I picked up "Darwin, Marx, Wagner" at a used book store while in the middle of Barzun's latest tome "Dawn to Decadence." In "Darwin" a much younger Barzun argues with passion against the arrogant materialism prevalent at the turn of the century. "Nature is a sieve, and it works"--this is Barzun's pithy summary of Darwin, Marx and Wagner. For Darwin the sieve is kill-or-be-killed survival of the fittest, and "it works": humanity is the pinnacle of evolution (and not just the human species, but the most powerful of humanity). For Marx the sieve is an inevitable class struggle, which "works" when it produces a utopia for the working class. For Wagner the sieve will sift out all previous art forms in favor of his own pure self-important music drama. Read this book and consider the philosophical implications of realistic materialism and its cruel might-makes-right vision of progress--in science, politics and art.
A brilliant book by an erudite, terse writer. A study of the changes wrought by three significant individuals of the latter half of the 1800s that have had a profound effect, good and bad, from the time of their writings through today. This is not light reading. One should be armed with an encyclopedia and a dictionary on this venture. To fully appreciate it be prepared to read the book again. Alex R. Thomas Ph.D.
I reviewed this classic several years ago, but am now including it in my series of Darwin critiques: As part of a series of reviews in the ISPD project (In Search of Post-Darwinists) at Darwiniana blog, I am reviewing this book because it is a critique of Darwinism. Given five stars because the author had the nerve to challenge Darwin they may nonetheless deserve careful reading.//8/4/12
Jacques Barzun's book was first published first in 1941, which is almost the moment the Neo-Darwinian Synthesis came into being and made the expression of Darwin doubts or criticism such as are manifest here virtually impossible in a university humanist. And yet sixty years later, at a time when Ernst Mayr, one of the original 'synthesizers' can unrepentantly produce his "What Evolution Is", Barzun's critique reads as insultingly fresh as the day it was written, with a putdownish suggestion that Darwin wasn't too swift. The Darwin propaganda machine has almost made thinking obtuse here, and Creationist red-herrings can be as reprehensible. The Darwin debate has left everyone befuddled, and this essay on Darwin (and Marx), agree or not, shows a clarity that is unusual. His work seems out of place now for a man who was prominent in a major university, but if one reads Bowler's The Eclipse of Darwinism, describing the waning of Darwinism at the turn of the century, it will perhaps evoke the perspective that Barzun still reflects in this book. (In fact, the same can be said of the Marx essay, which reflects the Marx debate, perspectives almost forgotten after the Bolshevik revolution). In fact, even by the late 1860's Darwin himself knew he was in trouble with natural selection.Read more ›
Extremely well written in my opinion. Barzun's style of writing reminded me of listening to a first class series of lectures about the three men. His final chapters are steeped with wisdom of one who sees the world as it is. This is not a book for those just looking for entertaining reading.
Barzun roamed widely and everything he wrote is worth looking at. This is one of his works I would like to read. So is "A Stroll with William James", one of the four or five men Barzun says somewhere he especially benefited from. Put it all on Kindle!