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Julio Nuñoz-Rubio*

(*Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

" rapporto tra gli intellettuali e la produzione non è inmediato, comme avviene per i grupi sociali fondamentalli, ma è mediato ed è mediato da due tipi de organizzazione sociale: a) dalla società civile, cioè, dal insieme de organizzazioni privati della società, b) dallo Stato. Gli intellettuali hanno una funzionle nella "egemonia" che il grupo dominante esercita in tutta la società e nel "dominio" su di essa che si incarna nello Stato e questa funzione è precisamente "organizativa" o connettiva: gli intellettuali hanno la funzione do organizare l'egemonia sociale di un grupo e il suo dominio statale, cioè il consenso dato dal prestigio della funzione nel mondo produttivo e l'aparato di coercizione per quei grupi che non "consentono" ne attivamente ne passivamente o pero quei momenti di crisi di comando e di direzione in cui il consenso spontaneo subisce una crisi."

Antonio Gramsci

1-Malthus and Political Economy in the Works of Darwin.

a)The presence of Malthus in Darwin's Work.

In the work of Darwin it is possible to find numerous implicit or explicit mentions to Malthus's work, which constitutes the starting point in order to establish the character of the influence of the second over the first. In the Introduction to the "Origin of Species" Darwin made the next statements:

"In the next chapter, the Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the world, which inevitably follows form the high geometrical powers of increase, will be treated of. This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms. As many more individuals to each species are born that can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form"

"Nothing is easier than to admit the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult -at least I have found it so- than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in mind, I am convinced that the whole economy of nature, with every fact on ditribution, rarity, abundance, extintion and variation will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood.".

"Every being, which during his natural lifetime, produces several eggs or seeds, must suffer destruction during some period of his life, and during some season or occasional year, otherwise, on the principle of geometrical increase, its numbers would quickly become so inordinately great that no country could support the product. Hence, as more individuals are produced than can be possibly survive, there must in every case, be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species or with the physical conditions of life. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with mainfold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint form marriage. Although some species may now be increasing, more or less rapidly, in numbers, all cannot do so, for the world would not hold them."

"In a state of nature almost every plant produces seed and amongst animals there are very few which do not annually pair. Hence we may confidently assert, that all plants and animals are tending to increase at geometrical ratio, that all would stock most rapidly every station in which they could any how exist, and that the geometrical tendency to increase must be checked by destruction at some period of life."

"All that we can do is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction."

All these statements would be followed by another one, published in 1876:

"In October 1838 I happened to read for amusement Malthus "on Population" and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes from long-continued observations of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be in the formation of new species."

The contact of Darwin with Malthus, hence, surmounts to 1838, twenty one years before the first edition of "The Origin of Species". During this lapse and later, Darwin refered to Malthus in several occasions. This is where his ever-cited comment of September 28, 1838, when he studied the "Essay on the Principle of Population" comes from. Darwin remarks there that the geometrical growth of population makes it to double its numbers in a lapse minor to the 25 years predicted by Malthus and concludes that:

"[...] Even a few years plenty, makes population Men increase & an ordinary crop causes a dearth [...]"

Later, in a letter dated december 16th, 1843, Darwin seemed interesed by the decreasing of population in New Zealand:

"The case appears to me very curious, especially as the decrease has commenced or continued since the introduction of the potato -the relation between the amount of population & food is hence inverted- It wold be a case for the great Malthus to have reflected on [...]"

After the publication of the "Origin", some criticisms arised against Darwin due to the Malthusian character of his approaches. In 1860, an article was published in which it was expressed that the thesis of natural selection was an argument taken "from Malthus doctrine of Population and will, no doubt, find aceptance within those Political Economists and Pseudo-Philosophers who reduce all the laws of action and human thought habitually to the lowest and most sordid motives.". This provoked a violent reaction of Darwin, who in a letter to J. D. Hooker of june 5, 1860, expressed his incredulity that someone could not accept the obviousness of Malthus's statements.

"Have you seen Haughton's coarsely-abusive article of me in Dubl. Mag. of Nat. History? It outdoes even N. British and Edinburgh in misaprehension & misinterpretation. What has Haughton done that he feels so inmeasurably superior to all us wretched naturalists & to all Political Economists, including the great philosopoher Malthus?"

