A review of The Political Gene: How Darwin’s Ideas Changed Politics by Dennis Sewell
Reviewed by Jerry Bergman
According to evolutionist Daniel Dennett, Darwinism is the universal acid that affects everything.1 Dennis Sewell does an excellent job documenting this claim. Sewell, a journalist and broadcaster, has assembled a well-written review of the political uses and abuses of Darwinism. He has documented how often—and how easily—Darwinism has been harnessed for sinister political ends by a wide assortment of persons and movements laboring under a variety of political persuasions from radical right to extreme left. The history of Darwinism’s critical role in eugenics and Nazism is told in an engaging way that reads like a novel. He shows that, although racism existed before Darwin, Darwinism gave the human inferior-superior racial hierarchy theory the respectability and authority of science, increasing the problem of racism by an order of magnitude.
This authority inspired the eugenics movement that swept the world for parts of the last two centuries. Sewell focuses on the practical and political results of Darwinism, not its validity. For example, in researching eugenics his focus is not on the theoretical but on understanding
“ … how a tightly knit group of scientists (and most of the main actors in this story were scientists—biologists, zoologists, psychologists and doctors) went about trying to sell an esoteric idea to the general public; how they organized, mobilized, and influenced politicians; and how they succeeded in getting laws enacted to suit their ideological purposes” (pp. xi–xii).
Stressing that he is not a creationist apologist but a journalist (p. xiiii), Sewell details the enormous harm Darwin has caused society and he carefully documents his conclusions with 25 pages of notes and references, almost ten percent of the book. The references and quotes alone are worth the price of the book.
Accessible review of the effects of Darwinism on society
Sewell documents that there is ‘no doubt about the lineage of eugenics itself’, noting that in the ‘years leading up to the First World War, the eugenics movement looked like a Darwin family business.’
Many scholarly tomes cover the influence of Darwinism on society, but few resources in this area are as readable, hard hitting, well documented, and as effective in making the connection of eugenics to Darwin….
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