are present in the embryo, which has never rubbed against anything. It seems self-evident that at one stage this must have been an acquired characteristic (a product of a behaviour pattern) which is now inherited. How could random mutations have arrived at this? Do we see any other evidence of random mutations occurring which cause callouses on other parts of bodies where they are not in the least useful? 120 Moreover, if natural selection is to explain this phenomenon, then we would also need proof that the callouses give such a huge advantage to these animals that the few individuals where they randomly occurred then outbred the others and took over the species. But a lot of nature’s little peculiarities seem a mere convenience to the animal, not a vital necessity giving it a crucial survival advantage. Steele even points to the different squatting postures of Asians and Australian Aborigines, which have modified the bones of their feet differently to make the posture more comfortable – a modification present in their babies. This characteristic can only be the result of generations of behaviour – which has somehow got transmitted genetically to offspring as a kind of convenience. Yet it surely presents no vital advantage that would increase survival or reproduction rates so much that one mutated individual would take over the race. These are the kinds of common sense observations which fuel the search for a mechanism by which acquired characteristics can become inherited. The pretence that there is a law of nature to prevent this happening merely because Weismann demonstrated that mutilated rats don’t transmit the mutilations to offspring is merely dogmatic negativity in the face of one of the most exciting fields of scientific research.  

Darwin himself (though his fanatical disciples try to make us forget the fact) was a convinced Larmarckian. He believed in the inheritance of acquired characteristics and he demonstrated it with reference to domestic ducks. He showed that the sub-species of domestic duck has developed heavier leg-bones and lighter wing-bones than the ancestral wild duck, and he attributed this to more walking and less flying. Changed behaviour had, as Lamarck argued, changed the bone structure, and domestic ducks now appear to inherit this characteristic. This evidence for Lamarck has been silently ignored by neo-Darwinists, under the influence of the Weismann doctrine that acquired characteristics cannot be inherited because of some alleged firewall between body cells and germ cells. But let us look for a moment at how a neo-Darwinist would explain the thicker leg-bones of the domestic duck.

The neo-Darwinist theory would go like this. The struggle for survival among domestic ducks is so strenuous and hazardous, as they stroll endlessly round the barnyard, clambering over the broken terrain of tractor ruts and cow pies, that this takes its toll on those individuals not born with sturdy leg-bones, and most of them collapse and die of rheumatoid arthritis of the knee before they reach reproductive age. Even if they survive the rigours of the daily barnyard marathon and stagger on to mating age, they will be despised as breeding partners for their puny thighs, and die celibate, or leave only a pitiful brood, compared with their prolific brethren, happily equipped with the chance mutation of sturdy leg-bones. What is more, foxes that occasionally raid the barnyard are preternaturally disposed to pick on those ducks with thin legs, and they pay a terrible toll, while their accidentally mutated brethren look on with the serene compassion of those endowed with superior leg-bones. Thus, over time only those individuals with sturdy leg-bones have survived and reproduced, and all domestic ducks today are descended from this select few, the lucky survivors of the harsh competition of life in the barnyard.   

Isn’t it a little easier to believe that when you walk a lot your leg-bones grow thicker? That the leg-bones of all of them got thicker through exercise, which their wild-duck ancestors didn’t get because they never walked anywhere? And that no selection actually took place – they all evolved these thicker leg-bones together? And that after several generations of developing thicker leg-bones through walking, a gene for thicker leg-bones was switched on and added to the genetic blueprint for a domestic duck? Isn’t this Lamarckian theory a little easier to swallow than to believe that strolling round the barnyard is a gruelling exercise which only those mutant individuals with the thickest leg-bones survived?      





But the obsession with genes may perhaps be a red herring. Lee Spetner and Richard Milton have both drawn attention to how little correlation there is between the genetic differences between animals and their actual difference in physical form. There is more genetic difference between certain species of frog than there is between a bat and a whale. The majority of human genes are present in a cabbage. Spetner suggests that many evolutionary changes may be purely adaptive to changed habits and may not necessarily be genetically encoded at all: they simply keep recurring because the habits of the animal in each generation are the same. Spetner’s theory becomes in fact an important rival (or perhaps complement) to Lamarck’s. 121 

Spetner argues that evolutionary change of a kind that simply involves an adaptation of the physical form (phenotype) of the animal, without any necessary change in the genes (genotype) may occur far more often and rapidly than we think. He points to the example cited already of the Laysan finches, whose beaks changed after only twenty years on Pearl and Hermes Reef. 122 He argues that this change was far too rapid to have been brought about by natural selection. Instead it seems to have been a spontaneous collective adaptation to environment, resulting from the plasticity of the phenotype – the ability of bodies to grow differently in different conditions. Is this evolution? Can these finches be said to have evolved into different varieties or even species? Would this depend on whether the change gets programmed into the genes? Tests on these birds so far appear inconclusive.

Darwin noted this ability of bodies to spontaneously adapt to new conditions in one or two generations when he commented on the taller stature of European immigrants in America. He put this down to the variation that occurs in new geographic conditions – one of the reasons he favoured emigration of whites throughout the world – to make them vary. But now this sudden evolution of tallness which was first noticed in European immigrants in America has happened to Europeans in Europe – which would rule out geographic relocation as the cause. Dutchmen (the world’s tallest people) are now nearly three inches taller than Americans, and their height is steadily increasing, as is that of most Europeans, including the British. This is in marked contrast to the nineteenth century when Americans were much taller than Europeans, and the Dutch were quite short. Now it has always astonished me how little attention has been paid to this by evolutionists. Surely man’s evolution is as interesting and important as that of a finch? European man has undergone an increase in average height since the mid 19th century of some fourteen centimetres, or about eight per cent, for the Dutch, and around nine centimetres for many other nations such as the British.123 This change of height in the European race is the most rapid and visible example of human evolution that has ever been observed, and it has been totally ignored in discussions of evolution. The reason is the sheer embarrassment it causes the Darwinist establishment. They don’t want to call it evolution, or even to evoke it in discussions of evolution, precisely because it has obviously not been caused by natural selection. They reserve the word evolution exclusively for those changes that seem to illustrate the Darwinian process. Thus they prove by another tautology that all evolution is caused by natural selection: if it isn’t, it can’t be called evolution. Yet the rise in height of European man over the past 140 years is undeniable. If this rapid change of size had occurred to a species of finch on the Galapagos they would be babbling about another “proof” of Darwinism. So how can this very obvious example of evolution be understood, and what mechanism has transmitted this modification (if it is in fact transmitted) to offspring?

Presumably, the change in height is related to changed conditions of life: better food, exercise, cleaner air, less hard work at a young age, more caring parenting, better medical care for mothers and babies, and so on. But what is the mechanism by which these changed conditions have altered us physically? Now the neo-Darwinists would have to say that height is such an advantage in the struggle for survival – enabling one to beat off murderers and attract and impregnate more women – that the taller men of the late nineteenth century had more offspring than the short men, and their taller offspring had more in their turn, until the few tall men of the late nineteenth century took over the race and we are all now the descendants of that happy elongated few. That is the only way neo-Darwinism can accept that an evolutionary change occurs – the selection of favourable random variations by the rigours of competition. The only thing wrong with this explanation is that we know it did not happen. We are not all the descendants of the few tall men of the nineteenth century. The tall men of today are the great grand-children of the short men of a century ago. We have the evidence to prove it in the form of military records of men’s height in the armies and military academies of several European countries, which show a steady increase in height since the mid-19th century. We have the living evidence of generations of men in one family, in which grandfather is 170 centimetres, father is 175 and son is 180. And the idea that grandfather was cuckolded by a taller neighbour is something that grandmother is there to deny. So the evidence is there before us that a collective evolution has occurred over several generations, and not some kind of selection. We are not descended from the taller few of yesterday. The tall did not have more offspring than the short. All the evidence indicates the contrary. There was a correlation of class and tallness in the nineteenth century, since the upper classes already benefited from modern conditions of food and exercise. The sons of the gentry at Sandhurst military academy in the mid-19th century were 22 centimetres taller at sixteen than the poor orphan boys of the Marine Society. 124 And we know from statistics that the upper classes did not have more children than the lower: in the 1890’s the upper classes in England had roughly half the number of children on average that the workers had. It was the constant worry of the Malthusians and the eugenicists that the stupid poor were outbreeding the clever rich, as they still do in much of the world today. We are faced therefore with a situation where the shorter part of the population (the poor) had twice as many children as the taller, but the result was a general increase in height over the past four or five generations. Since it is clear that this evolution did not occur through Darwinian natural or sexual selection of the tallest few, how did it happen?

We can consider this a case of what Spetner refers to: a characteristic repeatedly acquired within each lifetime, in other words a modification of the phenotype alone. When children receive good food, medical care, exercise and a caring upbringing, they grow taller. The rise in living conditions over the past hundred and forty years therefore led each generation to respond to a more favourable environment by growing a few centimetres more. We could see this as merely an adaptation to new conditions in one lifetime, an acquired characteristic, without any need to suppose that it is inherited or genetically encoded. The characteristic of greater height would simply have been reacquired in each generation, as they all faced better conditions, with no necessary accumulation. According to this approach, if we took a Dutch baby born today, transported him to Pakistan, sold him to a carpet-maker, and subjected him to the child labour and poor diet typical of the 19th century, he would only grow to the height of a nineteenth-century Dutchman, about 170 cm instead of 184 cm. In other words, if we remove the conditions that have led to greater height, it will not occur, as it is a purely adaptive characteristic acquired in one lifetime. That is one possibility. The other theory would be Lamarck’s. A modern Lamarckian would say that the greater height produced by these improved conditions has already affected the genes, perhaps by switching on a dormant tallness gene. Tallness has therefore continued to develop cumulatively over several generations, each one being taller than the one before. According to this theory, if you transport a Dutch baby to Pakistan and subject him to nineteenth-century working conditions, he will lose some of the height gained over the past century, but not all of it. The gain in height, a Lamarckian would say, has been cumulative and is now genetically encoded, so it would not be wholly reversed by a change in conditions in one generation. 

Who is to say which explanation is right – Spetner’s idea or Lamarck’s – since we cannot perform experiments by selling Dutch babies to Pakistani carpet-makers? On the face of it, the Lamarckian hypothesis seems to have a strong case. There does seem to be evidence of a cumulative gain in height, generation after generation, which suggests each one started from a higher platform than the one before. Furthermore, if the extra height were purely a response by each individual to environmental conditions (that is, an acquired characteristic, which is not passed on through the genetic code, because of the famous Weismann barrier) we would expect to find much taller people among the well-fed upper classes of the past. They already enjoyed modern conditions of food and exercise: why didn’t they grow to a modern height? Now though there was a gap in height between nineteenth century workers and gentry, even the gentry of the past were shorter than the average person today. The elite Sandhurst graduates, sons of the aristocracy, taller than either their American or German counterparts in the mid-19th century, and vastly taller than workers, stood at 174 cm. That is   two centimetres shorter than the average Englishman today, of all classes. 124 This would suggest that even for the aristocracy, height has increased over the past century to a degree not easily ascribable to better food. In fact the evidence of every castle and Tudor cottage doorway suggests that the rise in height has been going on since the Middle Ages. Even the aristocrats of the 15th and 16th centuries, stuffing themselves on venison and exercising vigorously, were not as tall as the men of today, as every suit of armour in museums testifies. The rise in height may not have been continuous: research suggests there were both rises and falls in height over the past thousand years. Some researchers think that a thousand years ago European men were taller than six centuries later – 173 cm declining to 167 cm (though this may have been racial, with the dominance of Nordic stocks among early medieval rulers, whose skeletons would also be the ones that have survived.) 125 According to this theory there was a decline towards a low point in the 17th century, and then Europeans began to grow again, with another drop in the late 18th  and early 19th centuries. None of these movements in height can be explained by natural selection, and John Komlos has fairly convincingly linked them with the availability and price of food. He thinks that population growth, high food prices and the movement to cities, cutting more people off from fresh farm food (meat and dairy products), is largely responsible for the late 18th century decline in height. At the end of the 19th century better food transportation, through techniques of canning and refrigeration, made better food available to urban populations, and with rising wages heights began to rise again.  126 

The crucial question is: is the new tallness of Europeans now inherited, and is it  genetically encoded? The experts seem to agree that height is the result of both genetic and environmental factors, but how they interact remains obscure. Can a genetic factor originate in an environmental factor, as seems to be the case of the bigger lungs of the Aymara Indians of Bolivia? The historical evidence of a gradual and cumulative gain in height favours this Lamarckian notion. But Spetner’s idea, that of a repeated adaptive change within each life-time, which is not inherited (in other words, a mere change in phenotype, not genotype), can still not be excluded. What we know for certain is that natural selection had nothing to do with this development. 

It appears that the question of the change in height of modern Europeans may well prove to be one of the most fruitful fields for testing the Lamarckian hypothesis – of the inheritance of an environmentally-induced characteristic. Several lines of research suggest themselves. Would it be useful to find out from hospital records whether European babies are born longer today than in the nineteenth century? If babies of all classes are now born longer on average (and not merely heavier, which might reflect the mother’s diet more directly), would this not be proof that the gain in height over the past 140 years is now inherited and genetically encoded? Would not this be a crucial experiment (in Popper’s sense) to test Lamarck’s hypothesis, that environment can cause inheritable changes? But no doubt objections will be made that greater length of new-born babies simply reflects the mother’s nutrition, and not any genetic change. Is it possible to compare the genetic code of 19th century people (the Dutch, for example) and today’s much taller specimens? This is an area where further research could bring crucial breakthroughs in understanding how bodies change. One fact that suggests that tallness is now a genetic characteristic among the Dutch in particular is that their height is still increasing today: boys of twenty are taller than men of thirty-five. But is the environment (food and medical care) still improving? Has there been that much improvement in Dutch diet since the early 1980’s (a period when European economies began to go down rather than up)? Surely a boy born in 1970 ate as well as one born in 1985? A rising number of young Dutchmen are now close to 210 cm or nearly seven feet, a height which is usually thought to involve health risks rather than benefits. Surely this galloping growth is genetically driven? But how did these genes get into a population which in the 19th century was relatively short? Can dormant genes (which have long been suppressed by an unfavourable environment, inadequate food) be switched on in response to environmental factors? There are good reasons for expecting that this Lamarckian idea will one day be confirmed, and that natural selection will be shown to be only one of several mechanisms of evolution, and almost certainly not the main one.





One of the fundamental problems of Darwin’s theory is its origins in Malthus’s vision of catastrophic over-population. Darwin believed that catastrophic conditions of vicious struggle by persistently over-breeding species result in the harsh culling of the less adapted, and that the more fiercely this process occurs the faster the process of evolution. This is now thought to be a distortion of what happens in nature, where populations tend to be controlled by internal mechanisms (including widespread infanticide of surplus offspring) rather than simply by predation or starvation. 127 His bias towards seeing adversity and hardship as the mother of evolution seems to have been shared by many American academics of the mid-twentieth century – not only because of their Puritan ideological background, but perhaps because they had childhood memories of depression and poverty. To them it seems axiomatic that life is tough and ruthlessly selects the fittest, and it must be this that powers evolutionary change. But it seems obvious even to a casual observer that evolution has given rise to the richest diversity of species in benign rather than harsh conditions. Anyone who wanders into the rain forests of New Zealand can only be struck by how easy life looks for the myriad bird species. In a climate almost monotonously temperate, with winters without snow, autumns where the trees keep their leaves, and summers where the grass stays green, with abundant flowers, vegetation of cloying lushness, no native mammals and no native predators, life looks good for the birds. And they have indeed evolved into an extraordinary range of unique species. Before man got there, they must have lived a life of ease and plenty, not to say sloth – with the result that one of their peculiarities is that many of them forgot how to fly. Now no convincing argument has ever been put forward as to how birds could lose the power of flight for competitive reasons. There was no advantage they could achieve by losing it. It didn’t give them any sort of edge in hard times. The idea that there was a competition for muscle power between legs and wings, and those that lost wing-power gained running speed, does not hold water. Many New Zealand birds have never been seen to break into a run; their habitual gait is a dawdle. They lost the power of flight because they had no predators to flee from and there was no panic to get to the food. And they must have lost it collectively, by slow atrophy of the wing muscles. There was no selection, because there was no fierce competition going on with premature death for the losers. If there had been, they would have started flying again.

Now it is amusing to see how disdainfully the atrophying of wings is regarded by the neo-Darwinists as an almost disgraceful degeneration of a species. There are disparaging remarks about the relaxation of selective pressure on features leading to their decline, as if this was a culpable form of slatternly laziness and letting oneself go. It is like an attractive woman giving up diet and exercise and becoming an overweight slob in a dressing gown.  A decent, self-respecting species would have kept up the effort and preserved its wings in tip-top shape, ready for instant flight from predators, just in case one happened to appear after a million years of tranquillity. These flightless birds have let the team down in a disgraceful manner. Now this attitude reflects the competitive obsession of the neo-Darwinists. Anything that happens out of an absence of competitive pressure is degeneration – it cannot possibly be positive evolution. Like a 19th century slum-born American capitalist, the only thing they understand or respect is the selective rigours of competition in harsh conditions. But the inconvenient fact is that evolutionary diversity seems to flourish most in benign conditions. Species branch off and enter new evolutionary niches when niches become available. It is opportunity, not hardship, which is the mother of evolution. Otherwise you would find more extravagantly diverse life-forms in Antarctica than in New Zealand, or in the Australian desert than in the jungles of Queensland. And we know that this is not the case.  

