George Bernard Shaw.

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As there is no place in Darwinism for free will, or any other sort
of will, the Neo-Darwinists held that there is no such thing as
self-control. Yet self-control is just the one quality of survival value
which Circumstantial Selection must invariably and inevitably develop in
the long run. Uncontrolled qualities may be selected for survival and
development for certain periods and under certain circumstances. For
instance, since it is the ungovernable gluttons who strive the hardest
to get food and drink, their efforts would develop their strength and
cunning in a period of such scarcity that the utmost they could do would
not enable them to over-eat themselves. But a change of circumstances
involving a plentiful supply of food would destroy them. We see this
very thing happening often enough in the case of the healthy and
vigorous poor man who becomes a millionaire by one of the accidents of
our competitive commerce, and immediately proceeds to dig his grave with
his teeth. But the self-controlled man survives all such changes of
circumstance, because he adapts himself to them, and eats neither as
much as he can hold nor as little as he can scrape along on, but as much
as is good for him. What is self-control? It is nothing but a highly
developed vital sense, dominating and regulating the mere appetites. To
overlook the very existence of this supreme sense; to miss the obvious
inference that it is the quality that distinguishes the fittest to
survive; to omit, in short, the highest moral claim of Evolutionary
Selection: all this, which the Neo-Darwinians did in the name of Natural
Selection, shewed the most pitiable want of mastery of their own
subject, the dullest lack of observation of the forces upon which
Natural Selection works.


The Vitalist philosophers made no such mistakes. Nietzsche, for example,
thinking out the great central truth of the Will to Power instead of
cutting off mouse-tails, had no difficulty in concluding that the final
objective of this Will was power over self, and that the seekers after
power over others and material possessions were on a false scent.

The stultification naturally became much worse as the first Darwinians
died out. The prestige of these pioneers, who had the older evolutionary
culture to build on, and were in fact no more Darwinian in the modern
sense than Darwin himself, ceased to dazzle us when Huxley and Tyndall
and Spencer and Darwin passed away, and we were left with the smaller
people who began with Darwin and took in nothing else. Accordingly, I
find that in the year 1906 I indulged my temper by hurling invectives at
the Neo-Darwinians in the following terms.

'I really do not wish to be abusive; but when I think of these poor
little dullards, with their precarious hold of just that corner of
evolution that a blackbeetle can understand - with their retinue of
twopenny-halfpenny Torquemadas wallowing in the infamies of the
vivisector's laboratory, and solemnly offering us as epoch-making
discoveries their demonstrations that dogs get weaker and die if you
give them no food; that intense pain makes mice sweat; and that if you
cut off a dog's leg the three-legged dog will have a four-legged puppy,
I ask myself what spell has fallen on intelligent and humane men
that they allow themselves to be imposed on by this rabble of dolts,
blackguards, impostors, quacks, liars, and, worst of all, credulous
conscientious fools. Better a thousand times Moses and Spurgeon [a then
famous preacher] back again. After all, you cannot understand Moses
without imagination nor Spurgeon without metaphysics; but you can be a
thorough-going Neo-Darwinian without imagination, metaphysics,
poetry, conscience, or decency. For "Natural Selection" has no moral
significance: it deals with that part of evolution which has no purpose,
no intelligence, and might more appropriately be called accidental
selection, or better still, Unnatural Selection, since nothing is
more unnatural than an accident. If it could be proved that the whole
universe had been produced by such Selection, only fools and rascals
could bear to live.'


Yet the humanitarians were as delighted as anybody with Darwinism at
first. They had been perplexed by the Problem of Evil and the Cruelty of
Nature. They were Shelleyists, but not atheists. Those who believed in
God were at a terrible disadvantage with the atheist. They could not
deny the existence of natural facts so cruel that to attribute them to
the will of God is to make God a demon. Belief in God was impossible to
any thoughtful person without belief in the Devil as well. The painted
Devil, with his horns, his barbed tail, and his abode of burning
brimstone, was an incredible bogey; but the evil attributed to him was
real enough; and the atheists argued that the author of evil, if he
exists, must be strong enough to overcome God, else God is morally
responsible for everything he permits the Devil to do. Neither
conclusion delivered us from the horror of attributing the cruelty of
nature to the workings of an evil will, or could reconcile it with our
impulses towards justice, mercy, and a higher life.

