Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (2nd Edition)

Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (2nd Edition)

Jacques Barzun

Language: English

Pages: 405

ISBN: 0385093411

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

This early work by Jacques Barzun is both expensive and hard to find in its first edition. It details the history and social influence of Darwin, Marx and Wagner during the nineteenth century. This fascinating work is thoroughly recommended for inclusion on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the influential figures of science, politics and the arts.
This is a wonderful book. Barzun, a Columbia historian, develops this thesis: the three cited in the title personify the mechanical materialism of their age as well as the ideology which caused this century so much grief. Essentially, these three symbolize the notion that moral values are illusions in our world of facts and that human will is helpless against the ineluctable laws of nature. These three men participated in the development of a world view which has had dire consequences for our age.

Barzun expands upon his thesis by dramatically portraying the central year of the development of mechanical materialism as 1859, the year in which Darwin published The Origin, Marx brought out Political Economy, and Wagner produced Tristan. Germane to this bibliography, all three were reluctant to credit their sources. Indeed, in the cases of Marx and Wagner, they insisted that they owed nothing to anyone, that their contributions were the result of their genius. Darwin was a bit more modest but he was also reluctant to admit his indebtedness to his grandfather Erasmus or to Lamarck; it was only late in life, after he had achieved great fame, that he admitted to have had sources for his ideas. The three focused on ideas which were, as it were, already in the air.
The time was ripe for the notion of evolution, for the growth of class warfare (struggle), and for the form of the musical drama and its nationalism. To put the matter simply, the three men took up the ideas which surrounded them and formed them in new ways, using new metaphors. They did not make "original" contributions.

Concerning their works: "When their systems are examined they appear, usually, almost
incredibly incoherent, both in thought and in form. Of the many books which Darwin, Marx, and Wagner have left us not one is a masterpiece... Imperfectly aware of their intellectual antecedents and impatient of exact expression, they jumbled together a bewildering collection of truths and errors and platitudes. They borrowed and pilfered without stint or shame, when the body of each man's work stands as a sort of Scripture, quotable for almost all purposes on an infinity of subjects."

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Bacon and Galileo and grown strong by the mid-nineteenth century, prepared the ground for the work and the glory of our three men. What impressed their first adherents was the "painstaking." All three could (and did) boast of their heroic toil, their minute care, over small things, the one, in the observation of nature; the other, in the facts of history and economics; the third, in philosophy, history, esthetics, and the mosaic task of composition not the making of mere operas but the

general views prevail. For at cer tain moments wfll not do to be too in history (think of political elections) it clear. Straightforward assertion and distinct theory are a handicap. It is better to throw a haze of seeming explanation about a difficult problem, particu one can do it unaware. Darwin thus often benefited from larly if his arguments in a Natural Selection benefited from Darwin s confused words about the origin of random variations in circle, just as animals. He

precisely what Spencer, Huxley, and Tyndall this confused science implies a clear philoso But phy. As philosophers, it is true, all three men repel in so 2 Communicated by Professor Lodge, Science and Art Depart ment, South Kensington; H. B. Wheatley, Literary Blunders, 186-87. THE USES OF DARWINISM 89 many words the doctrine of materialism. How then did their teachings come to stich a bad end in a frozen pipe? Huxley gives us the clue when he says that he teaches a doctrine which is

other words, how do the nch, paying for things at their correct value, get richer while the poor stay poor? That is the riddle is it 1 that capitalist profit Le., the is which comes from the fact that a hundred "surplus" working together create more than they would if each worked independently at the same trade This surplus is what is appropriated through ownership. men HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS capitalism propounds. Marx s answer 1 is exchanges the correct value for capitalist

reading Darwin. JKarf ffa>$ his feudatory artiek "the "real

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