Similarly it is in time periods of opportunity, not of disaster, that evolution seems to have gone through sudden spurts of extraordinary advance. It is probable that the Cambrian period, when there was a sudden explosion of life forms, was one of benign rather than harsh conditions. There is a new and increasingly respected theory (put forward by Harvard geologists Paul Hoffman and Daniel Schrag, working on an idea of Russian Mikhail Budyko) that the earth went through a snowball stage of total ice cover about six hundred million years ago, followed by a “global warming” resulting from volcanic activity and the build-up of carbon dioxide. Its proponents point to fossil evidence of the Cambrian explosion of new life forms shortly afterwards, as the primitive marine life suddenly found itself in a new warm water world without any competitors.128 It is the absence of harsh conditions or ruthless competition, the sudden availability of a multitude of new niches for existence, which leads to massive evolutionary diversification. Opportunities for new life, not the pressure of death, is the main motor of evolution. And when one looks at human history, and the conditions in which societies have become innovative, inventive and diverse in their activities, one sees a similar pattern.




Assuming that one day, as its fanatical disciples die off, the neo-Darwinist ideology of natural selection and the survival of the fittest is dropped, and a composite evolutionary theory, including a large element of Lamarckism, is adopted in its place, what difference will this make to our world view? For a start the notion of life as a jungle where only the strong survive will hopefully vanish from our popular thinking. Ruthless aggression will no longer be seen as the governing principle of life. The most pernicious popular philosophy ever devised, which has given rise to ruthless capitalism, ruthless colonialism and Nazism, will at last be deprived of its supposed scientific justification. The newspaper pundits will stop rabbiting on about the Darwinian world of struggle we live in, as if this world-view had all the authority of established science. They will stop confusing the simple and obvious fact that animals eat one another with the discredited theory that selective massacre is the motor of evolution. Lamarckism, by contrast, posits a collective, peaceful process of evolution, not a competitive and eliminationist one. The entire species (or the divergent race or variety) changes in direct adaptation to new environmental conditions or new food-gathering habits. It  does not change through the accidental mutation of a select few individuals which then take over the species through ruthless competition and the elimination of all the others. Neo-Lamarckism would emphasize the collective survival instinct of species, their ability to adapt rapidly to changing conditions, and their ability to cut back their own procreation in times of food shortage (as birds do by laying fewer eggs, and plants by dropping fewer seeds.) It would promote a model of co-operation and collective action among the human race, rather than an image of perpetual struggle and warfare as the life-principle. In short, neo-Lamarckism would be a philosophy for an era of peace and co-operation, just as Darwinism presided over a long era of war and rivalry.

We have emerged from a century in which war and conflict on an unprecedented scale have not only been our lot, but have been glorified as the basic principle of life by a rogue ideology. This ideology of war and struggle, of the survival of the fittest, has unconsciously influenced our entire conception of life and of how society should be organized. It is time to find a new paradigm, a new image of how life on earth develops. It is insidious and dishonest that evolutionists are stealthily moving away from Darwin by endless ad hoc modifications of his theory which have gutted it of meaning without publicly announcing that he was wrong and that the popular Darwinian vision of nature is false. They are leaving the popular paradigm in place while changing all the technical details. It is time to knock the paradigm over. The pernicious ideology of the survival of the fittest has done enough damage. It is time to drop it, and think of our universe as the collective development of all living things, in a balance in which there is room for all to flourish if they adapt intelligently and maintain stable populations. The Lamarckian theory of evolution would favour a co-operative world where we tackle problems collectively that will affect us all : diseases and epidemics, environmental pollution, the scarcity of resources, the imbalances of trade, the spread of nuclear weapons, the suppression of national rights by tyrannical states, the poverty and overpopulation of certain parts of the world and the demographic suicide of others, and the need to regulate migrations and stabilize all populations at replacement levels in order to maintain social and cultural cohesiveness. It would favour the collective process of democratic debate, leading to action by elected governments in co-operation with one another, rather than the ruthless pursuit of profit by gigantic private corporations and their megalomaniac managers.

Adam Smith’s superstition, that the hidden hand of the market will guide the egoistic decisions of individuals towards the outcome that best serves the common good, is the economic equivalent of Darwin’s superstition that nature guides the ruthless struggle of each against all towards the survival of the fittest and the evolutionary changes most favourable to the future of the species. Both ideas are irrational myths and the Darwinist superstition has become the pseudo-scientific underpinning of the laissez-faire capitalist one. The belief that the market, like nature, favours the best and eliminates the worst, lies at the heart of the capitalist cult of unfettered competition. This belief is instinctive among capitalists. If Walmart is eliminating its rivals, then Walmart must be the best. The fittest always survive. The losers are always wrong. The fact that in macroeconomic terms the success of Walmart is a disaster because its rock bottom wages depress the purchasing power necessary to fuel other businesses, that it is in fact a parasitic company, dependent on the purchasing power provided by more generous employers, is lost in the contemplation of its isolated success against its rivals. In reality, the hidden hand of the market has no natural tendency to favour fair, sustainable competition, or companies that pay decent wages. Instead it favours monopoly, the elimination of all competition, cheating, ruthless methods, the brutal exploitation of employees, and gross distortions between supply and demand. Governments can and must intervene in the market to secure its fairness, prevent monopolies, impose decent conditions, and promote fair collective wage-bargaining so that purchasing power will keep pace with rising production. The misguided laissez-faire policies being followed today are not only allowing Walmart to create a swathe of working poor across America, but are also allowing China to pursue a mercantilist policy of exporting but not importing, producing frantically while keeping wages so low (under a repressive dictatorship) that its workers cannot consume. China is as parasitic as Walmart, dependent on the purchasing power of other nations, and contributing insufficient purchasing power of its own to the general pool because its repressive system does not let its workers bargain for fair wages. Both are destabilizing forces, exploiting a prosperity which they are systematically undermining until they bring about an inevitable crash. 

The cult of globalization that rules today is merely this Darwinistic cult of ruthless competition writ large and imposed on the entire planet. It means that multinational companies get around the social progress in wages and working conditions which Western societies have struggled for a hundred years to achieve, by shifting their factories all over the globe in search of the lowest wages and least regulated conditions. This has led to a race to exploit the poorest workers in the countries that offer them the least protection. Totalitarian China, with its official minimum wage at 44 dollars a month, has become the new Mecca of Western companies – which are transferring their manufacturing operations there as fast as they can. A totalitarian state which was condemned by American capitalists as a wicked tyranny when it kept their factories out has now become flavour of the month since it has let them in to join in the exploitation of its slave labour. The outlawing of free trade unions, the arrest, imprisonment and torture of labour leaders – things which were denounced as the unacceptable face of communism back in the 1960’s and 70’s – have now become the very attraction of the system, the basis of the success of China’s new  “market” economy. The argument that market freedoms will lead inevitably to political freedoms is the cynical alibi of hypocritical Western politicians. They know that the last thing Western businesses in China want to see is political freedom, and that the only reason they are there is the absence of freedom. Western businesses have adopted exactly the same callous “good conscience” as they adopted towards the African slave trade: it is not our fault if these people are slaves, they would be slaves anyway, we are merely buying the cheapest labour available at local market rates, and using it to produce goods at favourable prices for our customers. The very people who still ritually deplore the African slave trade which was banned two hundred years ago are engaging in the new slave trade in China without the slightest moral qualms. Like their 18th century counterparts, they are simply dealing with the real world as they find it – using the conditions that exist in other countries (beyond their control) to their own advantage. The only question is whether a movement of moral awakening as to the reality of what they are doing will strike in the 21st century as it did in the late 18th century. But the capitalist class today may be beyond any moral redemption, as its predecessors in 18th century Britain were not.

It is beginning to be understood that this entire cult of the free market shows a profound ignorance of the basis of Western democratic societies. The new cult of privatization and liberalization is taking the latest phase in a long history of Western social evolution and imposing that phase alone on the rest of the world as though it were the key to our success. It is not. Western societies are the products of a long, complex history in which political liberty, democracy, the rule of law, individual enterprise, national pride, a free press, state interventionism, reforming governments, trade unions, community values, the ideal of public service, and the Christian ethic of love thy neighbour have all played a part. The parable of the good Samaritan is more central to Western culture than free market capitalism. It lies behind all the social reforms of the past hundred years that distinguish our societies from the most brutal dictatorships. Above all it lies behind the welfare states created after the Second World War by interventionist governments in the name of social solidarity. And without the safety net of solidarity put in place by social democracies animated by a Christian, humanist ethical code, the code of “love thy neighbour”, the free market simply means a ruthless, exploitative, dog-eat-dog society, where inequalities increase until they fuel violence, revolt, and brutal repression. The ultra-free market is not the blueprint for the kind of humane society the West has arrived at, and it is only gross ignorance of our own history that is allowing a generation of capitalist technocrats to pretend that it is. This gross distortion of our understanding of reality is part of the pernicious influence of the ruthless, competitive Darwinist ideology.

But beyond its role in underpinning extremist free market economic policies, Darwinism has had an even more destructive effect on our moral behaviour. Darwinist thinking, in its popular form of the survival of the fittest and the weak to the wall, is responsible for a great proportion of the evil, violence, greed, dishonesty and unscrupulous-ness of the present age. Every CEO of every major company sees the world as a jungle of ruthless competition, in which the fittest survive. The surest methods of survival are the most unscrupulous. At its crudest,  exploit workers, squeeze suppliers, cheat customers, lie to investors, sabotage rivals, and trash the environment. The corporate criminals of Enron, enriching themselves with sums beyond the capacity of any mortal to spend while despoiling their own employees of their hard-earned pensions, were typical products of Darwinism. Darwinism is the glorification of selfishness and the justification of riding roughshod over others. It flies in the face of every ethical code man has devised over the ages. The belief that a ruthless, selfish struggle of each against all is the deepest reality of life, the underlying principle of nature and the motor force of evolution, has had a profoundly corrupting and brutalizing effect on human behaviour. The Darwinian reflection that after all life is a jungle where the weak go to the wall is the thought that passes through every mind about to commit an act of despicable selfishness, treachery, cruelty, or oppression. The truth is that life has no principle except what we humans decide to give it.  And what we can discern from the pattern of nature gives us at least as many reasons for believing in collective adaptation and harmonious co-existence as in the contrary principle of violent competition to conquer and eliminate all others. Paley’s vision of nature as a cozy scene of harmony was certainly false; but Darwin’s vision of a ruthless eliminationist struggle of each against all is equally false and far more damaging. The theory that the brutal elimination of “the unfit” is the motor force of all “adaptive improvement” of species is now known to be wrong and scientists should stop pretending to believe in it. They have in fact long since stripped the notion of “fitness” of any content except survival itself (“being good at surviving”.) Having discreetly and surreptitiously killed Darwinism off they should now have the decency to announce the death and bury the corpse, whose stink is a moral poison that continues to pollute the world.












            In Darwin’s writings aggression, violence and elimination of the weak are central to his vision of how nature works, but only implicit in his vision of how men should act. In the works of Karl Marx violence is explicit : it is the recommended way of bringing about political and social change. His contribution to the violence and aggression of the 20th century is even greater and more direct than Darwin’s. Of the tens of millions of human beings murdered world-wide in the century that has just ended by state persecution, extermination, and starvation in labour camps, three quarters were killed in the name of Karl Marx. The  mass purges and slow extermination in prison camps carried out by Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, added to the revolutionary civil wars and the famines deliberately organized by Stalin and Mao during the forced collectivization of farms, killed many times more people than Nazism did, and more than both Nazism and all the wars of the 20th century put together. Jung Chang, author of the acclaimed historical novel Wild Swans, was given unprecedented access to Chinese archives in order to write her biography of the Great Helmsman, Mao, the Unknown Story (jointly with her husband, Jon Halliday, a specialist historian of the USSR.) After long research she put the number of Chinese victims of communism at over seventy million. Historian Norman Davies puts the victims of Soviet Communism at fifty-four million, which would give a total figure of a over hundred and twenty million deaths due to communism over the last century. A lifelong specialist in the field of genocide and what he terms “democide”, Political Science professor R.J. Rummel of Hawaii University puts the total number of victims of communism at 148 million (and those of Nazism at twenty million.)1 Even if the caution of future historians eventually reduces these numbers considerably, the slate with Karl Marx’s name on it is still likely to be the heaviest in human history.

To these deaths may be added all the miseries of seventy years of communist tyranny and mismanagement, the extraordinary waste of wealth and energy in the Cold War, and the disastrous revolutionary regimes and rebel movements that mired much of Africa, Asia and South America in senseless conflict and economic failure. The exacerbation of labour conflicts in all industrial nations in the twentieth century owes much to the work of Marx’s acolytes, tenacious, obsessive and dedicated to their single-minded goal of the destruction of capitalist society. Whether they contributed anything to the improvement of the conditions of the working class anywhere is doubtful. Almost all successful reform was achieved by the rival democratic socialist traditions which Marx spent his life denouncing and which his followers did everything to sabotage. His ideas may sometimes have inspired militants, but the ruthless extremism of communism frightened and galvanized opposition from all other sectors of society and probably delayed reforms rather than speeding them up. The extraordinary transformation that has come about in the conditions of workers in Western countries over the past hundred years has occurred in all cases through that step-by-step, democratic reformism that Marx so detested. Today his theories have been discredited and his reputation is in tatters in nearly all the lands where his ideas prevailed. But he is still widely quoted in the West for his waspish comments on contemporary events, and his insights into certain aspects of capitalism. His most lasting legacy, apart from the ruin of large parts of the world, is probably the effect he has had on the pattern of thinking of Western intellectuals. The cult of political hatred, the paranoid determination to see history in terms of deliberate, organized oppression by dominant groups rather than in terms of ignorance, greed, selfishness, bigotry and superstition, left its mark on the way late 20th century Western intellectuals were to deal with such diverse issues as race, colonialism, women’s rights and even gay rights. Along with this paranoid, conspiracy-theory world-view went a special morality which saw truth as expendable in the great cause of social progress. Marx’s own distortions, lies, grotesque exaggerations and falsification of evidence became a kind of cancer which infected the methods of all the leftist intellectual movements that he inspired. While Marxism has collapsed or been discredited as an economic system, it remains entrenched in Western universities as a way of seeing the world and interpreting history. Its very tenacity in the face of history’s devastating judgement upon it demonstrates the extraordinary capacity for self-deception and bad faith which is the most striking characteristic of the minds of its disciples. 

The roots of Marx’s violent revolutionary thinking in a biblical vision of apocalypse have been well demonstrated by recent critics. Marx was raised a devout Protestant Christian, and was confirmed at fifteen. A drama he wrote at eighteen, “Oulanem”, is about Satanism, and religious imagery and references to the devil fill his adolescent poems. The vision of the destruction of the capitalist Babylon came to him early. As a youth he was fond of quoting Goethe’s Mephistopheles: “Everything that is must be destroyed”.2 Much later came the construction of a theory and practice to bring this cataclysm about. The key to the destruction of the society he hated lay in the class conflict he saw beginning to flare up in industrial disputes and in such mass movements as Chartism. The vision of history as a succession of class conflicts leading to the greatest class conflict of all, the one that would (after a careful fanning of the flames by the revolutionary vanguard) lead on to the final battle of history (Armageddon) and the overthrow of the detested capitalist system – this vision can fairly be called a cult of conflict and apocalypse. The theoretical underpinning of this view he found in the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Conflict and antagonism are the principle of life itself. But its emotional drive comes not from Hegel’s ponderous and obscure ruminations but from the apocalyptic tradition. It is as a prophet, predicting the overthrow of tyranny and the revenge of the oppressed, not as a philosopher, that Marx has influenced the course of history. 

One of Marx’s most interesting early works is an essay on “the Jewish Question”, or Jewish emancipation in Germany. He is reviewing a book on the subject by a fellow-radical, Bruno Bauer. Bauer argues that the Jews can only be emancipated (that is, obtain political rights) when they as well as the Germans are emancipated from the delusion of religion itself, and embrace a scientific worldview. Marx, on the other hand, sees Judaism not as a religion but as something else. 


Let us look for the secret of the Jew not in his religion, but rather for the secret of the religion in the actual Jew.   

What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest.

What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god?


Very well! Emancipation from huckstering and money and thus from practical and real Judaism would be the self-emancipation of our era.

Thus we perceive in Judaism a general and contemporary anti-social element….