The day after, in a letter to Charles Lyell, Darwin stated:

"Did you read Haughton in Dublin Mag. of Nat. Hist.? he is more contemptous than even Mr. Dunns in N. British & overdoes everyone in misinterpretations [...] It consoles me that he sneers at Malthus, for that clearly shows, mathematician thouh he may be, he cannot understand common reasoning. By the way, what a discouraging example Malthus is to show during what long years the plainest case may be misinterpreted & misunderstood."

Months before, in a letter to Neil Arnott, in february 1860, Darwin had manifested his respect towards Malthus in a brief sentence: "You put the Malthusian great truth of the 'Struggle for existence' very forcibly." And in 1871, in "The Descent of Man" expressed in a footnote: "See the ever memorable 'Essay on the Principle of Population', by the Rev, T. Malthus [...]"

All along these quotations the admiration and identification of Darwin towards Malthus is clear. In 1858 Darwin wrote a never- published article, in which he summarizes his theory of the evolution of species with a passage in which the paralelism with the "Essay in the Principle of Population" is much more forceful:

"De Candolle, in an eloquent passage, has declared that all nature is at war, one organism with another, or with external nature. Seeing the contented face of nature, this may at first well be doubted; but reflection will inevitably prove it to be true. The war, however, is not constant, but recurrent in a slight degree at short periods, and more severely at occasional more distant periods; and hence its effects are easily overlooked. It is the doctrine of Malthus applied in most cases with tenfold force. As in every climate there are seasons, for each of its inhabitants, of greater and less abundance, so all annually breed; and the moral restraint which in some small degree checks the increase of mankind is entirely lost. Even slow breeding mankind has dobubled in twenty-five years; and if he could increase his food with greater ease, he would doble in less time. But of animals without artificial means, the amount of food for each species must, on an average, be constant, whereas the increase of all organisms tends to be geometrical, and in a vast majority of cases at an enormous ratio. ...Where man has introduced plants and animals into a very new and favourable country, there are many accounts in how surprisingly few years the whole country has become stocked with them. This increase would necessarily stop as soon as the country was fully stocked... Malthus on man should be studied; and all such cases as those of the mice in La Plata. of the cattle and horses when first turned out in South America of the birds by our calcualtion, &c., should be well considered. Reflect on the enormous multiplying power inherent and anually in action in all animals; reflect on the countless seeds scattered by a hundred ingenious contrivances, year after year, over the whole face of the land; and yet we have every reason to suppose that the average percentage of each of the inhabitants of a country usually remains constant. Finally, let it be borne in mind that this average number of each country is kept up by recurrent struggles against other species or against external nature..."

In this paragraphs Darwin transports to nature the hobbesian bellum omni in omnes; asserts the certitude of Malthus's theory and extrapolate and generalize it ten times stronger than in non-human population.

As can be noticed, Darwin was imbued and identified with the principles of the work of Malthus. The allusions addressed to him are constant and recurring. All this might be more easely understood if it is noticed that Darwin, as well as many other intelectuals of Victorian England, had interest in Political Economy and in Philosphy. Since he was a young man, his education was traversed by this type of studies. So he expresed in 1829, when he sent a letter in which among other things declared: "My studies consist in Adam Smith and Locke...".

Two trascendental influences that Darwin received in his youth, came from Astronomer John Herschel and from Philosopher William Whewell. The first of them made a distinction between "fundamental laws" and "empirical laws", expressing that the task of science should be to formulate the first group of laws in a coherent way, in order to understand the deepest causes or ultimate facts that are able to explain the nature of a phenomenom, namely, its vera causa,. Whewell, on his side expressed himself in terms of "formal" or "fundamental" laws, that were those in which the vera causa should be looked for; and also talked about "physical" or "causal" laws, derived from the formers. The clearest example of a formal law would be the laws of Newton.

Darwin, assimilating Herschel's and Whewell's lessons imposed himself as an objective to discover the vera causa of biological evolution and with it, of the abundance and distribution of the species. There on, the importance of Malthus becomes more relevant. Herschel had expressed that a scientific law should posssess universal aplicability and analogical capacity in order to be able to comprehend what might be happening in other areas of knowledge. Demography was one of these cases in which analogies could work in order to interpret the behaviour of non-human populations. For Darwin, Malthus was the Newton of Demography, the discoverer of the vera causa of human population dynamics. His concept of "struggle for existence" could be extended to the rest of the species, being reinforced with the concept of "selection" of the most able individuals in getting the resources for their survival. Both concepts would explain numerous problems of geographical distribution, paleontology, embriology, compared anatomy, etc. In a word, natural selection would be the vera causa of evolution. Hence, the Malthusian principle of population raises as the analogy that Darwin requires in order to build his model, and the "struggle for existence" as the moving force of the process.

