Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Martyrdom of Man

I forgot to mention this yesterday in class: If anyone is interested in reading an application of selection theory on the development 'human tribes' and a 'natural' history of Western civilisation then take a look at Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man (1872). It is an account of the West's development that draws a great deal from social Darwinism and was a pinnacle work during the age of Empire. It was highly influential upon a great many British figures from Cecil Rhodes to Winston Churchill. Reade was a renowned atheist and tried to devise a secular conception of human destiny that also appears in a dialogue in Churchill's novel Savrola. The book is largely devoid of the racism that would dominate later Continental and American works, and focuses predominantly upon cultural selection. Obviously it has many of the typical biases of late Victorian writing, neverthless is an early and interesting exercise of parochial altruism and group selection, roughly along the lines of the Bowles article of last Wednesday. It is most interesting in its predictions for the distant future.

A copy is available at your friendly university library.

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