The emancipation of the Jews, in the final analysis, is the emancipation of mankind from Judaism. 3


He spends the rest of the essay elaborating on this idea, which equates Judaism with the money-worship of capitalism.  According to this idea Judaism is already in control of society: “The Jews have emancipated themselves in so far as the Christians have become Jews.” He concludes four pages later by repeating the earlier formula: “The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.” 4

It is clear that Marx (the grandson of rabbis on both sides of the family, but who was baptized a Protestant, his father having converted to evade a Prussian law banning Jewish lawyers) sees the stereotype of the Jewish usurer as an image of all of capitalist society. He quotes from the English commentator Hamilton on the wholly materialistic, money-making interests of the inhabitants of New England, for whom even religion is a business, and sees it as proof of “the practical domination of Judaism over the Christian world in North America5 But this use of “Judaism” as a sort of trope for materialism, money-obsession and capitalism in general – ignoring completely the actual doctrines and practices of the Jewish religion – has a sinister resemblance to the paranoid theories of Hitler. One may see Marx as starting from an anti-Semitic hatred of Jewish capitalists and then widening it to the entire bourgeois class. Hitler, on the other hand, retained a narrowly racist focus on Jews, but interpreted their pernicious influence as not merely their obsession with money but their attempt to dominate the nation and pervert it from its true nature by a sort of racial contamination. The two men’s theories are in fact strikingly similar, in that both saw the redemption of mankind through the elimination of a class of vicious exploiters. Once free the world of Jews/capitalists and the natural goodness of man will somehow assert itself. Vices and injustices of all kinds will magically disappear. The existence of an evil group of enemies of society becomes for both of them a total explanation of human evil, in an almost magical, metaphysical sense. The elimination of that group becomes the solution to all humanity’s problems.    

Given this curious excursion into religious thinking early in Marx’s career, and his  identification of Judaism and capitalism, it is perhaps worth looking more closely at the religious roots of his philosophy – which he always pretended, of course, was “scientific”.

The cult of conflict central to Marxism was not a new idea. Hegel claimed to derive his dialectic from the Greek philosopher Heracleitus, who announced, with Greek succinct- ness, that war is the father of all things. The 3rd century Persian creed of Manichaeism (to which St Augustine subscribed in his youth) posited a perpetual war between light and dark, good and evil. But it is in Christianity and the violent struggle to reform it that we must look for the roots of European revolutionary thinking in general. In the Middle Ages the Church played a far greater role in the lives of people than the State. Revolution in the Church preceded revolution in the State and laid down the mental paths it would follow. Paradoxically the Reformation of the Church was the origin of both capitalist and revolutionary thinking.

The Protestant Reformation, which drove people back to reading the bible for themselves instead of accepting the Church’s interpretation of it, developed two distinct currents of thought – one based largely on the Jewish Old Testament and the other on the Book of Revelations. The Old Testament God was one who was in active control of the world, who intervened in men's lives, who looked after his own people, who gave instructions to his chosen ones, struck down his enemies and punished those who were unfaithful to him. History, however bloody and tumultuous, was basically an unfolding of God's plan for his chosen people, and God constantly intervened in the process to put things right, sometimes in answer to prayer, sometimes by striking down the wicked. This view of the world leads to a certain complacent optimism: God in the end rewards virtue in this life and punishes vice. This means that disaster comes to be seen as a visitation upon our sins, while success and wealth are a mark of God's favour. It is only a step from here to equating wealth and success with virtue, and poverty and failure with vice. This becomes the moral underpinning of Protestant capitalism, as it was, to some extent, of Jewish capitalism. God looks after his own. Success is God’s blessing upon his favourites. “We are blessed” is a subtle way of suggesting that we deserve it, unless God has got things badly wrong. “God will provide” is the idea embodied in the term Providence, the favourite English word for the deity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

            But there was also a contrary current of thought in Protestantism. The years of persecution of Christians under the Roman empire had produced the Book of Revelations, which became a cult book for certain Puritan sects in the seventeenth century, which were also persecuted. This book saw the world as under the control of an evil empire, Babylon, a corrupt tyranny ruled in its final days by the Antichrist. This tyranny, which would reach a paroxysm of violence and evil, would at last be overthrown and cast down by the forces of good in a tremendous final battle, Armageddon. After that, the thousand-year reign of the Just over the earth would begin. Certain extremist Puritans of the English Revolution of the 1640’s began to see this as a process happening within history and even within their own time. Armageddon was a revolution, and they themselves, the revolutionaries, were the Just, the elect of God, the “Saints” who would rule for a thousand years. In the English Revolution we see millennial religious vision becoming revolutionary ideology. It is the nexus of all the political thought of modern times.

            To get some flavour of this junction of Revolutionary ideology and radical  Protestantism, one should turn to the pages of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. Here Burke attacks the sermon preached by the Non-conformist (or in our terms, radical, fundamentalist) minister Dr Richard Price, extolling the French revolution as the fulfilment of biblical prophecies. Burke quotes Dr Price:


“What an eventful period this is! I am thankful that I have lived to see it; I could almost say, Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation…….. I have lived to see thirty millions of people, indignant and resolute, spurning at slavery, and demanding liberty with an irresistible voice; their king led in triumph and an arbitrary monarch surrendering himself to his subjects.” 6


Burke points out that this same scriptural text was used in a public prayer in Whitehall by the Reverend Hugh Peters, after leading King Charles in triumph to his trial in the English Revolution of a century and a half before. Clearly the overthrowers of Kings saw themselves as agents of a millennial transformation of the human condition. Their direct inspiration, at least in England, was the bible – the jeremiads against the mighty in the books of the Old Testament prophets and above all the forecast overthrow of the Anti-Christ in the Book of Revelations. 

            We have therefore two quite contradictory currents in Protestantism, two distinct ways in which religious thinking shades into political ideology – in short, two opposing visions of the world. In one view, based largely on the old Testament, the world is a more or less benign place under the providential control of God. In the other view, based mostly on Revelations, it is a Babylonian tyranny ruled by the Beast, the servant of Satan. In one view the world is a fair playing-field where virtue is rewarded and vice punished. In the other, it is a testing-ground where the faithful are persecuted by triumphant evil. In one, success and wealth reflect God’s favour. In the other, wealth is the sign of corruption, the mark of the Beast. In short, one is a conception of the world and the prevailing order of things as basically good; and the other a view of things as fundamentally evil, and requiring a radical redemption by a divine intervention of a catastrophic sort. This is the opposition between, on the one hand, the complacent view of society developed by the established Church and the ruling class in the eighteenth century (the divinely ordained harmony of the universe) and, on the other hand, the subversive view of the Puritan sects, which continued in a direct line from the revolutionaries of the English Civil War to the enthusiastic fans of the French Revolution. This is the dichotomy of world-views which will underlie the conflict between the established order and revolutionary socialism in the nineteenth century.

            But in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the millennial idea (Armageddon, followed by the thousand year reign of the Just), which had so agitated minds in the English Revolution, entered Western thinking under another, more subtle disguise: the idea of progress. Until the mid-seventeenth century the prevailing view of history was one of decline from a golden age. Evidence of decay was seen everywhere, and man was thought to be in his dotage, sinking gradually into complete degeneracy. For some reason the millennial hysteria of the English Civil War and the final return of the established order in the Restoration unleashed a curious wave of optimism about man’s future. The ideas which Francis Bacon had put forward fifty years earlier about reforming the methods of learning to make possible an endless advancement in knowledge suddenly came into their own. This was the period of the setting up of scientific societies, of Newton’s discovery of the laws of physics and Locke’s pioneering empirical philosophy, the basis of the scientific world view. Suddenly man began to have a future, and human progress became the prevailing idea. Swift even recorded the extraordinary debate which took place over whether the ancient or the modern authors were better  – “the Battle of the Books”. It was the first time modern European man had dared to elevate himself above his classical masters, and to imagine that the future might excel the past. But this new progressive view of history soon split into two distinct tendencies. There were the more conservative voices who believed that man’s innate corruption, original sin, would prevent him from ever attaining any paradise on earth. There were others, reinforced by the influence of the French Enlightenment and its radical challenge to the dogmas of Christianity, who believed that original sin was an illusion. Man was innately good, and if he acted badly it was because society (education, religion, traditional morality, class rule, the economic system) had corrupted and deformed his nature. Man is infinitely perfectible: all we need to do is change the conditions in which he lives. But this view again split into two currents. There were those who thought that this progress and perfection of man was something almost inevitable, which would be achieved gradually as ignorance was abolished and man became more enlightened. There were others who thought the system more profoundly corrupt and rotten than that. Only a catastrophic change could release man and his natural goodness from slavery and the distortion of his nature. In short, the progressives split between the gradualists and the revolutionaries. This was the mental landscape in which the French revolution played out its bloody dramas across Europe. It was a movement of rationalism (inspired by the Enlightenment) but animated by the fanaticism of a sort of secular faith – a millennialist craving to start human history again from zero and redesign the world (a throwback to the English Puritan visionaries who thought their apocalyptic revolution meant the end of history – though France having crushed bible-reading Protestantism, its revolutionary imagery was classical rather than biblical.) The French revolutionaries literally put the calendar back to year one as if the entire past could be abolished. And after it was all over, betrayed, defeated and discredited, this was the mental rubble from which nineteenth century radical thinkers like Marx began to pick up the pieces. Needless to say, Marx was heir both to the revolutionary millennial tradition of violent Apocalypse, the restarting of history, and also to the naive Enlightenment creed of the perfectibility of man, once the evil conditions of his existence were abolished. 

            The question then became to define the evil conditions of man’s existence. What was the nature and origin of the evil system he lived under, and how could change be expected to come about? Rousseau had already pointed to man’s acquisitive urge as the basic culprit. And to anyone living through the early days of the industrial revolution with its enslavement of human beings to the factory system, the nature of the evil seemed clear – capitalism itself. But if man was naturally good then where did the evil impulse to create and sustain this evil system come from? The answer in a post-Enlightenment age could no longer be found in Satan  – evil had to come from man himself. But how can evil be in man’s own nature and still permit hopes of human perfectibility? The neat answer to this problem was found in the dialectic which Marx took from Hegel. Reality itself is built on antagonisms and contradictions which sharpen until a violent resolution is found. Evil is not inherent in man, but in an external, material condition of his existence: the relationship of the class he belongs to with the means of production. The class that owns and controls the means of production is evil by virtue of this relationship. Those who are exploited by them are virtuous by this same class relationship. Marx managed in fact to divide mankind into good and evil categories, by virtue of the relation of these groups with the means of production. The proletarian majority are good, innocent, perfectible. But the minority who have monopolized the means of production are incurably vicious; they have conspired to enslave the rest for their own profit. The progress of mankind must therefore consist in the acting out of the inherent antagonism between the two classes, a long struggle by the proletariat to overthrow and exterminate the vicious ruling group. Once this vicious part of mankind has been eliminated by a short period of dictatorship, evil will disappear, since its cause, a particular relationship with the means of production, will have gone. Man’s innocent nature will thus flourish uncorrupted by class relations. The state itself, with its laws and restraints, will become unnecessary and will “wither away”, and the reign of the Just on earth will begin.

It is this curiously naive dogma of man’s natural goodness, inherited from Rousseau,  which allows Marx to be so utterly indifferent to the political structure of the future state and to ignore the need for democratic, constitutional checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power. This had been the obsession, by contrast, of the pessimistic eighteenth-century American rebels. They were heirs to an earlier Puritan tradition where original sin loomed large, and where no man could be trusted with unlimited power. It is because he does not believe in original sin, that man is corrupt and prone to abuse power, that Marx can blithely propose the dictatorship of the proletariat, or rather of a group of intellectuals like himself acting in their name  – what the anarchist Bakunin called scornfully “a government of scholars (quelle rêverie!)”, adding with prescience that they “will be the most oppressive, most hated and most despicable in the world”.7 Marx could only answer this with his lame insistence that this class dictatorship of the workers would only last until the economic basis of class society had been destroyed, after which the state would wither away. In other words the justification for dictatorship is that it will be short. Now only the most gullible believer in the moral innocence and perfectibility of man could possibly imagine that a complex human society could do without the state in any form – that we will one day not need policemen, courts, judges, parliaments, or laws. That one should pass rapidly from a situation needing a ruthless dictatorship for the coercion of the wicked bourgeoisie to a condition where no state will be needed at all is even more improbable. How is this magical transformation to operate? How are these recalcitrant bourgeois scoundrels to be converted to such incorruptible goodness that no laws or government will be needed any longer? The clear implication is that they will simply be exterminated, that their physical liquidation will solve all problems. It is this combination of fantastically naive optimism about human nature with a colossal murderous ruthlessness that is most disturbing in Marx. It becomes the defining characteristic of most of those who followed his philosophy.   

This combination of naivety and ruthlessness informs the whole Marxist movement throughout its history. It seems perpetually surprised by the “betrayals” of this or that Marxist dictator, as if absolute power does not inherently corrupt. When a Marxist ruler is condemned  (as Stalin was by Trotsky and his followers) reasons must be found explaining where the traitor went astray in his theories. Only a doctrinal heresy could possibly explain the murderous tendencies of a Marxist ruler. The idea that abuse of power is inherent in man is something no Marxist could ever admit, because then he would be forced to concede the vital importance of democratic accountability and the rule of law, and the utter evil of dictatorship. Basically, as long as a Marxist government is only killing members of the bourgeoisie it is not doing any wrong in the eyes of its followers. Right and wrong are defined in terms of the class of the victim, not some universal standard of human rights applicable to all. Extermination is inherently part of the Marxist programme, because this extermination is removing the source of evil, the corrupt part of the human race, so as to leave it purified and eternally innocent from then on. In this Rousseauist vision of natural human goodness lies the blueprint for mass murder. The naivety is what gives birth to the ruthlessness.




Marx’s ignorance of human nature was only exceeded by his ignorance of the working class. The idle son of a prosperous lawyer, Marx never held a job (apart from some short-lived editorial posts on radical newspapers in Paris and Cologne during his twenties), but cadged off family and friends all his life. He spent his days in stifling, inbred communities of exiled, mostly German-speaking revolutionaries like himself, with minimal contact with local working people. As Paul Johnson points out, Marx’s indifference to finding out about the real conditions of the workers is astonishing. As far as is known, Marx never set foot in a factory, mine or mill in his life. He refused invitations to visit the factories of his friend Engels, and showing no curiosity about the business of his uncle, the Dutch capitalist Philips, who started the manufacturing empire. When he finally met working class socialists after the founding of the Communist League and the International, he despised them at once for their caution and reformist tendencies and systematically excluded them from any positions of influence (something Lenin was to repeat in Russia.) Their knowledge of actual factory conditions is something he had no respect for or interest in. As Karl Jaspers argues, Marx’s so-called “scientific” approach is not that of investigation, since he discards all facts that do not suit his theory, but vindication; and “it is the vindication of something proclaimed as the perfect truth with the conviction not of the scientist but of the believer.” 8 He is not interested in finding out about working class conditions or how to improve them; he is interested in demonstrating that here lies the explosive material that will lead to that violent mass upheaval which will destroy the society he detests. And anyone who questions that axiom is reviled as a heretic with a hatred and violence of quite astonishing intensity.

            The source of Marx’s knowledge of factory conditions was exclusively the bookworm   study of factory inspectors’ reports, parliamentary speeches, newspaper articles and statistics in the reading room of the British Museum. On the basis of this theoretical study, Marx thought he could demonstrate that capitalism is inevitably driven by the almost mathematical laws of his bizarre theory of value to render labour conditions worse and worse until workers are so desperate they will rise up in violent mass revolt. Workers’ representatives themselves, engaged in a daily struggle to bring about step-by-step reform and witnesses to the radical improvements made in their lifetime, were highly sceptical of this theory. When Marx attacked the German workers’ leader William Weitling for his lack of “scientific doctrine”, the latter retorted by dismissing him as a man who dreamed up his ideas in a study and knew nothing of working-class life. Marx was speechless with rage. 9 But the extraordinary thing is that Marx’s own description in Capital of the history of factory conditions does not bear out his own theory. In both the chapters on “The Working Day” and on “Machinery and Modern Industry”, what is demonstrated by the facts he cites is exactly the opposite of his own beliefs. It is an extraordinary exercise in intellectual blindness which it is worth examining.

Marx relies almost entirely for his account of working conditions in “The Working Day” on damning reports by English factory inspectors and indignant speeches in the House of Commons during debates over bills to reduce working hours. This reduction (to ten hours a day) was in fact achieved in the successive Factory Acts beginning in the late 1840’s. The story Marx tells in this chapter is that of a dramatic struggle by certain elected politicians and conscientious bureaucrats to reform a factory system they considered morally unacceptable, and their extraordinary success in doing so in the teeth of factory-owner opposition. In other words the spectacle Marx is describing is of the brilliant success of reformist strategies in changing the conditions of workers. Yet he is utterly incapable of drawing the logical conclusion from his own evidence  – that reform does work, that parliamentary government (even with a limited franchise) can cure these evils. His very own testimony would seem to demonstrate that the idea of pushing worker discontents to the point of violent revolution is unnecessary, absurd, and therefore evil. 