Notwithstanding, Darwin was not the first in making such analogies. Long before, Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith and the same Malthus used them in order to explain the behavior of populations, Franklin mentioned that:

"There is, in short, no bound to the prolific nature of plants or animals, but what is made by their crowding and interfering with each other means of subsistence. Was the face of the earth vacant of other plants, it might be gradually sowed and overspread, with one kind only, as for instance, with fennel; and were it empty of other inhabitants, it might, in a few ages, be replenished from one nation only [...]

In fine, a nation well regulated is like a polypus; take away a limb, its place is soon supplied; cut it in two, and each deficient part shall speedly grow out of the part remaining. Thus (if you have room and subsistence enough) as you may, by dividing, make ten polypuses out of one, you may, of one make ten nations, equally populous and powerful, or rather, increase a nation tenfold in numbers and strength."

Adam Smith, stated that:

"Every species of animals naturally multiplies in proportion to the means of subsistence, and no species can ever multiply beyond it. But in civilized society it is only among the inferior ranks of people that the scantiness of subsistence can set limits to the further multiplication of all the human species; and it can do so in no other way by destroying a great part of the children which their fruitful marriage produce."

And of course Malthus was not the least:

"Throughout the animal and vegetable kingdoms nature has scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and liberal hand; but has been comparatively sparing in the room and the nourishment necessary to rear them. The germs of existence contained in this earth, if they could freely develop themselves, would fill millions of worlds in the course of a few thousand years. Necessity, that imperious all-pervading law of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds. The race of plants amd the race of animals shrink under this great restrictive law; and man cannot by any effort of reason ecape from it.

In plants and irrational animals, the view of the subject is simple. They are all impelled by a powerful instinct to the increase or their species, and this instinct is interrupted by no doubts about providing for their offspring. Wherever, therefore, is liberty, the power of increase is exerted, and the superabundant effects are reprsented afterwards by want of room and nourishment

The effects of this check on man are more complicated. Impelled to the increase of his species by an equally powerful instinct, reason interrupts his career, and asks him wether he may nor bring beings into the world for whom he cannot provide the means of support."

But in the XVIII century, Biology was an nascent science, the problems it tackled and the questions it formulated did not allow to lead the conclusions of such analogies to their last consequences. From the first half of the XIX century, the study of living beings is reorganized around questions concerning mechanisms and causes of unity and diversity of all the living world. The character of the questions and the way of approaching and solving them changes. Darwin finds himself in a more favorable situation in order to get the most posible profits to the thesis of his ideologues; he founds a solid basis in authors as Malthus or Smith and puts in action in a more coherent and complete manner the so-mentioned analogy. This operates in the opposite direction from Malthus and his predecessors, which explain his idea of the dynamics of human population, among other elements, from an observation of behavior of populations of animals and plants, while Darwin interprets the dynamics of the populations of the whole living world, among other things, from the observation of human population dynamics; Malthus utilized the analogy with the other living beings as a way of persuading himself of the truthfullness of his thesis on human population. Darwin used Malthus's model in order to turn upside down the analogy and to extract new conclusions from it. This is a circular argumentation stategy in which a mutual reinforcement of basically ideological beliefs is found.

b)Darwin and other influences of Political Economy.

So, the influence Malthus exerted over Darwin is all but a secondary fact. This might be better understood if the studies Darwin made of another economists and some of his thesis are analized.

The discourse of Political Economy has impregnated not just Biology but also Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Astronomy and Engineering. This phenomenom was present with a great force in England in the XIX century: Political Economy was a discipline that all british scientists and intelectuals used to read; this was manifested in a continuous transposition of terms between Political Economy and the other branches of natural science.,,

The problem of population did not escape to these analogies. Charles Lyell, in Malthusian terms, pointed out, concerning population oscillations, that there were and there will be perennial subsisting causes of periodical misery; while Laplace compared the oscilations of populations in times of abundance and scarcity of subsistence media to the oscilations a pendulum carries out thanks to its weight. The fact that personages like Lyell, who exerted so much influence over Darwin, have adopted a so openly Malthusian position, leads us to reinforce the idea that, by the beginning of the second third of XIX century, the thesis of Malthus had been so widely accepted that it was easy for Darwin to integrate them in his own corpus of ideas.

