171. The power of the great (V)
Updated: Jul 28
Darwin combined an idea that was leftist, evolution, the idea of change—usually towards more complex organisms and societies—with a reactionary idea, the Malthusian limit: the idea that there must always be a cull in any population. Malthus developed his ideas about population growth as a rejoinder to Erasmus Darwin and, in particular, William Godwin’s utopian egalitarian ideas. Malthus wanted to say: “Your evolution towards an egalitarian state is impossible, because nature imposes hard limits on man’s expansion and prosperity.” Darwin’s innovation was to take the idea of change over time, evolution, and combine it with Malthus’s cull: the result was evolution by natural selection. Darwin was the first neoreactionary, taking that term to mean a type of scientific insight that leads a person back to conclusions that match those of traditional societies and religions; genuine development towards complexity—genuine progress, if you like—relies on a cull of the unfit, it requires brutality.
Darwin’s idea—since it contradicted established religious thought—was taken up by the left, especially since the idea of “evolution” had already been connected, around the time of the French Revolution, to the concepts of progress and egalitarian transformation. The conflation is most obvious in figures like H.G. Wells, the type who saw evolution, progress, and socialism as being the same moment: we came up from the apes, and now we will come up from feudalism and capitalism into socialism. We see the remnants of this thought when Biden calls Texans “Neanderthals”: the assumption is that political progress and biological evolution are synonymous.
In consequence, the right—broadly religious—reacted against Darwinism; even non-Christian figures, such as Nietzsche and Evola, reacted against Darwinian thought because it was associated with socialism, progress, and mass society. Yet Darwinism has no teleology—it is not progressive or reactionary: it just assesses what will survive. Parson Malthus was a religious man—as was Darwin—and both understood the salience of death, the cull. Darwinism superficially challenges the Abrahamic faiths, partly because they exist on a short time horizon compared to, say, Hindooism, but, whatever Darwinism’s implications for theology, as a theory it supports religious belief; if we have been adapted for faith, if it has aided our survival, we, for the most part, should follow the faiths of our ancestors—unless we wish to promote conscious unfitness. Above all, Darwinism does not suggest a smooth and inevitable, to use Marxist jargon, transition from simplicity to complexity: “evolution” is a pernicious word, natural selection is not.
The eminent biologist J.B.S. Haldane even asserted that it was more likely that a species would lose intelligence, with a general tendency to devolve into sponge-like pond life. His assertion belied his adherence to the Communist Party of Great Britain: his scientific assertion was unprogressive. In his view that natural selection tended toward devolution—to the decrease of complexity—his ideas echoed the assertions of the radical Evola, a man who saw all civilisation and culture on a downward slope to the most debased and primitive forms. History may well be much longer than we know—how many races and species have risen and fallen, and, perhaps, risen again over the countless aeons? For de Maistre, every primitive American tribe was the devolved and debased remnants of a more sophisticated race; and there is nothing in Darwinism to contradict this view.
The old rightists like Nietzsche, Evola, and Guénon were mistaken to dismiss Darwinism; they had experienced it as conflated with Wellsianism and Marxism: they did not appreciate the elitist implications of Darwinian thought—implications obvious today, because progressives, when confronted with consistent Darwinian thought, scream and scream: its conclusions support race, sex, and other immutable differences; and even suggest, per de Maistre, there is no such category as “humanity”. Contra Nietzsche, Darwinism is about survival, not mass; it is possible to imagine a niche species—an elite species—that survives without a mass propagation strategy; and I suppose, if we consciously guided nature, that is what we would desire.