Marx’s heroes in the chapter “The Working Day” are the English Factory Inspectors. Far from portraying them as engaged in ineffectual tokenism, Marx sees their struggle to get the factory laws changed and enforced as vitally important and little less than heroic. He hails these laws as milestones in the improvement of the lives of the working class. Here is how he speaks of the laws they managed to pass to regulate with great precision the hours of employment, initially of women and children, and then of men:


It has been seen that these minutiae, which with military uniformity, regulate by stroke of the clock the times, limits, pauses of the work, were not at all the products of Parliamentary fancy. They developed gradually out of circumstances as natural laws of the modern mode of production. Their formulation, official recognition, and proclamation by the State were the result of a long struggle of classes. 10


Coming from Marx this is praise. He emphasizes the importance of such details as the length of the workers’ lunch-breaks, and praises the laws that imposed these rules on factory owners who would have liked to drive their workers till they dropped. He recognizes how vital these laws were by describing the struggle of the factory owners to stop their enactment: “Capital now entered upon a preliminary campaign in order to hinder the Act from coming into full force on May 1st 1848…..”  11 He describes how the factory owners pressured their workers into signing petitions against the Factory Act, but how the Factory Inspectors interviewed the workers personally, discovered they were really in favour of it, and overrode the factory owners’ objections. “The preliminary campaign of capital thus came to grief and the Ten Hours Act came into force May 1st 1848….” 12

The factory owners then tried to get around the limited hours by eliminating the lunch break. They tried to make workers eat their meal before starting work in the morning, and then to work ten hours straight. Again the Factory Inspectors objected and the crown lawyers “decided that the prescribed mealtimes must be in the interval during the working hours and it will not be lawful to work for ten hours continuously, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., without any interval.” In short, the courts backed the workers. When further subterfuges were tried by the factory owners, the Inspectors took them to court again. When the Home Secretary tried to limit the cases they brought against factory owners Marx describes how “the English Factory Inspectors …. declared that the Home Secretary had no power dictatorially to suspend the law, and continued their legal proceedings against the pro-slavery rebellion.” 13

After showing the heroic legal campaign of the inspectors, Marx then describes the problems they were up against when the courts were sometimes presided over by part-time justices who were themselves cotton manufacturers. The Factory Inspectors vigorously protested against this built-in bias of the courts. 


“These judicial farces,” exclaims Inspector Howell, “urgently call for a remedy – either that the law should be so altered as to be made to conform to these decisions, or that it should be administered by a less fallible tribunal, whose decisions should conform to the law….when these cases are brought forward. I long for a stipendiary magistrate.” 14


Marx here endorses, utterly without irony, the view that one of the remedies of the great wrongs of the working class would be a “stipendiary magistrate” (that is, a paid professional judge, not an unpaid part-timer drawn from the class of factory owners.) What informs the whole discussion is Marx’s huge respect for the judicial struggle of the Factory Inspectors, his sense of the importance and effectiveness of what they were doing and their admirable motives. And here are the results of their campaign to limit working hours, as he sees them:


However the principle had triumphed with its victory in those great branches of industry which form the most characteristic creation of the modern mode of production. Their wonderful development from 1853 to 1860, hand in hand with the physical and moral regeneration of the factory workers, struck the most purblind. The masters from whom the legal limitation and regulation had been wrung step by step after a civil war of half a century themselves referred ostentatiously to the contrast with the branches of exploitation still “free”….. It will be easily understood that after the factory magnates had resigned themselves and become reconciled to the inevitable, the power of resistance of capital gradually weakened, whilst at same time the power of attack of the working class grew with the number of its allies in the classes of society not immediately interested in the question. Hence the comparatively rapid advance since 1860. 15


One puts down this chapter of Capital with a sense of consternation. Why on earth did this man, who analysed so admiringly the struggle for legal reform of the factory system, and judged it so effective for “the physical and moral regeneration of the factory workers”, take a totally anti-reformist, anti-democratic stance and insist on violent revolution and dictatorship as the only possible solution? Why, if one could pass effective legislation and force the factory magnates to “resign themselves and become reconciled to the inevitable”, not continue on that course?

Having acknowledged the genuine improvement in working conditions brought about by the Ten-Hour Act (“the physical and moral regeneration of the factory workers” which even the “masters” saw as positive), how can he, eight years later in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, write the following:


The whole capitalist system of production turns on increasing this gratis labour by extending the working day or by developing productivity, that is, increasing the intensity of labour power, etc; that consequently the system of wage labour is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment. 16


How can he write this, when he has himself seen the power of parliamentary legislation to curb the exploitation of workers and to improve their conditions, and stressed the enormous importance to the health of the workers of limiting working hours? Even in Capital, where he broaches the question of the intensification and speeding up of work rhythms to compensate the shortening of hours, he is quoting members of parliament who are denouncing this abuse and introducing measures to stop it. The whole chapter “Machinery and Modern Industry” bears witness to the new struggle of the reformers to stop the factory owners getting around the limitations on hours by increasing the rhythm of work. It also foresees the real prospect of  expanding production without worsening conditions by increasing the efficiency of machines. How can Marx continue with his absurd axiomatic belief that technical progress under capitalism can only enslave the worker further, and that reformist legislation is futile, when he has seen the opposite with his own eyes?    

One senses a total mismatch between Marx the journalist, narrating with excitement and admiration the tenacious struggle by determined inspectors to reform factory conditions, and Marx the dogmatic theorist, denying it could ever work. His theoretical side seems to draw on the frustrated, embittered personality that could only find emotional fulfilment in the vision of a social cataclysm. Instead of advocating reformism as the way forward, and recognizing that it was in fact accelerating tremendously towards the end of his life with the extension of the vote to the working class and the growth in trade union power (with demands already for an eight-hour day), he stubbornly clung to the notion that all this was merely a preparation for some ultimate violent revolution (increasing the “power of attack of the working class”.) One cannot help seeing in Marx two people: a generous-hearted journalist of great ability in describing and commenting on social ills, wedded to a revolutionary theorist of psychotic, megalomaniac personality, obsessed with violent conflict, catastrophe and a kind of cosmic revenge. 




It is a paradox that Marx’s allegedly scientific theories inspired so many revolutionaries, and yet not one revolution ever followed the pattern he predicted. All so-called Marxist revolutions occurred in under-developed countries (which he strictly ruled out as impossible), and were carried out with the help of movements of peasants or disaffected soldiers, not industrial workers. The pauperization of industrial workers which he foresaw under advanced capitalism has never happened (except for short periods of recession or depression where millions were thrown out of work, pauperized not by the system but by its temporary collapse) and has never led to the revolutions he predicted. (What has happened more often is the pauperization of the middle class, and their recourse to a middle class version of Marxism, fascism.) It is rather war and foreign invasion destabilizing defeated governments and disrupting food supplies that led to the conditions of mass insurrection exploited by revolutionary leaders. All Marxist revolutions have been opportunistic coups, or resulted from peasant guerrilla wars. Not one has followed from the ineluctable economic laws Marx spent his life erecting into a system. The essential points in common between his theories and the practice of his successful disciples reside in the building of an authoritarian party, the utterly ruthless conduct of this party towards the people it allegedly serves, the absolute, brutal dictatorship it establishes once it has seized power, and the state control of the entire economy down to the last farm, shop and taxi. All his elaborate theories of capital accumulation, surplus value and the rest have utterly failed as ways of predicting what will happen in capitalist societies. But these predictions of the inevitable collapse of capitalism through its own contradictions, however discredited, have played a huge emotional role in the world-wide faith he inspired. The very obscurity of his theories only added to their power as magical, esoteric doctrines. Like any other prophet predicting apocalypse, he gave his followers the conviction that the future was theirs, that salvation lay ahead, if only they continued the struggle to the end. For people suffering appalling poverty in the slums of underdeveloped countries, it is a spiritual need to believe in the inevitability of the fall of the system of oppression. That is why Marxism’s appeal has been so similar to that of a religion. Prophecies of an imminent apocalypse that will relieve their suffering and bring down their tormentors are all that the desperate have to keep them going. Their fantasies of revenge give them an illusion of future power in the very depths of their despair and helplessness.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that for Marx too his entire intellectual system is an enormous fantasy of revenge on a world which he not only found terribly unjust but in which he himself failed spectacularly. He never worked a day in his life (perhaps allergic to the notion of wage-slavery) but lived by scrounging from his wife (till her money was spent), from his parents (till they gave up on him), from rich relatives like the Dutch industrialist Philips (founder of the multinational electronics company), and finally from his factory-owner friend, Engels. Yet even sponging on Engels to the point of taking half his total income, he never managed to escape poverty and squalor, because he was hopeless with money. It was this permanent failure that perhaps gave him the need to invent some system whereby he would become unimaginably powerful. Comparisons with that other desperate failure and prophet, the young Hitler, may not be entirely fair (if we credit Marx with real feeling for the oppressed) but they are interesting. Pathological hatred animates the work of each, and each attempts to give this hatred a vast, apocalyptic, world-historical perspective. They both start from a vicious anti-Semitism, which Marx gradually broadens into a hatred for the capitalist class as a whole, while Hitler narrows socialism back down into its anti-Semitic origins. (Since one was of Jewish descent and the other suspected he might be, since his grandmother became pregnant while a servant in a Jewish household, there may be a twisted element of self-hatred in the anti-Semitism of both.) 17 It is significant that while the young Marx seems to have fallen into the hands of Jewish money-lenders because of his ineptness with money, the young Hitler was more obsessed in Vienna with the part played by Jewish pimps in running prostitutes, and their sexual contamination of “pure” German girls (that is, naive, impoverished small town girls, drawn to the big city and ending up in the gutter, just like himself, after his rejection from art school.) There is a strong hint of sexual jealousy in Hitler’s writing on this subject, as well as the shocked tones of a provincial boy suddenly exposed to city vices. He sees the greasy dark Jewish pimp exploiting (and sexually using) the hapless blond girl as an obscene racial oppression of a higher by a lower type. The Jew-as-usurer obsessions of Marx and the Jew-as-racial-contaminator obsessions of Hitler seem to have their roots in these early experiences. From these roots grew their respective world-views by a process of paranoid exaggeration. For Marx the entire bourgeoisie had become a Jewish usurer. For Hitler the whole German nation was threatened by Jewish racial contamination. Each man targeted one group as responsible for all the ills of human society, and exhorted others to work towards the overthrow and annihilation of that group. Each man sought to use the alleged oppression of a large victim group, with which he deeply identified, as a trampoline to his own personal power – with Marx, a class he did not belong to, and with Hitler, a nation he belonged to only by adoption, or by a racial concept of the nation. The main difference, as far as their success is concerned, is that Marx was personally charmless, a dirty, foul-tempered drunkard who quarrelled violently with every single associate except Engels, while Hitler, after his youth as an outcast, developed a charisma and an orator’s gift which inspired a fatal degree of loyalty and devotion. The one ended his days in obscurity and squalor, execrating the world (his favourite phrase to socialist rivals was “I will annihilate you!” 18 The other achieved his dream of absolute power and monstrous revenge upon the designated scapegoats. Marx would have to wait for the vicarious and posthumous fulfilment of his own mass-murdering fantasies till the coming to power of his disciples, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, none of whom there is any reason to believe he would have disavowed.

Of course, we can only surmise, not demonstrate, that Marx would have approved the colossal violence of those who put his theories into practice. He never had the opportunity in his life to engage in more than verbal violence. But that verbal violence was extreme and disturbing. He constantly urged the use of physical force and killing. He addressed the Prussian government in 1849:  “We are ruthless and ask no quarter from you. When our turn comes we shall not disguise our terrorism.” 19 His “Plan of Action” distributed in Germany the following year called for mob violence: “Far from opposing the so-called excesses, those examples of popular vengeance against hated individuals or public buildings which have acquired hateful memories, we must not only condone these examples but lend them a helping hand.” 20 He was furious at the failure of the attempt to assassinate the Emperor Wilhelm I in 1878. But his most violent wrath was usually reserved not for the capitalist enemy, who would be exterminated by a scientific, ineluctable process, but for his rivals among socialist thinkers – men like Proudhon and Lassalle. The latter, a rival for leadership of the International, was variously called by Marx  “the Jewish Nigger”, “a greasy Jew disguised under brilliantine and cheap jewels”,  “as the shape of his head and the growth of his hair indicate, he is descended from the Negroes who joined in Moses’ flight from Egypt (unless his mother or grandmother on the father’s side was crossed with a nigger.) This union of Jew and German on a Negro basis was bound to produce an extraordinary hybrid.” 21 None of this racist and anti-Semitic abuse has the excuse of being indignant wrath directed at the wicked capitalist oppressor. It was all directed at a rival socialist. Its physicality is striking – especially when the physical characteristics held up for contempt were so close to his own (he was not only of Jewish parentage himself, but he had a sallow complexion and shock of black hair which led his family to refer to him as “the Moor”.) But can anyone doubt that a man animated by this degree of savage hatred of fellow leftists would have found the back-stabbing Stalinist purges of the Thirties a perfectly congenial atmosphere? They merely translated into action his own violent intolerance of anyone who differed from his own doctrine by a hair’s breadth, or challenged his own pre-eminence. In Marx we see a perfect example of how the verbal and ideological violence of the nineteenth century laid down the basis for the physical violence of the twentieth.

To argue that Marx’s work already contains all the seeds of the violence of Marxist regimes goes against a certain current among his disciples which has tried to distinguish between “pure Marxism” and its perversion by Lenin, Stalin and the rest. But if we take a particularly violent passage of Lenin’s, what is striking about it is how closely it resembles Marx. Here is Lenin commenting in 1906 on the failure of the 1905 Moscow Uprising: 


We should have taken up arms more aggressively, energetically and resolutely; we should have explained to the masses that it was impossible to confine things to a peaceful strike and that a fearless and relentless armed fight was necessary. And now we must at last openly and publicly admit that political strikes are inadequate..… We should be deceiving both ourselves and the people if we concealed from the masses the necessity of a desperate, bloody war of extermination, as the immediate task of the coming revolutionary action. 22


This is language Hitler might have used. There is no disguising the murderous intent of the revolutionaries: bloody extermination of their opponents, the entire bourgeois class. And this is not mere rhetoric: Lenin and Stalin set about doing it. But is there anything to distinguish this from Marx’s rhetoric? Is it not similar to his “Far from opposing the so-called excesses, we must… lend them a helping hand”?  Nearly all Marxists of the twentieth century accepted that Marxism called for a violent revolution and the extermination of the class enemy. Régis Debray at the start of his Critique of Arms quotes this passage from Lenin with approval as the orthodox Marxist-Leninist view, and then argues, regretfully, that this kind of armed struggle may no longer be possible – not for moral or humane reasons, of course, but because of a shift in the balance of force due to the armaments and training of modern armies. The difference between Marx’s and Lenin’s attitudes to violence, in so far as one can discern any, is merely the difference between the theoretician and the practitioner.




Yet the starting point of this apotheosis of class conflict, violence and extermination is still, one must suppose, an initial compassion for the suffering and exploited working class. Throughout his life Marx expressed solidarity with various oppressed groups, from the Irish nationalists to the refugees from the Paris Commune, to some of whom he gave shelter. But this compassion tends to disappear in Marx’s work as the hatred of the class responsible for all oppression grows more extreme. His contemporaries commented on his misanthropic personality. Bakunin wrote of him: “His heart is not full of love but of bitterness and he has very little sympathy for the human race.” Another revolutionary, Techow, who knew him well, commented: “If his heart had matched his intellect and he had possessed as much love as hate, I would have gone through fire for him.” But “he is lacking in nobility of soul. I am convinced that a most dangerous ambition has eaten away all the good in him…. The acquisition of personal power is the aim of all his endeavours.” 23

How are we to explain this paradox of compassion for the suffering of the oppressed felt by a personality filled with hatred, violence and hunger for power? Should we see that compassion as a hypocritical pose, covering a cynical view of the workers as merely the instruments of his revenge? Yet the genuine emotion that seems to pervade certain passages of his work precludes this cynical interpretation. There is perhaps, paradoxical as it may seem, an odd symbiosis between violent hatred and compassion. Graham Green describes his Mexican communist police official in The Power and the Glory in a brilliant phrase: “a dapper figure of hate carrying his secret of love.” That could stand as a description of many a twentieth century Marxist. Pasternak in Doctor Zhivago tries to convey something of the same in his portrait of the ruthless revolutionary commander Strelnikov. The starting point of the revolutionary commitment may be love, compassion for the oppressed, but the end point, after enough civil war and revolutionary “justice”, is a hatred and cruelty that begin to be directed against pity itself, as though it is a cause of pain and must be suppressed. Every act of violence and cruelty in the revolutionary combat becomes a way of scratching the wound left by the initial love. Pity for suffering inspires a violent aggression against the one held responsible for the suffering. In order to steel the heart to commit acts of cruelty against the enemy, one must feel a surge of compassion for the victims of that enemy. As we have noted, the Nazi special police battalions in Poland, when ordered to kill Jewish women and children, were urged to think of the German women and children at that moment being burned alive in Allied bombing raids. Compassion for some children was seen by the officers as a spur to murder other children. In a curious mirror image, British bomber pilots who had problems of conscience about incinerating German women and children were given pep talks by the likes of Koestler on the genocide going on in the Nazi death camps. In this way compassion can be used to incite violent indignation, which in its turn incites aggression and hatred and the necessary hardness to carry out the mass murder of those held responsible for the suffering. It is no accident that the nineteenth century, the age of a new compassion and pity for suffering, should have given birth to an ideology of implacable hatred and violence towards those who caused that suffering. We might even suspect that it is only compassion and moral indignation that can provide the intensity of conviction necessary for large-scale projects of mass-murder. And the key here is the element of moral self-righteousness that compassion induces, the enraged conviction that those who cause this suffering are diabolically evil. One need look no further to see this process at work than the mind of the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh  – enraged by the FBI’s massacre of innocent people at Waco and bent on revenge on what he saw as an evil force. There in microcosm we see the paranoid revenger mentality which lies at the heart of both Marxism and Nazism. And it plays its part in the mindset of every extremist group from the terrorists of Al Qaeda to the animal liberationists, whipping themselves on to acts of violence with images of the tortured victims whose cause they espouse. 

