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Political DescentMalthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England$
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Piers J. Hale

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226108490

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226108520.001.0001

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Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

Malthus, Weismann, and the Future of Socialism

6 (p.252) Of Mice and Men
Political Descent

Piers J. Hale

University of Chicago Press

This chapter focuses on the ways British socialists interpreted evolution. As Fabianism and Marxism became more prominent, the Lamarkian and anti-Malthusian politics of men like William Morris and Peter Kropotkin became increasingly marginalized. H.G. Wells, a one-time admirer of Morris and sometime Fabian, took particular exception to Morris's anti-Malthusian assumptions. This became all the more so in light of his conviction that the German cell biologist August Weismann had undermined Lamarckian inheritance. Without the inheritance of acquired characters any hope of a significant human evolution on a relevant time scale was lost. Further, Wells became convinced that Weismann's theory of panmixia further undermined Morris's vision of socialism. Any ‘epoch of rest’ that ameliorated selective pressure would cause biological degeneration. George Bernard Shaw, was as Malthusian as Wells, but intervened to oppose Wells'sWeismannism. An ardent Lamarckian Shaw ultimately reflected that Morris might have been right.

Keywords:   William Morris, H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Thomas Robert Malthus, Friedrich Leopold August Weismann, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, evolution, socialism, natural selection, panmixia

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