A complete deliverance was offered by the discovery of Circumstantial
Selection: that is to say, of a method by which horrors having every
appearance of being elaborately planned by some intelligent contriver
are only accidents without any moral significance at all. Suppose a
watcher from the stars saw a frightful accident produced by two crowded
trains at full speed crashing into one another! How could he conceive
that a catastrophe brought about by such elaborate machinery, such
ingenious preparation, such skilled direction, such vigilant industry,
was quite unintentional? Would he not conclude that the signal-men were

Well, Circumstantial Selection is largely a theory of collisions: that
is, a theory of the innocence of much apparently designed devilry. In
this way Darwin brought intense relief as well as an enlarged knowledge
of facts to the humanitarians. He destroyed the omnipotence of God for
them; but he also exonerated God from a hideous charge of cruelty.
Granted that the comfort was shallow, and that deeper reflection was
bound to shew that worse than all conceivable devil-deities is a blind,
deaf, dumb, heartless, senseless mob of forces that strike as a tree
does when it is blown down by the wind, or as the tree itself is struck
by lightning. That did not occur to the humanitarians at the moment:
people do not reflect deeply when they are in the first happiness of
escape from an intolerably oppressive situation. Like Bunyan's pilgrim
they could not see the wicket gate, nor the Slough of Despond, nor the
castle of Giant Despair; but they saw the shining light at the end of
the path, and so started gaily towards it as Evolutionists.

And they were right; for the problem of evil yields very easily to
Creative Evolution. If the driving power behind Evolution is omnipotent
only in the sense that there seems no limit to its final achievement;
and if it must meanwhile struggle with matter and circumstance by
the method of trial and error, then the world must be full of its
unsuccessful experiments. Christ may meet a tiger, or a High Priest
arm-in-arm with a Roman Governor, and be the unfittest to survive under
the circumstances. Mozart may have a genius that prevails against
Emperors and Archbishops, and a lung that succumbs to some obscure and
noxious property of foul air. If all our calamities are either accidents
or sincerely repented mistakes, there is no malice in the Cruelty
of Nature and no Problem of Evil in the Victorian sense at all. The
theology of the women who told us that they became atheists when they
sat by the cradles of their children and saw them strangled by the hand
of God is succeeded by the theology of Blanco Posnet, with his 'It was
early days when He made the croup, I guess. It was the best He could
think of then; but when it turned out wrong on His hands He made you and
me to fight the croup for Him.'


Another humanitarian interest in Darwinism was that Darwin popularized
Evolution generally, as well as making his own special contribution to
it. Now the general conception of Evolution provides the humanitarian
with a scientific basis, because it establishes the fundamental equality
of all living things. It makes the killing of an animal murder in
exactly the same sense as the killing of a man is murder. It is
sometimes necessary to kill men as it is always necessary to kill
tigers; but the old theoretic distinction between the two acts has been
obliterated by Evolution. When I was a child and was told that our dog
and our parrot, with whom I was on intimate terms, were not creatures
like myself, but were brutal whilst I was reasonable, I not only did not
believe it, but quite consciously and intellectually formed the opinion
that the distinction was false; so that afterwards, when Darwin's views
were first unfolded to me, I promptly said that I had found out all that
for myself before I was ten years old; and I am far from sure that my
youthful arrogance was not justified; for this sense of the kinship of
all forms of life is all that is needed to make Evolution not only a
conceivable theory, but an inspiring one. St Anthony was ripe for the
Evolution theory when he preached to the fishes, and St Francis when
he called the birds his little brothers. Our vanity, and our snobbish
conception of Godhead as being, like earthly kingship, a supreme class
distinction instead of the rock on which Equality is built, had led us
to insist on God offering us special terms by placing us apart from and
above all the rest of his creatures. Evolution took that conceit out of
us; and now, though we may kill a flea without the smallest remorse, we
at all events know that we are killing our cousin. No doubt it shocks
the flea when the creature that an almighty Celestial Flea created
expressly for the food of fleas, destroys the jumping lord of creation
with his sharp and enormous thumbnail; but no flea will ever be so
foolish as to preach that in slaying fleas Man is applying a method of
Natural Selection which will finally evolve a flea so swift that no man
can catch him, and so hardy of constitution that Insect Powder will have
no more effect on him than strychnine on an elephant.


