Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (2nd Edition)
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This early work by Jacques Barzun is both expensive and hard to find in its first edition. It details the history and social influence of Darwin, Marx and Wagner during the nineteenth century. This fascinating work is thoroughly recommended for inclusion on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the influential figures of science, politics and the arts.
This is a wonderful book. Barzun, a Columbia historian, develops this thesis: the three cited in the title personify the mechanical materialism of their age as well as the ideology which caused this century so much grief. Essentially, these three symbolize the notion that moral values are illusions in our world of facts and that human will is helpless against the ineluctable laws of nature. These three men participated in the development of a world view which has had dire consequences for our age.
Barzun expands upon his thesis by dramatically portraying the central year of the development of mechanical materialism as 1859, the year in which Darwin published The Origin, Marx brought out Political Economy, and Wagner produced Tristan. Germane to this bibliography, all three were reluctant to credit their sources. Indeed, in the cases of Marx and Wagner, they insisted that they owed nothing to anyone, that their contributions were the result of their genius. Darwin was a bit more modest but he was also reluctant to admit his indebtedness to his grandfather Erasmus or to Lamarck; it was only late in life, after he had achieved great fame, that he admitted to have had sources for his ideas. The three focused on ideas which were, as it were, already in the air.
The time was ripe for the notion of evolution, for the growth of class warfare (struggle), and for the form of the musical drama and its nationalism. To put the matter simply, the three men took up the ideas which surrounded them and formed them in new ways, using new metaphors. They did not make "original" contributions.
Concerning their works: "When their systems are examined they appear, usually, almost
incredibly incoherent, both in thought and in form. Of the many books which Darwin, Marx, and Wagner have left us not one is a masterpiece... Imperfectly aware of their intellectual antecedents and impatient of exact expression, they jumbled together a bewildering collection of truths and errors and platitudes. They borrowed and pilfered without stint or shame, when the body of each man's work stands as a sort of Scripture, quotable for almost all purposes on an infinity of subjects."
slogan, not a certifi But it is cate of success. Romanticism a sure mark of is an imbecility. If our historical nickname, not own generation is wit nessing a violent outbreak of feeling, of irrationalism, of 5 Realistic at least to the extent of having done away with arias, and ballet music, and of having introduced "serious" philosophic cast into opera. recitatives, issues of a INTRODUCTION: action for its own sake, of WHY THIS TRINITY? myths 17 for destructive
would then find reviewers in every journal in the kingdom and would soon be "on every library table" that eternal goal and farthest reach of publishers* hopes. But the mere thought of recasting his "abstract" was too for Darwin. He balked and then collapsed. Only a complete rest at a water resort and the reading of an excit ing new novel, Adam Bede, by an unknown novelist named George Eliot, restored his balance. Coming back in June, he found the proofs of the book as he
around the central fact of natural selec tion which constituted Darwin s "long argument." Accord fore. It ingly ply he had thought at "Natural Selection." If Darwin changing his really one time of entitling his work sim 1 wanted to rouse the British public, Origin of Species was a stroke of genius. he would not be loved by some of his col title to He had known leagues for meddling with species, and had shrewdly hoped a better hearing from
versions of the Ongin of Species there was a dash of all the disputed hypotheses a little Lamarckian use and disuse, a little Buffoman change by direct action of the environment, and a little lit is significant of the evolutionists neglect of philosophy that they generally use the phrase vera causa (true cause) as if it meant "the one real cause," whereas it is a technical term mean ing "an truly additional cause, a cause nevertheless whose working " is obscure, but
beads, Marx mowed down plans, plat forms, and reputations instead. His public appearances in * m See his answers tio fee game of "Confessions reprinted Karf Marx, a Symposia, smd the account of his interfering IB a London street incident on behalf of the injured party, ibid, THE SOCIAL REVOLUTION 176 socialist circles left brawn and the audience with a sense of irresistible mixing the professorial with the unparliamentary, withered away whatever group of men it touched. The