It is significant that the indignation which compassion inspires in this sort of mind almost always leads to a paranoid theory of the enemy group as diabolically evil. The belief in absolute evil is what Marx drags up to the surface from the underground apocalyptic tradition. The eighteenth century Enlightenment had virtually abolished the notion of evil. The French philosophes, with their atheistic leanings, tended to accept Socrates’ notion that evil was merely ignorance, and would gradually be eliminated by the spread of knowledge. Marx (who appears to have read his bible in his youth, at least till his Confirmation at fifteen) dredges back up from the bas fonds of the European consciousness the whole mad extremist vision of the most purple passages of Revelations about the Whore of Babylon, the Beast and the Antichrist. This becomes the moral climate of the twentieth century in both Marxist and fascist countries: a heroic, ruthless struggle to the death against implacable, diabolical evil. The history of Marxism reeks with imagery from The Apocalypse. Jean Ziegler, a Swiss Marxist, says he was urged by Che Guevara to stay in Geneva and not go off to join Third World revolutions, because in the city of international banks he was “inside the brain of the Beast.” 24 International capitalism as the Beast from Revelations is the symbolism that underlies the whole theology of Marxism. The overthrow of the Beast by one last cataclysmic battle – Armageddon, the revolution, one last orgy of violence against absolute evil – is the goal of human history, the means of liberation of man’s natural goodness, which will usher in the millennium, the thousand-year reign of the Just.

But should we search for other reasons for this revival of evil as a key element in the nineteenth-century world view? Were the bloody violence of the French Revolution, the unspeakable atrocities of the Vendée war, or the massive carnage of Napoleon’s battles factors in this return of the concept of evil? Was it romanticism with its diabolism, from Goethe’s Faust to Poe and Melville? Should we evoke the Gothic horror story or the romantic death-wish? Or the hellish physical ugliness of the new factories, the polluted towns, the stinking purple-dyed rivers? Or was it a new obsession with the machine, with Blake’s “dark Satanic mills”, a sense that oppression was no longer human, not a living outgrowth of age-old inequalities of property, but was an organized system, a giant machine crushing its victims with inexorable purpose? Whatever the causes, the change of ethos between the two centuries is extraordinary. Marx’s favourite quotation from Goethe’s Mephistopheles “Everything that is must be destroyed!” stands in striking contrast to Voltaire’s gentle satire of the eighteenth century deist: “Everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” The dividing line is both the French Revolution and romanticism. And the great problem of romanticism was that absolute evil was reintroduced into a world that had lost God. Blake had already inverted God and devil, seeing an evil force in control of the world and rebellion as the divine spark. Shelley’s Prometheus likewise exalted revolt against a diabolical deity as the only hope of  redemption. When Nietzsche declared God dead, he left the world in the hands of the devil. And the devil can only be fought with weapons of violence and implacable hatred. For revolutionaries like Marx, God had receded into the vague and distant benevolence of historical processes, which became the guarantor of the ultimately happy outcome of the violent human struggle, to be waged alone and without divine help against the Beast.

If we can sum up an era briefly without too much distortion, we have the conjunction of three things in the early nineteenth century: a new sensibility to suffering and injustice (which had become more visible with the factory system); a new belief in absolute evil as the cause of suffering; and finally an inability to see this evil as a forgivable part of man’s natural corruption (a result of “original sin”), because man’s nature had now been declared innocent and perfectible. Lacking religious faith, a belief in original sin or a sense of tragedy, certain nineteenth century minds could only incorporate the new sensibility to suffering into a cosmic moral melodrama, in which pity for the oppressed generated fanatical and murderous hatred for the oppressor. It is this that lies at the heart of the revolutionary ideology. And the remnants of that ideology still govern the world-view of much of the Western intelligentsia today.




That Marxist-Leninism as a movement has in it something that is harsh, brutal, ruthless and violent, which glories in the crushing of sentiment, sensitivity and humane   scruples, is clear from its actual practice over the past hundred years. But the passionate attraction of millions of idealistic and compassionate men and women for a totalitarian movement dedicated to violence and extermination led to perversions of the human soul that future ages may have difficulty comprehending. One characteristic that becomes essential to the loyal Party member is masochism. The emotional and moral atmosphere of Marxist-Leninism in action is best conveyed in the works of fiction written by its repentant ex-militants. Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon is a stunning exposure by an insider of what was going on mentally behind the show trials in the USSR in the 1930’s (later to be repeated in Eastern Europe after the Second World War.) Recent allegations (after his death, when he could not answer them) of Koestler’s own sexual violence can, if true, only serve to emphasize how deeply this ideology both perverted the human personality and attracted the pathologically violent.  

In a central scene in the novel, a communist commissar explains to an arrested party member who is to be tried and executed, why all this obeys some historic necessity, with which the victim himself has a duty to co-operate. 


     “Not to perish,” sounded Gletkin’s voice. “The bulwark must be held, at any price and with any sacrifice. The leader of the Party recognized this principle with unrivalled clear-sightedness, and has consistently applied it. The policy of the International had to be subordinated to our national policy. Whoever did not understand this necessity had to be destroyed. Whole sets of our best functionaries in Europe had to be physically liquidated. We did not recoil from crushing our own organizations abroad when the interests of the Bastion required it. We did not recoil from co-operation with the police of reactionary countries in order to suppress revolutionary movements which came at the wrong moment. We did not recoil from betraying our friends and compromising with our enemies, in order to preserve the Bastion. That was the task which history had given us, the representatives of the first victorious revolution. The shortsighted, the aesthetes, the moralists did not understand. But the leader of the Revolution understood that all depended on one thing: to be the better stayer……

     “The Party’s line was sharply defined. Its tactics were determined by the principle that the end justifies the means – all means without exception. In the spirit of this principle, the Public Prosecutor will demand your life, Citizen Rubashov.

     “Your faction, Citizen Rubashov, is beaten and destroyed. You wanted to split the Party, although you must have known that a split in the Party meant civil war.… If your repentance is real, then you must help us to heal this rent. I have told you, it is the last service the Party will ask you.

     “Your task is simple. You have set it yourself: to gild the Right, to blacken the Wrong. The policy of the opposition is wrong. Your task then is to make the opposition contemptible; to make the masses understand that opposition is a crime and that the leaders of the opposition are criminals.… Your task is to avoid awakening sympathy and pity. ….

     “Comrade Rubashov, I hope you have understood the task which the Party has set you.”

     It was the first time that Gletkin  had called Rubashov “Comrade”. Rubashov raised his head quickly. He felt a hot flush rising in him, against which he was helpless. His chin shook slightly while he was putting on his pince-nez.

                 “I understand.”

     “Observe,” Gletkin went on, “that the party holds out to you no prospect of reward. Some of the accused have been made amenable by physical pressures. Others by the promise to save their heads or the heads of their relatives who have fallen into our hands as hostages. To you, Comrade Rubashov, we propose no bargain and we promise nothing..….. You were wrong and you will pay, Comrade Rubashov. The Party promises only one thing: after the victory, one day when it can do no more harm, the material of the secret archives will be published ……… And then you, and some of your friends of the older generation, will be given the sympathy and pity which are denied to you today.”

     While he was speaking, he had pushed the prepared statement over to Rubashov, and laid his fountain-pen beside it. Rubashov stood up and said with a strained smile:

     “I have always wondered what it was like when the Neanderthalers became sentimental. Now I know.”

                 “I do not understand,” said Gletkin.

                 Rubashov signed the statement. 25


Koestler adds a note in a later edition to explain that when the head of Soviet Military Intelligence for Western Europe, General Walter Krivitsky, defected, he confirmed that this was exactly how some of the leading old Bolsheviks on trial had been brought to confess. Why, he asks, did they “flagellate themselves for crimes which they never could have committed and which have been proved to be fantastic lies?” He then answers: “Although several factors contributed to bringing the men to the point of making these confessions, they made them at last in the sincere conviction that this was their sole remaining service to the Party and the revolution.” 26

It is difficult for a normal human being to comprehend the minds revealed in this passage of Koestler’s. The apparatchik who revels in the ruthless destructiveness of the Party, its crushing of its own agents as expendable cannon fodder, who glories in the absolute brutality and moral perfidy of his own cause, and can then elicit from the accused veteran communist complete co-operation in his own humiliation and psychic annihilation for the sake of the party  – this is all alien to a normal, civilized mind. That the old communist can be moved almost to tears by this appeal is the final stroke. Such is the emotional sterilization of this person that the appeal to party loyalty alone awakens a response, as if it is the last emotional neurone still alive. This kind of mind has become a machine in the service of a cause to the point of annihilating its own sense of personal worth, dignity, pride, and intellectual and moral integrity. This mind even feels a perverse satisfaction at the end in annihilating the last shred of its own dignity in the service of the Party. The masochism of this mental condition goes beyond what one would have thought possible. This is the triumph of a cult of power, aggression and murder over one’s own life and soul, so that one wills to crush and humiliate oneself and obtains a perverse pleasure from doing it. This is the notion of military discipline, total surrender of mind and body to the organization, the hierarchical leadership, the superior authority, taken to the point of psychic suicide. And it is of course only military-type organizations, only those which are themselves engaged in exterminating and murdering and crushing their enemies, that ever elicit this kind of absolute loyalty. In order to crush oneself willingly under a machine, one has to identify with the power of the machine to crush others, one has to revel in its destructiveness, and that destructiveness must be infinite and awe-inspiring. That is the only way to transform the violence done to oneself as passive object into violence which one actively identifies with and takes part in. To revel in one’s own destruction is only possible if in so doing one can contribute to some wider and more appalling process of destruction. Since I wrote these words, the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by airliner-hijackers have given a horrific illustration of this mental condition.  


The remark about Neanderthals is revealing; Koestler’s character feels that the human type represented by the party apparatchik is a throwback to a pre-civilized man, to something so brutal as to be only proto-human. Something has happened to human beings which has made them unlike any human beings in a civilized society. It is not the cruelty that is in question here, or the need to utterly humiliate traitors. Brutal tyrannies have existed in the past which executed people in public with gruesome tortures to compel them to confess and glorify the king or the church before they expired. But one cannot help thinking that they did not enslave the souls of men so completely as to convince them of the moral rightness of their own annihilation. There is a degree of moral masochism here that is pathological. And there seems to be something here that strikes one as primarily a masculine pathology – something driven by testosterone. Masochism, in its pathological forms, is primarily a male sexual perversion, because of the ferocious amount of aggression against the self which it requires.  But in addition there is here an identification with the power and destructive capacity of the entity that is destroying one; there is the enjoyment of the crushing of one’s own weakness, one’s own softness, one’s own sentiments, compassion, and self-pity; and there is the notion of an abstract idea prevailing over the love of life itself. The film Dr Strangelove ends with the fantastic image of the cowboy pilot riding the atomic bomb down to its annihilation of mankind, yelling and waving his hat in triumph. His own death is nothing compared to the big bang he is about to make. It is the mentality of the suicide bomber. The male, as Freud thought and suicide statistics confirm, has a far greater tendency than the female to suicide, to a death wish. Every suicidal charge in battle requires the identification of the soldier with a powerful aggressive machine which he is part of, even though it will probably destroy him. We have in this scene of Koestler’s a passion for self-annihilation which may be the ultimate perversion of the ultra-masculine mind, the very nadir of the distortions of human nature of the masculine century.

What explains the extraordinary seduction that Marxism exercised over the minds of  twentieth century intellectuals? Perhaps it is this very combination of compassion and cruelty, of love and hatred, of pity and aggression. It is the sheer range of human emotions satisfied by the Marxist world view that perhaps explains its appeal. What other ideology allows one to revel in the mass murder of droves of reactionary poets in labour camps, while at the same time shedding tears for the oppressed, or waxing lyrical about the future race of proletarian saints? And these contradictory emotions are linked. It is pity for the sufferings of the oppressed and delirious dreams of a future paradise that fuel the violent and vindictive urge to destroy the oppressor, the saboteur of human happiness. This channelling of compassion into violent aggression is perhaps more natural for people of a masculine, high-testosterone personality: they cannot endure others’ sufferings passively. The religious world-view of Christianity in its Catholic or Anglican form is in many ways a feminine emotional state: submission to the will of God, a fatalistic acceptance of evil and suffering, efforts to lessen suffering on an individual level, but without rejecting the total world-system within which it occurs. This spirit of acceptance can lead Alexander Pope to declare “Whatever is, is right!” Certain Buddhist teachers have tried to explain that paradise is already here on earth but we don’t have the purity of soul to recognize it. This spirit of world-affirmation of the mystic looks like complacency in the face of suffering. The unendurable tension of this passive world-view is already felt by Blake, who in an angry explosion against it inverts God and Devil, and ends up with a Manichean vision in which the material universe is Satan’s work and the divine spark is eternal rebellion against him. It is this new spirit of revolt, rebellion, refusal to accept the world order which romanticism brings into human consciousness. Rebellion suddenly shifts from being the sin of pride to being the liberating virtue. The romantics stood Milton on his head and claimed that the rebel Satan was really the hero and Milton was of the devil’s party. What brought this change of perspective? Perhaps the new energy and activism of man, as he entered an age of industrial and political upheaval and began to feel his own power to transform the world, made the quietism of established Christianity seem cowardly. The shift from the passive, feminine acceptance of suffering to an ideology of violent combat against the system that causes it signalled a new, aggressive, masculine approach to life. To conceive of the whole of life and of history as a ceaseless war (not a spiritual war against one’s own vices but a violent struggle against external enemies) shows a new masculine combativeness of spirit, a perception of life in terms of aggression, which is completely new. All previous religions saw the enemy as essentially within man, his own corruption and sinfulness. Their crusading periods against external enemies or infidels were short-lived and exceptional: the essential battle was against the self. In the masculine century the self-doubt, self-awareness or self-criticism that made man see his own nature as primarily to blame for evil is replaced by a permanent projection of evil onto the other, the oppressor class, the conspiring enemy. The moral combat to overcome one’s own vices and purify one’s own soul is replaced by a political combat to overthrow and exterminate the enemy oppressor. This new mood makes political violence the basic impulse through which man engages with the world, overcomes evil and attains salvation.   




It is this transfer into the political sphere of the moral struggle to the death against evil that makes Marxism an enemy of democracy. The problem with Marxism is the perception of the adversary as evil. There can be no compromise with those who have different opinions and interests, because the struggle against them has become a religious and moral struggle to remove human suffering, to redeem mankind, to vanquish evil. It has become a redemptive struggle against Satanic forces, which admits of no compromise. An Italian communist who went to Moscow often and met Lenin and other leaders reported: “What struck me most about the Russian communists, even in such really exceptional personalities as Lenin and Trotsky, was their utter incapacity to be fair in discussing opinions that conflicted with their own. The adversary, simply for daring to contradict, at once became a traitor, an opportunist, a hireling. An adversary in good faith is inconceivable to the Russian communists.” 27 If this was their view of their own dissident comrades, we can imagine the degree of violent hostility they felt for their non-communist opponents. The refusal to see the interests of the enemy class as legitimate, the belief that any compromise with them would be moral betrayal, makes democracy impossible for Marxists. This is what caused the two great experiments to bring about Marxist socialism by parliamentary means – in Spain in the 1930’s and in Chile in 1970 – to end in catastrophe. In both cases a revolutionary extreme refused the compromises needed to maintain constitutional government in an evenly divided country where the opposition had enough votes to block legislation in parliament. In both cases the left took to street violence and illegal means to do what they could not do legally. In both cases they defended their illegality by an appeal to the higher morality of their cause. And in both cases a military coup and a bloody dictatorship wiped out all the moderate gains in social justice they could have made by sticking to legal methods.

The very perception of the other class as the enemy rather than the opponent, the denial of the other’s legitimacy, the introduction of self-righteous, moralizing hatred (to the point of seeking to physically eliminate the other) into a political contest between social groups – this is the poison that Marx introduced into political life. It is in fact a religious element: an element of demonization of the bourgeois enemy, conceived of as an absolute of evil, because held responsible for an absolute of suffering. As we have argued, this demonization is the direct consequence of the sentimentality and compassion which the early nineteenth century developed above all previous ages. Pity demands a diabolical cause for the sufferings it cannot endure to see. Victim and oppressor become almost different species, the one so martyrized that he must embody all virtues, the other so evil that he is beyond redemption. Yet when Marx’s own friend Engels was a successful capitalist factory-owner who paid Marx’s living expenses out of capitalist profits, when his own uncle founded the Philips industrial empire (and also regularly lent him money), this racist view of his own bourgeois class as an enemy to be exterminated must surely have struck even him at times as fanatical and monstrous. That is the blind spot – the disconnection between fanatical theory and human reality – which makes Marxism a monstrous, inhuman ideology – as evil as Nazism, if not as immediately repulsive. To murder people for their class is just as monstrous as to murder them for their race. It is just as much a denial of their humanity as individuals. And in the twentieth century, class-based murders outnumbered race-based murders by at least five to one.

But despite the fall of Soviet communism, the key idea which Marx bequeathed the world – that of the eternal combat against an absolute of evil oppression – is far from extinct.  It animates every cause that came out of the “new left” explosion of the 1960’s: feminism, anti-racism, anti-colonialism, homosexual liberation. All of these movements are neo-Marxist in that they accept Marx’s premise of a class of evil oppressors exploiting a victim class by means of a diabolically evil ideology. Both the oppressor class and their ideology must be fought in an unending struggle for justice and liberation. Of these the anti-racist, anti-colonialist ideology (they are in practice inseparable) is the most direct descendant of Marxism, and may be considered its logical development.