The importance of all these analogies and transpositions of terms, concepts and models is great. Economists try to present in their theories an image that projects the eternal and perfect celestial order on society and its phenomena, and so to elaborate an image of the world characterized by the inmutability and eternity of its laws, which they continuously strive to describe. Last, since many decades before Darwin, a great quantity of intelectuals in Europe thought that the laws of physical world could be compared to those of Politcal Economy, in their words, this implies that there is a common context between natural an social sciences that dates back to times older that those of Victorian England.

Another important consideration is that refered to individualism. John McCulloch expressed that society is the sum of the individuals integrating it, each one of them following the behaviour that better serves the public welfare; comprising this inside a scheme of free competition, we will observe that the individuals will vary as they try to reach a situation of maximum advantage of each one over the others and contribute in that way to better the public welfare. In concordance with this interpretation, the variations would be a source of stability, of equilibria. The idea was developed also by Adolphe Quetelet in his "Sur l'homme et le Dévelopemment de ses Facultés", appeared in 1835, and was studied by Darwin in 1838 when he was looking for statistical evidence that could support his theory, leading him directly to Malthus.

Schweber, concludes that prior to the study of Malthus, Darwin had a clear idea of Natural Selection, that the study of Malthus served him just to be provided with a quantitative comprehension of the pressure of population caused by competition, but that the individualist philosophy of Darwin is mainly due to the influence of Adam Smith, who bases his economical thesis in the idea that the individuals are, in principle free, but that their nature and character are determined by his existence in society. The interaction of the individual with society results in the formation of institutions that provide it with stability and evolving capacity.

Smith exerted a great influence over Darwin through the principle of division of labour, the fundamental element from which Smith is able to explain his idea of functioning of ecomomy and society. Smith points out that this division of labour has as a consequence an increase in the quantity of labour and hence an enormous increase both in the quantity and the variety of the commodities produced.

Darwin assimilated Smithian ideas on division of labour since he was on the Beagle, through the study of Milne-Edwards, who, in his "Introduction à la Zoologie Gènèrale" had taken this concept directly from Political Economy. Darwin expressed that his explanation of the difference of characters was equivalent to the concept of Milne-Edwards of physiological division of labour. For him, physiological division of labour was one of the fundamental concepts in order to understand divergence of characters. In the history of living world a phenomenom analogue to the human history is manifested, characterized by the tendency towards appearence of organs progressively more specialized, that would produce some more competititve species in comparison to some others and that that would give as a result an ulterior fostering to structural diversity and to phisiological division of labour.,

Once more the arguments of Political Economy serve to build models on functioning of living beings. Darwin supported the method and the conclusions of Milne-Edwards (and from him of Adam Smith) explaining that in the living world as well as in industrial labour, efficiency and productivity are important criteria to take in consideration:

"...the more diversified the descendants from any one species become in structure, constitution and habits, by so much will they be better enabled to seize on many and widely diversified places in the polity of nature, and so be enabled to increase in numbers."

"The truth of the principle that the greatest amount of life can be supported by great diversification of structure, is seen under many natural circumstances. In an extremely small area, especially if freely open to immigration, and where the contest between individual and individual must be severe, we always find great diversity in its inhabitants."

"The advantage of diversification in the inhabitants of the same region is, in fact, the same as that of the physiological division of labour in the organs of the same individual body -a subject so well elucidated by Milne-Edwards...So in the general economy of any land, the more widely and perfectly the animals and plants are diversified for different habits of life, so well a greater number of individuals be capable of there supporting themselves."

All of which constitutes a re-description of the concepts of Milne-Edwards and Adam Smith.

It is pertinent to point out that Darwin was familiarized with industrial processes of division of labour and was partisan of its application in order to increase productivity. Darwin carried out diverse investments in industry and some of his cousins were among the pioneers of the organization of labour processes in factories, creating a stronlgy-rooted mentality in the idea of production in accordance with the processes taken place in the assembly lines of the manufactures of those times. It is not strange that in some way he could see reflected in the living world his conception of what should be the industrial processes of labour.

Malthusian principles of scarcity of resources, struggle for existence and geometrical growth of the populations are complemented with the thesis of the advantages of division of labour. These are a couple of complementary concepts that provides Darwin's theory with a major coherence as well as with persuasive capacity. All this is clarifying that for Darwin, the influence of Political Economy, the use of analogies and the exportation of terms and concepts from this discipline to Biology was something not limited to Malthus. Rather it is a much wider event that embraces other Political Economists. As far as this is a rather generalized phenomenom in British Victorian science, it is strongly contained in the work of Darwin.

