Sunday, April 21, 2013

Second Time as Farce

John Gray:

Less well known are Marx’s deep differences with Darwin. If Marx viewed Trémaux’s work as “a very important improvement on Darwin,” it was because “progress, which in Darwin is purely accidental, is here necessary on the basis of the periods of development of the body of the earth.” Virtually every follower of Darwin at the time believed he had given a scientific demonstration of progress in nature; but though Darwin himself sometimes wavered on the point, that was never his fundamental view. Darwin’s theory of natural selection says nothing about any kind of betterment—as Darwin once noted, when judged from their own standpoint bees are an improvement on human beings—and it is testimony to Marx’s penetrating intelligence that, unlike the great majority of those who promoted the idea of evolution, he understood this absence of the idea of progress in Darwinism. Yet he was just as emotionally incapable as they were of accepting the contingent world that Darwin had uncovered.

As the late Leszek Kołakowski used to put it in conversation, “Marx was a German philosopher.” Marx’s interpretation of history derived not from science but from Hegel’s metaphysical account of the unfolding of spirit (Geist) in the world. Asserting the material basis of the realm of ideas, Marx famously turned Hegel’s philosophy on its head; but in the course of this reversal Hegel’s belief that history is essentially a process of rational evolution reappeared as Marx’s conception of a succession of progressive revolutionary transformations. This process might not be strictly inevitable; relapse into barbarism was a permanent possibility. But the full development of human powers was still for Marx the end point of history. What Marx and so many others wanted from the theory of evolution was an underpinning for their belief in progress toward a better world; but Darwin’s achievement was in showing how evolution operated without reference to any direction or end state. Refusing to accept Darwin’s discovery, Marx turned instead to Trémaux’s far-fetched and now deservedly forgotten theories.

The whole essay is very interesting. And it makes it even funnier to then go back and read this kind of wishful wanking. We must not reverse the idea of historical necessity, comrades! Have, uh, faith!