By the 1960’s Marxism had run into some serious problems. It had become embarrassingly obvious that its predictions about the inevitable pauperization of the workers under advanced capitalism had not come true. An update had to be concocted which would explain the failure of these prophecies, and the failure of the revolution to come about. In general, the division of society into a good proletariat and an evil bourgeoisie was only credible while class differences remained glaring and obvious. In the prosperous sixties, mass consumerism eroded the obvious differences between the two classes, as Western workers began owning cars, houses and taking holidays abroad, and styles of life, dress and speech became democratized. But even while the class gap was closing, another gap began to yawn: the gap between the soaring living standards of the West as a whole and the impoverished stagnation of non-Western countries. The Marxist intellectual of the nineteen-sixties concluded that the real proletariat was now the "Third World", and the oppressive bourgeoisie was now the entire Western race. Capitalism had temporarily saved itself by co-opting its working class into a new global bourgeoisie, exploiting a new global proletariat. It was in the new struggle between the Third World and the capitalist West that the fate of mankind would be played out, and the apocalyptic climax achieved.




Imperceptibly, Marx's class division of mankind thus became a race division. White became the colour of the oppressor, and black that of the oppressed. Of course this shift was influenced by the civil rights movement in America, which was simply an assertion by black  Americans of their rights under the Constitution, which southern whites had denied in order to maintain their own dominance. It had been part of the process of North-South reconciliation after the Civil War to turn a blind eye to the continued unofficial oppression of the liberated slaves in the South, so as not to upset the entire social and political apple-cart. Leaders like Martin Luther King took the American Constitution seriously and wanted it applied: they believed in American democracy. But of course the civil rights struggle soon radicalized and threw up the inevitable Marxist extremists – those blacks who rejected reformism and espoused violence in the service of some ill-defined racial revolution. This new creed of racial revolution became the leading edge of the new form of neo-Marxism world-wide. It seized on the example of South Africa – where a neo-colonial regime of white rule still existed, and blacks were struggling to achieve majority rule through a violent liberation movement – as the symbol and focus of a global struggle. Beyond the South African blacks the leftists saw the  shadow of hundreds of millions of Third World peasants struggling to overthrow the global tyranny of Western imperialism. To this mix was added the whole issue of black immigration into European countries, and the hostility and rejection many immigrants faced from the society around them. Out of this cocktail of different issues, a new evil was distilled and identified: white racism. And its most diverse manifestations were exposed, denounced and campaigned against, as though this were the new incarnation of Satan in our time.  

Anyone who looked at the rising tensions between different ethnic communities in Western countries and ventured to propose a halt to further immigration became at once the new racist enemy, the voice of a diabolical belief-system that was at the root of all human suffering. Any suggestion that white people had a right to their own countries or the right to keep other races out of them was equated with Hitlerism. It became the goal of the anti-racist movement to end the evil of “white rule” anywhere on earth, by putting an end to the obscenity of all-white or even majority-white nations. It was crucial to this ideology to promote open immigration into Western countries as the only morally acceptable policy. For a country to limit its immigration on grounds that might even be suspected to be racial was enough to make it an object of universal vituperation. Australia’s “white Australia policy” of the 1950’s was placed in the same moral category as Hitler’s genocide of the Jews. Moreover, all Western societies had to become not only multi-racial but multi-cultural. Not only was it wrong for them to shut out immigrants of other races, whether or not they needed them; it was wrong to try to assimilate immigrants once there. The desire to assimilate other races into one’s own culture implied a wicked belief in one’s own cultural superiority: it should be the immigrant’s culture (and even language) that one sought to understand, preserve and promote. In this way some militants seemed to hope that a permanently separate and alienated racial minority could be implanted in every Western country, and eventually, through their higher birth-rates, the oppressed non-whites of the earth would end up as the majority everywhere. That is why South Africa became such a potent symbol. Its liberation was a foreshadowing of what the Marxists hoped would eventually be the fate of all Western countries – the overthrow of the wicked white race by the global non-white majority and the replacement of white racist tyranny by the universal rule of the oppressed. 

The terrorist attacks on America in September 2001 may have dented the confidence of some Western leftists that all evil will be brought to an end with the overthrow of the wicked white race. But the assumptions of this ideology of Western self-hatred still underlie much of the debate about a range of subjects: racism, refugees, immigration, Third World debt, Third World aid, anti-poverty programmes, underdevelopment, affirmative action, and the sporadic demands for compensation for the African slave-trade. All these debates are still imbued with a smouldering moral indignation at what is considered an enormous racial injustice: the relative prosperity of the white race all over the planet and the misery in which many people with darker skins live. To those with a somewhat tenuous grasp of the history of the world, this state of affairs could only have resulted from the organized white oppression of other races. The notion that wealth is not something that grows on trees, but can only be created by industrialized systems, and that the non-industrialized parts of the world are therefore poor, is not readily accepted by those who have come to regard industrialism as the first of evils. The poverty of Africa and parts of Asia is not therefore seen as resulting from the lack of something – namely, industrial development, efficient, modern economic systems and honest, democratic administrations – but rather as resulting from some criminal act, by which the wealth that is every human being’s natural birthright was somehow snatched away from Third World peoples by wicked imperialist exploiters. The poverty of the under-developed world is the result of our criminal oppression – this is the deep conviction of large numbers of  “progressive” people all over the West. An old-style communist like the Swiss Jean Ziegler, recycled as a UN development official, declares in a rage of indignation that the poverty of blacks in northern Brazil is the direct fault of the “white, dominating Westerners” in Switzerland and the EU.28 How exactly they exert this malign influence is not made clear – perhaps by keeping their savings in banks which lend money to foreign governments and then outrageously expect something back. The whole history of colonialism is seen not as a ham-fisted, autocratic Western attempt at development of Africa and Asia (both for their own good and for ours), but as a long regime of criminal plunder which caused their present poverty. No railway, road, bridge or harbour built, no school, hospital, post office, civil service, law court or parliament established by the colonizers can possibly be admitted to have had any benevolent motive or positive effect. It was all part of an enormous tyranny, a cultural aggression, a genocide, a destruction of a way of life. All the problems and poverty of the Third World today result from this one evil – colonialism. The neo-Marxist vision cannot admit of mixed motives – that generosity and greed, assistance and exploitation, the urge to develop and the urge to rule might have co-existed (or struggled for supremacy) in the minds of the colonizers. History can only be the story of single-minded, ruthless oppression of helpless innocents – a saga of diabolical forces forever destroying a golden age.

That this golden age was in large areas of the world one of perennial famine, precarious subsistence farming, tyranny, slavery, tribal warfare, cannibalism, and human sacrifice, cannot be admitted for one moment. All such images of the Third World are held to be either a figment of Western man’s racist bigotry, or else the product of colonialism itself. It is seriously believed in many leftist circles that slavery and tribal warfare were brought to Africa by the wicked white man. Genocidal tribal wars in Africa today (such as the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus) are routinely blamed on the colonizers who left forty years ago. The multiculturalist neo-Marxists are committed to a notion that the world was naturally a garden of Eden, inhabited by gentle, peace-loving indigenous peoples, in simple but prosperous and “sustainable” economies, until an odious serpent – the white man and his capitalist ways – entered that Eden and destroyed it. And by a fiendishly clever process of plunder, this diabolical entity has transformed his own part of the planet into a zone of prosperity, while leaving the exploited husk of the rest of the earth to fester in misery and deprivation.





The ultimate result of the extraordinary capacity for aggression developed by Western man over the last century and a half has thus been the turning of this aggression against himself. Highly-educated Westerners over the last thirty years have developed a more violent hatred of their own civilization and even their own race than the ruling class of any other society in the history of the world. The men who invented parliamentary democracy, human rights, science, modern medicine, industrial systems, advanced technology and levels of mass prosperity beyond the dreams of all previous civilizations, the men who banned slavery and torture for the first time anywhere on earth, gave women political rights and asserted the equality of all human beings – these Western men have somehow become, in their own eyes, the villains of human history, defined by four words: colonialism, slavery, racism, sexism. On the neo-Marxist left, the hatred of Western man has reached such a level that it has become legitimate to call openly for the extermination of the white race. Susan Sontag (awarded the Prince of Asturias prize in 2004, just before her death) declared early in her career: “The white race is the cancer of human history.” She went on: “It is the white race and it alone – its ideologies and inventions – which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads.” She never deviated from that belief – even finding justifications for the terrorists of September 11, 2001.29 Jean-Paul Sartre approved the murder of white people by black as a revolutionary, liberating act – and would no doubt have applauded 9/11 as a blow struck for the oppressed.30 In fact the terrorists of 9/11 were only carrying into action the views preached by Western leftist intellectuals for the past forty years. If Western capitalists are the evil exploiters of the planet, if world trade is a conspiracy against the poorer nations, then why not kill three thousand wicked agents of imperialism as they sit at their desks in their megalomaniac towers plotting the subjugation of humanity? This view is what explains the undisguised glee of many Western leftists after the September 11 attacks. One American history professor declared to his students: “Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon has my vote.” 31 This has gone beyond the zany anarchism of the Vietnam generation. The history of mankind taught in many Western schools and universities for the past three decades has been a systematic brainwashing in Western guilt and self-hatred. A large proportion of people of college education think that the extermination of the American Indians, the slave trade, the oppression of blacks, colonialism, sexism and the genocide of the Jews are the essential facts of history, and nothing else needs to be known of that muddle of unpleasant goings-on that happened before they were born. These are the salient events that govern an entire generation’s emotional relationship with the past and with their own culture and nation. Most of the recipients of this kind of post-1968 education have no idea that there is anything in their culture worth preserving, anything in their political systems worth fighting for, or anything that their ancestors achieved which might be a cause for gratitude or even a source of pride. They have been taught that their past was one long evil, that their grand-parents were part of a gigantic system of global oppression, and that the prosperity they now enjoy was stolen from others. They think that the freedom and democracy that makes Western nations so attractive to other people is simply the natural condition of things, achieved without any struggle, any intellectual vision or moral heroism, and that its absence elsewhere can only be the fault of Western colonialism and oppression. The result is a profound and muddled guilt complex and a collective death-wish. This neo-Marxist education has deprived the average young Westerner of his roots, of his history, and of any real grasp of his place in the world, other than as the villain of the planet.  





It is difficult at first sight to grasp how the academic establishment in advanced and free countries, with access to all the facts, could fall into the ideological dogmatism, lockstep thinking and suppression of the truth that now characterizes American, British and to a lesser extent other Western universities. How do intelligent people arrive at collective self-intoxication and self-brainwashing in the hatred of their own civilization? It is worth looking at this for a minute or two, because this is the last twist in the fascinating story of Marxism and its influence on the world.

One reason for this intoxication in guilt and self-hatred is the highly selective view of the past that many people now have – a view almost entirely determined by emotion. History presents an infinite number of facts and we cannot focus on all of them, or even take all of them into account. The selection we make of which facts to look at, and in what sort of narrative to assemble them, unless guided by the traditional academic authority of the experts in the field, is generally made on emotive or ideological grounds. And there is no emotion  that human beings today are more prone to when looking at the past than indignation. This is because of the extraordinary change in moral and humane attitudes that began in the 18th century European Enlightenment and went on up to the late 20th century. This evolution in our moral attitudes and sense of humanity has rendered much of our own past (let alone that of other peoples) shocking to the sensibility of our age. The study of history is not for weak stomachs. Two hundred and fifty years ago British criminals were disembowelled in public, their innards burned before their faces, before being butchered and cut into quarters to be mounted on the city gates. Elsewhere they were broken on the wheel or burned with red hot irons. Slavery was a universal institution, and the vast trade out of Africa sent millions across the Atlantic in conditions fit for cattle. Why do we find these things appalling? Because we have stopped doing them. It is the very progress in moral and humane attitudes over the past two centuries in the West that makes the past a fertile field for the exercise of moral indignation. But this moral evolution towards humane and enlightened behaviour, which over the past two centuries provided a narrative vision of Western progress towards a higher civilization out of the depths of universal human cruelty, has in this age been drastically reinterpreted. Instead of the vision of progress towards enlightenment and humane ideals, these same ideals are now used to condemn the entire Western past (in particular and above all others) as a shameful saga of vicious and brutal oppression. The past of our civilization is now singled out for sweeping condemnation by the very standards of morality and humanity it managed (by a unique and unprecedented intellectual struggle) to arrive at. Instead of the abolition of the slave trade by Britain (for the first time ever on earth) being hailed as moral progress, it is seen only as a terrible indictment of what went before. Western civilization is seen not as the first to put an end to the immense cruelties of the past, but as the exemplifier and even originator of these cruelties, the source of all evil on the planet. And the more humane and enlightened we become the more we are contorted with paroxysms of guilt and self-hatred because we had not yet arrived at these moral heights two hundred years ago. The further we advance, the more shocking the path behind us looks, and the more we beat our breasts for our past depraved state. There is no attempt to understand the past, only to deplore it. No attempt to see contexts, causes, effects, relative progress, heroic struggles to put an end to these horrors. Only an emotional rejection of the whole wicked history of our nations, which our grandparents, brainwashed with bigoted chauvinism and racism, had been taught to see as a glorious saga of progress towards enlightenment.

One of the features of this reinterpretation of our past in the universities and schools today is the propensity for academics outside the field of history to seize upon past events, react to them with the emotions of the present, and pass sweeping moral judgements on the perpetrators, without having the slightest understanding of these events in their historical context, or how widespread this moral behaviour was at the time. It is the views of non-historians (like Sontag and Choamsky) that have come to dominate how the past is seen in the universities and schools of America and the West in general. The charlatan theory of “post-modernism” that has infected the literature departments encourages students to look at a text from their own personal perspective, “deconstructing” it in the light of their own political prejudices, and ignoring what the writer himself, bound by the perspectives of his own age, was trying to say. The academics influenced by this intellectual trash tradition read history in the same personal way, without any attempt to understand the conditions and context of those times. And the distorted perspective of these academics, based on ignorance, indignation and emotional hysteria, has become the basis of the politically fashionable view of the past that is now taught to students. History now consists of a series of sensational atrocity stories about the enemy, told not by historians but by fanatical ideologues from other academic disciplines. And the enemy in question, for the neo-Marxist academic establishment, is simply Western civilization itself. 

The ideology of Western self-hatred rests largely on deliberate historical misrepres-entation. Part of this is a peculiar foreshortening of historical perspectives. History is viewed as if it began with the rise of Western colonialism, which began with capitalism, which was the original seed of all evil. The method of the dominant neo-Marxist ideology has been to represent all the evils of the past – tyranny, class oppression, slavery, torture, cruelty, sexism – not as universal human evils, found in Europe like everywhere else (until the best European minds campaigned to end them) but as specifically European crimes, the poisons introduced into the world by our civilization. One of the axiomatic beliefs of this vision of things is that Western nations in their wicked imperialism invented slavery and imposed it on the innocent Africans. Instead of being seen as the first nations on earth ever to abolish slavery – a universal institution as old as time – Europeans are now widely regarded as the only nations that ever practised it. This delusion is so widespread and popular, especially among the younger victims of neo-Marxist education, that it merits looking at in detail. 





Slavery was practised everywhere by almost all peoples until the early 19th century when Europeans (starting with Britain) abolished it for the first time in history. The fact that African slaves were used by Europeans in their American and Caribbean colonies at the time of this abolition has made it seem that Africans were peculiarly the victims of this institution, and that Europeans were peculiarly the perpetrators, and that somehow racist attitudes lay at the root of it. None of this is true. In reality, slavery, the compelling of some human beings to provide servile labour for others on a lifelong and even hereditary basis, has been found in all ages and in all parts of the world, and has nothing to do with race. Rules concerning slavery figure in the earliest surviving code of laws, that of the Babylonian Hammurabi, dating from around 3700 BC. 32 The main basis of slavery was the capture of enemies in war (who were frequently the same race and sometimes even the same nation – Germans enslaved Germans just as Africans enslaved Africans and Aztecs enslaved Aztecs.) It was also sometimes used as a punishment for criminals. But once a person became a slave, by whatever means, he was then bought and sold as a labour-saving device without any sense of guilt, or any concern as to how he had become a slave. Slavery was practised everywhere on earth from China to Scandinavia; it was a deep-rooted tradition among the Amerindians and the Polynesians. In the Old World it played the biggest role in the Mediterranean and Africa. Slaves easily outnumbered citizens in Sparta, and they may have amounted to a third of the population of Rome during the early empire.33 After the fall of Rome with its hordes of slaves from every conquered nation, the vast majority of slaves in Europe until the 15th century were white. They were mostly Slavs – hence the word slave – because these were the easiest pagans for the northern Europeans to get at. Christianity, like Islam, at first accepted slavery as a fact of life, the natural product of war and of man’s sinfulness, but both religions preached kindness towards slaves, and disapproved of enslaving co-religionists. This meant targeting infidels. The pagan Slavs were traded southwards to Arab Spain by the Franks, and later to Arabia and Byzantium by Swedish Vikings (themselves pagan.) 34 For the first eight hundred years after the fall of Rome, the majority of slaves in Europe were therefore whites, captured by other whites, and often sold to non-whites. But once the Vikings settled down in the Slavic lands as rulers rather than raiders, built powerful Slavic kingdoms, and all of them converted to Christianity, slavery in the north of Europe came to an end (in about the 12th century.) They had quite simply run out of pagans to enslave. In the south, however, slavery persisted in an unbroken line from Roman times till the 19th century, as it did in the Islamic world. The Arabs who conquered Spain in the 8th century enslaved the Christian Visigoth inhabitants by the hundreds of thousands – shipping thirty thousand white slaves as a tribute to the Caliph in Damascus immediately after the conquest. 35 As the small Spanish kingdoms in the north fought back against the invader, the long war of the Reconquista soon took the form of slave raids between Muslim and Christian areas. This practice was kept up when the Arabs had been pushed out of Spain and Portugal completely at the end of the 15th century, and slave raids across the Mediterranean continued in both directions for hundreds of years. After the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453 and conquered most of the Balkans and Eastern Europe, the supply of slaves from these areas to the Mediterranean countries dried up (the Turks enslaving the young men for their own army and navy and the women for the rulers’ harems.) The only area open for expansive European energies was the Atlantic and the African continent. The Portuguese, in quest of gold and an alternative way to get to the East now that the Turks had blocked the land route, made voyages of exploration down the African coast to Cape Verde. There they discovered the enormous black slave markets of Senegambia. To their amazement they found that twenty-five slaves could be bought in exchange for one horse. 36 What need to put their lives at risk in military raids to snatch Arabs from the North African coast when they could buy black slaves peacefully for a song? So slave-trading soon replaced slave-raiding. When the Portuguese and Spaniards opened up their colonies in the New World and meddling monks like Bartolomé de las Casas  tried to stop them enslaving the local Indians, they had their solution. Buy the cheap, ready-made slaves of Africa and ship them across. It was an example other nations were to follow. 