In order to keep on showing all this, it is pertinent to make a brief analysis of some other examples. The case of William Paley is also an important one. In his "Moral and Political Economy", he conceived that the state of human happiness is in an inverse ratio to the number of inhabitants of a region. Darwin knew this text since he was a student and used it in order to make his analogy with populations of other species, adopting the idea of the maximum population per area unit as the fundamental principle on which the biological basis of order rests. All these influences are completed with John McCulloch's, who in his "Principles of Political Economy" also postulated, for the case of agriculture, that an increase in the territorial division of labour could eventually increase productivity, and this was also accepted by Darwin.

Since it has been started to talk about divergence of characters and about division of labour, the image of the Law of Diminishing Returns recurrently appears. This law, formulated by the Physiocrats in the XVIII century establishes that in a given land area, productivity of labour may increase proportionally to the number of persons working in it, until reaching an optimum number of labourers, above which the productivity will increase just in diminishing quantities in comparition to its former state, until it will not increase anymore. This idea has a fundamental importance because for Darwin, as for Malthus, population cannot go above that maximum. Physiological division of labour could originate an optimum efficiency in the functions of a certain individual, beyond which it is impossible to go any further. Darwin clearly used this form for framing and describing the phenomena, adapting them to all those economic principles. The Law of Diminishing Returns was another of those principles of Political Economy that Darwin used efficiently for his purposes.

Regardless of the differences in the management of certain categories between Darwin and Political Economists, he coincides with them in many essential thesis that are the ones that allows the construction of his theory. These coincidences would be:

1-At nature, the resources for the survival of species are scarce, especially from the moment when a certain species reaches a relative abundance in a given area.

2-The ability of reproduction of every species shows a geometrical behavior in funcion of which a disequilibrium between available resources and the quantity of individuals existing in a certain area is produced.

3-As a consequence of all this, a permanent war at nature is established, namely, the "struggle for existence". As a cause of it, the species cannot augment their numbers beyond a certain limit, because mortality would be very high and so would be the extintion of individuals.

4-A direct relation between productivity and biological diversity in a certain area is established. Or, in other words, betweeen the productivity and the division of functions that each species and each individual must carry on.

5-This last phenomenom can allow population growth, but not beyond the absolute limit stablished by the scarcity of resources.

c)Interpretations that deny or diminish the influence of Political Economy in Darwin.

In order to keep on analizing the character of the influence of Political Economists over Darwin, it is more important to determine the character of the interaction between him and them, trying to integrate his respective works in a common context that allows to analize the flux of the main thesis and ideas, rather than to analize and indicate the exact moments in which Darwin got a certain information and thus following the precise sequence of the steps that were leading him to the construction of his theory. This method has importance but its main limitation is that does not enables us to arrive to the core of the motivations Darwin could have to find in Malthus, Adam Smith, John McCulloch and other economists the support of his theory of evolution.

It is clear that Darwin did not do a verbatim copy of the concepts of political economists. Manier, states that the conclusions of Malthus theory are essentially economical and political, inasmuch the object of his study were human beings. Besides, he thinks that while for Malthus the struggle for existence was a competition for the scarce resources that should check population growth, for Darwin it was a way in which organisms could succeed or else fail in order to overcome the obstacles that are imposed on them for their reproduction and survival.

For Gordon, when Darwin explained that Malthus provided him a theory to deal with, he was referring just to the fact that plants and animals, in a wild state, reproduce in so high rates that is impossible for all of them to survive. This is where his use of the concept of "struggle for existence" is derived. Gordon adds that the concept of competition has different uses in the economic theory and in the theory of biological evolution. While the second makes reference to that "struggle for existence", at the end of which just some individuals can survive, the first no more implies a matter of life or death.

I agree that all those differences exist. The categories employed in one and other are just analogous, it cannot be thought that both have exactly the same meaning; they are general concepts that transpose the borders of a discipline and introduce themselves in another. Refering to the concept of competition, it is clear that the object of study of economists and biologists is different. Struggle for existence in the species in a savage state gives as a result the survival of the winner and the death of the defeated; in society the situation is more complex. For Malthus, defeat can also eventually lead many people to death, but for Ricardo or Smith a defeat results in the economic bankrupcy and victory in the expansion of the market and in the obtention of profits. Apart from this differences, the central point in this discussion is: Why did Darwin choose this terms, this metaphores and no others? Why did he focus his attention towards competition and struggle for existence? Why that special interest in analizing things through that individualistic approach? Why did he observe in nature just a permanent war?