The Humanitarians were not alone among the agitators in their welcome to
Darwin. He had the luck to please everybody who had an axe to grind. The
Militarists were as enthusiastic as the Humanitarians, the Socialists as
the Capitalists. The Socialists were specially encouraged by Darwin's
insistence on the influence of environment. Perhaps the strongest moral
bulwark of Capitalism is the belief in the efficacy of individual
righteousness. Robert Owen made desperate efforts to convince England
that her criminals, her drunkards, her ignorant and stupid masses, were
the victims of circumstance: that if we would only establish his new
moral world we should find that the masses born into an educated and
moralized community would be themselves educated and moralized. The
stock reply to this is to be found in Lewes's Life of Goethe. Lewes
scorned the notion that circumstances govern character. He pointed
to the variety of character in the governing rich class to prove the
contrary. Similarity of circumstance can hardly be carried to a more
desolating dead level than in the case of the individuals who are born
and bred in English country houses, and sent first to Eton or Harrow,
and then to Oxford or Cambridge, to have their minds and habits formed.
Such a routine would destroy individuality if anything could. Yet
individuals come out from it as different as Pitt from Fox, as Lord
Russell from Lord Gurzon, as Mr Winston Churchill from Lord Robert
Cecil. This acceptance of the congenital character of the individual
as the determining factor in his destiny had been reinforced by the
Lamarckian view of Evolution. If the giraffe can develop his neck by
wanting and trying, a man can develop his character in the same way. The
old saying, 'Where there is a will, there is a way,' condenses Lamarck's
theory of functional adaptation into a proverb. This felt bracingly
moral to strong minds, and reassuringly pious to feeble ones. There was
no more effective retort to the Socialist than to tell him to reform
himself before he pretends to reform society. If you were rich, how
pleasant it was to feel that you owed your riches to the superiority
of your own character! The industrial revolution had turned numbers
of greedy dullards into monstrously rich men. Nothing could be more
humiliating and threatening to them than the view that the falling of a
shower of gold into their pockets was as pure an accident as the falling
of a shower of hail on their umbrellas, and happened alike to the just
and unjust. Nothing could be more flattering and fortifying to them than
the assumption that they were rich because they were virtuous.

Now Darwinism made a clean sweep of all such self-righteousness. It
more than justified Robert Owen by discovering in the environment of an
organism an influence on it more potent than Owen had ever claimed. It
implied that street arabs are produced by slums and not by original sin:
that prostitutes are produced by starvation wages and not by feminine
concupiscence. It threw the authority of science on the side of the
Socialist who said that he who would reform himself must first reform
society. It suggested that if we want healthy and wealthy citizens we
must have healthy and wealthy towns; and that these can exist only in
healthy and wealthy countries. It could be led to the conclusion that
the type of character which remains indifferent to the welfare of its
neighbors as long as its own personal appetite is satisfied is the
disastrous type, and the type which is deeply concerned about its
environment the only possible type for a permanently prosperous
community. It shewed that the surprising changes which Robert Owen had
produced in factory children by a change in their circumstances which
does not seem any too generous to us nowadays were as nothing to the
changes - changes not only of habits but of species, not only of species
but of orders - which might conceivably be the work of environment acting
on individuals without any character or intellectual consciousness
whatever. No wonder the Socialists received Darwin with open arms.


