Darwinism & Communism, Part II

In 1891 in Gori, Georgia, a 13-year-old choirboy with dreams of becoming a priest, Iosef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, was discovered by his mother at dawn, having stayed awake through the night reading Darwin’s Origin of Species. “I loved the book so much, Mummy, I couldn’t stop reading,” he explained. He later told a friend that God “doesn’t actually exist. We’ve been deceived.” “How can you say such a thing?” the friend exclaimed, to which the boy, the future Joseph Stalin, replied by handing him a copy of Darwin. In this little series, we are asking, among other things, what came from Stalin’s precocious appreciation of evolutionary theory? Hitler and Stalin alike sought to create a new race of supermen. Where did Read More ›

Darwinism & Communism, Part I

Does Darwinism lend support more naturally to a capitalist moral-economic perspective or to some other competing philosophical standpoint, say, a Marxist one? Economic historian Niall Ferguson takes the former view. He’s been having a good run with his new book The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World — that is, apart from being taken to task by a number of reviewers for applying a Darwinian framework to understanding market forces. In the current New York Review of Books, economist Robert Skidelsky chides Ferguson for purveying “false analogies between financial evolution and Darwinian natural selection….These attempts to explain the rise of money in terms of natural processes strike me as being both morally and philosophically naïve.” Ferguson describes Read More ›

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, RIP

There is a lot to be said on the passing of Father Richard John Neuhaus, dean of the theoconservatives, of whom I count myself one. The phrase he is most associated with, which has to do with giving religion a place “in the public square,” has become a cliché. Yet clichéd phrases can still refer to profoundly important ideas. The idea that faith has a role to play in public discussions of public issues, notably in politics, did not seem obvious at all when Fr. Neuhaus wrote his controversial 1984 book The Naked Public Square. It’s an idea that still has legions of enemies, including among some political conservatives, even as it continues to guide those of us who followed Read More ›

Vladimir Nabokov, “Furious” Darwin Doubter

So was Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) secretly a fundamentalist Christian, a mad man, or just plain ignorant? The great novelist (Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin) was, in his own telling, a “furious” critic of Darwinian theory. He based the judgment not on religion, to which biographer Brian Boyd writes that he was “profoundly indifferent,” but on decades of his scientific study of butterflies, including at Harvard and the American Museum of Natural History. Of course, this was all before the culture-wide sclerosis of Darwinian orthodoxy set in.