History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Darwinism Against Economic Democracy: William Cobbett on Malthus

September 3rd, 2012 · No Comments


Plainly said, nothing is said now that has not been said before. Racine

About five years ago, I was mighty proud of myself when I realized that in all of Darwin’s many frettings and frailings about the catastrophe that would come with mass vaccination, giving minimal aid to the poor, keeping the weak and lame and the Wretched of the World in the notably stingy charity available in mid-19th century England, it came to me that he left out the laws against theft as probably the greatest inhibition of natural selection as a way of doing away with the “weaker members” of society. I noted that in the footnote to a post four years ago.

Well, since then I’ve read more of William Cobbett. I’d read from his Cottage Economy years ago. Looking at his “Advice to Young Men” he’d said the same about Darwin’s great inspiration in natural selection, Parson Malthus.

The audacious and merciless MALTHUS (a parson of the church establishment) recommended, some years ago, the passing of a law to put an end to the giving of parish relief, though he recommended no law to put an end to the enormous taxes paid by poor people. In his book he said, that the poor should be left to the law of Nature, which, in case of their having nothing to buy food with, doomed them to starve. They would ask nothing better than to be left to the law of Nature; that law which knows nothing about buying food or any thing else; that law which bids the hungry and the naked take food and raiment wherever they find it best and nearest at hand; that law which awards all possessions to the strongest; that law the operations of which would clear out the London meat-markets and the drapers’ and jewellers’ shops in about half an hour: to this law the parson wished the parliament to leave the poorest of the working people; but, if the parliament had done it, it would have been quickly seen, that this law was far from ‘dooming them to be starved.’

Darwin was a rich man, upper middle class when the services and goods of poor people were to be had for next to nothing. He considered himself a better investor than a scientist and the guy raked in a lot of money through investment that kept him and his children in wealth for decades. If I wanted to be really inflammatory, I’d give his description of how his family lived during a the food crisis brought on by the famine of the 1840s. And I might change my mind and give that, someday. For now, asking why this rich man, the son of two dynasties of prosperous manufacturers and landowners, why he neglected to note that repealing the laws against theft would soon allow him and his family to be subjected to the very laws of nature he asserted. Something that Cobbett figured out years before Darwin ever looked at Malthus on Population “for amusement,” as Darwin put it, himself. Given how far prepared he was willing to go in repealing even more basic laws of human charity and decency, and if not him than his closest followers and colleagues, it’s entirely appropriate to ask how he could have neglected that those civil laws made his class of people even less subject to natural selection than the poor relying on the barest of a living provided to them.

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