Besides, the Socialists had an evolutionary prophet of their own, who
had discredited Manchester as Darwin discredited the Garden of Eden.
Karl Marx had proclaimed in his Communist Manifesto of 1848 (now
enjoying Scriptural authority in Russia) that civilization is an
organism evolving irresistibly by circumstantial selection; and he
published the first volume of his Das Kapital in 1867. The revolt
against anthropomorphic idolatry, which was, as we have seen, the secret
of Darwin's success, had been accompanied by a revolt against the
conventional respectability which covered not only the brigandage and
piracy of the feudal barons, but the hypocrisy, inhumanity, snobbery,
and greed of the bourgeoisie, who were utterly corrupted by an
essentially diabolical identification of success in life with big
profits. The moment Marx shewed that the relation of the bourgeoisie to
society was grossly immoral and disastrous, and that the whited wall of
starched shirt fronts concealed and defended the most infamous of all
tyrannies and the basest of all robberies, he became an inspired prophet
in the mind of every generous soul whom his book reached. He had said
and proved what they wanted to have proved; and they would hear nothing
against him. Now Marx was by no means infallible: his economics, half
borrowed, and half home-made by a literary amateur, were not, when
strictly followed up, even favorable to Socialism. His theory of
civilisation had been promulgated already in Buckle's History of
Civilization, a book as epoch-making in the minds of its readers as Das
Kapital. There was nothing about Socialism in the widely read first
volume of Das Kapital: every reference it made to workers and
capitalists shewed that Marx had never breathed industrial air, and had
dug his case out of bluebooks in the British Museum. Compared to Darwin,
he seemed to have no power of observation: there was not a fact in Das
Kapital that had not been taken out of a book, nor a discussion that had
not been opened by somebody else's pamphlet. No matter: he exposed the
bourgeoisie and made an end of its moral prestige. That was enough: like
Darwin he had for the moment the World Will by the ear. Marx had, too,
what Darwin had not: implacability and a fine Jewish literary gift,
with terrible powers of hatred, invective, irony, and all the bitter
qualities bred, first in the oppression of a rather pampered young
genius (Marx was the spoilt child of a well-to-do family) by a social
system utterly uncongenial to him, and later on by exile and poverty.
Thus Marx and Darwin between them toppled over two closely related
idols, and became the prophets of two new creeds.


But how, at this rate, did Darwin succeed with the capitalists too? It
is not easy to make the best of both worlds when one of the worlds is
preaching a Class War, and the other vigorously practising it. The
explanation is that Darwinism was so closely related to Capitalism that
Marx regarded it as an economic product rather than as a biological
theory. Darwin got his main postulate, the pressure of population on
the available means of subsistence, from the treatise of Malthus
on Population, just as he got his other postulate of a practically
unlimited time for that pressure to operate from the geologist Lyell,
who made an end of Archbishop Ussher's Biblical estimate of the age
of the earth as 4004 B.C. plus A.D. The treatises of the Ricardian
economists on the Law of Diminishing Return, which was only the
Manchester School's version of the giraffe and the trees, were all very
fiercely discussed when Darwin was a young man. In fact the discovery in
the eighteenth century by the French Physiocrats of the economic
effects of Commercial Selection in soils and sites, and by Malthus of
a competition for subsistence which he attributed to pressure of
population on available subsistence, had already brought political
science into that unbreathable atmosphere of fatalism which is the
characteristic blight of Darwinism. Long before Darwin published a line,
the Ricardo-Malthusian economists were preaching the fatalistic Wages
Fund doctrine, and assuring the workers that Trade Unionism is a vain
defiance of the inexorable laws of political economy, just as the
Neo-Darwinians were presently assuring us that Temperance Legislation is
a vain defiance of Natural Selection, and that the true way to deal with
drunkenness is to flood the country with cheap gin and let the fittest
survive. Cobdenism is, after all, nothing but the abandonment of trade
to Circumstantial Selection.