Diverse responses can be given. A particular line is refered to the problem of the use of metaphores and the antropomorphic character of the same in Darwin's language,,. That form of thought and the utilization of that language are corresponded and are deeply rooted in diverse aspects of modern thought, where the ideas of individual competition as a way to reach a goal succesfullly, have been adopted. Classical or medieval thoughts are not dominated by these thesis because in those times the social relations that start to prevail from XVII century cannot be found. With the transformation of these relations, the conceptual frame is also transformed as well. In that sense it is interesting to analize how easily contemporary individuals fall in the formulation of a certain type of images, metaphores, representations and not in others, all of which can help to clarify the role played by some elements usually considered as extrascientific, in the comprehension of the origin and development of scientific theories, particularly that of Darwin. I consider that the analysis of all this is more important than to distinguish the differences of nuance or detail in the use of concepts between Darwin and Political Economists.

Diverse approaches with respect to the role played by these extrascientific elements exist. Some affirm that there is a common context for natural and social sciences in Victorian England, and as a consequence, it is sure that such extrascientific factors existed in the conformation of the discourse and the theory of biological evolution. Others deny it completely, stating that the objects of study of each one were entirely different. A third group are cautious and pretend not to exaggerate this influence; but the argument os some authors belonging to this last group is such that the final result is just the opposite to that they pretend to arrive.

For example, Mikulinsky, trying to lessen the importance of the externalist influences on Darwin's work, expresses that Malthus served Darwin at the most to conceive and accept the idea of selection; that this concept, not the struggle for existence is the central category of his theory. He adds that the concepts of competition, individualism, struggle and survival of the fittest expressed much wider influences than Malthus and just him, could have exerted on Darwin. He could have done without the "Essay" of Malthus and arrive to similar conclusions inasmuch British intelectuals of his times were embued of, and accepted the ideas of the struggle for existence and the imbalance between the populational and resources growths.

But what all this is really showing, is just that the external influences on Darwin were stronger than could originally be thought if it is believed that the only source from Political Economy on Darwin's work was the Malthusian. Effectively, Darwin could have done without Malthus's work to arrive to conceive the idea of natural selection. It has already been shown how common the cuestiom of importing categories and terms from Political Economy to natural sciences was and also haw common was the tendency to make analogies between the phenomena of market and those of the functioning of organisms. It would have been difficult for Darwin to escape to that form of working. Darwin directed his attention towards Political Economy, in particular towards Malthus, in search of a source that enables him to concrete his initial ideas in a concept much more solid as to be included in his theory.

On the other side, Darwin's theory is a coherent whole in which the concept of natural selection is so important to it as are the concepts of "survival of the fittest" or "struggle for existence". Darwinism is a vision of the world that was bulit at least by Darwin himself as well as by Herbert Spencer, Alfred R. Wallace and Thomas Huxley. Overestimation of the aspect of who and in which precise moment used this or that term for the first time and the exact moment in which it was done, does not substitute by itslef the subject of the social climate of thought. In the climate of the British society of Darwin's times the acceptance of the concepts of competition and of struggle for a place in this world was common. It is all but rare that a concept as "survival of the fittest" had obtained so much acceptance. In any case it was not a patrimony nor of Darwin neither of Spencer, but of an hegemony that accepted it and spread its use.

Herbert compares each one of the movements of Darwin with the movements of other scientists in proximate dates, and, concerning the question of Malthus's influence on Darwin, concludes that Malthus should have been another one among the contributors that helped Darwin to explain the idea of struggle in nature, from september 1838. He shows that in 1837 Charles Lyell was speaking a similar language to that of Malthus and Darwin. Again, what all this really shows is that such ideas were expanded and accepted enough as to make it very easy for Darwin to adopt them in a certain moment of his research.

La Vergatta, expresses that the bodies of ideas of Malthus and Darwin must be kept as something different; and that not necessarily neither automatically at the moment we understand Malthus's role in the history of ideas are we going to understand Darwin's one. But he correctly concludes that the debt Darwin has with the intelectual and ideological context of his times does not have to be reduced to the influence of one or other person in isolation. Darwin's work rather should be understood as a part of the conformation of a whole discourse in the widest sense of the word. The later seems to be in accordance with Greene's point of view on Darwinsim as a vision of the world. All this allows to think that a lot of extrascientific aspects existed that formed a complex tissue and together colaborated decisively in the elaboration of the theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

All these examples, in spite of their intention of minimizing certain influences that Darwin had, show how deeply was he inmersed in a context with powerful influences that manifested clearly and from all those which he was a direct participant.