A belief in the racial inferiority of Africans was not a reason ever given for the Atlantic slave trade in its beginnings. The Portuguese and Spaniards used African slaves in the Americas simply because they were strong, cheap and plentiful. As the Spanish King Ferdinand put it, he wanted to send “the best and strongest slaves available” to work in the gold mines of Hispaniola.37 Blacks were far stronger and more resistant both to tropical diseases and to European diseases than the Caribbean natives. The latter soon began to decline drastically in numbers from disease and overwork, and it was reported to King Ferdinand as early as 1511 that the work of one black slave was equal to that of four Indians. 38 Africans were also easier to get hold of than Arabs. They could be bought cheaply in the slave markets of Senegambia, whereas Arabs (whose mixed-race colonial descendants largely controlled the West African slave markets) could only be captured by military raids, as Muslims did not sell Muslims. All these reasons explain why Africans became the slaves of choice and edged out the slaves of other nations – Arabs, Caribbean natives, Guanches from the Canaries and the few Greeks and Slavs that could still be bought from the Turks. Far from opposing the traffic that now vastly expanded, African rulers were overjoyed at the trading opportunities that opened up. Africans became the biggest slave-merchants on earth, and probably profited from this trade far more than any European. Some of them, such as King Tegbesu of Dahomey, who in the mid 18th century sold about nine thousand slaves a year for an annual profit of £250,000, earned incomes far in excess of any Liverpool slave merchant or English landowner of the time.39 Slavery was a deep-rooted custom in African society, and tribal wars, often fuelled by hostility between Muslim and infidel tribes, kept up an endless supply of captives. The 18th century traveller Mungo Park estimated that three quarters of the population of Senegambia were slaves. Slaves were so plentiful that a thousand of them were ritually sacrificed on the death of the King of Ashanti in 1824.40 When the British banned the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, after a long moral campaign by Christian reformers, African rulers protested furiously. Slavery was the basis of their wealth and power, it was allowed by the Koran, sanctioned by universal custom. Some even accused the British of attacking Islam in banning the trade. 41 African monarchs kept slavery and the internal slave trade going for another eighty years – and the external trade wherever possible, since other countries defied the British navy’s attempts to enforce the ban on the entire world. 42

The movement to abolish the slave trade was fuelled by Enlightenment philosophers like Montesquieu, Rousseau and Voltaire in France and by Christian campaigners like Wilberforce in England. The battle was long and hard, and it was in the course of this campaign that racist attitudes came to the fore which had not been evident at the start of the trade. The Portuguese accounts of the arrival on their shores of the first black captives taken in a North African slave raid in 1444 show no trace of racism. Eye-witnesses were filled with pity for the plight of the captives. They were described as varying from white to mulatto to very black, since the group probably included Africans enslaved by the Arabs. Their descriptions in no way set them apart from other human beings.43 But when in the 18th century the Enlightenment philosophers began talking of the universal rights of man, those with a vested interest in the African slave trade – which was by then making fortunes in Britain and France – had to find reasons why these newly discovered rights should not apply to African slaves. The first reason always given was that the condition of slaves in Africa was infinitely worse and more cruel than when they were bought by European masters in the Americas and given the chance of “advancement”, as one observer put it, “under the benign influence of the law and Gospel”.44 It was claimed that the slaves being sold were either captives taken in tribal wars or condemned criminals, who, if not bought by Europeans, would either remain slaves in Africa or else be killed. Some British traders refused to take slaves they suspected of having simply been kidnapped locally (though they seldom inquired how those from the interior had been obtained.)45 When cases occurred of African princes or noblemen being sold into slavery by treachery, Europeans reacted with indignation. Such was the theme of a popular story by Aphra Behn, Oroonoko or the History of the Royal Slave, which was turned into a hit play, at which English audiences wept over the plight of an African prince sold into slavery. Nor was this mere fantasy. In one actual case in 1752 two young African princes transported as slaves to America by treachery were set free and taken to England as guests of the President of the Board of Trade, Lord Halifax. He educated them and introduced them into London society, where, ironically, they got to see a performance of Oroonoko and wept over it as well.46 Their acceptance by English aristocratic society seems to confirm that racial prejudice was not a major factor in the institution of slavery. Slaves were considered a class, not a race, and Africans who did not belong to this class were accepted as equals. They were, however, seen as physically unattractive. This appears from the Russian poet Pushkin’s story of his Ethiopian great-grandfather’s adventures at Peter the Great’s court, where the Tsar’s proposal to marry him off to a young aristocratic girl causes her to faint with shock. The poignancy of the story is that the girl’s father admires the African for his character, but does not want descendants that look like him. 47 This physical unattractiveness of Africans to 18th century Europeans began to enter the moral debate over whether slavery should exist. As the institution of slavery began to be condemned as not only inhuman but a legal impossibility by French Enlightenment philosophers (a condemnation already voiced by Pope Urban VIII and repeated by Benedict XIV in 1741), the difference in appearance of Africans began to be used by the pro-slavery lobby as a justification for making them exceptions to the emerging notion of universal human rights.48 Montesquieu satirizes the pro-slavery argument with biting irony in 1748, after mentioning Africans’ colour, the different shape of their noses, and their preference for glass beads over gold: “it is impossible for us to suppose these creatures are men, because if one were to allow them to be so, a suspicion would follow that we are not ourselves Christian.”49 Some have seized on this remark as evidence that Africans were not generally considered human beings at the time, but this is false. The very effectiveness of the satire lies in the outrageousness of the statement, just as the effectiveness of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, in which he suggests that Irish babies should be eaten, lies in the outrageousness of the idea. If either statement had been considered acceptable by the average reader, the whole satirical point would have been lost. 

But it is clear that the belief that Africans, while obviously human, were an inferior race of humans and somehow fit for slavery – a belief which had never been a factor at the beginning of the slave trade to the Americas, when slaves of all races were still widely used – was openly voiced in the bitter debate about ending it. In fact we have the most evidence of racist attitudes from the vigorous arguments of the abolitionists against them, as when Charles James Fox asked dramatically in the House of Commons in 1791: “Why, might there not be men in Africa of as fine feelings as ourselves, of as enlarged understandings, and as manly in their minds as any of us?”50 This suggests that some in his audience might have needed convincing on this point. It also makes clear how the debate over the morality of slavery had shifted from the legal basis of the institution itself to an argument about the nature of Africans and whether or not they were the equals of Europeans. But a belief in Africans’ intellectual inferiority, which Thomas Jefferson expressed, was not incompatible with believing that slavery was an abomination that should be ended. Jefferson called slavery a “violation of human rights” and as president oversaw a bill banning the importation of slaves in 1807, at the same time as Britain’s wider and much better enforced abolition.51 He did not manage to abolish slavery itself, but he tried repeatedly to do so, and he believed that the intellectual inferiority he attributed to Africans in no way lessened their rights. (“Whatever be their degree of talent it is no measure of their rights. Because Sir Isaac Newton was superior to others in understanding, he was not therefore lord of the persons or property of others.”52) But this defence of equality of rights while asserting a racial inferiority of intellect has not endeared him to the modern American left. Jefferson has thus come in for criticism among them for his “ambiguous” views on slavery, even though he was seen by later abolitionists such as John Quincy Adams as their inspiration. Jefferson’s attempts to secure abolition began as early as 1769 in the Virginia legislature, and he blamed the British government for vetoing this and other abolition bills in all the colonies. In the Declaration of Independence, which he wrote, he blamed King George III, among other crimes, for “violating (human nature’s) most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people which never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere .… and suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain an execrable commerce.”53 Paradoxically, English law had taken a different position from that of crown policy in the American colonies. The great jurist Blackstone had declared in the 1760’s that slavery was illegal in England, and that “a slave or negro, the moment he lands in England, falls under the protection of the laws and … becomes … a freeman” – an opinion confirmed by the courts in a test case in 1772.54 But slavery, while it was an alien institution in England, was a fact of everyday life in America, and especially Virginia, whose production depended on it entirely. The problem for Southerners like Jefferson was what to do with the large numbers of black slaves in their states once they were freed. It is clear even from Blackstone’s remark just quoted (“a slave or negro”) that by this time blacks and slavery had become indissolubly associated in the minds of most Westerners, as the popular memory of the white slaves of the European past (and of the universality of the institution) was gradually lost. The myth had already taken root that Africans had been enslaved because of their race, instead of simply happening to be the last representatives in the Western world of a legal category of persons which had, only two centuries before, included every race and skin colour on the planet (as it still did among the Turks and Arabs.)

The British, with the zeal of the converted, shifted without missing a beat in 1807  from being Europe’s leading slave traders (a position taken over from the Portuguese) to being self-righteous crusaders against the slave trade (much to the astonishment and suspicion of other nations.) They soon made slaving a capital offence, and used their naval dominance to arrest any ship they found carrying slaves, or even equipped with shackles. Other nations, including the USA, were furious at Britain’s high-handed actions and refused to accept the British navy’s right to search all ships. Though the Americans had also banned the importation of slaves in 1807, they did little to stop their ships engaging in the trade to other countries. There were endless diplomatic quarrels over which ships the British were allowed to intercept, and agreements had to be negotiated with each country. Despite these obstacles, the Royal Navy West Africa Squadron freed about 160,000 slaves from about 1300 captured ships over a sixty year period to 1870. This number represents about 8 per cent of the total of two million slaves shipped during that time (though they may have deterred a lot more of the trade by increasing its risks.) 55 Britain abolished slavery itself throughout the empire in 1833, and began pushing for a worldwide ban. British diplomatic pressure gradually persuaded other nations to go along with the ban on the slave trade and to join in the naval patrols to catch slavers. The last to come round were the Spaniards. Cuba and Brazil remained the biggest destinations to the bitter end (Brazil abolished slavery in 1888, about the same time as the Turks, whose slaves were still mostly white, mainly Georgians.) The British also continued to put pressure on the African princes to abolish the slave trade, but with less success. King Gezo of Dahomey (a descendant of Tegbesu) replied to British requests in 1840 to give up the slave trade and switch to palm oil with an eloquent defence of what the British now considered an abomination: 


The slave trade has been the ruling principle of my people. It is the source of their glory and their wealth. Their songs celebrate their victories and the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery. Can I, by signing ... a treaty, change the sentiments of a whole people? 56 


Faced with a cultural practice this deep-rooted, peaceful persuasion was clearly not going to work. A British naval blockade of the coast had more success in urging the advantages of palm oil.  But it was only when European colonial rule was gradually imposed on most of Africa starting in the 1880’s (partly as a result of an anti-slavery campaign by British missionaries like Livingstone) that this ancient custom was finally banned over most of the continent and gradually stamped out. However, it was never completely eradicated in the brief sixty to seventy years of colonial rule in most of sub-Saharan Africa.

When the main colonial powers left Africa around 1960, both slavery and the slave trade revived there. Scores of thousands of blacks are still kept openly as slaves by the Muslim Afro-Arabs in Mauretania (where the Atlantic trade first began), and slave raids by Arabs on Africans formed an integral part of the long civil war in Sudan.57 Some post-colonial regimes made no attempt to stop the revival of slavery. Niger only banned it again in 2003, and nearly a million slaves are thought to be held there. Estimates of the numbers of slaves in the world today vary, with most human rights organizations advancing figures between twelve and twenty million. The Anti-Slavery Society, using a very restrictive definition which appears to be limited to chattel slavery (where legal ownership is asserted), estimates there are 2.7 million slaves in the world, but accepts claims that there may be 27 million if a wider definition is used, including bonded labour, pawn slavery, forced labour and servile concubinage (all of which, curiously, fit the definition of slavery they actually give.) 58  A large proportion of these slaves are in Africa – ranging from traditional girl slaves offered at the age of four to voodoo priests (originally used for human sacrifice or as temple prostitutes, but now simply used as sex slaves) to the boys kidnapped and trafficked from poorer countries such as Benin and Togo for sale in oil-rich states like Nigeria and Gabon. 59 There are also child-soldier slaves, sex slaves, or domestic slaves sold by their parents for a few dollars. The International Labour Organisation estimates there are fifty million child-labourers in Africa. 60 An unknown number of these may, in effect, be slaves (forced to work and prevented from running away.) An estimated two hundred thousand sex slaves (mostly children and adolescent girls) are exported from West Africa every year to the multi-cultural streets of Europe, a traffic controlled largely by Nigerian women (and destined largely to satisfy the sexual needs of single immigrant workers.) 61 That is about three times the number of slaves exported annually from Africa across the Atlantic at the height of the slave trade in the 18th century. 62

Of course Africa is not the only continent from which women and children are now trafficked as sex-slaves (the Slavs, Europe’s original slaves, are once again paying a heavy toll.) But in West Africa what is striking is the complicity of many mothers, who sell their children to sex traffickers out of greed, or pressure their daughters to go to “work” in Italy so that the whole family can buy a nice house. 63 This modern slavery (carried on in conditions of cruelty, squalor, rape, torture and degradation that have been thoroughly documented) is a reality just as horrific as the slavery of the 18th century sugar plantations, and is practised on a much larger scale. Yet the only fact registered in the mind of the average Westerner on the subject of slavery is the conviction of eternal white guilt and eternal African victimization in a transatlantic trade which was banned by Britain two hundred years ago, and effectively stamped out a hundred and forty years ago. Every TV documentary on slavery in Africa is a breast-beating orgy of white guilt. In the journalists’ muddled minds, the European racial prejudice that developed in the 19th century (as ignorant soldiers were given absolute power over colonial “natives”) is projected backwards as though it were the origin of slavery itself.  It is time to ask whether the obsession with the horrors of the slave trade of the remote past is obscuring our understanding of slavery in the present. Because present-day African slavery does not fit into the West-hating world-view of neo-Marxist academics and journalists, but has its roots instead in African culture, it is being ignored in the West. It is quite simply ideologically inconvenient for leftist intellectuals to deal with it. Yet it is in the cavalier attitude to the enslavement of their own children of many African mothers today that we should perhaps look for an explanation for the overstocked slave markets of Senegambia five hundred years ago. The same tales of casual betrayal into the hands of traffickers by greedy relatives and neighbours can be found then as now. Africans are not going to be able to deal with this scourge today until they face the truth of their own past, and shake off the paralysing delusion of being history’s martyrs, the eternal innocent victims of other nations. And this delusion is constantly fed by the breast-beating orgies of guilt of Western academics, politicians and journalists.  These neo-Marxist myths are a serious obstacle to combating the continuing evil of African slavery in the present. The servile, grovelling apology to Africans for slavery by the French President Jacques Chirac on 10 May 2006 is only the latest piece of ignorant Western pandering to the African victim complex. There were certainly a lot more black slaves in the streets of Paris listening to that ludicrous apology than there ever were in the 18th century, but who gave a thought for them? They are in the brothels run by West African women traffickers, or working for the drug gangs who have brought them in as “refugees”, or working for African and Arab diplomats in the embassies in the fashionable quarters of Paris. To apologize for slavery to a race which from the 16th to the 19th century probably held more people in chattel slavery than the rest of mankind put together, and made more money out of selling slaves than any other race in history, is not simply absurd – it is grotesque. All Chirac has done is reinforce the general ignorance of history, comfort today’s slave traders (many of them African) and intensify the victim-complex that paralyses not only African elites, but above all the blacks of America, Britain and France, most of whom have come to believe in the historic martyrdom of all Africans as the very basis of  their sense of identity.






