Thursday, April 21, 2011

From Darwin to Lincoln

From Darwin to Hitler is a trajectory well-charted; that leading backwards, or rather sideways, between Darwin and Lincoln, has only been charted recently, and, lamentably, glowingly, as the story of two "prophets of liberal civilization" born on the same day who shared a belief in "a world without a present God but with providential purposes" — Orchids and Lilacs: Darwin, Lincoln and Slavery.

In 1907, Henry Adams, America's greatest man of letters in 1907, a skeptical Yankee (the grandson and great-grandson of presidents) looking back four decades earlier to his own discovery of Darwinism (he was a self-described "Darwinist for fun" as well as a "conservative Christian anarchist) after his work as secretary for his father's mission in London on behalf of the Union wrote the following in The Education of Henry Adams:
    Natural Selection led back to Natural Evolution, and at last to Natural Uniformity. This was a vast stride. Unbroken Evolution under uniform conditions pleased every one--except curates and bishops; it was the very best substitute for religion; a safe, conservative practical, thoroughly Common-Law deity. Such a working system for the universe suited a young man who had just helped to waste five or ten thousand million dollars and a million lives, more or less, to enforce unity and uniformity on people who objected to it; the idea was only too seductive in its perfection; it had the charm of art. Unity and Uniformity were the whole motive of philosophy, and if Darwin, like a true Englishman, preferred to back into it--to reach God a posteriori--rather than start from it, like Spinoza, the difference of method taught only the moral that the best way of reaching unity was to unite. Any road was good that arrived.
[Marking the sesquicentennial of the War of Northern Aggression, this is an edited repost of a post a year-and-a-day ago — Henry Adams on Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution and Abraham Lincoln's War of Northern Aggression.]

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.