It is hardly possible to exaggerate the importance of this preparation
for Darwinism by a vast political and clerical propaganda of its moral
atmosphere. Never in history, as far as we know, had there been such a
determined, richly subsidized, politically organized attempt to persuade
the human race that all progress, all prosperity, all salvation,
individual and social, depend on an unrestrained conflict for food and
money, on the suppression and elimination of the weak by the strong,
on Free Trade, Free Contract, Free Competition, Natural Liberty,
Laisser-faire: in short, on 'doing the other fellow down' with impunity,
all interference by a guiding government, all organization except police
organization to protect legalized fraud against fisticuffs, all
attempt to introduce human purpose and design and forethought into the
industrial welter, being 'contrary to the laws of political economy.'
Even the proletariat sympathized, though to them Capitalist liberty
meant only wage slavery without the legal safeguards of chattel slavery.
People were tired of governments and kings and priests and providences,
and wanted to find out how Nature would arrange matters if she were let
alone. And they found it out to their cost in the days when Lancashire
used up nine generations of wage slaves in one generation of their
masters. But their masters, becoming richer and richer, were very well
satisfied, and Bastiat proved convincingly that Nature had arranged
Economic Harmonies which would settle social questions far better than
theocracies or aristocracies or mobocracies, the real _deus ex machina_
being unrestrained plutocracy.


Thus the stars in their courses fought for Darwin. Every faction drew a
moral from him; every catholic hater of faction founded a hope on him;
every blackguard felt justified by him; and every saint felt encouraged
by him. The notion that any harm could come of so splendid an
enlightenment seemed as silly as the notion that the atheists would
steal all our spoons. The physicists went further than the Darwinians.
Tyndall declared that he saw in Matter the promise and potency of all
forms of life, and with his Irish graphic lucidity made a picture of a
world of magnetic atoms, each atom with a positive and a negative pole,
arranging itself by attraction and repulsion in orderly crystalline
structure. Such a picture is dangerously fascinating to thinkers
oppressed by the bloody disorders of the living world. Craving for purer
subjects of thought, they find in the contemplation of crystals and
magnets a happiness more dramatic and less childish than the happiness
found by the mathematicians in abstract numbers, because they see in the
crystals beauty and movement without the corrupting appetites of fleshly
vitality. In such Materialism as that of Lucretius and Tyndall there
is a nobility which produces poetry: John Davidson found his highest
inspiration in it. Even its pessimism as it faces the cooling of the
sun and the return of the ice-caps does not degrade the pessimist: for
example, the Quincy Adamses, with their insistence on modern democratic
degradation as an inevitable result of solar shrinkage, are not
dehumanized as the vivisectionists are. Perhaps nobody is at heart fool
enough to believe that life is at the mercy of temperature: Dante was
not troubled by the objection that Brunetto could not have lived in the
fire nor Ugolino in the ice.

But the physicists found their intellectual vision of the world
incommunicable to those who were not born with it. It came to the public
simply as Materialism; and Materialism lost its peculiar purity and
dignity when it entered into the Darwinian reaction against Bible
fetichism. Between the two of them religion was knocked to pieces; and
where there had been a god, a cause, a faith that the universe was
ordered however inexplicable by us its order might be, and therefore a
sense of moral responsibility as part of that order, there was now an
utter void. Chaos had come again. The first effect was exhilarating:
we had the runaway child's sense of freedom before it gets hungry and
lonely and frightened. In this phase we did not desire our God back
again. We printed the verses in which William Blake, the most religious
of our great poets, called the anthropomorphic idol Old Nobodaddy, and
gibed at him in terms which the printer had to leave us to guess from
his blank spaces. We had heard the parson droning that God is not
mocked; and it was great fun to mock Him to our hearts' content and not
be a penny the worse. It did not occur to us that Old Nobodaddy, instead
of being a ridiculous fiction, might be only an impostor, and that the
exposure of this Koepenik Captain of the heavens, far from proving that
there was no real captain, rather proved the contrary: that, in short,
Nobodaddy could not have impersonated anybody if there had not been
Somebodaddy to impersonate. We did not see the significance of the
fact that on the last occasion on which God had been 'expelled with a
pitchfork,' men so different as Voltaire and Robespierre had said, the
one that if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him, and
the other that after an honest attempt to dispense with a Supreme
Being in practical politics, some such hypothesis had been found quite

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