2-Internalism, Externalism, Marxism and Darwinism.

The debate internalism-externalism is present in the analysis of the work of Darwin, especially in the debate on the way he was inlfuenced by Malthus and by other Political Economists. Much of this debate is originated from the consideration of vulgar Marxism that the only moving forces behind all scientific theory are the production needs of burgeoisie., But the traditional works of vulgar Marxists on history of science have two defects: They do not clearly show clearly the connection between production needs and scientific problems posed neither clearly limit the difference between science and technology. They consit just in a juxtaposition of the succesive phases of scientific and economic development. But their fundamental error is that, since scientific theories and the practice of scientists are presented as moved exclusively by the problems of material production existant at the moment of the construction of such theories, they fall in a reductionism that impedes to observe the distinct elements moving in the sphere of ideas, and that are also important to consider.

Vulgar Marxism takes literally many thesis from Marx, taking them out of their context and exaggerating their importance. For vulgar Marxism only the structrue of society has a proper movement; relations of production unilaterally determine the whole set of elements of juridical, political, economic and intelectual life. It is not understood how in such a superstructure also a proper movement that exerts an important influence in the structure takes place. This is a very rigid scheme and it do not help to explain satisfactorily numerous problems of history and philosophy of science.

But at least Engels did not posses that vulgar approach. According to him there is a consciousness about the proper movement of the superstructure, concretely of ideas, he states that:

"But once the state has become an independent power vis-à-vis society, it inmediatley produces a further ideology. It is among professional politicians, theorists of public law and jurists of private law that the connection with economic facts gets well and truly lost [...] Still higher ideologies, that is, such as are still further removed form the material, economic basis, take the form of philosophy and religion. Here the connecton betweeen conceptions and their material condictions of existence becomes more and more complicated, more and more obscured by intermediate links. But the connection exists...(the bold is mine)

Adding subsequently:

Every ideology, however, once it has arisen, develops in connection with the given concept-material, and develops this material further; otherwise it would not be an ideology, that is, occupation with thoughts as with independent entities, developing independently and subject only to their own laws (the bold is mine).

He also stated that phenomena occuring in the superstructure can also exert a great influence in the movement of society. For him, in the superstructure an interaction of the elenemts that integrates it is produced, in such a way that in many cases they can even play a determinant role in the course of history, even admitting, as it is, that the economical situation is still found at the base of society.

This way of observing things allows us to have a more global and a larger analitical capacity than that of vulgar marxism, because it allows to accede to a totalizing vision of social phenomena. Vulgar Marxism, being enclosed in its economist approach, cannot comprehend neither clearly explain the role of intelectuals as ideologues, that is to say, as agents that work in the construction of that juridical and political buidling to which Marx refers. An alternative way of applying Marxist method that is able to englobe and redefine the whole set of mediations between social base and superstructure, would allow to insert the analysis of the ideas and its proper movement in the socioeconomic context in which they are placed, making the analysis more flexible and so, breaking with the simplistic and rigid approach characteristic of vulgar Marxism.,

In the case of the role of Political Economy in the work of Darwin, it is required to comprehend the reasons why Darwin felt impulsed to take up again the fundamental principles of Malthusian model of population. Why did he adopt Adam Smith's scheme on division of labour. In Malthus's times, the importance of the French and Industrial Revolutions was decisive for the success of his theory. In those times structural phenomena determined with great strength the course of some scientific theories. But at the time Darwin elaborates his theory, the events in the structure of society have a different nature. After a period of social conflicts in the fourth and fifth decades of that century, arised a period of relative calm, confidence and industrial expansion that lasts until the eight decade. There was no other Industrial Revolution nor other historical event such as the French Revolution of 1789-1793. On the other side, it is not clear what problems of production could be hidden behind a theory of evolution of species. In summary, it can be affirmed that Darwin's theory never had the "social urgence" of Malthus's theory.

In Darwin's times, the ideas about scarcity, about the differences between the population and resources growths and about division of labour acquired a proper dynamic, autonomized from the structural conditions of the society that originated them. Darwin was, in general terms, convinced about the veracity of Maltuhsian statements and of others economists's that defended and justified the mode of production in which they had lived and developed.