That the nations who were the first ever to abolish slavery should feel obliged to apologize for this practice to those peoples who resisted abolition most tenaciously and kept the institution going for longest is typical of the abject moral masochism into which Europeans have fallen in the past thirty years. The origin of this attitude is in fact a peculiar form of neo-Marxist racism: a belief that Europeans, with their superior intellects, ought to have known better. The fact that Europeans (alone of all peoples on earth) arrived sometime in the 18th century at the notion that the universal, time-honoured practice of slavery might be morally wrong, is used as an argument that they ought to have known this earlier still. In other words the moral superiority over other peoples arrived at by Europeans in the Enlightenment is believed by the neo-Marxist to have been inherent in Europeans from the beginning of time – which makes their participation in universal crimes and cruelties more heinous than that of other peoples. The truth is Europeans were just as cruel, ignorant and unjust as anybody else until Enlightenment thinkers made a superhuman effort to raise them above the general level of barbarism. It is racism – a belief in the inherent moral superiority of the European race and an exaggerated view of its intellectual advances over others – which makes Western neo-Marxists heap upon their own race a special guilt for universal human cruelties such as slavery. To this may be added a peculiar leftist belief that the Christian religion (which the left never ceases to vilify as a jumble of bigotry, superstition, religious wars, and auto-da-fés) ought to have taught Europeans the “great law of love” (as Tolstoy calls it.) The leftists then go into paroxysms of self-flagellation because it didn’t (at least until Montesquieu and Wilberforce came along in the 18th century.) There is, in short, no greater manifestation of sheer ignorance, intellectual muddle and moral confusion than the abject guilt-complex, the condemnation of their own race as morally worse than all others, which has afflicted Western leftists on the subject of slavery for the past forty years.

Exactly the same grotesque sense of guilt afflicts the modern university-educated (or half-educated) Westerner on the subject of colonialism. The neo-Marxist leftist sees the imperialist impulse of Europeans to colonize other parts of the world as a crime unique in history, an unprecedented urge to conquer and dominate others, proof of some peculiar vice of our race (“the white race alone … eradicates autonomous civilizations”, as the high priestess of the self-flagellators, Susan Sontag, put it at the start of her career of anti-white racism.)  Yet the imperialist impulse is probably the single most common urge that has ever taken hold of any powerful ruler of any race since history began. From Alexander the Great to Ghengis Khan to Suleyman the Magnificent, the conqueror’s urge appears to have been universal (and its destructive fury was far more manifest among the Mongol armies than the European colonizers.) The European nations arose out of the ruins of the Roman empire, which had dominated Europe and the Mediterranean world for five hundred years, and they looked back on it as a high point of history they would never reach again. The vestiges of Roman civilization provided the emerging European nations with their systems of law, political administration, architecture, engineering, road-building, as well as their literature, art, science, philosophy and half their languages. Despite the fact that the Roman empire had conquered other European peoples in rivers of blood, it was revered by their descendants as the sacred wellspring of civilization. European nations were thus programmed from their own traumatic birth to see empire and civilization as almost synonymous. The eastern half of the Roman empire continued as a major centre of art and culture for another thousand years until in 1453 its capital, Constantinople, fell to the Turks. This new rising power, the Ottoman Turkish empire, then conquered most of eastern Europe and ruled it for four hundred years. Even before that Russia and Ukraine had been subjugated and colonized by another Asiatic invader, the Mongols. Spain had been ruled for nearly seven hundred years by an Arab empire, finally driven back across the Mediterranean in the year of Columbus’ voyage. Meanwhile, within Europe itself, nations had been forged into successive empires, including the Holy Roman (Germanic) Empire founded by Charlemagne, the Angevin empire of Henry II of England over half his native France, and the vast kingdoms of Hungary and Poland-Lithuania, by far the largest country in Europe for the last half of the 15th century. In short, the history of Europe was nothing if not a history of empires, either of Asian peoples over Europeans, or Europeans over one another. Above all the education of Europeans from the 14th century onwards in classical philosophy, literature and history meant that their whole frame of political and historical references was the world of Greece and Rome, both of whose histories were played out, to differing degrees, in terms of conquest, empire and colonization. Roman history, in particular, taught them to see empire as the very foundation of civilization, and the imperial drive as a civilizing mission (as it was to every Roman historian.) Modern Europeans did not therefore invent the notion of empire; they inherited it from the past not only of their own culture, but of every culture they had ever been in contact with, including the Asiatic cultures that had ruled vast swathes of Europe for centuries. 

Yet despite this inherited conviction of the civilizing mission of empire, in spite of seeing the history of the world as nothing but the rise and fall of successive empires, Europeans set out on their own first enterprise of empire-building beyond their shores amid a chorus of protest and moral condemnation from their own intellectual class. The first great imperial adventure of Europeans outside their own sphere, the Spanish conquest of the Caribbean islands, Mexico and Peru, was the object of passionate moral denunciations by the priests and Dominican monks that accompanied the Conquistadors. Antonio de Montesinos, Bartolomeo de Olmedo (Cortez’s chaplain) and Bartolomé de las Casas denounced the cruelty of the Spanish conquest and the injustice of the treatment of the Indians with a vehemence that still shocks today. Montesinos preached to the Conquistadors on Christmas day 1511 in Hispaniola a sermon that still resonates across the ages: “By what right or justice do you keep the Indians in such horrible servitude? Are they not men? Have they not rational souls? Are you not bound to love them as you love yourselves?” 64 It is impossible to imagine the Nazis in Poland, the Stalinists in Ukraine, the Japanese in Nanking, or the Maoists in Tibet sitting and listening to a sermon of this kind without shooting the priest on the spot. That the Conquistadors tolerated this protest is the measure of the moral superiority of the 16th century over the 20th. De las Casas’ Brief Report on the Destruction of the Indies, or Tears of the Indians of 1552, which became a best-seller all over Europe, was the first great document in the whole tradition of human rights advocacy, anti-imperialism and anti-racism. It founded the so-called “Black Legend” about (probably exaggerated) Spanish atrocities in the New World, which Spain’s enemies would eagerly seize upon. 65 These accusations were taken up later in the 16th century by the Frenchman Montaigne in a ringing moral denunciation of European aggression against the New World: “So many cities destroyed, so many nations exterminated, so many millions put to the sword … to obtain pearls and pepper!” 66 A new moral perspective which condemned imperialistic conquest as a genocide of other peoples and a destruction of other cultures thus came at once to trouble the ambitions of the new European empire-builders on their very first expeditions. A tradition was launched of exaggerating the crimes of the European conquerors and exalting the innocence of the victim peoples which has lasted until this day. From De Las Casas’ and Montaigne’s eloquent denunciations of the Spanish Conquistadors, to Samuel Johnson’s scathing condemnation of the colonization of America, or Rousseau’s idealization of the noble savage, Europe’s intellectuals attacked the whole process by which Europe was inflicting its civilization upon the world. No other empire was ever assailed in this way by its own thinkers from its very inception. Even Tacitus, while he admired many aspects of the culture of the Germans and the Celts, saw it as Rome’s divine mission to civilize the barbarians, and rejoiced in the short-sightedness of these nations in accepting the loss of their own freedom for the sake of warm baths and efficient plumbing. This unquestioning acceptance of their divine mission to rule was characteristic of all previous conquering civilizations, including the Arabs and the Turks. But it was countered in the case of European empires by a passionate and sustained opposition voice, which identified not with one civilization as the carrier of human progress, but with all cultures as different expressions of the human spirit. No other civilization has so eagerly and admiringly studied the cultures of the colonized. This dissident note swelled to become a critical, jarring accompaniment of the entire history of Western imperialism. Even though it was counteracted in the Victorian period by a noisy enthusiasm for bearing “the white man’s burden” (a product of Darwinist ideas of backward races as well as a humanitarian concern to stamp out primitive  practices such as slavery), the undercurrent of opposition to colonialism eventually prevailed. It finally achieved the voluntary dismantling of European empires at the very apex of their power, and brought about the permanent discrediting of imperialism. It is paradoxically this dissident voice, this self-criticism, the mark of a higher sense of humanity and a pluralistic vision of the world, which, at the very moment of its triumph, turned into the strident and fanatical extremism of anti-Western self-hatred which Susan Sontag expressed so succinctly in the formula: “The white race is the cancer of human history.”  

The very success of the new universal humanism of Western civilization in achieving the dismantling of its empires led in its universities to a crisis of guilt and breast-beating over the existence of those empires in the first place. Instead of congratulating itself on ending colonialism, the West began to flagellate itself for having engaged in it. It somehow forgot that imperialism had been the universal behaviour of powerful nations since the beginning of time. It suddenly saw itself not as the last (relatively benign) practitioner of empire (finally bringing it to an end)  but as the wicked inventor of it. This soon created a reverse image of the notion of the “civilizing mission” cherished by our naive Victorian forefathers. Leftist academics now saw the West as an evil empire, which had embarked for centuries on a dark mission of diabolical destruction and genocide. According to this view (still current on the academic left today), the imperialistic drive of the Western European nations to conquer and colonize large parts of the world over the last four centuries was an enormous, unmitigated crime. The notion that European imperialism brought anything good, that it was the purveyor of a more technically advanced civilization, was rejected as an expression of racist contempt for non-European cultures. The very belief in progress which the nineteenth century took for granted – the idea that it is better to have printing presses, clocks, railways, post offices, electricity, running water, modern medicine, radio and telephones, than not to – was viewed as nothing but Eurocentric cultural prejudice. The idea that the civilization that introduced these aspects of modern life to other peoples may have been doing them a favour (that very few of them would now like to be without these amenities) was seen as a smug, racist justification of tyranny, cultural destruction and genocide. The notion that the West introduced any higher political or humane values – that the practice of good government, the rule of law, impartial law-courts, mass education, religious tolerance, and the suppression of such picturesque local customs as slavery, torture, widow-burning, foot-binding, child-marriages, not to speak of human sacrifice and cannibalism, brought positive benefits to the peoples of other continents – was now regarded as the height of racism and hypocrisy. In fact it was a racist calumny of the gentle, peace-loving, sex-egalitarian cultures of all non-Western peoples, since it was us (we now learned) who were solely responsible for all the evils and miseries of the planet. Every cruel dictatorship, every starving peasant, every feudal exaction, every savage custom, every murderous tribal enmity was the product of Western imperialism and nothing else. Without Western colonialism it appears that humanity would have lived forever in a universal golden age of peace and prosperity. Such was the ruin we had brought upon the planet that we had to spend the rest of history beating our breasts every time we passed a person of another race in the street. And of course the first form our penance must take was to allow other races into Western countries in unlimited numbers in order to put an end to our wicked Eurocentric culture as fast as possible.

What is astonishing for a view of largely academic origin was the colossal ignorance of history it was based on, and the lack of any perspective as to what kinds of behaviour were typical of all dominant nations in the past. It is as though the conquering urges of all mankind were to be imputed solely to the European race, because its dominance was the most recent. Yet a glance at the record would have shown that more Europeans have spent more of their history being oppressed by other races than doing any oppressing. More than half the European population (including the Russians, Ukrainians, Serbs, Slovenes, Croats, Greeks, Hungarians, Romanians, Spaniards, Portuguese) spent between two and six hundred of the last twelve hundred years under the brutal colonial rule of Asian or North African conquerors – a rather longer period than the more recent reign of the Western empires over other races. The only unique thing about the European race is that it had no sooner got the upper hand and begun colonizing other peoples in its turn, than it called the whole process into question on moral grounds and gradually put an end to it.

This took nearly two hundred years in the case of the non-Western nation ruled for the longest by Britain, India, and sixty to eighty years in most parts of Africa – though of course the Americas and Australasia, where millions of European settlers had gone to live, founded independent nations, and become the majority in those countries, could hardly be evacuated. Much of the cultural damage of colonialism could not be undone, but its extent was largely a reflection of the enormous gap in cultures and development. It was not easy to integrate the modern and the medieval, let alone the Neolithic. The Moghul empire probably destroyed as much of the culture it found in India as the British did; but it replaced it by something that looked superficially similar, so we do not see it as a cultural vandalism nearly as radical as that of the West. But this cultural transformation was often embraced by the natives as progress, even if the manner of it was resented as oppression. To pretend that pre-modern cultures could have survived intact as a living anthropological museum while other parts of the world moved into another era of history is simply unrealistic. Humanity is one, and parts of it cannot be shut off forever from the technological advances made by the rest, and the changes these bring, for good or ill. Once the Maori or the American Indians knew that muskets existed, they could not be prevented from obtaining muskets, which then did enormous damage within their traditional warrior cultures. Nor could they be sheltered from illnesses brought from outside to which they had no resistance. The Atlantic slave trade made the coastal kingdoms of West Africa rich and powerful, and increased their domination over those in the interior, but any form of foreign trade which gave them muskets would have done the same. Whether the slaughter of their tribal wars would have been greater or less without the possibility of selling their captives is impossible to say. All races of mankind are part of the same common story, and cultural catastrophe to one or another is merely the tragic result of peoples in different time warps sharing the same planet. Yet whatever its destructiveness in the Caribbean, Mexico and Peru, nothing in the last two hundred years of Western colonialism remotely compares with the cultural mayhem, the “eradication of autonomous civilizations”, the mass exterminations, inflicted by the communist empires of Russia and China – regimes admired and defended by leftists like Susan Sontag, even as they murdered more human beings than all other tyrannies of recorded history put together. 

Europeans cannot escape the dark shadow of the common past of the human race, or their own part in the universal evils of tyranny, slavery and oppression. Anyone who reflects on the past of mankind as a whole can only shudder at the level of barbarism we have all emerged from. But to denounce the European race as the principal perpetrator of what were in fact universal evils, which it alone finally brought to an end, is simply perverse. No such denunciation would even be conceivable without the concepts of liberty and human rights that Europeans developed. The paradox is that in making moral progress European civilization condemned its own past by the moral standards it then established. This has inspired a peculiar and perverse indignation at the fact that it did not observe those standards earlier. Instead of satisfaction that our ancestors took a step forward in civilized values, there is moral outrage at the state they were in before they took that step.  Instead of seeing the abolition of slavery as an achievement, the modern leftist sees it only as a terrible indictment of what went before. This is a perverse and deliberate amnesia as to what conditions in the past were like, and how universal cruelty was in every race that ever lived. It took great power of mind to break a pattern of behaviour as old as time, especially when it was extremely profitable and convenient. No other race in history ever abolished slavery, or even had the slightest doubt about its morality. If there had been no European colonialism, we can be fairly sure that all of Africa, North and South America, Polynesia, and much of Asia would still have slavery on a massive scale even today. The Indians would probably still be burning widows, the Chinese binding girls’ feet and the Africans and Aztecs practising mass human sacrifice. And these things would still be happening because the very notion that customs (and even morality) should change with the times depends on the European idea of progress, which would never have got outside Europe’s borders without the expansion of its empires world-wide.  





But one consequence of colonialism that could not be undone was where settlers gradually displaced indigenous peoples, leading to their decline in numbers, the loss of their culture, and in some cases to the extinction of particular tribes. This circumstance has given rise to the most intense fits of self-flagellation among American leftist intellectuals. In the 1967 essay in which Susan Sontag proclaims that “the white race is the cancer of human history” she justifies her racial self-hatred by the statement that America was “founded upon a genocide” – the “extermination” of the Amerindians. That these people have not in fact been exterminated, and today number about three million in the USA, which is the average of the various estimates of their numbers when the Europeans first arrived, appears to have escaped her attention. True, their numbers fell drastically by the end of the 19th century, before rising again, but this fall was largely due to the ravages of new diseases such as smallpox, influenza, measles, and whooping cough, to which they had no resistance (and for which medicine till the 20th century had no cure.) 67 An even more drastic decline happened over the 19th century to the Maori of New Zealand, even though we know that the colonial wars killed only a few hundred (a fraction of the numbers killed by their own tribal wars.) Disease, not extermination by white settlers, was responsible for most of the decline in American Indian numbers, just as it was for the Maori. And we can hardly regard disease as an act of genocide, or Europeans would bear a considerable grudge against the Asians who gave us the Bubonic plague. It is undeniable that the American Indians were displaced, their land stolen, their culture corrupted, their tribal organization shattered, their religion discredited, their military power broken, and their pride humiliated. Exactly the same could be said of the Ancient Britons or Welsh when the Angles and Saxons invaded Britain. And the Ancient Britons undoubtedly inflicted the same cultural mayhem on the pre-Celtic peoples whom they conquered over a thousand years earlier. Does Ms Sontag seriously believe that the American Indian tribes acted any differently towards the tribes that preceded them in the occupation of their regions of America? If there was one constant in the lives of American Indians, it was war. The Sioux, it has been noted by one of their modern spokesmen, were at war with nineteen different tribes during one twenty-year period in the 19th century.68 It is highly likely that even after the Europeans arrived in America, far more Indians died in inter-tribal warfare than at the hands of the whites.

But of course it is the European settlement itself which for leftists like Sontag constituted genocide.  She defines this genocide as “the unquestioned assumption of the right of white Europeans to exterminate a resident, technologically backward coloured population in order to take over the continent.”69 We have already commented on the hysteria of the word “exterminate” for a people thriving today, and living longer and more comfortable lives than their forebears when Sir Walter Raleigh hove into view. Nor is it clear that European settlers generally assumed a “right” to exterminate the Indians (though warfare at the time had an exterminationist character on all sides.) Relations between the English settlers and the  Indians were for some years quite amicable (the settlers could not have survived otherwise), and only quarrels over territory led to war. When it did so, the settlers’ aim was generally to defend or expand their territory, or increase their security, not to exterminate the Indians. In such a vast continent it was assumed there would always be room for all.