Demographical theory of Mathus raised in opposition to equalitarian systems proposed by Goodwin and Condorcet and projected a pessimistic approach on human development. The position of Malthus and his rejection of equalitarian utopias can be explained due to his explicit defence of the right to private property of means of production and to all this might lead. Between 1826, date of the last edition of the "Essay of the Principle of Population" and 1859, date of the first edition of the "Origin of Species", numerosus economcal, political and ideological changes had taken place. There had been a great development in social and natural sciences, To the equalitarian statements of Goodwin and Concorcet followed those of Utopic Socialists and later those of Marx and Engels. Capitalist development had arrived to a point in which its inner contradictions appeared with all clearness, all of which did not occur in the late XVIII century. The social classes that played the leading role in the rest of the century appeared clearly delineated from the times of Chartism.

The fact that Darwin had manifested his admiration towards "the great Malthus", that had adopted his language and principles, and that he admitted the existence and inevitability of individualism and competition, is expressing an ideological connection between both, a paraleleism and a continuisn in their conception of the world. It has been pointed out that one of the most important components of the Darwinist approach of the world is the idea of Malthus, Ricardo and Adam Smith that free competition in the market is a system carefully ordered, eternal and inmutable that, if operating according to the laws of supply and demand, would be able to guarantee the access to a major quantity of wealth and to the progress of humankind.

An example that illustrate this ideas of Darwin is his attitude towards Jean Charles Sismondi (1773-1824). Sismondi challenged the thesis of the ideology of laissez faire, denying the coincidence between an increase of production and an increase of happiness, and, although he coincided with Malthus in proposing a preventive legislation for the excessive population growth, he did not consider this as the product of an eternal law but as a consequence of wrong economical laws. Darwin, refering to Sismondi's writing, simply wrote the word "poor" in his notebooks. In order to express his rejection to those ideas. He did not pay more attention to it. Darwin was bound to the individualistic vision of the world, as well as Malthus, Ricardo and Smith.

In order to illustrate until what point this approach of Darwin was in conflict with other more radical approaches, it has been mentioned that Wallace, who claimed himself to be a Socialist, found that those Malthusian thesis, came in conflict with his ideology and his philosophy of nature and in consequence abandoned the idea of applying the concept of natural selection to the most crucial events of social, mental and physical development of human being.

When in 1871 Marx sent Darwin a copy of the First Book of "The Capital", he did not take time in studying it, and politely answered Marx in a letter, that the topics on which both were investigating were very different ones and that he did not understand about Political Economy. In 1879 Edward Aveling, an antirreligious militant who lived with one of Marx's daughters, addressed himself to Darwin in order to ask him for permission to devote him an exposition on his ideas in a lecture and an article to be published in an antirreligious journal: Darwin refused to accept the dedication arguing that the arguments in favor of atheism could hardly have an appreciable significant effect among the public and that this was the reason why he had always avoided talking on religion.

One of the most radical expressions in the England in which Darwin lived was the Chartism. This proletary movement, whose summit is placed between 1838 and 1842, claiming equality of rights for the workers and the protection of their interests and material conditions of living, adopted a strongly anti-malthusian discourse. In order to ilustrate this, can be cited that in its first convention, in 1839, Patrick Matthew, moderated Chartist and Malthusian Evolutionist was accused of being a "middle-class traitor". Darwin, on his side, was not alien to the social agitation of those years. He opposed the Chartist movement. For him, revolutionary events were illegitimate both in society and in geologic time. Evolution was the key of change and the regular laws of development made the idea of revolution rather useless.

With all this. I have shown some aspects of the character of the ideology of Charles Darwin and the reasons he had to adhere the thesis of laissez faire and economical liberalism of his times as well as the character of the ideology by him defended. The analysis has been made taking into consideration Darwin's vision of the world, of society and of history. In this way, I expect to have shown that a series of connections between Darwinist ideology and that of the economic liberalism of his times exist, and that this is what allows to arrive to a discourse permeated with the values and vision of the world of the burgeois class of those times. Hence, Darwin's theory do not escape to the ideological implications of all scientific theory, and this would become even clearer when he elaborated his model of the origin of Man. But that will be matter of a further study.


I am especially grateful to doctor Carlos López-Beltrán from the Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) for the revision and suggestions to the present work. I wish to thank also to doctors Ambrosio Velasco-Gómez and Alejandro Herrera Ibáñez from the same Institute; to doctors Marco Antonio Martínez-Negrete and Edna M. Suárez-Diáz from the Facultad de Ciencias of the UNAM; to doctor Juan S. Nuñez-Farfán, from the Centro de Ecología of the UNAM and to doctor Jorge Martínez-Contreras, from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) of México City for their valuable comments and suggestions.


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© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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